Chasing God's glory through tragedy and triumph

family life

How “This Is Us” gives America permission to grieve

Posted by | brave, community, compassion, courage, death, family life, grief, identity, kids, relationships, Stories, struggle | No Comments

Do you watch the show "This Is Us"? Here's why I think that show is helping all of us navigate our grief narrative. //

**Spoiler Alert: If you’re not caught up on your viewing of “This Is Us,” this article contains some references to scenes and details from Season Two. If that’s not going to kill you, read on. 😉


My friends will all tell you I am not a TV girl. I usually have a low tolerance for predictable series TV, a weak stomach for anything violent and a short attention span for sitcoms. I even hide my eyes during most of the commercials these days. If anything, we watch the food channels and the Olympics in our house.

Then I discovered “This Is Us.”

I saw a clip of the NBC network TV show on Facebook one day, and I was intrigued. I learned the show delved into some themes that touch my heart and life: grief, adoption, foster care, cancer, addiction, race and body image, to name a few. I got a two-week trial of Hulu and watched the entire first season in a few days.  I couldn’t stop.

Now I have a standing Tuesday night date on the big couch in our living room with my husband Shawn. We laugh, we cry and we find ourselves venturing into deep discussions. Part of the reason this show has captivated us (and perhaps the rest of the country) is the way they continue to navigate the grief narrative. “This Is Us” has given America permission to grieve.

Whether displayed in a gallery, illuminated on a stage or unpacked on a screen, art opens our hearts to feel deeply. We experience grief, joy, anger, frustration, wonder, sympathy and more when we engage in the stories of others. “This Is Us” artfully invites us into a tangled web of stories that resonate and make us feel like they are talking about us.

In her book Walking on Water, Madeleine L’Engle articulates this idea: “In art, either as creators or participators, we are helped to remember some of the glorious things we have forgotten, and some of the terrible things we are asked to endure, we who are children of God by adoption and grace.”

I remember going to the movies just a few weeks after my husband’s death. A handful of my closest friends took me to see “One Hundred Foot Journey.” I bawled my eyes out.

It’s not a particularly sad movie, but I cried because I was reminded of my own broken love story. It stirred up memories for me of all the dates I had with my late husband to eat Indian food. I felt deeply the tensions between cultures and lifestyles. When the main character experienced loss, I found myself meditating on my own losses. The movie gave me unexpected space and permission to grieve.

“This is Us” is doing the same thing for many Americans today. Our people are dying of cancer. Children are being abused. Friends are parting ways. Spouses are navigating miscarriage. Women are struggling with eating disorders. Young people are facing increasing fear and anxiety because of the swirling chaos around them. Relationships are complicated and nuanced. We are all grieving something – whether it’s the literal loss of a father or the figurative loss of a dream. This show is helping us lean into these losses.

I can particularly relate to Rebecca (played by Mandy Moore), who is widowed and finds herself raising three children on her own. She later marries her late husband’s best friend. Her circumstances feel reminiscent of mine. My husband died from cancer in 2014, and I immediately found myself raising three young daughters as a solo parent. By God’s wild grace, I, too, married one of my husband’s best friends and began a new life with my girls. We are traversing a similar journey of trying to honor my late husband’s legacy and trying to create a new life with new dreams.

Do you watch the show "This Is Us"? Here's why I think that show is helping all of us navigate our grief narrative. //

We watch Rebecca draw up great strength and courage after the death of her husband so she can help her three teenage children navigate their grief. At times, she pushes down her own needs and grief to tend to her family.

We see her son, Kevin (played by Justin Hartley), turn to alcohol and prescription drugs to cope with his father’s death. We witness his twin sister Kate (played by Chrissy Metz) struggling with food as she grows up. We learned in Season Two that this is partly a mask for her extreme guilt over the circumstances of her father’s death.

We also glimpse the grief of the adopted son Randall (played by Golden-Globe award-winning Sterling K. Brown). The legacy of his father (played by Milo Ventimiglia) is present with him as he matures and becomes a husband and father himself. Also in the show, Randall grapples with the cancer journey of his biological father (Ron Cephas Jones), who he is united with later in life. Randall faces a mid-life crisis that is very much informed by his grief over losing both father figures.

I appreciate that “This Is Us” presents grief in an emotionally authentic way. Viewers get a window into the ways many different characters navigate grief. Their loss affects them in different seasons of life in different ways. I remember my friend, who is a grief counselor, telling our young widows group that grief is like a ball of tangled yarn. It’s not a five-stage process that is linear. It’s not a race with a finish line; it’s a life-long journey with twists and turns and steep parts to the path.

She warned us that grief will affect our children differently in different seasons of life. As I listen to the stories of my friends who are widows and walk out my own journey, I know this to be true.

One thing that is missing from the “This Is Us” grief narrative is the element of faith. I know my own faith in a God who comforts has been the key to navigating grief and tragedy in my life. I find myself wondering what Rebecca’s narrative would look like if she turned to a faith that was more than just a faith in herself.

Do you watch the show "This Is Us"? Here's why I think that show is helping all of us navigate our grief narrative. //

I’m grateful for shows like “This Is Us” helping give those who have endured loss permission to grieve. This show also helps normalize conversations around grief. We all could offer up more comfort and be more present with each other if we would just begin the conversation about grief.

As Kate says in Season 2, Episode 3, “There is a difference between wallowing and actually having a normal conversation about [grief]. There is. You know what? When I went to my weight loss camp and I saw a therapist and she asked me about dad’s death, and I couldn’t talk about it. I couldn’t talk about it. And you know what she told me? She told me that if I don’t learn to face my grief, that it would be like taking in a deep breath and holding that breath for the rest of my life.”

**Photos by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC


Are you navigating a grief journey? I would love more opportunities to encourage you on a regular basis and share articles I write for friends who are grieving. Join my Glory Chasers tribe here.

This resource guide includes 5 tips for Grieving with Kids and suggestions of books, activities, movies and more to share with little ones to start conversations about grief.

*I have developed a FREE download for people navigating grief with kids. This includes tips and resources like book titles, movies and other creative projects that have proved useful with my own girls. Opt in here and I’ll slip it gently into your inbox!

**I offer coaching sessions for parents who are helping their kids navigate grief. Interested in some one-on-one help? Message me here.

Book review: Wonderstruck

Posted by | behold, book reviews, Creation, family life, Stories, Uncategorized, wonder | No Comments

The cool January breeze swirled as we strolled down to Elephant Seal Beach.  The Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery extends for 6 miles along the Central Coast of California. A crowd was already gathered along the wooden fence facing the ocean.

This time it was not the crashing waves or the angled afternoon light in sherbet colors that captured our attention.  The real attraction was the elephant seals.

Many friends told me I *had* to see the elephant seals and their babies. I’ll admit that I’m not really an “animal person” so I was underwhelmed at the thought. I am more frequently wowed by a sunset or mountain vista.

Make no mistake, the elephant seals command attention. These massive beasts often boast up to 4,000-5,000 pounds and the pups are 60-80 pounds at birth. The elephant seals spend most of their time at sea, but from December to March, they gather at select beaches for birthing and breeding.

I could have stood watching them for hours. The mothers cared for their pups. The daddies barked back and forth in funny banter. Some appeared lazy in the sun, some alive with energy and passion. As I watched their sand-flipping and sparring, I was wonderstruck by the wild creativity of our God.

My word theme for 2018 is wonder. My family and I are spending more time outdoors exploring God’s Creation. We are taking more trips to the ocean and mountains. I’m signing up for more trail runs. We want to read the Bible together and discover more about the wonders and miracles Jesus performed. We plan to spend time marveling together as a family and recounting the stories of His provision in our lives.

I started off the year by diving into Margaret Feinberg’s book, Wonderstruck: Awaken to the Nearness of God. The book invites readers to chase wonder through their everyday lives. She helps us to wake up to wonder in a variety of ways, including the wonder of God’s presence, creation, rest, prayer, restoration, friendship, forgiveness, gratitude and abundant life.

Margaret writes, “God delights for us to cup our hands in prayer and scrunch our faces against the vault of heaven in holy expectation that he will meet us in beautiful, mysterious ways. The Creator desires to captivate us not just with his handiwork but with himself…”

She so beautifully articulates what I have been learning over the last several years. Each day – no matter how ordinary or extraordinary – is an opportunity to chase God’s glory.

Margaret leads us on a journey calling out wonder in our world and digging into the Bible to highlight stories that illuminate God’s wonder. I also love the bonus features of this book, including a music playlist and the “Thirty Days of Wonder Challenge” at the end of the book.

Wonderstruck came at just the right time for me. I took the book with me to Ragged Point and read it while I watched a mesmerizing sunset over the Pacific Ocean. These words spoke to me about what I have been missing in my rush-a-long, get-it-done days. This book helped set the tone for my year. I’m slowing my pace and chasing wonder. Won’t you come along and #livewonderstruck?

If you’d like to learn more about my journey learning to chase God’s wonder and glory, check out my Glory Chasers Bible study now available on Amazon. This study invites readers to discover God’s glory in unexpected places.

Finding real rest after a tragedy

Posted by | behold, family life, flourishing, hope, running, self-care, Stories, Uncategorized, wonder | No Comments

Trail running provided a way for me to still my heart and listen to God after my husband's death. We all need rest and that looks different for different people. This article shares about my journey discovering soul care.

The other morning, I went for a trail run at one of my favorite spots in Central California. I was mesmerized anew by the waves of golden grasses undulating over the hills, the cerulean blue of the sky, and the branches of the trees stretching in a dance toward Heaven. Water lapped at the shore below. My trail shoes connected with the earth, tracing the sapphire edges of Millerton Lake.

I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but trail running has taught me to rest.

You are probably thinking running is not resting. There’s something about running free on a winding trail with God’s glory unfolding all around me. When I’m running, my heart stills and leans in to hear God speak.

Trail running provided a way for me to still my heart and listen to God after my husband's death. We all need rest and that looks different for different people. This article shares about my journey discovering soul care.

I have discovered as a 40-year-old mama of three active kids that rest in my daily life looks a little different than expected. I have shifted my thinking about rest. It’s not always about pedicures and weekends away and sleeping in. I know that by nature I am a highly-motivated, multi-tasking mama. I have to be intentional to carve out time and give myself permission for what I call “soul care” and rest.

A real rest for our souls is about running to God for all our needs.

This kind of rest requires saying no to constant striving, mindless scrolling, friend comparison, unbridled fear and sticky guilt.

{My friend Lea Turner is hosting the rest of this article over on her blog. Click HERE to continue.}

{A blog series} All Things New: Finding the Courage to Love Again

Posted by | brave, courage, death, family life, hope, marriage, relationships, Stories, struggle, transitions, Uncategorized, wonder | No Comments

The following is part of a blog series called “All Things New: Learning to Flourish After Loss.” I am sharing this month about my journey learning to flourish after my husband’s death in 2014. Be sure to check out some of the other posts in the series, including a few by guest writers.

We stood at Yosemite National Park’s most famous lookout, the Wawona Tunnel View. Fog and threads of clouds swirled around the chiseled mountain outlines of El Capitan and Half Dome. The majestic view was decidedly mysterious.

Although I have visited Yosemite many times throughout my life, that winter day was somehow different. The beauty was unexpected and breathtaking. The snow-capped mountains were pregnant with a kind of hope for spring rains, for abundance to come. And I knew it was the start of something new in me.

Even in the uncertainty, even in the grief, I felt God speaking to me. His presence was palpable. Despite all the voices in my head that were screaming not to step in, not to trust, not to risk having my heart shattered again, I knew God was inviting me into a new story.

I took a step that day. I felt like Moses stepping into the cloud in Exodus 33. I begged Him to show me His glory.

Shawn and I talked and prayed together as we walked the trails and drove the winding roads through the park. We reminisced about my late husband Ericlee, who had been one of Shawn’s best friends through the years.

When Shawn held my hand, I knew I had to have courage to begin again. Author Brene Brown says, “You can’t get to courage without walking through vulnerability.”

Love looks different when you’ve buried your soul mate long before his time. This was not the heart-fluttering, dress-up-for-Saturday dates kind of love of my twenties. This love affair was starting with vulnerability. It was dressed in a heavy cloak of grief and loss. And it came with the extra gift of three children who desperately missed their daddy in heaven.

A few months before my mama had planted a little seed in my heart. She told me she believed God was going to provide someone new – a husband for me and a father for the girls. I was still so broken from the loss of my beloved to cancer that I could hardly receive her words. I didn’t have the strength to dream. Not yet.

But the tiny mustard seed took root in the deepest recess of my heart.

Was it any wonder that I was also studying the story of Ruth and Boaz in my Bible study at church? I read that favorite Bible story with fresh eyes as a young widow. I had always admired Ruth and her character. I never imagined I would be able to relate to the emotions she felt after the death of her husband.

As I dug deep into the soil of the book of Ruth, I unearthed some new truths now that I was a widow. Ruth was courageous. She had to step out in vulnerability to receive God’s provision. She heeded the advice of her mother-in-law and humbly presented herself to Boaz.

I often wonder if she feared judgment. In my own Ruth-and-Boaz story, I grappled with fear of what people might say about beginning a relationship so soon after my husband’s death. Although I had been grieving for many months anticipating his death, I knew it would still be hard for some people to understand. I wavered when I thought about my daughters and the shame they might endure because of my actions. I worried about weaving together a new family.

Jesus continued to guide us step by step. I heard nothing but affirmation from my family and closest friends. Trusted mentors gave their blessing. Even my mother-in-law, who had buried her son that previous year, welcomed our relationship with open arms.

When we got engaged that summer, she cried tears of joy that her granddaughters would have a daddy. She adopted Shawn as her son years before I was even in the picture. There was no doubt in our minds this wild story was being written by God.

One time I asked Shawn if it was hard for him to think about marrying me when I had already been married before. He answered without pausing: “No, I just think God sent Ericlee to take care of my wife these 11 years so I could be with you the next 30 or 40.”

His perspective both shocked and comforted me. He had waited for so long to get married. (In fact, Ericlee and I had prayed over him for years that he might find a wife.) He had a quiet confidence that this was God’s plan. We had glimpsed His glory.

I’m not going to say finding the courage to love again has been easy. My heart has often trembled at the work before me. I have buried some dreams in order to cultivate new ones. I’m grateful for the way Shawn has made space for me to grieve those dreams. He has also encouraged me to create new ones.

I work hard not to compare Shawn to Ericlee. Although they both shared several interests and passions, they are two different men. I have to be careful not to expect Shawn to do things the way Ericlee did. I have to be conscious to celebrate the memories of the past, but not to exalt them when the present day feels hard.

Marriage in all circumstances requires work and courage. We have to be willing to be vulnerable, to grieve together, and to share our hearts. I am filled with a deep gratitude to be on this journey. I recognize it is a privilege to experience two loves in this lifetime.

Throughout scripture, God promises to make all things new. He is constantly doing the work of reclaiming, restoring and rebuilding. Maybe you have not lost a spouse, but you are struggling in another relationship. Maybe you need strength to reach out again.

Ponder these questions with me today: How can you step out in vulnerability to love again? How can you open your heart to the new story God might be writing for you?

When we are in Christ, He makes us a new creation. As it says in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Let’s step courageously into that today.

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

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

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

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

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

All Things New: Learning To Breathe Again” – guest post by Tara Dickson about emptying herself of expectations and breathing in God’s truth and hope after her husband’s death


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

**black and white version

*full-color version




*Featured Yosemite Photo by James Donovan on Unsplash

{A blog series} All Things New: Letting Dreams Die, Cultivating New Ones

Posted by | death, family life, grief, hope, kids, Stories, struggle, transitions | 2 Comments

The following is part of a blog series called “All Things New: Learning to Flourish After Loss.” I am sharing this month about my journey learning to flourish after my husband’s death in 2014. Be sure to check out some of the other posts in the series, including a few by guest writers.

Whenever I ride in a car with my dad, he hooks up his trusty GPS. He doesn’t use his smartphone. He uses one of the old school GPS gadgets that talks to you. In that signature nasal voice, the GPS lady tells us where and when to turn. She directs us to stay in a specific lane on the freeway. Every once in a while, Dad will make a wrong turn or take a different route. The GPS lady promptly starts repeating, “Recalculating, recalculating, recalculating….” until she adjusts and finds a new route to send us on.

The beginning of the year is a time when we all naturally start to recalculate. We choose what to say no to and what to commit to in a new season. We adjust our compasses with new goals in mind. We establish new rhythms in our homes and our hearts.

After my husband died from cancer in 2014, I entered an intense season of recalculating. Suddenly, I found myself navigating a host of new responsibilities and searching for a new normal. My family had to adjust to a new existence without my husband, whose gregarious personality and encouraging voice was a strong presence in our community.

On a daily basis, I was suddenly in charge of tasks I had depended on my husband for, like taking out the trash, doing all the dishes, getting the oil changed on the cars, and locking up the doors at night. I had to manage all the finances, which required wading through piles of medical bills, pursuing insurance claims and setting up social security accounts. Each task felt hard and heavy.

Not only had I lost my soulmate and best friend, but I also was without my partner in parenting. As the solo parent, I had to attend the school parent conferences on my own, get the kids to all their extra-curricular activities and make the final decisions about discipline. I had to find rhythms for our bedtime routine with three daughters who desperately wanted my individual attention. I was one exhausted mama trying to navigate the grief journey for all of us.

Letting dreams die

However, the hardest work I had to face was not completing all these new tasks. The hardest work happened deep in my heart as I was forced to adjust my hopes and dreams. When a loss occurs in a person’s life, it requires recalculating. We must discover a new path and sometimes even find a new destination. In some cases, we have to let our dreams die to make space for new ones to grow.

I made the hard decision to step down from my role helping direct a non-profit my husband and I had started in Haiti. I was also the director of a social goods business that provided jobs for women making jewelry in Haiti. I stepped away from this calling so I could focus on my daughters and our grief.

I am grateful for the friends and leaders who stepped up to fill my husband and my roles. Although I felt sure I was making the right decision, the greatest loss was the close-knit relationships. I would not see my friends in Haiti as much. The volunteers and interns I trained here in the U.S. were no longer under my care. It was painful to say goodbye to the things I had built with my husband and the dreams we had cultivated together.

Ann Voskamp writes in her book The Broken Way: “There is no growth without change, no change without surrender, no surrender without wound – no abundance without breaking. Wounds are what break open the soul to plant the seeds of deeper growth.”

Although I was broken, I believed God could nourish my family and do a new thing in me as He promised in Isaiah 43:18-19. I just didn’t know exactly what it would look like.

Tuning my heart

When I was younger, I used to play piano. The piano is one of those instruments that needs to be tuned periodically. I remember watching (or rather listening) to a man tune our piano one time. He used a lever or “hammer” to turn the tuning pins inside the piano, which increases or decreases the tension of the strings.

A good piano tuning is two things: accurate (in tune) and stable (stays in tune).

After my husband’s death, I started to pray for God to tune my heart to the new plans He had for the girls and me. I surrendered to the Master Tuner and let Him lead me in an accurate direction. He was the only one who could provide stability for my heart without my husband.

In the darkness of grief, I reached out for God. Each morning I woke up before my children and poured over His Word on the big red couch in our front room. I felt like I needed these words to breathe. I prayed for God to give me strength and manna just for that day, to help me hear the new song He was composing just for me.

Some days I stumbled over the notes. Other days I started to hear a few measures of music, and I found myself humming a tune. This was the work He was doing to tune me on the inside. God grew courage and faith in me in that season of waiting and dependence.

Cultivating new dreams

From that red couch in our front room, I had a view of the Japanese maple tree in the front yard. I watched as the leaves turned into a slow waltz of reds, greens and golds. The leaves floated to the ground and frost covered the trunk. Some days fog swirled in. Then one surprising day tiny green shoots appeared on the branches. New leaves, new life emerged and covered the tree.

God began to reveal new dreams to me. After a process of grieving the decision to leave Haiti, God began to open my eyes and heart to Fresno and the Central San Joaquin Valley as my home. I started receiving invitations to share my story around the valley. I was invited to speak at a women’s retreat for another church in northern California.

I started a project writing my story as a Bible study in hopes of encouraging others. I began a picture book project for younger kids to help them journey through grief – something I hadn’t really found for my own girls.

God was cultivating in me a new sense of purpose. I found myself following dreams of publishing and speaking, buying a new house and traveling more. I watched my girls gain new confidence and courage at school. Our story began to feel less like a book with a tragic ending and more like a work-in-progress about overcoming. He was, indeed, making all things new.

In Revelation 21, there is a vision of the New Heaven and the New Earth that I often cling to when I’m dreaming about the future. It says this:

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

I want to challenge you with two questions I have often asked myself:

Are you allowing God to help you recalibrate your heart after loss? Are you giving Him permission to tune your heart to new dreams?

No matter what tragedy you have endured, no matter the difficult path before you, He is in the process of making all things new.

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

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

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

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

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

**black and white version

*full-color version

*Featured photo by Caleb Whiting on Unsplash

{A blog series} All Things New: My new normal

Posted by | back to school, brave, death, family life, grief, Guest blogger, parenting, Stories, transitions | No Comments

The following is a guest post written by my widow friend, Danell teNyenhuis. I met her through a young widows group in Fresno, California called G.I.G. (Gals in Growth) facilitated by grief counselor Patty Behrens. I hope her story gives you a glimpse of what life after loss can look like. I love the way Danell has embraced her “new normal” and made it her own.


On April 19, 2016, I was a happily married mother of two daughters, ages 17 and 19. I was working at a job that I didn’t particularly love but I had a great life. I had been married for nearly 24 years to the love of my life and we were looking forward to being empty nesters! On April 20, my perfect little world was shattered when a drug-impaired driver hit and killed my husband Patrick, while he was on his morning bike ride.

I’ve written so many things about that day and the days since then. My journey has not been easy but I’ve kept going, and now I’m at a new place in my life. The day Patrick died I was overwhelmed with the outpouring of love and support. Even that first day I felt deep gratitude. I knew right away that the direction of my life would change; I just didn’t know how.

Admittedly, there were , such as becoming more involved with our church, Divine Mercy, and starting my Village of Support group. I try to give myself a break and realize that I can only do so much. God has a plan, and it’s not always exactly what we think it is going to be.

The biggest thing I discovered is that people like to read what I write. I’m told that I am able to put my thoughts into words that help people in some way. The main reason I write is to help with my own healing process. Helping others is an unexpected bonus.

I also discovered that I can remain calm in a crisis and that helping others is also healing for me. As I sorted through the remnants of my shattered life, I decided to focus on the things that gave me joy, including my girls, my family, and helping others.

In September 2016, I enrolled in Grand Canyon University and began an online master’s program in Professional Clinical Counseling. I am on track to graduate in early 2020 if I take one class at a time. Fortunately, my employer was offering early retirement packages. I retired last January so I’ve been able to focus on school. Neither of these things were even on my radar before Patrick died.

Another part of the healing process for me was to make small, gradual changes at home. I went through Patrick’s things at my own pace and did some re-organizing. I had to learn how to do things that were previously his responsibility. I made decisions about the house and yard that he would normally make.

These changes at home have helped my grieving process. When you walk in my home, it’s still the same house, but not exactly the same. I need it to look different because my mind sometimes plays this cruel trick and tries to convince me that it was all a nightmare. I never have to look far for a gentle reminder that he is gone, but I am still here and doing okay.

Continuing his legacy

My husband was full of life and it’s hard to imagine he is gone. Honoring his memory and preserving it is very important to me. I created a Virtual Memorial page modeled after the page a classmate created for his son.

The Patrick’s Virtual Memorial page includes his obituary, eulogy, photos, videos and messages. The page has been visited 13,401 times and that means a lot to me. Patrick was in a bluegrass band, The Steam Donkeys. I have a lot of videos from performances and ones he made of himself practicing. These are stored on his YouTube channel, PatrickT9. The best ones are the ones that have him talking in between songs. They really show his quirky humor.

My blog is my biggest tribute to him. My Life After Patrick started as a way for me to tell the incredible story of how love and community got me through the Worst Day of My Life. Later it became a way for me to remember and share stories of Patrick. Today, it serves as documentation of how I continue to make my way towards my new normal. I was also able to show how well our daughters are doing and their accomplishments. I know he is smiling down on all of us from heaven.

Raising daughters

I really worried about my daughters, Sierra and Camille. I should have known their dad was continuing to be present in their lives. Sierra took incompletes in classes after his death, but went on to not only complete them but graduate from CSU Long Beach in three years with honors. Camille graduated from Clovis East with honors and was accepted at UC Davis.

Saying goodbye to my youngest daughter Camille this past September was hard. I wasn’t sure how she would do at school. She has been such a rock through all of this, and I was worried that she hadn’t taken time to grieve. I know it wasn’t easy.

The very first day she joined a Christian fellowship. She quickly developed close friendships. She started attending mass on Sundays – something we had not done regularly for many years. She told me the first Sunday was very emotional, but it felt good. When she is home on breaks, we have gone together. One Sunday I gave her a hug because it was so nice to be there with her. Later she told me that she was feeling her Dad’s presence.

Blending families

The biggest blessing since Patrick died has been the way our families have come together. I like to tell people that they have merged. Patrick used to get together with his brothers on the first Friday of each month. The first year after he died we continued this tradition and invited both of our immediate and extended families.

My siblings refer to his siblings as brother and sister, and I feel like I have another set of parents. We spend a lot more time together. In fact, my brother took Mom and Pop teNyenhuis on his family vacation! This has helped us all as we continue to grieve.

I also know that Patrick would not want me to be alone. I know there is no jealousy in heaven and if I fall in love again I know he will be cheering me on. I am cautiously venturing out into dating. It’s not easy and definitely a lot different at this age, but I’m giving it a shot.

I turned 50 in December – a milestone that Patrick will never reach. I chose to throw myself a party and took a trip to Disneyland! A little extravagant, but it was great to celebrate with family and friends! My new normal includes taking time to celebrate family and friends as often as possible. I like to find ways to make new memories with my kids! Life is short, and I want to enjoy it.

A week before Patrick died the girls and I took him to the Paul McCartney concert on his birthday. I had bought him a laptop for Christmas and he had begun recording himself playing his banjo. The day he died I opened his computer and found a video of him playing Blackbird. I consider it a love letter that he left for the girls and me. These lyrics are meaningful to us:


Blackbird singing in the dead of night

Take these broken wings and learn to fly

All your life

You were only waiting for this moment to arise


Blackbird singing in the dead of night

Take these sunken eyes and learn to see

All your life

You were only waiting for this moment to be free


I would give anything to have my old life back, but I can honestly say I have a good life today. I think Patrick would be proud of me. The three of us have, in our own ways, moved forward and done great things. We have taken our broken wings and learned to fly. We have embraced our new normal! I know God has great plans for all of us.

 Danell teNyenhuis is the proud mother of Sierra and Camille. She is retired from Aetna and is currently a full-time student through Grand Canyon University, pursuing her master’s degree in Professional Clinical Counseling. She hopes to someday turn her blog stories into a book. Connect with Danell on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram as Danellt9. 


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

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

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

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

**black and white version

*full-color version

{A blog series} All Things New: Learning to Flourish After Loss

Posted by | death, family life, flourishing, grief, hope, identity, parenting, Stories, struggle | 2 Comments

The other day, one of my favorite songs started to play on my Spotify playlist just as I stepped into the shower. The hot water warmed me and freed the dirt particles from my skin after a muddy, trail run in the rain. The familiar words and music to “Beautiful Things” by Gungor washed over me:

All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change, at all
All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found?
Could a garden come out from this ground, at all?

These lyrics speak the questions I’ve grappled with in my heart these last three and a half years since my husband graduated to Heaven. There has been deep grief to navigate. I have experienced secondary losses, including work, friends, family and dreams. As a mama of three, I had to walk my own grief journey, but I also had to be attentive to my daughters and creating a safe space for them to grieve.

I often found myself wondering if I would ever find my way out of the pain and suffering. Everything looked dead, dry and malnourished. I felt like a shriveled, thirsty plant, grieving my past and uncertain about my future.

I had experienced life in a flourishing garden, but suddenly I felt uprooted and alone. Once confident and courageous, I was suddenly unsure of myself, my decisions, my parenting – everything. If you have ever left a home, a church, or a job, lost a loved one, suffered a health condition or watched a dream die, perhaps you can relate.

I was thirsty for God to do a new thing in me. I needed Him to root me deeply in His truth and cultivate my heart for a new future. One of my theme Bible passages for this season has been Isaiah 43:18-19. These words have provided water for my parched soul even on the dark days:

“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.”

Three words jump out at me from this passage. The first is “springs.” The word springs reminds me of the season of Spring, which is often marked by new growth and blooms. Springs is also an action verb. I visualize something moving forward with energy and direction. God is speaking to you and me in this passage about a new thing He is growing for our future. His work may be underground right now, but He is working all the same.

The second word from this passage that I find myself lingering on is “perceive.” According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, perceive means to gain awareness or understanding through the senses. The question, “Do you not perceive it?” urges readers to look for understanding of what God might be doing in our lives today. God wants us to seek Him. He wants us to have our eyes wide open to His glory – not just when life feels easy and blessed, but also through the challenges.

The word “way” also jumps off the page at me. The imagery here is that God provides a way in the wilderness, where there normally isn’t a path. He provides rivers in the desert or living water in the brittle places of our lives. God’s ways are the unexpected ways. We see Him on the crimson petals of a winter rose. We feel Him in the cool rain that comes after the devastating fire. We experience Him in the new love story unfolding after a heart has been broken.

God continued to whisper these words, “I am doing a new thing,” over me the last few years. He has proved faithful again and again to provide a way.

Throughout January, I will be sharing a series of new blogs with you on the theme “All Things New: Learning to Flourish After Loss.” I want to unfold some of the stories of how God has made things new in my life since my husband’s death. It’s important to me to perceive how God is making a way for my family and to respond by sharing the stories of God’s faithfulness with others.

I also invited some of my writer friends to share their stories this month. The series will include guest posts from Danielle Comer, Danell teNyenhuis, Tara Dickson and Mary K. Hill. All four of them have endured loss, but have also experienced God making their lives new in surprising ways.

Whether you are a widow, a person who has endured great loss, or a reader who loves to trace God’s stories of redemption, you are invited on this journey. This month I hope you will be inspired and challenged by these stories. I pray you will also begin to see God at work in new ways in your own life.

I can’t help myself. I keep singing the chorus of that “Beautiful Things” song in the shower: “You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of dust. You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of us.” Let’s perceive His work together.


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

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

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

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

All Things New: Learning To Breathe Again” – guest post by Tara Dickson about emptying herself of expectations and breathing in God’s truth and hope after her husband’s death


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

**black and white version

*full-color version

10 Inspiring Books I Read in 2017

Posted by | book reviews, community, compassion, death, family life, flourishing, friendship, grief, inspirational, Personal Stories, relationships, self-care, serve, social justice, Stories, struggle, transitions, world travel | No Comments

At the start of 2017, one of the goals I set out for myself was to read. Don’t get me wrong: I read all the time, but my goal was to intentionally read books.

This goal was about quality reading not quantity.

I found in this fast-paced, social media-driven world that I was too-often reading lines and posts and headlines, but seldom reading for depth, understanding, reflection. I had this bad habit of starting books and never finishing them because my schedule was too jam-packed.

This past year I gave myself permission to put down my smart phone and feel the delicious pages of books between my fingers. I let my kids play at the beach or the park, while I read. I spent Sunday afternoons reading for long stretches. I brought actual books with me wherever I went like i did when I was a child. I underlined and wrote notes in the margins. These books became my companions, my journals of sorts.

And now I have a stack of books that I actually read. These 10 books especially have been a part of my 2017 journey. They have challenged me, encouraged me and inspired me. They have walked me through grief and helped me see God’s glory. I hope you will explore some of them too.

  1. The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp

Subtitle: A Daring Path Into the Abundant Life

Genre: Christian Life/Spiritual Growth

Quotable: “Wounds can be openings to the beauty in us. And our weaknesses can be a container for God’s glory… God does great things through the greatly wounded. God sees the broken as the best and He sees the best in the broken and He called the wounded to be world changers.”

My review: The theme of this book is identifying our brokenness and stepping into the brokenness of others as the path to a more abundant life. If you feel broken and bruised, if you are wondering whether there could possibly be a way forward through grief, if you are burdened by the suffering in our world, you must read The Broken Way. It may just be your path to the abundant life.

For the full book review, click HERE.

  1. Nothing to Prove by Jennie Allen

Subtitle: Why We Can Stop Trying So Hard

Genre: Christian Living

Quotable: “We get to trade striving for rest. We get to trade striving for confidence – not confidence in ourselves but in the power of a sturdy heroic God, eager to rescue.”

My review: Nothing to Prove is written for the weary traveler, the woman who is overwhelmed by expectations and pressures, as well as the hidden belief that she is not good enough, talented enough or spiritual enough. Jennie shares real-life stories of her own struggle with inadequacy and insecurity, and then invites readers into a more spacious, grace-filled place.

For the full book review, click HERE.


  1. You Are Free by Rebekah Lyons

Subtitle: Be Who You Already Are

Genre: Christian Life/Inspirational

Quotable: “God cares more about our presence than our performance.”

My review: In You Are Free, I felt like Rebekah invited me to sit down for a cup of coffee to talk about freedom and all the many ways I need to walk in it. Rebekah tells her story of rescue from striving and approval, but she also invites readers to reflect on their own story.

For the full book review, click HERE.


  1. Never Unfriended by Lisa-Jo Baker

Subtitle: The Secret to Finding and Keeping Lasting Friendships

Genre: Women’s Issues/Spiritual Growth

Quotable: “I am convinced that the shortest distance between strangers and friends is a shared story about our broken places.”

My review: Lisa-Jo offers up a healthy mix of authentic, personal anecdotes and rich biblical teaching. About three chapters in, I realized this book wasn’t just about friendships gone awry or girl drama like I thought. This book is actually about cultivating real, authentic community. There couldn’t be a topic more near and dear to my heart.

For the full book review, click HERE.


  1. At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider

Subtitle: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe

Genre: Personal Memoir

Quotable: “Travel has taught me the blessing of ordinariness, of rootedness and stability. It’s courageous to walk out the front door and embrace earth’s great adventures, but the real act of courage is to return to that door, turn the knob, walk through, unpack the bags, and start the kettle for a cup of tea.”

My review: When I opened Tsh Oxenreider’s recently-released travel memoir, I knew I had found a kindred spirit. Tsh understands what it is like to feel At Home in the World. She, too, is a mama fueled by wanderlust but also longing for a sense of rootedness, a sense of community, a sense of home.

For the full book review, click HERE.


  1. Remarkable Faith by Shauna Letellier

Subtitle: When Jesus Marveled at the Faith of Unremarkable People

Genre: Christian Living/Inspirational

Quotable: “Whether you have built a synagogue, an orphanage, or a fine Christian reputation, you cannot earn God’s favor. God’s grace to us in Christ is a gift! … We cannot place God in our service by stockpiling good deeds and dangling them before him as a currency, as though we hold the carrot that makes him do our bidding.”

My review: When I opened Shauna Letellier’s book, Remarkable Faith, I was filled anew with childlike wonder over the Bible stories. Like a master storyteller, Shauna draws us into eight Bible stories of “unremarkable” people who went to great lengths to get to Jesus. As a result of their faith, Jesus healed them and used them as examples of remarkable faith. I was immediately drawn into this book because of the way Shauna reimagines these stories in such a vivid and historically accurate way.

For the full book review, click HERE.

  1. And Still She Laughs by Kate Merrick

Subtitle: Defiant Joy in the Depths of Suffering

Genre: Christian Life/Spiritual Growth

Quotable: “We want the blessing of a Christian life but none of the pain. We think twice about diving in, risking love because we might lose it, risking reputation, comfort, all these things we think will keep us safe and happy. We sit in a beach chair across the street because we don’t want to get dirty or uncomfortable or become a target for sea gulls.”

My review: Kate Merrick’s book, And Still She Laughs, examines the Bible’s gritty stories of resilient women as well as her own experience losing a child to reveal surprising joy and deep hope even in the midst of heartache. What I appreciate most is Kate’s honesty. She doesn’t sugarcoat the pain. She doesn’t offer up pat answers or trite, happy thoughts for navigating grief. She’s frank, funny and real. She’s not afraid to talk about the day of her miscarriage or the time a dog peed on her at the beach or how she and her daughter pranked the nurses during her daughter’s cancer treatment.

For the full book review, click HERE.

  1. Shalom Sistas by Osheta Moore

Subtitle: Living Wholeheartedly in a Broken World

Genre: Christian Living/Social Issues

Quotable: “A Shalom Sista recognizes that brokenheartedness and whole- hearted living are not opposites. No, we hold these things in tension. We’re beautiful and we’re broken.”

My review: Osheta Moore’s book, Shalom Sistas: Living Wholeheartedly in a Broken World, reached out to me right where I am today – heart-weary, wanting more shalom in my life, and wondering where I can contribute in this chaotic world. Osheta describes a “shalom sista” as a woman who loves people, follows the Prince of Peace, and never gives up her sass.

For the full book review, click HERE.

  1. Picturing Heaven by Randy Alcorn, Illustrated by Lizzie Preston

Subtitle: 40 Hope-filled Devotions with Coloring Pages

Genre: Devotional/Adult Coloring Book/Inspirational

Quotable: “God’s children are destined for life as resurrected beings on a resurrected Earth. We must not lose sight of our true destination!”

My review: This book features beautiful spreads illustrated by Lizzie Preston with special gold overlays and short devotionals by Randy Alcorn. The beautiful images designed for coloring initially attracted my attention, but it was the deep reflections paired with scriptures that invited me into the Heaven conversation anew. What I like most about this book is that it breaks down some of the main themes from Alcorn’s original Heaven book into easy-to-understand nuggets.

 For the full book review, click HERE.

  1. Daring to Hope by Katie Davis Majors

Subtitle: Finding God’s Goodness in the Broken and the Beautiful

Genre: Christian Living/Inspirational

Quotable: “My hope is a flickering flame that has weathered wind and storm. Somehow, God will not allow it to be completely blown out. He sustains me. No matter how desperate things become, somewhere deep inside me He has placed the audacity to hope, the daring to believe that this time, things could be different.”

My review: Daring to Hope is a book about holding on to hope when you’re bone-weary and broken. Katie’s poignant storytelling and vulnerable sharing invites readers in. She grapples with the death of a friend, the sickness of many in her community, the suffering of her children. She walks a tightrope across life and death and still manages to embrace the extraordinary in the ordinary. She returns again and again to God’s Word and her purpose to give Him glory.

For the full book review, click HERE.

What are some of the books you read in 2017? What is on your bedside stack for the new year? Comment below. I share reviews and recommendations regularly in my Glorygram. Join my community HERE.

*Disclaimer: uses affiliate links for things Dorina has bought and/or used personally. If you click through her referral link, at no additional cost to you, she earns a commission if you make a purchase. 

Behold the Savior: Remembering Heaven as part of Christmas

Posted by | behold, christmas, family life, fear, finishing well, grief, sharing faith, Stories | No Comments

The following is the final piece of a four-part Advent devotional I created in December as a gift for my readers.


The other night we piled in the car with our jammies on and took the kids on a drive down Christmas Tree Lane. This iconic Christmas light show has been operating for 95 years in our city of Fresno. As we were inching down the two-mile-long lane, my 6-year-old Zayla squealed with delight. “Mama, mama, look!” I heard her say. “It’s the Activity Scene.”

We all giggled when we saw her pointing at this beautiful wooden Nativity Scene lit up in front of one of the houses. It was so cute I didn’t even bother correcting her.

After all, there was a lot activity in that scene. And there’s lots of activity in this season. If we don’t take time to pause and ponder these things in our hearts, we might miss the wonder of it all. We could miss the heart of Christmas, which we have been anticipating and awaiting all month long.

Over the last three weeks of Advent, I have invited you to Behold the Creator, Behold the Good News and Behold the Christ Child with me. My prayer has been that this Behold devotional would provide a fresh lens for us to see Advent. Friends, what we behold reveals our hearts.

This is the fourth week of Advent, but also a unique year because Christmas Eve falls on the final Advent Sunday. Let’s lean in close and remember why there is so much activity to behold in the scene. This baby laying in a rustic, uncomfortable manger was born with one main purpose: to be our Savior.

All of the Bible points to the coming of this Savior. By some estimates, there are more than 300 Old Testament passages that talk about the coming Messiah in great detail. The Jews waited for hundreds of years for this promise to be fulfilled. In Luke 19, Jesus speaks his purpose again: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10). Jesus was a promise fulfilled to all of us.

All the details are right there in the Christmas story, according to Luke, when the angel visited the shepherds in the fields: “And the angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, ‘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 2:9-11).

Many of us who have grown up in Christian churches could probably recite these verses from memory. We have heard and read these scriptures dozens of times. We continue to sing the Christmas carols that tell the miraculous story. This passage in Luke is at once a gentle whisper and a loud anthem, reminding us we do not need to fear for the good news is our Savior has come.

The message repeated could become rote or it could serve as the most important daily reminder: Every one of us needs a savior.

Are you battling fear today?

Maybe you are fearful someone will find out about your sin and your shortcomings. Maybe you are fearful you are not good enough. Maybe you are fearful to embrace joy after the death of a loved one. Maybe you are fearful about your future or the future of your children.

I have been there.

Every time I am tempted to succumb to fear, the words of the angel wash over me. Fear not, for behold the good news that God sent His one and only son to be our Savior. I don’t want to have amnesia on this point. I don’t ever want to forget why I desperately need a Savior.

This is the fourth Christmas my husband has spent in Heaven. My mother-in-law and I were having lunch the other day and talking about how amazing Christmas must be in the presence of God. As much as we deeply miss our Ericlee, we do not wish for him to come back to earth. He has a new glorious body free from cancer and the sin of this world. He is relishing eternity with his Savior. We will join him there one day.

And this, my friends, is why we all need a savior. Our citizenship is in heaven. We are to behold Heaven as an integral part of Christmas. When the Savior was born and then died and rose again, we were all given a chance to unwrap the gift of grace.

The Apostle Paul reminds us in Philippians that we are to long for Heaven. He writes, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (Philippians 3:20-21, NIV).

Behold, Jesus is our Savior. He came to reveal God and all His glory to us. He came to rescue the exploited, to revive the weary, to restore the brokenhearted, to reclaim the marginalized and redeem all who believe. He will take us to Heaven one day for the grandest Christmas celebration.

Guest post: Grief and the Holidays: How to survive when you don’t feel like celebrating

Posted by | christmas, community, compassion, death, family life, grief, Guest blogger, kids, Stories, struggle, transitions | 2 Comments

The following is a guest post from my friend and grief counselor, Patty Behrens. Her insight and encouragement has carried me these last three years since my husband’s death. I love the way she reaches out to people navigating loss,  especially young widows. She facilitates a young widows group I have been a part of called Gals in Growth (GIG) that meets monthly in Fresno.


“The ‘Merry’ in Christmas and the ‘Happy’ in New Year just doesn’t seem to fit this year.”

Those words were the first line of my very short Christmas letter to family and friends 5 months after my husband died suddenly on a family vacation. I didn’t feel much like celebrating. I wanted to push the fast forward button to skip over the holidays and wake up in January. That was not going to be possible with three children anxiously awaiting the upcoming festivities of Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Can you relate?

Our family of five loved the holidays with all the festivities and traditions of picking out a Christmas tree at a local tree farm. We’d run through the mass of trees hiding and chasing each other on our search for the “perfect” tree. Of course, my hubby was the one to cut the tree, get it secured on the car and bring it into the house for decorating. How was it possible to get through that tradition, not to mention the multiple others?

There was decorating the tree with each of our bags of special ornaments while Christmas music played in the background or lighting an Advent candle with a special dessert each week, delivering gifts and food to a needy family, having my in-laws over Christmas Eve for traditional homemade German food and my husband reading the Christmas story while the kids played the various parts, and eating our special homemade raspberry almond coffee cake with a candle lit as we sang “Happy Birthday” to Jesus.

It was impossible to replicate any of these traditions because “he” was a vital part of all of them all.

We did survive although we certainly did not thrive that first holiday season. I tried the best I could to make things good for my precious children. But, I had to do some things differently. My sensitive daughter wanted to hang on to every tradition as I simply explained, “This year I can’t.”

We let some of those traditions go and others we tweaked a bit to ease the pain. We invited close family friends over for Christmas Eve along with my in-laws for our traditional German meal. That evening we spent the night at my sister’s home despite protests from my daughter. I could not bare the pain of waking up that Christmas morning without him.

I wish I could say that was a smart move; however, it brought some pain of its own. It was too different as we stepped into their traditions, which were far from our own. Christmas dinner at my mom’s house brought more distress as both my dad (who had died a year earlier) along with my hubby were missing. There was no mention of either of them. It was the classic “elephant in the room” scenario.

Back at our house, we reclaimed the day as each child lit a candle in memory of their dad. We snuggled on the couch to watch home videos of him. The memories came bursting forth with laughter and joyous comments as the videos played. We survived our first Christmas.

Our second Christmas was much better as I intentionally made some changes. We chose as a family which traditions and activities were important while other ones were let go. We still invited a family over for Christmas Eve, which started a new tradition for us.

We decided to stay home for Christmas morning to do our thing. We brought the “elephant” out of the room as we played home videos at my mom’s house which opened the door to laughter and precious stories of our loved ones. They were remembered.

Through this grief journey, God has taught me numerous, valuable lessons and even gave me a ministry of helping other widows in ways I had struggled. Care Connections was birthed in April of 2002 and continues today. We have monthly work days where workers do home projects at widows’ homes, including putting up Christmas lights, decorations and trees if needed, along with other home needs throughout the year.

My favorite work day of the year is December as families, singles and people of all ages gather to deliver over 150 gifts to widows and their children letting them know we care and are thinking about them. It’s a tradition for my family. There are also home projects being completed with several of them being Christmas related.

The work days provide monthly opportunities to connect with other families. Through the years, my children had male role models who taught them how to do various home tasks and operate power tools, (Yes, my son learned how to operate a chain saw!) At Care Connections, we all learn to serve others in need.

This year, why not join us? If you live in Fresno/Clovis, I invite you to come with your children or by yourself to Care Connections on December 2 as we once again deliver gifts to widows for a few hours in the morning. We meet at the back of the Bridge Church parking lot at 3438 E. Ashlan Avenue in Fresno at 8:30 am where you can join a work crew or a team delivering gifts. We all return for a delicious lunch at noon where stories of the morning are shared. It may not make the holidays pain-free but it will be one of those activities you will remember as being “good” and lifting your mood for that day.

There’s no magical way to fast forward through the holidays or remove the pain, but there are ways to have “moments of joy” where the pain is eased and to help make the holidays a little bit better. Click here for a guide to Survive the Holidays. For more tips on surviving and thriving through the holidays, sign up here to receive weekly encouragement during this holiday season.

Patty Behrens is a licensed psychotherapist with a private practice in Fresno, California with specialties in grief, trauma and anxiety with a passion for helping others through their life struggles. She is founder and director of the Care Connections grief ministry, To contact Patty or receive her more tips for surviving the holidays, go to

Photo Credit: Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

An Unexpected Feast: When Grief Meets Gratitude

Posted by | community, compassion, cooking, death, family life, flourishing, food stories, friendship, gifts, grief, kids, soup, Stories | No Comments

We dipped into hearty bowls of butternut squash soup garnished with sprigs of fresh parsley. We passed platters of golden roasted turkey, Nana’s green bean casserole, and homemade crescent rolls. My dear friend added a plate of her family’s special Salvadoran pupusas to the mix, while my famous pumpkin tiramisu chilled in the refrigerator for our grand finale.

What mattered that year was not what we were serving up on our plates but what we were serving up in our hearts. There was a deep gratitude that was almost palpable around the table after the grief journey we had endured as a family.

Just the year before, we had navigated our first holiday without my beloved husband. He was diagnosed with stage four cancer that May and soared to heaven in September, leaving our whole family and community reeling. I never imagined this would be my story. I didn’t ever believe the tasks of a widow-mama would be in my wheelhouse.

That first Thanksgiving we all had to recalibrate for we had lost our leader. I missed him helping me chop the celery for the soup. I missed his booming voice saying the blessing. I missed him entertaining the girls and laughing loud during dessert. His absence loomed large at the table. I had to dig deep to pull up the gratitude then. I had to train myself to name the small gifts – breath in my lungs, three brave daughters, sunsets chasing across the sky, and saving grace.

A year later, the landscape of my heart and our family had changed dramatically.

Just like the abundant food on our table, the blessings were abundant too. My fiancé sat to my right. He started the meal with a blessing-prayer, thanking God for our first meal as a family in the new home we just bought. My youngest girl with the golden hair, like her “Daddy with Jesus,” squeezed the hand of her daddy-to-be. She was bubbling with excitement for the wedding in January where she would be the flower girl.

My dear friend from El Salvador, her two sons, her husband, and his two sisters from India joined our table. They, too, had tasted grief that year as their dad had journeyed through cancer. These were friends who had become like family to us during crisis.

We shared tears and prayers. We drew close together in the gratitude.

After we had emptied the bottles of sparkling cider and most of us were pushing back from the table, there was a kind of hush…

To read the rest of this post, click here and join me at (in)courage.

5 Tips on How to Talk to Kids about Death

Posted by | death, family life, grief, kids, parenting, sharing faith, Stories, struggle | One Comment

I got a text from a friend of mine a few months ago. She explained that she was traveling to Texas to be with her grandkids whose other grandma had just died. She asked if I had any advice on how to talk to the kids. That got me thinking about some of the things I’ve learned these last three years as we have navigated my husband’s death from cancer and the deaths of several others in our community.

I want to first acknowledge that every grief journey is unique. It’s important to be attentive to individual needs and personalities. Everything I have learned has come through trial and error with my three daughters who were ages 2, 5 and 8 when their dad died. I sought counsel from friends who have navigated the journey before me and a trusted grief counselor.

Talking to kids about death can be difficult, but we shouldn’t avoid it. Death is a reality of our life. It’s not possible for me to shield my daughters from the daily dance with death and dying. I want to be the one helping them navigate their emotions and questions. I believe normalizing conversations about death has helped give my children permission to share their feelings and grieve in a healthy way.

Here are 5 tips to keep in mind as you navigate the sensitive topic of death with little ones:

  1. Be direct with your language.

It’s tempting to use vague language to explain that someone died, but this can be confusing for little ones. I have learned that being direct and loving is important. If you have experienced a miscarriage or the loss of grandparent, it’s good to say “The baby died” or “Grandma died” in a direct way. My girls had the unique opportunity to be with their daddy when he breathed his last breath. After he died, we all had to navigate how to speak about it to others. I urged them to simply say, “My dad died.” We tried to avoid saying “He passed away” or “We lost him.”

  1. Do something creative to help them share.

Kids may not know how to express their emotions at first. I have found that engaging my girls in something creative often helps open the door for them to share. Some grief counselors even use creative play with very little ones to help them process. My girls attended a support group through Hinds Hospice after their dad died. Some of their activities included art projects. Each girl decorated a picture frame and shared memories about their dad. It’s more natural to share while doing something together.

  1. Give them permission to cry.

Nothing has created a more powerful connection between my daughters and me than crying together. As parents our instinct is to want to hide our tears and hold it together in front of our kids. I believe it’s important to share tears with our kids when someone dies. They witness how important that person was to you. They also have permission to grieve freely. My daughters gained a sense of empathy in this process. They comforted me and each other when the grief was especially heavy. I’ve watched them do this with others now too. 

  1. Engage them in ways to honor the person who died.

Kids need to feel like they are part of the process. Each year I invite them to help me think of creative ways to honor their dad on anniversaries and holidays. For example, every year on his birthday they join me and we invite friends to do a special workout in their dad’s honor. Their dad loved running and fitness so this is a way we can honor him and his legacy. On the day of his Heaveniversary, we also do special things to remember him like taking a picnic to the cemetery and inviting friends over for a dinner party where we tell stories about him.

  1. Check in often.

Conversations about death and processing grief need to be ongoing. My daughters and I all have different things that trigger our sadness or instigate questions. I have learned it’s important to check in with each other often. We take opportunities to talk in the car on the way to school or even on family trips when we are away from our home environment. I try to schedule “date nights” with each of my girls one-on-one at least once a month so I have the space to listen and let them share.

Be encouraged, friend. You might feel inadequate to navigate these difficult conversations but just showing up is key. I always say a little prayer and ask God to give me ears to hear my children’s hearts and the right words to comfort them. This is our opportunity to share our faith with our kids in a deeper way. If we are willing to step into these hard conversations with our kids, however messy and awkward, we may crack open the door for God to bring healing for them and for us.


*I have developed a FREE download for people navigating grief with kids. This includes tips and resources like book titles, movies and other creative projects that have proved useful with my own girls. Opt in here and I’ll slip it gently into your inbox!

**I offer coaching sessions for parents who are helping their kids navigate grief. Interested in some one-on-one help? Message me here.


Celebrating a Heaveniversary: 10 ways to honor a loved one’s death

Posted by | courage, death, family life, grief, kids, running, Stories, struggle | 5 Comments

It surprises me every year at this time. We are finally settling into a school routine and a fall activity rhythm. I’ve hit my stride with my creative work and the groups I’m leading are kicking off. Then out of nowhere I start to get this slow ache deep in my soul.

Grief sneaks in.

And somehow my body and my soul know before my brain that this was the week. Three years ago, these were the final days when my husband was fighting for his life. My memory skids and careens and bumps over the memories. The call to hospice. The oxygen tank. The way my bedroom was turned into a hospital room. The desperate prayers whispered in the kitchen or the bathroom, in the darkest hours when none of us could sleep.

I prayed a prayer I never believed I could. I begged God to take him, to release him from his pain. I looked into his hazel eyes and told my beloved the girls and I would be ok.

And on September 9, 2014, my beloved husband soared to Heaven.

Such beautiful sweet redemption for him after an intense cancer battle. And unexpected relief for me. I did not have to watch him suffer anymore. I had confidence he was running the streets of gold with a new body in Heaven.

Three years later, my soul still knows. My body still remembers. This Saturday we will celebrate Ericlee’s 3-year Heaveniversary. The girls and I decided last year to name this sacred day his Heaveniversary. I was tired of the awkward phrases like the “day he died” or “death day.” I want this day to be an anniversary when we remember a husband, father, coach and friend, and his amazing legacy. Death was not the end of his story; Heaven is.

Are you longing to celebrate a loved one and their legacy? Do you have a Heaveniversary fast-approaching?

I polled some of my widow friends and asked them how they celebrate their husbands’ Heaveniversaries. The following is a list of creative ideas you might consider to honor your husband, your wife, your mother, your aunt, your friend or others on their Heaveniversary. For us, it has been about discovering meaningful ways to remember each year.

  1. Bring a picnic to the cemetery. It’s a tradition for many families from different cultures to visit the grave site of a loved one on their Heaveniversary. We put a twist on this last year by bringing a picnic. I brought pizza and sandwiches from my husband’s favorite spot. We spread a blanket over the grass. Grandma came to sit with us, and we shared stories about him and other family members who were buried at that cemetery.
  1. Release balloons into the sky and send prayers to Heaven. My friend said she took her three children to the cemetery and they released balloons into the sky in memory of Daddy. There’s something beautiful and sacred about letting go and watching these balloons fly to the heavens.
  1. Take a day to go to the lake or another place your loved one would spend a lot of time. Another friend said she took her daughters to a nearby lake, which was her husband’s favorite place to be. They brought lunch and relaxed together. Sometimes getting away on a trip can be the best way to celebrate.
  1. Visit a favorite restaurant and share memories around the table. We might be tempted to avoid special places during the year, but a Heaveniversary is a perfect day to return to a favorite restaurant or a place you shared your first date. Bring friends or family and share memories around the table.
  1. Look through some of your loved one’s treasures together. We have several boxes in our garage with my husband’s favorite childhood treasures, some of his clothes and cards people sent with special stories about him. A Heaveniversary is an opportune time to get these out and to share them.
  1. Peruse pictures and create an album together. The majority of our pictures are digital now, which means less time to select the best photos and assemble albums. When you take time to peruse pictures and put together a special album, you participate in meaningful remembrance of your loved one.
  1. Gather some friends to watch videos together. One of my daughters’ treasures is their dad’s old iPhone. They found all kinds of silly videos he made of them when they were little or workouts he used to do. Last year, we saved those videos to our laptop and hooked that up to our TV to watch them together. We loved the opportunity to hear his voice and laugh again.
  1. Do something active in honor of your loved one. My husband was an athlete and coach. He loved to get outdoors for a hike or run. One way to celebrate his legacy is to do something active in his honor. You might do this with friends or family. You might even sign up for a race and run in your husband’s honor. The training can be a time for grieving and remembering.
  1. Journal your memories. Sometimes I worry that the best memories of my husband will be forgotten. Carve out some time on this Heaveniversary to write down a few memories of your loved one. They don’t need to be perfect or polished. Writing them down helps you remember and record these memories for family in the future.
  1. Host a Heaveniversary dinner. We started this tradition last year and other widow friends have done the same. We invite some of our treasured friends to our house for a special meal. I intentionally invited some of my husband’s friends who we don’t see as much anymore. After dinner, we gathered in our living room to share stories about my husband. What I thought might be a somber day turned into a true celebration.

One thing I’ve learned these last three years is that I need to be intentional about carving out time and inviting my family into practices of remembrance. I can’t wait for others to stand up and offer their thoughts spontaneously. I need to find courage to lead.

Even three years later, my mind is often triggered by memories of my late husband. He appears in my dreams or I find myself saying something the way he used to say it. These make me pause. The grief never goes away but the path somehow grows easier. A big part of this journey has been taking time to lean in together as a family and remember the man he was, and to continue carrying his values into the future.

This Saturday, we will host another Heaveniversary party to remember my Ericlee. We will laugh, we will cry and we will celebrate.


**Interested in reading more about why it’s important to give yourself permission to grieve? Check out this post.

***I would love to send you my FREE guide on Navigating Grief with Kids full or ideas and resources. Opt in here.


Featured photo via VisualHunt

Book Review: And Still She Laughs

Posted by | book reviews, brave, family life, fear, grief, hope, laughter, Stories, struggle | One Comment

I remember the weekend after my husband died I took my girls to a concert. It was just the healing balm we needed. The music washed over me and somehow helped me breathe. My girls jumped and danced with their friends. Laughter rang out in the aisles.

After the concert, we saw a friend who used to attend our church. She rushed down the row and burst into tears in my arms. “I’m so sorry,” she sobbed.

For the first time, I realized this grief journey was going to be hard and awkward. I would have my private grief, and I would have my public grief. And I would have to learn to navigate both.

I was not feeling sad at that exact moment. God met me during the concert and my spirits were lifted. Even though I was the newly-minted widow, I was not in the moment of sorrow. I had no tears to share with that friend.

I wondered who else I knew was at the concert that night. Did they see me singing and raising my hands? Did they see the girls and me laughing? Were we grieving right in public? Were we dishonoring my husband?”

These questions raced through my mind, but as the weeks unfolded I realized I had to quiet the temptation to please others in my grief. I had to step into the messy and awkward moments, and allow my community to grieve with me and apart from me too.

I had to let myself dive into the deep of being without my life partner, my beloved. I also had to give myself permission to laugh again. And, that I discovered, takes courage.

Kate Merrick’s book, And Still She Laughs, examines the Bible’s gritty stories of resilient women as well as her own experience losing a child to reveal surprising joy and deep hope even in the midst of heartache. The book was released in March but I happened upon it at just the right time smack in the middle of this summer. I took the book to the ocean and drank up the words with the crashing of the waves as my backdrop.

Kate’s a Southern California girl from a surfer family and she weaves her love affair with the ocean into her story of grief and glory. Sometimes a book can be healing. Sometimes a book read in a specific season in a specific place can be even more healing.

Kate writes,“This book is not intended to take the place of grieving; rather, it speaks to what to do when the tidal wave washes past, when the sizzle from the burn settles, when we finally look around and wonder what’s next.  When we wonder if it is actually possible to come out of the paralysis of darkness and find laughter again.”

Needless to say, I was hooked.

If you are walking through grief of any kind, or if you love beautiful, candid storytelling, this book will minister to your soul. Kate also helped me see some of my favorite Bible characters through new lenses and with new compassion.

What I appreciate most is Kate’s honesty. She doesn’t sugarcoat the pain. She doesn’t offer up pat answers or trite, happy thoughts for navigating grief. She’s frank, funny and real. She’s not afraid to talk about the day of her miscarriage or the time a dog peed on her at the beach or how she and her daughter pranked the nurses during her daughter’s cancer treatment.

Kate makes me laugh. And she is convinced laughter is the key to survival. Laughter “can be healing, literally,” she writes. “It can inject an impossibly terrible situation with a whoosh of fresh air. Sharing laughter fosters a bond between humans. In its purest form it brings life.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Kate’s book opens with this: “She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future” from Proverbs 31:25.

My prayer is that you and I can live and laugh like that too.


**If you’re a reader and you love to talk books, check out more of my book reviews here.

***I’d love to send you my Glorygram – a weekly word of encouragement with book, podcast and recipe recommendations. Opt in here.

Transitions: Leaving space for the grief and the glory

Posted by | back to school, family life, kids, parenting, relationships, rest, schedule, Stories, transitions | No Comments

On Sunday evening, we rolled into town after a glorious day relaxing at the lake with family and friends. This was the grand finale to our 12 weeks of summer fun.

We packed these weeks with Track & Field camp, travel to San Diego and Haiti, sleepovers with Grandma, staying up late if we felt like it, days for lounging and days for chasing adventure in our own city with friends.

My oldest piped up in the back seat. “Mom, I don’t think I have any shorts to wear to school tomorrow.”

Mind you, I started sorting and gathering school clothes several weeks earlier. I tried not to shout. “What?!” I screamed.

“Remember, those ones you ordered don’t fit,” came her response. We both started to panic. “I think I need a shirt too,” said my middle daughter. We redirected the car toward the nearest Target for a late night shopping trip. In a more perfectly-planned world, I would have been putting my three lovelies to bed at that exact moment, but that’s not how we roll.

Let the transition back to school begin.

This time of year always necessitates transitions of many kinds. Whether it’s transitioning to the new school schedule, starting a new leadership position or stepping down from one, jumping into that new sports season or concluding our time with a group, change is inevitable.

The longer I live the more I’m realizing the time we spend transitioning from one thing to the next is not as rare as we would like it to be. We live in transition all the time.

We talk about making smooth transitions but what does that really mean?

We can grit our teeth and brace ourselves for the change or we can breathe through it.

I remember when I was birthing my middle daughter I had an amazing midwife. She taught me the art of breathing through the contractions. I still use that breathing technique today when I’m running or just calming my spirit in a stressful situation.

In the birthing process, the time we call “transition” is the most intense. Contractions generally come quickly one right after the other. The baby begins to descend into the mama’s pelvis ready to be pushed out into the world. It’s a time of pain dancing with anticipation.

Our human instinct is to clench our fists, tense our muscles (and our hearts) and reject transition as something foreign, an unwelcome time, that thing that surely will break us. What would happen if we leaned into the transition instead? What if we breathed through the contractions, the painful moments? What if we embraced all that a transition has to offer?

On Monday morning, I dropped off all three of my girls – now a sixth grader, third grader and kindergartener – at school together. There were throngs of parents taking pictures of their kids in front of the school. I noticed several of my mama friends who had a spring in their step and that unmistakable look in their eyes – freedom!

One friend met me at my car. We took a few minutes to catch up on the summer events. Our youngest girls are in the same morning kinder class now. We acknowledged that transitions like these are bittersweet. Although both of our girls are eager for a new school and fresh start, they both had tears the night before over some losses.

My baby girl was eager to spread her “ready confetti” – a special gift from her new teacher – under her pillow. She slipped into bed and then began weeping uncontrollably for her daddy in Heaven. Something triggered for her that he was not here to see her off on this big day.

This reminded me that each new season brings a tinge of grief and a taste of glory. New seasons sometimes trigger memories of our losses but also are pregnant with hope for the future. We have to embrace both to step forward.

Perhaps the hardest transition of my life was the day after my husband’s funeral. Some of my friends took the girls and me to the ocean. I stood there with foamy waves crashing over my feet. I thought maybe I could stand there forever just letting the grief wash over me.

After a while I had a strange realization. He was no longer living but I had to keep on living. I had the rest of my life before me. I had these girls to raise in his legacy.

Most importantly, I had a choice – to live in the past or to step forward into the future trusting God to lead me. I had to embrace the transition. I had to give myself space to grieve, and I had to step forward in faith one day at a time.

The other day I was reading in the book of Haggai. Admittedly, I haven’t spent much time in that book of the Bible but I found myself comforted by the words Joshua receives from God about rebuilding the temple. His words through prophecy in Haggai 2:4-9 are to “be strong” and “work.” The promise is God will “be with” Joshua and the people in the transition, in the rebuilding process.

Of course, it’s important to note that the new glory to come was not just a physical building but Jesus Christ himself, the embodiment of glory.

I am reminded that it’s ok to reminisce about the “glory days” but then we need to step courageously toward a new glory.

Friend, if you find yourself smack in the middle of a transition today, press in, be strong and work. The Lord is right there with you. And He’s right here with me.


**If you’re interested in reading more about what it means to be a Glory Chaser, check out this post and my new Glory Chasers bible study here.

Grief journey: How to lift your eyes in the brokenness

Posted by | death, family life, fear, grief, Guest blogger, parenting, Stories | 2 Comments

The following is guest post written by my new friend and fellow Hope*Writer Tara Dickson. We met through a writer’s group and I found myself resonating with her story. I am privileged to watch her navigate her “new normal” as a widow mama and grandma. I hope her story ministers to you today!


Life doesn’t look the way I expected. Does it for anyone?

My husband left this earth and walked into Heaven a year ago February. An incredibly fit and healthy man, the brain cancer he battled for a year and a half was the last thing we expected on the New Year’s Eve he was diagnosed.  

Can we just stop? I want a do over. How can I can keep from walking into this New Year and all that it holds?

This was not what I wanted my life to look like. Alan would have turned 46 the day after he exhaled earth and inhaled Heaven.  Our children weren’t tiny but they all still needed him. Our oldest daughter had just walked through an extremely painful season in her life a year and a half before. Her daddy, her rock, spoke truth over her at every turn, reminding her to trust herself to the Father. He had coffee with her every morning and held her new baby as she mourned her broken dreams.  

Our oldest son had just started college, while our younger son was in high school. They were both trying to figure out what manhood looked like. Then, there was our youngest daughter. She was 13 when her daddy was diagnosed. She is a natural peacemaker, which means she felt everyone else’s feelings on top of her own.

I still remember the day we were sitting around the dinner table and Alan was telling his sister of how he wrestled with the Lord about his healing. He worried about what would happen to us if he was called to Heaven.

Then, with supernatural peace, Alan told her the Father had reassured him He would and could take better care of us than Alan could possibly imagine doing himself.  My flesh wanted to say, “Wait! When did this conversation happen? I am not okay with this!” It wasn’t many months after that Alan did pass on to Heaven.

Grief is hard, beloved. It breaks your heart wide open and lays you bare. Open and empty for the beautiful work He wants to do. It laid our hearts open to hear his voice call us to move to a new state, and brought good changes that affected each one of us.

The ache in our hearts was real, like a big stone resting on my chest, even making breathing hard.  No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t lift it off.

Spring break started the weekend Alan left this earth. We took that opportunity to get away from the beds we couldn’t sleep in and the questions that followed us around town. The ocean was calling me with waves that reminded me my God is bigger than any storm.

It was the end of February, still too cold to swim but walking the beach kept my body moving. The sand between my toes reminded me that I was still living even though my heart was broken. The constant tide pulling the waves in and out shouted at me that life was moving on even if I felt stuck.

I never find unbroken sand dollars; Alan always did. He was much more patient than I was. That day as I walked along the beach looking on my right and left, I glanced down and in a pool of standing water I saw a small perfect sand dollar. I gently picked it up and held it high the rest of our time on the beach, carefully protecting its delicate beauty.

However, in the throes of washing off sandy feet, ordering lunch, holding Ava, my granddaughter, and going to the bathroom, I inadvertently stuck it in my pocket with another shell. You guessed it, it broke. I discovered it later when I was searching my pockets for something else. I wanted to weep but there were no tears.

As I picked the broken pieces out of my pocket trying to see if it could be pieced back together, the inside of the sand dollar turned up in my hand. The oh-so-tiny, but very present “dove of peace.”

Then the Lord reminded me that when beautiful things are broken there can still be peace in the midst of it all. How can this be so? Through God’s grace and by His word.

The fiercer the battle, dear ones, the more important it is to make sure our hearts our filled up with His truth.  When our hearts are wrung straight out in the pressing of our circumstances the truth of God is what spills out and it extinguishes the lies of the enemy. I have seen my heart spill out doubt and fear as well as joy in the mourning and trust that when I am weak He is strong.

Hebrews 4:12  says, “The word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.”

That walk on the beach may have been the beginning of God teaching me to “Lift up your eyes” to His presence but it hasn’t been the last. He will use anything in our path to reminds us, that His word can penetrate the deepest parts of our soul and spirit. Where there are lies, it will uproot them and plant truth. Where there is unbelief, it will pluck it up and plant faith. Where there is despair, it will cast it aside and plant hope.

So, join me dear one, in lifting your eyes, to the one who longs to reframe everything. Let Him be the lifter of your head and let Him take your broken things and  help you find peace in the midst of them.


Tara is a recent widow and mother to four children. She is Nana to Ava Rose and newborn, Aria Violette.  Walking through grief has brought Tara back to her first love, children’s literature. She is finishing up a children’s series and is committed to bringing hope to children and adults alike through her writing. Tara loves a good cup of coffee and bringing life to any space, but nothing tops being a mom and nana! Find her on Facebook and  Instagram.



Photo credit for sand dollar: johnkoetsier via Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-ND

Are you on a grief journey? Check out these articles and my weekly Glorygram for more encouragement on your journey.


Learning the language of goodbyes with kids

Posted by | community, death, family life, finishing well, friendship, grief, Haiti, kids, parenting, relationships, Stories, transitions, world travel | 4 Comments

The original version of this article was published on my ministry blog, Gilmores for His Glory, on August 8, 2012.


We have said a lot of goodbyes in our lifetime. Sometimes it feels like too many for my heart to bear. This is one of the sacrifices of building a life in two different countries and befriending people from around the world.

I still remember our first full summer in Haiti. My girls were so little. There hearts were so fragile. We kissed and cried in the Fresno airport when we said goodbye to grandparents and dear friends. Then we began our long journey to our new home in Haiti.

That summer my girls bonded with new Haitian friends and many Americans too. The kids at the orphanage next to our mission house became like siblings to them. They spent long afternoons jumping rope, eating mangoes and playing soccer. Each week a new American team would come to serve, and each Saturday we would stand in the driveway and send them off with hugs.

After they would leave, the girls and I would retreat to the bedroom. My mama instinct was to hold it together, but it wasn’t always easy. More often I would gather my little birds in my arms and we would cry together. We would lean into the loss.

Some of our closest friends live in Germany, the Philippines, Haiti, Florida and Maryland. We have cousins in Spain, Texas, Michigan, Ohio, South Carolina and Washington. We visit and this necessitates goodbyes.

I used to wonder if all these goodbyes were too hard for my babies’ hearts, too hard for my heart. I strategized about ways to shield them from the sadness, the longing, and the wondering when we would meet again.

And I found myself asking God some hard questions:

Why must we always say goodbye?

Why risk loving someone deeply when parting will be inevitable?

Since that first hard summer in Haiti, my girls and I have endured many goodbyes, including perhaps the ultimate goodbye. On September 9, 2014, we stood at the bed beside my beloved husband and kissed him goodbye before he graduated to Heaven. It’s a goodbye that still sears my heart, that still makes me ache to my very core.

In this deep longing, I have dug up my answer about goodbyes.

I could draw back. I could avoid goodbyes altogether. I could keep to myself, shelter my kids from friends and family relationships. I could numb out. I could stay put, never travel, never follow my dreams.

I could turn my back on my calling.

I could keep my relationships surface so it doesn’t hurt so badly when people go away.

I could.

But is that what I really want for my life? Is that the mission? Are those the values I want to teach my kids?

Eventually, I realized that the sweet sorrow of goodbye is meaningful. I know the deepest love because I’ve risked that pain. My girls are learning to love well. Our time with people now is quality. And that is a risk worth taking.

I know Moise and Nella and Angeline and Dartiquenov and Cindy and Carla and Marcy and Jeremy deeply because I’ve said yes to the goodbyes. My kids love Gary and Rose Katia and Amanda and Esther and Corban and Hannah and Giovanni and Sophie because we’ve embraced goodbyes.

I can relate to the emotion-filled words of Paul in his letter to Timothy: “I miss you a lot, especially when I remember that last tearful good-bye, and I look forward to a joy-packed reunion.” (‭‭2 Timothy‬ ‭1:3-4‬ , The Message‬‬).

When life is full of goodbyes, life is so much richer.

Now we linger over our goodbyes. They are important to us. We’ve made them into see-you-soons and meet-you-theres.

We’ve promised texts and letters and blogs and photos and Facetime dates. And when we promise, we make that extra effort follow through.

My family has learned the language of goodbye. It’s a heart language. At the close of the summer, my heart is tired, but my heart is full.

We will keep traveling, and we will keep loving, and we will keep releasing our people gently into the Father’s arms for safe keeping.

Who have you said goodbye to this summer? How do you approach this sacred releasing of people? We would love to hear from you in the comments! 

Book Review: At Home in the World

Posted by | book reviews, community, culture, family life, friendship, identity, outreach, serve, Stories, Uncategorized, world travel | No Comments

My first real venture out of the United States was a study abroad program in Central America during my senior year of college. Our home base was San Jose, Costa Rica, but we also spent time sojourning through Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

I still remember that moment.

I was sitting around a rugged wooden table with a diverse group of Guatemalans and a group of college students from across the United States. The table was spread with billowy, soft bread, crema for dipping, sliced avocadoes, juicy steaks, rice and beans, and a pitcher of some kind of icy, hand-squeezed citrus refresco. We bowed our heads to pray before our meal, and my heart swelled a bit.

I was home.

Mind you, I don’t have any Central American blood. I had never traveled to Guatemala before. But something deep inside me felt at home. The warmth of the people, the bright colors of their woven clothing and wall hangings, the rich flavors of the food, the passion of their praise and worship, the abundant affection of the children – all of it felt like home to me.

In fact, I felt more at home there than I had ever felt back home in the U.S.

Less than three years later I found myself surrounded by hundreds of Haitian children in the middle of a soccer field in the Northern mountains of Haiti. I was there with a group of young career singles from my church in California to put on a Track and Field camp. In the sweltering July tropical heat, we marked off the field like a circular track and we watched these kids race joyfully around it in bare feet. Somehow by the end of that week, I had learned enough Kreyol and cross-cultural sign language to communicate with these kids.

I felt it again. I was home. I was far from home, yet I was very much at home.

When I opened Tsh Oxenreider’s recently-released travel memoir, I knew I had found a kindred spirit. Tsh understands what it is like to feel At Home in the World. She, too, is a mama fueled by wanderlust but also longing for a sense of rootedness, a sense of community, a sense of home.

This book is unique because it takes readers on an adventure with Tsh’s family across four continents in nine months. She and her husband are not your typical world travelers. They are not trying to escape responsibility or drop out of college or avoid a withering relationship. They are happily married and have three kids in tow. They limit themselves to one backpack each and endeavor to stay in neighborhoods and homes where real people live across the globe.

This is not a fancy vacation. This is “worldschooling” at its best.

I was immediately captivated and intrigued by Tsh’s storytelling and reflections. This book whispers, “Come along” without pomp or pretense. We adventure with this family through the bustle of traffic in Beijing. We join them to snorkel the magnificent Great Barrier Reef. We linger with them over Thai food in Chiang Mai. We celebrate a summertime Christmas with them in Queensland.  We join them for a coffee ceremony in Ethiopia and mint tea at the market in Morocco. We coast the Nile River with them in Uganda and stand in awe before Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. We buy bacon together at the boucherie in France and sample gelato more than once a day in Italy.

I love Tsh’s reflections on home throughout the book. She challenges me with this: “Travel has taught me the blessing of ordinariness, of rootedness and stability. It’s courageous to walk out the front door and embrace earth’s great adventures, but the real act of courage is to return to that door, turn the knob, walk through, unpack the bags, and start the kettle for a cup of tea.”

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book purely for fun. I savored every chapter of At Home in the World. I tucked it in my tote and took it with me to the beach in Malibu, a café in Fresno, and on a camping trip to Soledad Canyon with all my people. I devoured every delicious word. And when I got to the last page I was faced with the dilemma of either starting the book again or booking tickets for my own family of five to somewhere new.

**If you are an avid reader, I encourage you to check out some of my other book reviews. These books have carried me through seasons of tragedy and triumph.

I often serve on book launch teams as a way to get to know authors and their message better. I had the privilege of being part of Tsh Oxenreider’s team for At Home in the World.

Up next: I’ll be reviewing Remarkable Faith: When Jesus Marveled at the Faith of Unremarkable People by my friend Shauna Letellier for July. Pre-order it today!

What are your favorite summer reads for kids or adults? Comment below and let me know what you’re reading! Also, I send out a weekly Glorygram with stories, reading and podcast recommendations, and my recipes. I’d love to deliver it to your inbox. Opt in here.

Building community in the kitchen: The secret is in the sauce (and three recipes!)

Posted by | cooking, creativity, culture, end-of-school year, family life, food stories, kids, laughter, Main Dish, Recipes, Uncategorized | No Comments

Cooking has always been a place of creativity, community and comfort for me. I grew up in the kitchen stirring sauces with my mama, kneading dough with my Italian Nana, and rolling lumpia egg rolls with my Filipino grandma.

As an adult, I have gathered many friends and family members in my kitchen to cook together. When I was a young married girl, I hosted a Cooking Club in my home for almost eight years. It all started because one of my friends told me she didn’t know how to boil water. Another friend loved to cook and asked if we could swap recipes. I looked around me and realized there were a host of women longing to learn and get in the kitchen together.

Our Cooking Club was born. We would meet monthly. I would choose a theme and some core recipes. People would bring ingredients. The ladies would cook and the guys would clean. We tackled time-intensive projects like homemade gnocci and and rosemary focaccia bread. We discovered new ethnic cuisines like Ethiopian key wot and Hawaiian sweet potato casserole. We created Pumpkin Party soup using farmer’s market abundance.

Through the years, we all started having babies and the Cooking Club grew to well over 40 people coming each month. We finally took a break when my husband and I took an assignment working full-time for a non-profit organization in Haiti. I still look back on those gatherings with fond memories. Maybe one day we will revive Cooking Club when all our kiddos are in high school.

I believe there’s so much to learn when we gather together to get our hands messy, employ our creativity, and share stories around food.

This school year I had the opportunity to teach a series of cooking classes for my daughter’s fifth grade class. My daughters attend Kepler Neighborhood School, a local charter that focuses on project-based learning. I started by sharing the children’s book I wrote. Cora Cooks Pancit tells the story of a girl named Cora who is the youngest in her family. She ventures into the kitchen one day with her mama and learns to make a Filipino signature dish called pancit. In the process of cooking together, Cora learns about some family history and history of the Filipinos in California. The book concludes with the recipe for pancit.

When I visit classrooms to share my book, I often teach the kids to make pancit. They help me wash and chop the vegetables and add the noodles to the pan. I am always surprised at the number of kids who taste the dish at the end even though it’s full of vegetables and new flavors for them. I think they feel ownership because they were involved in the process of creating the pancit.

I taught five cooking classes for my daughter’s fifth grade class this school year. One of my favorite classes was teaching the kids the secret in the sauce. I have three go-to sauces in my Italian cooking repertoire. These sauces celebrate my Southern Italian roots and my own creativity.

I invited the kids to re-create two of the sauces – pesto and a sausage ragu. We talked about tips on combining ingredients. For example, a little sugar is added to tomato-based sauces to reduce the acidic.

Then I set the kids free to create their own recipes. I told them the ingredients in each sauce but I didn’t tell them the quantities or the process of making it. They had to be creative, think critically, measure, taste test and write their own recipes. Their teacher and I also made this into a math lesson so the students were practicing multiplying fractions.


I loved seeing the teamwork that happened naturally as the kids created their recipes. Some wanted to get their hands dirty and add ingredients. Others engaged their senses smelling the spices and tasting the sauces. A few dove right into the math problem, writing down the recipes. I thought back to my cooking club and how over the years each of those friends discovered their tastes and their gifts in the kitchen.

Each of these sauces are pretty simple to make. They do not require a lot of time or a long list of ingredients. They do require attention and love. The kids gained some practical skills in cooking but they also learned to engage their creativity in community.

I hope this summer you will take some time to gather some friends or your own children in the kitchen. You might choose a favorite family recipe or try one of these sauce recipes. If you want to get adventurous, you can cover up the quantities of each ingredient and let your kids explore and combine on their own. You might take advantage of this time together in the kitchen to tell stories about your grandpa or great-aunt who made a special recipe.

**I’d love to hear how it goes. Please come back and COMMENT below about your experiences. Did you find any creative uses for these sauces? Which was your favorite?



Pesto Sauce


2 cups fresh basil leaves

2 cloves garlic

½ cup walnuts or pine nuts

½ cup olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

½ cup parmesan cheese



  1. Combine all ingredients in blender or food processor except cheese. Pulse or process until sauce has a course spreadable, texture.
  2. Stir in cheese at the end.
  3. A few options:

-Brush on pesto sauce top of chicken and grill or bake the chicken (30 minutes at 350 degrees).

-Mix in with cooked, hot pasta of your choice and serve.

-Spread pesto sauce on top of toast or pita bread for an appetizer.



 Italian Sausage Ragu Sauce

-2 tablespoons olive oil

-1 onion, chopped

-1 (28-ounce can) crushed tomatoes

-1 (15-ounce can) can tomato sauce

-1 tablespoon dried oregano

-1 tablespoon fennel seed

-1 tablespoon basil

-1 tsp salt

-2 cloves garlic, minced

-1 teaspoon organic sugar

-1/2 cup parmesan cheese

-1 package uncooked Italian sausage (I love Trader Joe’s sweet Italian sausage.)



  1. Heat saucepan. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil.
  2. Meanwhile, chop 1 onion.
  3. If sausage is inside casings, squeeze out into a bowl. When oil is heated, add sausage to the oil. Use a potato smasher or a fork to break it up.
  4. Once the sausage is lightly browned, add onion and cook until clear/translucent.
  5. Add the spices: oregano, fennel seed, basil, salt, sugar.
  6. Chop two cloves garlic or mince in garlic press.
  7. Add sugar, parmesan cheese and mix together.
  8. Pour in cans of marinara sauce and tomato sauce. Simmer on low heat for 15 minutes. (Meanwhile, prep your favorite pasta/noodles.)
  9. Add to cooked pasta and garnish with more parmesan cheese.



Alfredo Sauce

 -1 cup of butter

-1 cup heavy cream

-1/2 cup parmesan cheese

-1/4 teaspoon sea salt (or light sprinkle)

-1/4 teaspoon dried basil



  1. Combine butter and cream in a skillet or shallow frying pan.
  2. Heat to medium and let slowly simmer. Turn down heat once bubbles start. As bubbles form, sauce will thicken. Whisk frequently and be patient.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare your pasta as desired.
  4. Add salt and basil to sauce.
  5. Stir in parmesan cheese.
  6. Pour over pasta and serve.


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