Chasing God's glory through tragedy and triumph

finishing well

Running for His glory: How running taught me to stay

Posted by | brave, courage, discipline, finishing well, identity, running, Stories, Uncategorized | No Comments

This essay is part of our summer series called “Running for His glory,” focusing on the intersection between running and faith. I met Jennie through the Hopewriters online writing community. Jennie and I had this enlightening conversation earlier this year on her “In This Skin” podcast, which includes a bit about how running has helped us both. She writes in this essay about how running teaches her to stay the course God has set out for her. 

 

By Jennie G. Scott

Salty streaks ran down my cheeks as my ponytail bounced behind me. I couldn’t tell if the streaks were sweat or tears. Probably a combination of both.

My lungs burned, my legs ached, and my watch calculated the miles. When I laced up my running shoes that morning, I didn’t know the training run would be what broke me. Not physically — that was the part I could handle.

But emotionally.

*****

I didn’t run a step until after my second child was born. Six months after I delivered her, I pinned on my first running bib – and almost threw up during the race.

The marathons I’ve run since then were easier than that 5k. (Training makes a difference.)

Now, years later, running is a part of my lifestyle. It’s one of the ways I keep my body healthy, but more importantly, it’s a way to keep my invisible self in shape. When I run, the distractions disappear that usually keep me from thinking about the hard things. It’s as if I’m a captive audience to my own thoughts. The cadence of each footfall gives rhythm to the thoughts I’d rather keep at bay. The monotony of the run opens the floodgates of my mind.

*****

That morning, I chipped away at the miles my training plan spelled out. As I did, my body reluctantly complied with what I asked it to do. I’ve heard it said that the first mile is a liar, and I couldn’t agree more. The first mile always tells me to stop and that it’s just not a good day for a run. But there always comes a point when the body gives in and agrees that yes, perhaps, a run is what we need.

I followed my normal route, barely noticing the lake on the left and the construction on the right. Instead of my brain registering what my eyes saw, it drifted to the hurt that was filling my heart.

I pushed it down to prevent it from coming to the surface during the work day and in the evenings with my children. I pretended I was doing fine.

But I wasn’t.

Step after step, arms pumping in propulsion, my body took over and let my heart have room to move — a luxury I’d been denying it, since I couldn’t trust what it would do.

That morning, it finally acknowledged the truth. With nothing in the way, my heart released its pain, its feelings of betrayal, its questions, and its doubts. My heart was honest for the first time in weeks, and the physical release that came with my run brought an emotional release I desperately needed.

It’s amazing how often a run will release an emotion.

In my years as a runner, I’ve logged thousands of miles, run dozens of races, worn out more shoes than I can count, and have even won my age group a time or two.

But more than that, I’ve learned countless lessons you can’t see from the outside. The most important of those? Running has taught me to stay.

It’s forced me to stay in the moment. My first marathon training partner told me, “Just run the mile you’re in,” and I can’t think of better advice for life. We can’t undo the past, and we can’t live in dread of what might be. All we can do is stay here, in this moment, fully present and fully alive.

It’s taught me to stay when it hurts. When you run, there’s always an element of pain or discomfort. A calf muscle that’s tight, a blister from last week’s long run, a sock that’s twisted in a shoe, or some chafing you couldn’t prevent.

Runners can’t prevent pain; we can only learn to handle it. Life will hurt, no matter how well-trained we are or how much preparation we’ve done. Pain is inevitable and inescapable, but we get to choose how we’ll face it when it comes.

Running has taught me that everything I’d rather run from is usually what I need to face the most. Every race has a hill that elicits groans, a gravel portion that tests the nerves, or a weather condition we couldn’t predict. Though our preference would be to run around those obstacles or avoid them altogether, the only way is through.

The only way is to stay.

Running has taught me to stay in spite of my doubts, my insecurities, and my feelings of inadequacy. At the starting line of every race, I look around and wonder just who I think I am. I gauge myself against the clearly more experienced runners, the ones whose muscles look well-toned and whose gear looks more professional than mine. I look at them and doubt myself, but then I turn up my music and remember my training and acknowledge that I, too, have a place in this pack. I stay, and I start, and somehow I always finish.

Running reminds me that while the easiest choice may be to run from difficulty, sometimes the best choice is to remain in it. This is true in races as it is in life. Stay the course.  My runs teach me to stay the course God has placed me on. This pain, this detour, and this unexpected obstacle will not derail me.

Friend, if you stay, you will grow. If you stay, you will change. If you stay, you will become stronger.

 

Jennie G. Scott is a former high school English teacher who now uses her love of words to share the hope of the Kingdom. A writer, speaker, and runner, she is a self-described deep thinker who can spend way more time than she should choosing the just-right word. She is a mom of two who has journeyed through single parenthood into marriage with the most patient man on the planet. She writes online at ww.jenniegscott.com. You can also find Jennie on Instagram @jenniegscott or hosting the “In This Skin” podcast.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

*Main photo by Morgan Sarkissian on Unsplash

Running for His glory: When you feel like running away

Posted by | brave, courage, finishing well, Guest blogger, running, self-care, Stories | No Comments

“I look up to the mountains— does my help come from there?  My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” -Psalms 121:1, 2

This essay is part of our summer series called “Running for His glory,” focusing on the intersection between running and faith. I met Shannon through the Hopewriters online writing community. In this reflection, she shares about how running is a kind of therapy for her. Trail running helps her release her burdens and connect with God. She’s a glory chaser too!

 

By Shannon Rattai

As I stand at the base of the trail, shoes laced up, determination in my gaze, I stare at my “mountain.”

It’s not the trail before me, winding up and up over the foothills. It’s not the next path that leads me higher into the forest that I’ve come to love.

It’s the mountain that is burdening my spirit. It’s the weight on my shoulders. The heaviness that has infected my heart, mind, and body.

It’s in our human nature to want to run. Maybe not in a marathon, or around the block, but to run away from what burdens us beyond what we can bear.  Our thoughts tell us: this is too much or I can’t take anymore, or I can’t deal with this any longer.” My personal favorite is that question: why me?.  

These thoughts are constant disrupters, adding to the noise of my busy life.

God calls me to be still. He calls me to listen for His voice. He calls me to seek Him and His help. He is the mover of mountains. I need to seek and ask.

The higher I climb, my anger, frustration, and cries of desperation reach their depths.  I push myself further and faster. I’m trying to outrun my problems, but they don’t want to leave.  They cling to me like the number I pinned to my shirt in a race. They try to define me and remind me of the hopelessness I feel.

As I run over the trails, I purposely release my anxiety and cares. With each pound of my feet, I lay the burdens at His feet. I breathe in His goodness as He ministers to my weary soul. The whisper of the wind on my face, the gentle bubbling of the brook, the soft melody of the songbird all reminds me He is there. He is all around me. He has never left me alone. I don’t need to fear or do this on my own.

Running for me is therapy. A way to work out frustrations, to sweat away my anxiety and despair. A way to literally run away.  

But, it’s so much more than that too. It’s a place where I meet my Saviour, my Friend,here peace is spoken to my spirit. I find clarity when I run. And the view is pretty spectacular as well!

As I reach the crest of the foothill, the sun is coming over the horizon. The truth seeps into my heart like a healing balm. My help comes from the Lord. He made the heavens and the earth. My problems are not too big for Him to handle. He’s got this…and He’s got me.

Whatever troubles you are facing today, my prayer is that you find this same peace. Slip on your running shoes, go out into nature, and run towards God. He is waiting for you.

 

Shannon Rattai started running later in life. The lure of nature and exploring creation has led her on many adventures in running. She loves to run with her son. While numbers occupy most of her day, she loves to read, write and point others to the amazing peace she has found. Shannon can be reached on Facebook  at Shannon Rattai or on Instagram as @shannonrattai. 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

*Main photo by Jessie Fröde on Unsplash

Running for His glory: How I started running for all the wrong reasons

Posted by | courage, fear, finishing well, inspirational, running, self-care, Stories, struggle, Uncategorized | No Comments

This essay is part of our summer series called “Running for His glory,” focusing on the intersection between running and faith. Gloryanna is a dear friend, whom I met through an online writers community called Hope*writers. She and I have connected on a variety of topics, including writing, mothering, marriage, and running. In this essay, she shares about how she started out running for all the wrong reasons. I’m sure many of us can relate!

 

By Gloryanna Boge

“Just try to stay with her as best you can,” Coach said as she staggered us on the track.

I was in lane two with my eyes locked on the feet in lane one. Lane one was a senior and she was one of our fastest runners – that much I knew as a wide-eyed, bushy-tailed seventh grader.

Coach wanted a few of us to run a timed trial of the 200-meter dash. Mainly we were bodies to give the senior a practice run. I had never run 200 meters on a track before in my life. I went to a small, Christian school so pretty much everyone was expected to go out for track.

There I was completely inexperienced and unsure of myself. My heart beating nervously.

But I was excited.

I have loved running ever since I could race the kids around the block in my neighborhood.

That hot spring day on the track, I had the chance to see if I was any good.

Coach blew the whistle and we took off. I don’t remember how many of us were on the track that afternoon, probably only three or four. I remember staying as close as I could to the senior, within arm’s reach of her back.

I remember no one else passed me that day. I also remember Coach saying I’d train with the senior for the 200 meters as our second runner.

I became competitive in our Christian school track community. I thrived every spring when we lined up for repeats on the track. I won some races and broadened my training as I took on more events. By the time I was a senior, I had a small box filled with medals from various races. A little space for my pride to sit nice and safe.

I ran for the medals, to stand on the pedestal when I was done. I ran to feed my young teenage ego.

If I knew then what I know now about running, I’d tell that seventh-grade teenage girl to pace herself. I’d tell her running would open doors she never knew were closed. Doors that only the grace of God could pry open.

When I was in college, I ran to stave off the Freshman Fifteen. I’d binge eat as I studied for exams and wrote essays late into the night. Then I’d wake up the next day filled with guilt about eating all the food. So, I’d punish myself with a four-mile run.

Running became a cleanse that only left my heart feeling more soiled than before.

After college, I got married. During the first five years of my marriage I wrestled with resentment, unhappiness, and depression. I worried about sharing my fears with friends because I didn’t want to trash talk my marriage. I didn’t want my marriage to have a different image than what I presented to the world. I stressed about what my heart felt and wondered if I was a bad Christian.

My heart filled up with questions and concerns. I had no one I wanted to turn to. So, I’d get up in the morning and run. I’d come home from work and run some more.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but God met me in those stress-related runs. God used the rhythm of my feet on the pavement as a path to clear out the lies I had about my husband.

When my mother passed away a few years ago, I was numb with grief. There was a window of time when I pushed grief away and numbed myself with busyness in order to avoid the pain.

Guess what helped break down the walls of grief?

Going for a run.

When your feet hit the ground and your heart rate increases, when the sweat starts to roll, your mind starts to clear. And when your mind starts to clear of all the lies from this world, you make space to hear God’s voice. To listen to his truth.

I find God’s truth that smashes the lies the Enemy feeds me about my marriage.

I find strength in knowing God grieves with me.

My box filled with medals collects mostly dust these days. I let myself enjoy that piece of cake without counting the calories I would need to burn in a run the next day.

Life without running feels empty. Each time I get that 30 minutes or an hour to myself, I find rest in the embrace of the Holy Spirit. I find his voice and my heart attunes to his words.

I hear God say, “Surrender. Stay with me as best you can, Gloryanna.”

I surrender all the wrong reasons and in exchange, God reminds me that I am His. He tells me I am not defined by how many miles I’ve covered, but that my identity is grounded in being a child of the King.

 

Gloryanna is learning to look to Jesus for growth instead of Google for fixes. She encourages women to reclaim their faith from the noise of this world so they can focus more on Christ. Join her on Facebook or Instagram. Read more at www.gloryannaboge.com/blog.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Running for His glory: When God brings you full circle

Posted by | abundance, community, courage, finishing well, grief, running, Stories | No Comments

This summer we are featuring a series of stories here on the blog about the intersection of faith and running.  Through the years, running has been my lifeline, the place I connect with God, and my therapy. Over the last five years, I’ve written several essays about how running has helped me grieve the death of my husband and given me new courage. I’ve invited 10 friends to share their stories of how running has shaped them and become spiritual practice for them as well. I hope you will join us weekly for the “Running for His glory” series. 

 

By Dorina Lazo Gilmore

The conditions may not have been ideal for a race. Gray, overcast skies. Muddy, slippery trail.

Of course, the elements rarely deter trail runners. They show up rain or shine for the pure adventure of the race.

My friend Heather and I donned running parkas and set out at the sound of the starting whistle. We were filled with gleeful anticipation of the race to come.  I knew in my heart that God would show up with His presence and gift me some glimpse of His glory along the trail.

He always does.

The first time I ran the San Joaquin River Gorge Trail race was in 2015. That was my first trail race ever. Although I have been a runner all my life, I quickly discovered that running on trails through hills and valleys is very different from racing on the flat road. Trails require negotiating rocks, ducking under tree branches, and sometimes coming face-to-face with wildlife.

The trail taunts and charms me at the same time. It’s challenging, but I just can’t get enough of wildflowers chasing around each curve in spring or the rainbow sherbet colors of the sunrise dancing over the mountains.

That morning the trail felt less intimidating. This was my third time running this race, and in many ways, I felt like I was coming full circle.

We come full circle when we experience a series of developments or circumstances that lead us back to the original source, position, or situation. It kind of feels like déjà vu but with a twist.

In Exodus 3:12, God speaks to Moses from a burning bush. He promises to bring the people out of Egypt and that they will return to worship Him on Mount Sinai. This is the beginning of Moses’ journey before he is sent out to rescue the Israelites from slavery and lead them to the Promised Land.

I imagine Moses felt like I did the first time I ran a trail race. I was unsure of my footing, tentative about what lie ahead, and insecure about my abilities to complete the race.

In Exodus 19, Moses and the people have finally escaped Egypt and journeyed back to Desert of Sinai at the base of the mountain. Moses has come full circle.

Sometimes we have to return to the mountain so God can remind us who He is and set our feet back on the rock.

On that morning, God shows up for the Israelites in thunder and lighting, fire and smoke. God displays for the Israelites just how big and powerful He is.

He reminds them that He is greater than all the idols and false gods they could make for themselves. He underscores who He is – the Lord, the God of Israel – who is faithful to keep His covenant promises to them. He provided passage for them through the raging Red Sea and food (manna and quail) for them in the desert.

In Exodus 24, Moses goes back up to Mount Sinai and experiences the glory of God in a cloud. This time he enters the cloud and stays for forty days and forty nights. He abides and dwells with God. During this time, God gives Moses life instructions on many things and sends him back to the people with the Ten Commandments written in stone.

Sometimes we have to return to the mountain to dwell with God and learn something new for our journey.

Every time I go for a trail run God shows me something new. One time He showed me His power in the rushing waterfall. Another time, He reminded me of His Presence through the fiery orange wings of a butterfly. On the San Joaquin River Trail, He renewed my courage on a familiar path. He reminded me that I can do hard things when I run with Him and let Him set the pace.

Sometimes we have to return to particular places, relationships, or memories in order to measure just how far we’ve come.

This year God has brought me full circle in surprising ways. There was a time after my husband’s death that I felt crippled by grief. I wasn’t sure if I could run without him. I’m not that woman anymore. God meets me again and again on the trail and shows me His faithfulness to lead and provide.

This past season, I had the opportunity to coach my daughters’ track and field team. As I watched my girls run and jump for God’s glory, I thought about my late husband Ericlee. He and I coached track and field together for nine years. Our kids grew up on the track.

In many ways, I feel like I’m coming full circle now coaching my daughters – and with my new husband Shawn. It’s wild to think about how far we’ve come!

Are you coming full circle?

Maybe you find yourself returning to a favorite childhood spot or connecting with an old friend. Maybe you are sitting by the grave of a loved one who has passed into glory or digging into some difficult memories from your past. If you are feeling like you are right back where you started, take heart. God may have brought you full circle to remind you who He is, to teach you something new, or to measure just how far you’ve come.

 

*The original version of this essay was featured at www.incourage.me.

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


Remembering Grandma Cora: Cooking Up a Legacy in the Kitchen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her hospitality was paramount.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aloha, Grandma Cora.

 

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

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

Introducing the Widow Mama Collective

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

I never wanted to be a part of this club.

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

I am a widow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When God transplants you to a new garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Through these experiences, I have learned several lessons:

Click over to (in)courage to read the lessons learned…

Photo by Benjamin Combs on Unsplash

Disclosure: Compensated affiliate links used at no extra cost to readers.

Book review: It’s all under control

Posted by | book reviews, brave, fear, finishing well, flourishing, Personal Stories, self-care, serve, sharing faith, Stories | No Comments

I’ll be honest: I didn’t think I needed to read It’s All Under Control.

I don’t operate under the illusion that I have it all under control or even that I need to have it under control. Our family has weathered so much loss and transition in the last four years that I’m pretty convinced the only one in control here is Jesus.

Basically, I feel like I have my inner control freak under control.

Jennifer Dukes Lee drew me in with her on-point storytelling and her tell-it-to-you-straight girl humor. And I’m so glad she did. Bottom line: I needed to read this book. Right now. This month. In this season.

I felt like Jennifer was mentoring me as I’ve been reading this book. She speaks candidly on topics like “When being in control gets out of control,” “Finding courage to do really hard things,” “Why every control freak needs to take God off her to-do-list” and “Learning to pause when you want to push.” Those are all chapters in the book and areas I need to think through in this middle season of life.

I am a mother to 2 elementary kids, 1 junior higher. I am ramping up a writing and speaking career, living in a new neighborhood, attending a new church, and investing in a fairly new marriage after my husband died from cancer four years ago. My friendships are shifting. My passions and purpose are shifting. I’m 40-something and my whole world appears to be shifting.

Jennifer describes it this way: “We ask for a map, but instead Jesus gives us a compass and says, ‘Follow me.’”

So true. I’m in that season where daily I’m learning to follow Him. Obedience is about baby steps. And let’s be real: it’s not comfortable. It means saying goodbye to rhythms and people who have been instrumental to my growth. It means being misunderstood by friends. It means embracing vulnerability and sharing my story whenever and wherever He tells me.

Jennifer speaks into this very struggle: “Obedience is not for wimps. At first, obedience can resemble the passive posture of letting God carry you where he will. It turns out that obedience is quite often a gutsy thing that will compel you to stand upright and march forward, even if it threatens your security, your own longing and your idea of success.”

I love the way Jennifer ushers us seamlessly between her story and experiences into stories of people in the Bible who learned the same lessons. This book also contains lots of special features to help readers take these lessons from the theological to the practical.

Jennifer includes exercises at the end of each chapter to take inventory on our life and help make key decisions. She coached me through writing down my “core boundaries” and my “burdens and carriers.”

I highly recommend It’s All Under Control to any of my friends who are on “a journey of letting go, hanging on and finding a peace you almost forgot was possible,” as the subtitle says.

*Jennifer Dukes Lee wrote a guest post for my blog called “When ‘Let go and Let God’ is bad advice.” Check it out here.

*Images for this post were provided by Jennifer Dukes Lee.

*Disclosure: Compensated affiliate links used at no extra cost to readers.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are we still blessed on the hardest days?

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

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

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

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

– Genesis 1:27-28 (ESV)

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

Is this really what blessing is all about?

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

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

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

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

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

-Matthew 5:3 (ESV)

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

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

-Matthew 5:4-5 (ESV)

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

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

-Matthew 5:12 (ESV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Photo by Kayle Kaupanger on Unsplash.

 

Book Review: Unexpected

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Running After His Glory in the Darkness

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

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

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

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

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

My once strong, athletic husband depended on me to take him to doctor’s appointments, to make decisions about treatments, to prepare special meals for him and even to brush his teeth. The work was heavy and heartbreaking. Lift. Inhale. Lift. Exhale. Lift. Inhale. Lift.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah 61:1, 2-3 (NIV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That summer I learned tomatoes need resistance to create resilience.

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

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

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

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

Here are a few things we do to traverse transitions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

 


Resurrection rising: How to wait through the winter of grief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

(Featured photo by Thomas Wolter on Pixabay)

Flourishing Together: God does not want us to run alone {live video}

Posted by | community, courage, finishing well, running, Stories, struggle, video | No Comments

 

 

For more on this topic, check out Flourishing Together, Dorina’s new 6-week Bible study just released on Amazon. If you would like to discover how to flourish by God’s design after loss, please check out the study and consider joining the Flourishing Together collective group on Facebook:

**black and white version

*full-color version

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.

Marathon Lessons: How to persevere when your race isn’t turning out how you expected

Posted by | behold, community, courage, death, finishing well, flourishing, grief, running, Stories, struggle | 7 Comments

We began to inch toward the start line. Throngs of runners from 100 countries around the world joined us for this epic race – the 40th Chicago Marathon. I tried not to focus on my nervousness and instead enjoy the experience of being there with so many people from all walks of life chasing the same goal.

About a year before, I started dreaming up ways to celebrate my 40th birthday. Choosing something for my 40th carried some weight and grief for me as I remembered that my beloved went to Heaven in his 40th year of life. Running the Chicago Marathon bubbled to the surface as a big challenge I wanted to work toward. I live in Central California now so journeying together with my family back to the city where I grew up seemed like a memorable way to celebrate.


I run races year-round, but my focused training for the marathon began in June. My friend and I disciplined ourselves to run before dawn and the stifling heat of the day descended on Central California. We enjoyed long weekend runs on the trails around our city. Those runs afforded me a new rhythm of quiet to connect with God, to process my grief, to breathe new life to my dreams.

And now, five months later, the big day was here. As the announcer signaled for us to start, I felt a surge of excitement. We began to navigate the streets and neighborhoods of Chicago. I tried to take one mile at a time and not focus on the entire 26.2 miles before me, which was still daunting.

The first challenge was finding space to run. With 44,000 runners, I had to do a lot of weaving and negotiating to find a path for my feet. The timing had to be just right.  You don’t want to cut anyone off, but you also don’t want to get stuck behind a group running a slower pace. Runners elbowed me and pushed me more than once. My hubby-coach ran next to me, and my training partner ran just ahead. I tried to steady the cadence of my breathing. The three of us struggled to stay together because of all the people surrounding us.

I started thinking about a passage in Hebrews I have been working to memorize with a group of women from my church. It says,

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1-3).


Remember the witnesses

These verses came to me at just the right time, providing inspiration for tackling the race ahead. At mile 3, we passed our family cheering crew – my parents, three daughters, my sister and brother’s family, and even some friends who have become family through the years. They motivated us on with smiles, high fives, hugs and hand-decorated signs. Not only were we surrounded by more than 1.5 million fans lining the streets of Chicago, but we were supported by our people, our witnesses.

I couldn’t help reflecting on how critical the support of my people has been through the years. My tribe has supported me at races, the births of my girls, graduations, weddings and more. They stood with me at my husband’s bedside when he battled cancer. They held me tight at the grave when we surrendered him to Heaven. Their encouragement buoys my strength.

As I ran the race, I could almost hear my Ericlee cheering from Heaven. I imagined him pumping his fist and calling out in that bellowing coaching voice. I thought of the others gathering in Heaven with him to witness my race. I saw my grandparents on both sides, many dear friends, and other heroes of the faith. This is the power of a community of support. I do not believe we humans are meant to run the race alone.


Weed out the thoughts that entangle

I felt a little slower than usual. I couldn’t find my pace and my stomach felt queasy. I made it past the half marathon point. At mile 15, I knew I had to find a bathroom fast. Just in the nick of time, I found one. After waiting in line, I got back out on the course with my team. I was disappointed because I knew I had lost precious minutes there. I felt weak.

My running partner said she was going to go on ahead. I have to admit this was hard. I don’t blame her a bit. In fact, I probably would have made the same choice if the tables were turned.  The competitive side of me just had a hard time accepting that I couldn’t push harder to stay with her.

I would say about 80 percent of running a marathon is the mental game. My mind started to spiral downward at this point. The temperature was rising. The sun started to beat down on me. I felt tired with each plodding step. I was disappointed in myself and felt ashamed that my husband had to run such a slow pace to keep me going. I started to compare myself to others in my mind.

Then those words rang out: “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” I was hindered by my self talk. My sin was in my attitude, my comparing, my jealousy, my shame. I felt like a tangled mess. I wanted to just lay down in the middle of the street and ugly cry.

I knew I had to rally. My husband offered to carry my hydration vest for me. I literally had to throw that thing off my tired shoulders and figuratively throw off my negative self talk as well.


Run with perseverance

I didn’t realize it until later when my hubby told me but I started saying the words to the verse out loud: “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…” I kept thinking about that word perseverance. It means persisting in spite of difficulty, obstacles or discouragement.

I reminded myself that I believe in doing hard things. I want to model that for my daughters. If I have learned anything in my grief journey, I have learned that the best way to navigate grief is to lean in, to take the next step, and the next. I made it to mile 20.

On mile 22, God sent me an angel. There was a woman on the side of the street giving the most rousing victory speech. Her words spoke truth and life into me. She reminded me that the marathon is about grit and glory. I believe that we are to be glory chasers, giving glory to God even in the most difficult times. Here was my chance. I had to run the race marked out just for me.


Follow the pacer

I’m not going to lie. Those last 4.2 miles were not easy. I was hot. I could feel the chafing beneath my shirt. I kept drinking water but still remained thirsty. Everyone around me was walking. I was tempted to stop, but I couldn’t. Shawn started running just ahead of me then. I knew what he was doing. He was pacing me. He knew I needed someone to follow, someone to chase. I fixed my eyes on his neon yellow “Run Big” shirt, and we ran.

And these words were running through my mind: “…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Some days are just hard. Sometimes the race is not what we hoped for or expected. It’s easy to focus my eyes on my shortcomings and disappointments. Hebrews 12 reminds me where to fix my  eyes – on Jesus. He’s the pioneer, the first, the one blazing the trail, my pacer for life.

We had one last hill to climb and then we turned the corner. That bright red banner screaming “FINISH” was my invitation. I shifted to that last gear, and ran my guts out.


And in the end, it turns out the marathon was not just a birthday challenge to accomplish. The marathon was an important teacher for life. I learned to remember the witnesses, weed out the thoughts that entangle, run with perseverance and follow the Pacer.

All for His glory!

 

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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.

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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! 

Running therapy: how grief crashes like ocean waves

Posted by | brave, courage, death, fear, finishing well, hope, running, Stories, struggle | One Comment

 

The ocean has always been my happy place. Ever since I was a little girl I have found refuge near the water’s edge. There’s something about the crash of the waves, the salty air tickling my tongue and the breathtaking sunsets that draws poetry out of me.

I have run over a diversity of terrains these last few years but Saturday was my first time running an actual race on the beach. I participated in the “Rock’n Around the Pier” Half Marathon from Morro Rock to Cayucos Pier. I found out this memorial run was started to honor runner and teacher Brian Waterbury who died of melanoma cancer in 2003. This out-and-back trail run was quite literally on the hard-packed sand along the Pacific Ocean.

We rode a charter bus with about 35 friends from our Fresno running club, The Express. When we disembarked the bus, we were greeted by the misty, cool air of the Central Coast. This was a welcome contrast to the temperatures that have soared in the triple digits this month in the Central Valley. Fog seeped over the hills and spilled out over the ocean, creating an ethereal mood at the start of this race.

I generally run with my ear buds pumping a carefully-curated playlist of music but there was no need for music when all creation was singing to me. The waves, the wind, the birds. We weaved through kelp, crunched over sand dollars, avoided crabs and leapt rivulets of water.

“Make the race your playground, not your proving ground,” says Lauren Fleshman, a former American track and field athlete. This quote holds particular weight for me. Although I am competitive by nature and training, I have come to experience running as a kind of grief therapy.

When I am running, I feel free. I dig deep and God breathes healing.

My play was interrupted Saturday by two back-to-back phone calls. One from my mom, and one from my brother. I’m not in the habit of answering the phone when running but two phone calls from family alerted me that something might be wrong. My brother let me know that my uncle had died.

Just last week we received word that my 31-year-old cousin died of a heart attack in her sleep. My mom attended memorial services last month for her dear aunt, a close friend and a former student. Our family has experienced so much loss in such a short time.

Of course, these losses stand against a backdrop of losing my husband in 2014 to melanoma cancer. When you’ve experienced this depth of loss, any future losses tend to stir up old grief wounds.

A symphony of waves crashed at my side while waves of grief crashed anew in my heart. This was grief upon grief. It’s hard not to live in fear when grief stacks up. It’s hard not to let your mind wander to the next tragedy, to get beaten down by anticipation of the next death.

Then my feet hit the soft sand. I was running but getting nowhere fast. I found myself gasping for air – the anxiety rising up to choke me. My chest burned. The salty air stung my eyes. The tears started to come. I had to slow my steps to steady my breathing again.

In through the nose, out through the mouth. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale.

I felt like Moses and the Israelites standing in the darkness before the Red Sea. “…and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided” (Exodus 14:21). God was working through my darkness to hold back this sea of grief. If He could harness the wind and these ocean waves, He could surely help me navigate these rough waters.

Then I saw my new husband Shawn. He had finished the race and returned looking for me. I felt the hope rising. I found the rhythm of my feet again. I strained and squinted for that arch that marked the finish. Shawn kept telling me it was there but I couldn’t make out the black letters through the mist.

I could see the Great Rock – Morro Rock – rising glorious and majestic before me, and I ran toward it. The words of the Psalmist were suddenly on my lips: “My rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God” (Psalms 62:6-7).

Are you being drowned by waves of grief? Are you squinting through the mist for a finish line? I encourage you to run toward the Rock. The waves of grief will come and go, ebb and flow, but the Rock will provide that refuge.

Finally, I saw it. I picked up the pace. I felt my strength and fight returning. My feet kicked to the next gear. I ran for the finish line. And just beyond towered the Rock.

**Are you navigating a grief journey? Could you use some words of encouragement? I’d love to add you to my Glorygram list, which includes a weekly dose of courage and recommendations. Read more about my Grief Journey here.

In the Shadow of the Giant: How to be a Glory Chaser

Posted by | behold, community, courage, finishing well, flourishing, laughter, running, self-care, Stories, struggle | 10 Comments

There is no gun to signal the start of this race. Just a voice bellowing “Go!” that echoes throughout the forest. I start up the trail. When I say up, I mean straight up. My trail shoes hit the rocky path, and I feel the strain. I lift my knees and pump my arms. My lungs burn for the first few miles because of the elevation, which soars above 5,000 feet.

I run today with a band of 10 mama runners (with 30 kids among us), who have become my tribe this year. We all run at different paces but we cheer for each other along the way. I’m not sure how it happened exactly. A few of us said we were going to try a trail race. Then several more signed up. And a few more stragglers registered at the last minute. And the rest is history. They remind me that I can do hard things in community.

This race is called the Shadow of the Giants, started in the 1990s by a notorious trail runner known as Big Baz. We’ve been told the now-75-year-old likes to harass runners out on the course.

This is my first trail 20k. I’ve run marathons and half marathons but this is the longest distance I’ve tackled on the trail. I’m a road runner. I grew up in the city racing 5ks and 10ks with my daddy and then eventually joining the high school track team when my soccer coach told me it would be good cross training.

The trail is different.

It taunts and charms me at the same time. The trail requires embracing the unknown. The trail experience is less about pace and mileage, and checking my Garmin watch, and more about lifting my eyes to drink in God’s glory around every curve.

I once heard a preacher talk about how we are called to be “glory chasers.” Pastor Mitchel Lee’s phrase sparked something deep inside me. He argued that we humans were put on this earth to discover God’s glory and reflect it back to God and those around us.

We have permission for ambition but not for personal glory. We are to live and work and run for God’s glory.

I pray for God to show me ways I can be a “glory chaser.”

I started this back in 2014 when I chose the word glory as my theme word. I had to train myself to notice His glory around me through the tragedy and the triumph. That was the year my husband was diagnosed with stage four cancer. That was the year I experienced God’s glory in sunsets and along the coast. That was the year He showed up for us through our community, who served us, fed us, collected money for medical bills, and lifted us. That was the year my lover leaped into Heaven – the ultimate Glory – leaving me a widow with three children.

Now three years later, I’m still a glory chaser. I’m still looking for God in my every day. I’m tracing his faithfulness through every piece of my past. I’m leading others up the trail to unearth His glory for themselves.

This trail through the famous Nelder Grove not far from Yosemite National Park is the perfect teacher. The first four miles of our race is uphill. The battle on the trail is always against the mind.

My mind zigs and zags as I fix my eyes on my feet. So many rocks and rivets to navigate. Can I do this? Will my knees hold up? Do I have enough water? Will they leave me behind? How will I finish?

I start to lift my head when I hear my running buddy say, “We need to remember to lift our eyes up from the trail.” She, too, is driven to see the glory.

My eyes can’t help chasing up the trunks of the majestic sequoia trees – each one pointing toward Heaven. I am reminded of a Creator God who took time to plant every tree in this grove and design every bird and beast and flower that call this place home.

A glory chaser lifts her eyes to see God’s glory even when the trail is uphill.

I am overwhelmed by the beauty of this view – miles upon miles of trees and sapphire sky. My soul is calmed by the sound of water dancing down little waterfalls below us. We are in the shadow of the Giants and the shadow of the Most High God.

My friend just read Psalm 91 to me. I meditate on these words as I run: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.” I whisper a prayer of thanks.

Thank you, Lord, for the shade provided by these trees shielding us from the heat of the sun and strengthening us on this uphill track. Thank you for lungs that can breathe and legs that run. Help me not to take these for granted but to see them as part of your glory too. Amen.

Before long, we have been running 7 miles. We hear water rushing below us and we know the river crossing is near. This is the X-factor, the uncertain part of the trail I have been most anticipating. After a heavy rain fall this past winter, I have heard this crossing could be as high as my waist. I debated for days what to wear and how to carry my gear.

When we arrive at water’s edge, I look at my friend. “Well, here we go.”

A glory chaser runs through the water instead of around it.

I think about Moses in Exodus 15 and how he followed God’s command. He led the Israelites straight to the roaring Red Sea. They ran for the water and the rapids parted.

A voice sings through my ear buds: “Your grace abounds in deepest waters.”

I step into the ice cold and begin to blaze a trail. I am filled with laughter as the water rushes over my legs and splashes my arms. I anticipated this as a difficult obstacle to cross but it proves a refreshing and memorable part of the race. Baz is on the other side of the shore with his white beard and broad smile.

“You made it, darling,” he says, warmly. “What did you think of it?”

“It was glorious,” is all I can say.

My friend Amber is behind me. She catches up and we continue on the trail. We feel a rush of excitement that we have survived the river and we are almost finished with our 20k.

We can breathe again without burning lungs. We chat about books we’ve read and travels we hope to take one day with our families. The trail offers a mix of companionship and solitude. I am grateful for my friend on these long miles to keep me going.

Her knee starts to hurt. We walk a while. I try to encourage her. We give ourselves no pressure to make time goals like I might in a road race. We want to savor every step. The sun crosses our path in patches but just when I put on my sunglasses we have ducked back into the shade. The temperature is perfect – another glimpse of God’s glory today.

My watch tells me we have finished 12 miles. Amber urges me that I must go ahead. She wants to walk and insists I run to the finish. I concede. The solitude will serve us both well, I know.

A glory chaser always runs with the finish in mind.

The trail turns from a wide road big enough for a fire truck to a single track of switchbacks headed downhill. I can’t help it. My feet take me faster and faster. I jump over logs and duck under tree branches. I am chasing the finish line now. I don’t know where it is exactly, but I trust my legs and my God to show me the course step by step.

This is a lesson I have learned these past three years. If God had revealed the whole course – all the details of my husband’s cancer journey, his death and our grief, and even the redemptive pieces of my story like getting remarried to one of his best friends, I am not sure I would have survived. I would have been overwhelmed by His full glory. He ran just ahead of me and paced me with His presence. I always ran in the protective shadow of the Giant.

My sprinter’s heart is pounding. I want to finish well. I want to run for His Glory. I want to cross the line like my husband did with arms outstretched and hear Him say those long-anticipated words, “Well done.”

 

**Are you interested in going deeper in learning how to be a glory chaser? Check out the Bible study here!

***Subscribe here for my free weekly Glorygram – a more personal note of encouragement full of recommendations for you! And please feel free to share ways God has shown His glory to you in the comments below!


Left behind: Sorting through a loved one’s treasures

Posted by | community, death, finishing well, grief, Stories, transitions | 9 Comments

 

I pull in the driveway after picking up the kids from school. They’re giggling and talking in the back seat. I hit the button for the garage door. My girls emerge from the car with arms full of backpacks, art projects and library books. I somehow balance my own laptop, this morning’s smoothie cup, packages from the mailbox and my youngest girl’s lunch bag.

The girls race inside but I hang back. I walk slowly through the garage past the rows of boxes, the bikes and the stacks of framed pictures. My heart trembles again with a mix of shame and heaviness. I feel shame that we still have all this stuff in our garage despite moving here more than a year and a half ago. The heaviness hangs stagnant in the air because I don’t really want to face the task of sorting again.

I live in one of those neighborhoods where most people pull into their pristine garages with polished concrete floors. Meanwhile, we have a garage full of junk. At least that’s what I imagine people thinking. Someone driving by would never know there are treasures in those boxes, remnants and keepsakes of another life, the traces of a husband and daddy gone to Heaven too soon.

This is the remainder. The stuff left behind.

My husband was diagnosed with stage four melanoma cancer in May 2014. Our little rental on Harrison Street was the hub for family and community gatherings. We had an amazing backyard where I hosted my weekly workout group, volunteer meetings for the non-profit we ran and countless play dates. That summer, our home morphed into a medical care facility. Our master bedroom transformed into a hospital room, a visitor center, a resting place.

My husband graduated to Heaven less than four months after his diagnosis. I knew I couldn’t stay in that house but I needed time to sort through the grief, the memories and the stuff we had accumulated together over the years.

A little more than a year later, I found myself signing the papers for a new home across town near our favorite regional park. I put my name on stacks of paperwork – each page reminding me that I was indeed a widow stepping into a new life without my beloved. Was it any coincidence that the name of the man selling the house to us had the same rare name as my husband? Tears streamed down my face as I signed my name next to his on all those papers. No mistake. No accident. I was reminded of God’s perfect and wild provision for the girls and me.

After signing the papers, I went home and got to work. It was time to begin sorting.

I didn’t anticipate how difficult this part would be. Moving is hard at the base level. It’s exhausting to pack up your life when life is still moving forward. Whether you are married, have kids, or are single, it takes time to categorize and put things in boxes. In my move from the Harrison house, I discovered the work and emotions are magnified when grief is tangled in the process.

I tried my best to simplify things. I organized things in three rough categories: stuff I wanted to keep, stuff I wanted to share with others, and stuff I wanted to donate. Of course, the process was much more complicated than I expected. While it was easy for me to give away my own excess clothes and the kids’ toys, it was excruciatingly hard to decide what things of my husband’s to give away. Should I keep his shirts, his shoes, his journals, his G.I. Joe collection, his books, his CrossFit equipment, his childhood photo albums? What would be meaningful for my girls’ to have? What would we want in the future? My mind swirled with a thousand questions and angles to look at each piece.

I had about a month to prepare for our move. I quickly discovered I needed to tackle it in chunks. It was too heavy for my heart to bear at once – not to mention parenting three kiddos and sorting through their stuff at the same time. Some days I had energy to get the job done. Other days I was paralyzed by the decisions in front of me.

I am especially grateful for a few dear friends who came to help me wade through the hard decisions. One friend came to help me sort through his office. We made a box for keepsakes and items with sentimental value. We shared some tears. He also helped me purge and shred items that I didn’t need anymore. The moral support was a priceless gift.

Another friend came to help me in the final days before the big move. She saw the weight I was carrying as I agonized over what to keep for my girls for the future. My friend grabbed a large box and handed me a sharpie. She instructed me to write the words “Daddy Time Capsule” on the side and urged me to throw in any last items. “You can save these for the girls and just sort through them in the future,” she told me. I sighed relief.

These were just the words I needed.

Some days I beat myself up because I couldn’t get through the sorting faster. Now I look back and realize how important it was to take time. It was a journey not just of the hands, but of the heart as well. I had lived 11 years with my man. It wasn’t a season to be purged in a day.

And I’ve discovered this is how grief is. It’s a multi-layered process that takes place over time. I might try to just pull in the driveway, close the garage door and move on with my life, but three years later the memories are still vivid. I have to give myself grace to peel back layer by layer to sort through box upon box.

I write today to encourage those of you who are facing the difficult work of sorting through a loved one’s things. First, I urge you to carve out time for this task. There are circumstances that require a quick move but if you can help it at all give yourself time. Schedule days when you can move through the memories. Don’t do it all at once. Invite a friend or family member to help you.

And finally, give yourself grace because in the sorting there will be grieving. And that is important work too.

 

 

Next week I’ll be sharing some practical and creative ideas to preserve items and honor the legacy of a loved one who has died.  Comment below if you have any stories or tips on how you sorted through your loved one’s stuff. What did you keep? What did you pass on? Where do you keep the most treasured items?  

Last month I did a series on “Navigating Grief When Life Moves Forward.” In case you missed it, I encourage you to check out some of the articles or share with a friend who is grieving:

The Garden – an introduction to the series

Grieving Together – an article on grieving with children

Choosing Joy – a guest post about a spouse choosing joy even on a long cancer journey

When a Grandparent Dies – a guest post about how one mom is navigating her own grief and grief with her kids

Facing Triggers and Trauma – an article about steering through grief when triggers and trauma color the journey

When You are the Caregiver – an article about navigating grief and feelings of guilt when you have a front-row seat to a loved one’s decline

When You Have to Say Goodbye to the Place Your Heart Calls Home – a guest post exploring the idea of “good grief” we experience when we are uprooted from a place or home we love

When You’ve Experienced Pregnancy Loss – a guest post sharing a first-hand experience with miscarriage and stillbirth.

Navigating Grief When Someone You Love Dies Suddenly – a guest post sharing about the sudden death of her mother.

Would you like a copy of my FREE resource for “Grieving with Kids“?

I’m passionate about meeting people in their grief and sharing a message of hope and glory. Let’s connect!