Chasing God's glory through tragedy and triumph

flourishing

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

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

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

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

I found myself at the intersection of fear and faith.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Isaiah 54:5

 

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

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

{Summer Blog Swap} Creative ways to work through a spiritual funk

Posted by | creativity, flourishing, Stories, struggle, Uncategorized, worship | No Comments

Welcome to my Summer Blog Swap. Over the next four weeks I am inviting four of my blogger friends over to this space to share some of their posts and perspectives. It’s a fun way to introduce some of my favorite people to all of you. This week I’d like you to meet my friend Natalie Guy. We met through a writing group called Hope*writers. Natalie is a Central California girl. I love her recommendations for everything from favorite books to favorite wineries to favorite recipes, and her heart to share Jesus with women. Today she’s serving up some suggestions for where to turn for inspiration when you feel like you’re in a spiritual slump. Read on.

 

By Natalie Guy from Everyday Natalie

Have you ever gone through a dry season in your walk with the Lord?

You are going through the motions but your prayer and worship don’t feel genuine. That has happened to me at times, and it can be discouraging. You may feel like you are in a desert. You are parched, wind-whipped, frayed around the edges, burned out, and begging for some refreshment. You desire to have those rivers of living waters flow through you.

www.DorinaGilmore.com (Photo by Ruth Troughton on Unsplash)

 

Some creative ideas to work through a spiritual funk:

  • Listen to worship music. Play some praise music you love, songs you have worshiped along with before, or try some new tunes.
  • Be honest with God. Confess to the Lord what you are feeling. He knows and He understands.
  • Talk to a trusted friend. Share your struggle with another Christian friend and ask for prayer.
  • Remember this is just a season. Don’t be hard on yourself. No season lasts forever, so trust God that He will deliver you.
  • Listen to a podcast. There are some great faith-based podcasts that will encourage you and your walk with Jesus.
  • Switch it up. Try reading different versions of the Bible than you typically read. Pull out some devotionals you haven’t read in a while, buy a new one you’ve heard of, or borrow one from a friend. You may even try listening to the audio Bible.
  • Spend time in silence. Sit in God’s presence and listen. Open your hands and your heart to receive His words.
  • Try coloring in a Scripture coloring book. This can be a great way to read the Word and bring some life back to your dry bones.
  • Go on a retreat/day retreat. Find a place to get away from the hustle and bustle of life and focus on your relationship with God.
  • Open up your Bible and read passages that have previously brought you comfort. The Lord is faithful and will woo you back with His kind and familiar words.

www.DorinaGilmore.com (Photo by David Iskander on Unsplash)

 

*****

Podcast suggestions:

The Next Right Thing by Emily Freeman

Dear Daughters by Susie Davis

Gospel in Life by Tim Keller

Bethel Podcast by Bethel Church Redding

 

Scripture coloring books for adults:

Sweeter Than Honey: a Coloring Book to Nourish your Soul

Promises of Joy

Whatever is Lovely: A Coloring Book for Reflection and Worship

 

Devotional suggestions:

New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotion

Five Minutes with Jesus

The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms

 

Natalie Guy is a blogger, teacher, speaker and mentor. She loves to encourage women in their daily pursuit of God using anecdotes about life, faith, food, and friendship. Natalie has been married for 29 years to her husband Tony, who has spent much of that time in pastoral ministry. Natalie’s joy is to serve couples and families with him. She and Tony have three grown children.

Connect with Natalie on Instagram or Facebook, on her blog, and you can sign up to receive her weekly dose of soul encouragement and fun finds right here. 

*This blog was originally posted at Everyday Natalie.

**Photos provided by Ruth Troughton & David Iskander on Unsplash.com. 

Instant Pot Filipino Garlic Fried Rice: A creative way to celebrate friendship

Posted by | community, cooking, creativity, culture, flourishing, food stories, friendship, gifts, Main Dish, Recipes, relationships, side dish | No Comments

A few of my favorite things are good food and celebrating my people. A few months ago, my friend’s husband enlisted me to help plan a 40th birthday party for her. Bev’s desire was to gather together with a small group of girlfriends and cook up a fabulous dinner together. Then she wanted to invite the husbands to join us around the table to enjoy the food and celebrate.

Now this is my kind of party. I used to host a monthly Cooking Club at my house with 10 couples who met for a similar kind of dinner party. We tried out all kinds of new recipes together, using new and exotic ingredients. Some of the women were just learning to cook so we shared techniques and practiced together.

One key ingredient to Bev’s birthday party was no kids. We love our kids, and we also savor some good adults only conversation.

Bev and I put our creative minds together and chose the menu for her birthday bash. She wanted an Asian fusion theme so we settled on the following:

Asian Chopped Salad with peanut dressing

Vegan Gluten-free Thai Spring Rolls

Garlic Butter Sauteed Asparagus

Asian-style Flat Iron Steak

Filipino Garlic Fried Rice

and my famous Chai Cheesecake

I helped shop for ingredients and Bev’s hubby bought an array of appetizers and wine for us ladies to sample while we were cooking. The one recipe that we decided to experiment with was the Garlic Fried Rice. There’s a traditional Filipino breakfast dish called Sinangag that Bev has tried before. This dish is a garlic rice topped with green onions and a fried egg.

We decided to make this recipe uniquely our own adding some local produce. The fun thing about fried rice is you can always incorporate what you have at home. Carrots, bok choy, peppers, and asparagus are a few ideas! This rice can be served up as a main dish or a tasty side like we did with steak and other goodies.

The dinner party was a huge success mostly because Bev got her wish for her kitchen full of treasured friends, quality conversation, and delicious dinner. Bev and I have been heart friends for more than 13 years now. We have done life together from pregnancy years to now having kids in middle school. We have processed grief and death, challenges in parenting, job and ministry changes, and even education. I love that she is a friend who always appreciates and good meal and points me back to my relationship with Jesus.

Do you have a friendship that has outlasted several seasons? In our busy culture, it’s easy to drift apart from friends if we are not intentional.  I encourage you to celebrate a friend in your life with a cooking party. The food doesn’t have to be fancy. The recipes don’t have to be difficult. Time together bonding in the kitchen and around the table is always well spent.

Instant Pot Filipino Garlic Fried Rice (Sinangag)

Ingredients:

1/4 cup butter or olive oil

6 cloves of garlic, minced

4 cups basmati rice

5 cups chicken broth

1 cup carrots, chopped finely

1 cup corn (fresh, frozen or canned will work)

1 cup red pepper, chopped

1 package bacon, coarsely chopped

Garnish: 1/4 cup green onions, chopped

Directions:

  1. Add butter and garlic to Instant Pot. Select “Saute” feature and saute until garlic is fragrant.
  2. Add rice and stir to lightly brown rice and coat with butter.
  3. Add chicken broth.
  4. Lock Instant Pot. Select “Manual” and set to 10 minutes.
  5. While rice is cooking chop remaining vegetables and saute bacon in a pan.
  6. Release pressure on the Instant pot. Stir in vegetables and bacon. Garnish with green onions.

Serves: 10 (side dish portion)

International Widows Day: Why reaching out a hand can make all the difference

Posted by | brave, community, compassion, courage, culture, flourishing, grief, Haiti, hope, organization, parenting, social justice, Stories | 2 Comments

I attended a writer’s conference a few months ago and met a pastor from another state. We chatted for about 15 minutes, and I briefly shared my story of being widowed in 2014. I could see he was filled with great compassion. He asked me how he could support my work sharing about grief and imparting courage to widows. We exchanged contact information.

A few days later I received an email from him again asking how he could support me. He had spent some time reading my blog and Instagram posts. He read about my recent marriage and wrote this: “I never thought about the fact that people can be married and still a widow.”

His honesty struck me. I have learned so much these past four years about myself, about navigating grief and about the widow life. One thing I believe is that when you have experienced deep loss, that loss marks you. In some ways, it’s like a scar. The scar may heal and smooth over time, but it never really goes away.

I will always be a widow.

I will always carry the scar of deep grief in losing my beloved. I remember what it feels like to suddenly be a single parent while navigating grief. I still get choked up when I think about the ways God miraculously provided for our medical bills and practical needs in the home after my husband’s death. I don’t ever want to forget about the compassion I was shown by my community in my early widowhood.

My experience has also given me a deep empathy for other widow mamas. God has knitted in me a passion to use what I’ve experienced to reach out to these women in their brokenness. I know that linking arms with other widow friends has provided a path to much of my healing. I write and speak to help widow mamas know they are not alone in raising their children and navigating daily grief.  I want them to hold on to a fierce hope and step into a life of flourishing, despite their loss.

June 23 was named International Widows Day by the United Nations in 2010. This day is an opportunity to raise awareness and action to achieve full rights for widows. The United Nations estimates that there are some 258 million widows around the world, with more than 115 million of them living in deep poverty. In many countries, widows are marginalized and stigmatized as a source of shame.

My heart breaks to think about women across the world who are often evicted from their homes, vulnerable to abuse and trafficking, struggling to raise their children and navigating grief at the same time. I remember sitting with several widow friends in Haiti listening to their stories. When their husbands died, they were faced with much more than sadness. They lost all hope of provision for their families. They were often marginalized in their community. They were vulnerable to people who wanted to take advantage of them.

When I helped start The Haitian Bead Project in 2010, our goal was to provide jobs for vulnerable women in the community. I did not anticipate how many of them would be widows. I also did not anticipate that one day I would be able to relate to their situation on a much more personal level.

The Bible mandates special care for widows. There are dozens of passages that address how to care for these women. Perhaps no one states it as plainly as James, Jesus’ own brother. He writes, “Religion that is pure ad undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27, ESV)

My challenge to you today is to think about how you might lift up a widow in your midst. How can you come along side a widow who is grieving? How can you use your time and resources to encourage a widow-friend? How can you make purchases or donate to projects that will empower widows across the globe who are vulnerable?

A few weeks ago I spoke at a women’s event in California about “Flourishing Together.” Many in the audience were widows. A dear friend of mine stayed afterwards and introduced me to several of her friends. They shared stories about how they had walked together through grief. I was struck by two things: all of these beautiful women were widows, and all of them were examples of what it means to be overcomers. I will always treasure their stories of grief and their beautiful smiles, which spoke volumes about their resilience.

Here’s the reality: Once you are a widow, you are always a widow. The path of grief twists and turns. Sometimes the path is flatter and almost feels like a normal stroll. Other times it feels like you are hiking straight uphill. But through the years I have learned that grief always feels lighter when I am hiking with a friend by my side.

**Are you navigating a grief journey? I would love to stay connected with you more personally. I send out a weekly Glorygram with words of encouragement and recommendations for books, podcasts, and other resources to help you on your journey. Sign up here.

*Featured photo by Daniel Frank on Unsplash.

The “speed of seed”: A spoken word on bearing fruit

Posted by | flourishing, grief, hope, identity, inspirational, Stories, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The following is a spoken word piece I wrote for The Bridge Church Fresno to share as part of the “I am, You are, We are” series. You can watch the piece here. The transcript of the piece is below.

They told me He was a Master,

the most skilled Gardener in all the land.

I had to trust His gentle, yet mighty hands.

He planted me, helped me to burrow deep into

the soft, rich soil He had carefully prepared for me.

I drifted to sleep dreaming of becoming

a magnificent tree one day.

 

When I woke up, I felt an awful ache in my belly.

It was the most excruciating pain –

like a pushing and pulling at the same time.

I wondered if this was normal.

I felt like my heart was breaking open,

birthing pains surging through my body.

I reached out for the Master Gardener,

but I couldn’t see Him in the darkness.

I heard a gentle whisper,

“I am doing a new thing.”

 

These words strengthened me.

“I will be with you.”

I reached out for Him,

sending my new roots through the soil

to seek Him, to chase after Him, to find Him.

I was thirsty, and He provided

all the water I could drink – and more –

until I was filled to overflowing.

I wanted to be like those mother trees

I saw planted by the water.

They did not fear the heat to come

and their leaves always seemed green.

 

Then I heard a deep voice above,

bellowing, beckoning me.

“Arise, little one,” He said.

It was the Gardener King!

He wanted to see me.

He was inviting me out into the world.

Rays of angled light danced above me.

I reached out with all the power, wisdom and knowledge

He had given me underground.

He lifted my head, and I began to grow.

First, I was a little shoot, but the more time

we spent together the longer and stronger

my branches and limbs grew.

I waved to the other trees in the orchard.

 

Then one day, the Gardener Counselor came to me.

He said it was pruning time.

Pruning was an important part

of the journey for a tree, He explained.

Pruning would shape me and stimulate new growth.

Methodically, He clipped and cut, clipped and cut.

He stood back and waited, and then cut some more.

His sharp clippers touched every one of my branches,

especially the biggest ones.

I tried to focus my eyes on the Father Gardener

when I ached, when I felt naked in the garden

with my ugly, bare branches extended for everyone to see.

“Abide in me,” He said to soothe my soul.

“The harvest is yet to come.”

 

I waited, I wondered, I rested.

It felt like many long winter days, months

that I did not see the sun or my Gardener Friend.

When grief and insecurity crept in,

I had to remember the words He had spoken

over me

when I was just a seed living underground.

“I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

“I love you with an everlasting love.”

“I rejoice over you with singing.”

After enduring many long days,

new green leaves appeared on my branches.

I saw the Gardener Shepherd tending to

other plants and trees in the garden too.

New life was awakened all around me.

 

And then came the blooms!

Pale pink and white petals perched

on every branch across the orchard.

I was not the only one coming alive with color,

flashes of purple, crimson and gold;

faith, hope and love lit up every corner.

I could not help but give thanks for the work

accomplished in each of us

through the Gardener who Sees.

We were flourishing together in His garden.

 

But the surprising joy came after my flowers dropped their petals.

After death, sprung a kind of

redemption, restoration, resurrection.

Fruit ripened in the places where flowers once bloomed.

I was reminded of our Gardener Provider,

who was faithful to plant the seed and send the rain,

who lovingly pruned, nourished and cultivated me

through the winter and spring months.

What transformation!

 

The Master Gardener made his way over to me.

With great delight he plucked a plump peach

from one of my branches.

He sunk his teeth into the flesh of that fruit

and juice chased down to His elbow.

He smiled at me, holding the fruit.

Finally, He gently removed the seed and bent to plant

it in the soil not far from my trunk.

 

Then He spoke these words over me

*******

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joygiving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1)

Amen.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crystal hits on three main themes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That summer I learned tomatoes need resistance to create resilience.

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

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

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

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

Here are a few things we do to traverse transitions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Book review: Rooted

Posted by | book reviews, community, death, flourishing, Uncategorized | No Comments

A few months ago, I took my kids on a day trip to Sequoia National Park with friends. The park is full of sequoia redwood trees, which are some of the largest trees in the world. With their ruddy, giant trunks and branches extending toward Heaven, these trees are truly majestic.

I learned the General Sherman tree is the largest known single stem tree on earth standing 275 feet tall and an estimated 2,300-2,700 years old. What I find extraordinary about the General Sherman and the sequoia redwoods in general is not what we see above ground. I’m fascinated by their root systems that can hold up a tree with a mass of 2,472,000 pounds.

Redwood tree roots are surprisingly very shallow, often burrowing down only six to eight feet deep, but extending outward for more than a hundred miles. Their roots intertwine, connect and work together with the roots of other trees to share information and resources. The true majesty of these trees lies underground.

I received a text from a friend several months ago. She said I needed to read this book Rooted: The Hidden Places Where God Develops You by Banning Liebscher. The title intrigued me because I just published my second Bible study, Flourishing Together. I was preparing to teach it at my home church.

Rooted arrived just on time. Banning’s words provided rich food and affirmation for my soul on a topic God was already preparing me to share about through my study.

The book is organized into different sections. The opening six chapters lay the foundation of Banning’s premise: before we can develop our vision for life and ministry we must let God develop us.

“For you to bear abundant, enduring fruit, God needs to make you bigger on the inside than you are on the outside,” writes Banning. “You have to let Him build your root system in secret before He leads you into making a visible impact on the world.”

After the opening, Banning describes three types of soil: 1. Intimacy 2. Serving 3. Community and unpacks how these inform our journey of discovering God.

In Rooted, Banning takes us through the life of David to show how God expands our root system underground in order to later make an impact above ground. Banning illuminates the way God prepared David for the crown.  He develops an intimate relationship with God in private that fuels and guides his actions in public.

Banning was on staff at Bethel Church in Redding, California for 18 years and founded the Jesus Culture ministry during that time. Not only is he a great writer, but he has “street cred” too. He has lived this message about being rooted before growing far-reaching ministry.

Banning writes with the voice of a pastor, a teacher and an encourager. He especially challenged me with this: “When we come through that valley of the shadow of death, when we emerge out of the deep end, then what? We have an awareness of God’s abiding presence that forever changes the way we see impossible situations… Our roots are firmly established in the revelation of a Father who never leaves us.”

I have found these words to be true in my own life. As I faced the death of my husband in 2014 and entered that secret place to grieve with my Heavenly Father, I discovered His faithfulness has kept me rooted. He has shown me His presence through His word and community. Today I see how God is using my story and expanding my reach much farther than I ever imagined.

 

 

Read more about my personal story of flourishing after loss in Flourishing Together:Cultivating a Fruitful Life in Christ, a 6-week Bible study now available on Amazon. 

Resurrection rising: How to wait through the winter of grief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

(Featured photo by Thomas Wolter on Pixabay)

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

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

Photo by Alina Dub // www.freshbreadandflowers.com

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

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

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

Photo by Victoria Bilsborough on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

Finding real rest after a tragedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 Ideas for self-care for widows and others grieving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part of this essay was taken from Flourishing Together, a new 6-week Bible study just released on Amazon. If you would like to discover how to flourish by God’s design after loss, please check out the study and consider joining the Flourishing Together collective group on Facebook:

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*full-color version

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hugged her and lifted her up.

“He’s gone,” she cried.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Featured photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

**black and white version

*full-color version

 

 

 

{A blog series} All Things New: Learning to breathe again

Posted by | death, flourishing, grief, Guest blogger, parenting, Stories, struggle, transitions, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The following is a guest post by my widow friend Tara Dickson as part of a blog series called “All Things New: Learning to Flourish After Loss.”  After a 14-month battle with glioblastoma brain cancer, her husband went home to be with Jesus at the age of 46. She daily challenges me to lift my eyes to the new things God has for each one of us.

New beginnings and new seasons often begin with a new year. Just like clockwork ours did too. After a night of board games and egg nog, we found ourselves in a cold, sterile ER. What we thought was a stomach bug that was dehydrating my husband was a large mass pressing on his brain.

While everyone else was writing down their word for the year and making resolutions, we were resolving to fight for his life. We had four kids, three still in high school.

He did fight the good fight against cancer for 14 months, and I fought with him. Then, in the dark of night, the Lord woke me to lay my hand on his chest and feel his last exhale, and watch his triumphant entry into Heaven. It still feels like yesterday, but we are coming up on two years.

The word “new” sounds so inviting, full of possibility and expectation. Yet when you don’t choose that “new” it can be anything but. New can range from uncomfortable to paralyzing. For us, it was the latter.

Home wasn’t home anymore. He wasn’t there. Our lungs forgot how to pull in air and we felt disconnected and set apart. Overnight we had become members of this club that we didn’t ask to join. Change swirled around us and within. There was no getting away from it.

Everyone said, “You just have to find your new normal.” But, I have decided that normal is overrated. I don’t want normal. Life is not this tame predictable thing that I can plan and schedule or control.

I have found that there is comfort in abandonment. When I cling so tightly to my plans and my will, I start to fear they will be taken from me. They become something I must protect and manipulate.

When I abandon myself, all that I am and all that is mine to God, there is freedom in the releasing. It’s a laying down of my will so that I can pick up His. Though the plans we lay for ourselves might never come to pass, it doesn’t mean that God’s plans for us are over or that He isn’t good.

There must be an emptying and filling for our hearts to grow. It’s a bit like breathing.

Circumstances come to each of us that empty us. They wring our hearts dry.  Then we try to fill them up again. We can fill them with the truth of God’s word, hope for tomorrow and trust that though the way seems dark, He promises to light the way. Or we can fill them with fear, anxiety and no hope for tomorrow.

I have wrestled with both and found when I “Lift Up My Eyes” to the faithful Father and allow him to renew my mind with His word, that is when the peace comes that anchors the soul.

So breathe, dear ones, and when the emptying comes and new seasons lie around the bend, abandon yourself to the one who longs to fill you with new hope for tomorrow!

“Sing to the Lord a new song! Sing his praise from the end of the earth!

Behold the former things have come to pass, Now I declare new things.”

Isaiah 42:10,9 (NAS)

 

A former elementary school teacher, Tara has since then been following the calling the Lord placed on her heart to write, heal and connect with His body. She strives daily to remind herself and others to “lift up your eyes” and see that God is with us. She is also an agented children’s author and hopes to publish a series for children. You can read her encouraging words at www.taradickson.com or on Instagram or on Facebook @taraelizabethdickson

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

**black and white version

*full-color version

 

 

 

Featured photo by Havilah Galaxy on Unsplash

{A blog series} All Things New: Life beyond the hospital doors

Posted by | courage, death, fear, flourishing, grief, Guest blogger, hope, identity, relationships, Stories, transitions | 2 Comments

The following is a guest post written by my widow friend, Danielle Comer. I hope her story opens a window to what it looks like to move forward after the loss of a spouse. She continues to inspire me with her courage.

 

I remember walking out of the hospital on that sunny day in May, feeling like I had walked into another world, another life. Not mine or the one I knew. It was like we had walked in as a family of two, but I came out as a party of one.

Was this really happening?  Do I keep walking?  What if I walked back into the hospital? Would it change everything back to the way it was?  What am I supposed to do now?  How do you live as a brand new widow?

The years leading up to Kenny’s death, we didn’t talk much about the possibility of life without Kenny here. Anyone who knew Kenny knew he was very positive with his diagnosis, and he was determined to beat it. He went beyond every measure to continue his life here on earth with me, his daughter Kenlee, and our dog Tank. He did so with the decision to remove his right leg and hip, as well as part of his lung, to gain more time and the chance of finding a therapy that would work.

However, the last few months of his life weren’t filled with the same positivity. On the surface, we stayed positive and he fought to the very end. Behind the scenes, we had more frequent talks about what I would do if he was gone. He didn’t like talking about this, nor did I, so the conversations never came to any resolutions. They were simply acknowledgments that this could one day be my reality.

After battling cancer for almost 11 years, Kenny passed away from Ewing’s Sarcoma on May 30, 2015.

I knew everything would be okay. I knew I had an amazing family and support system who would take care of me. However, there was one thing that I wasn’t prepared for. I didn’t anticipate that when Kenny passed away, he would take so much of me with him.

It was as if everything I had ever known or worked for was stripped away from me. The woman I had become, the woman I was working on, the woman I was building – she was no longer.

I found myself asking, Who am I now? What’s my identity?

Attempting to answer the questions above was a more difficult undertaking than I ever imagined it would be. I started doing new things, and I had to let go of other things.

A couple months after Kenny passed, I started therapy.I remember at the first session the therapist asked me what I wanted out of our time. I wasn’t sure how to answer her because I felt like I was expected to say I was there to grieve the death of my husband. However, I felt at peace about his passing and wasn’t sure why I needed therapy. Through the sessions, I realized I needed to learn how to grieve the death of my old self and the life I thought would be mine.

I also started attending church regularly, not just at holidays like we did before. At first, the main reason for attending was to spend time with friends so I wouldn’t be alone. However, it quickly became something I needed and looked forward to every week for myself. It also led me to attend a care series group that was for couples fighting cancer together. I was hesitant at first since I was no longer a “couple” or fighting cancer, but I felt compelled to go and share my experience. After much debate and many prayers, I went. I was so glad I did as it ended up helping me more than any other support group.

After Kenny’s death, I was entering a dark and unknown place in my life. The darkest so far to date. Although I felt broken, I had faith God would make me new again and shine light on new hopes and dreams set forth for me.

Now, looking back over my journey these last three years, I can see where some of the most painful moments were necessary experiences I had to go through to learn and discover my new life. These experiences helped me learn the true meaning of letting go and having faith in the unknown.

These experiences led me to new beginnings and new adventures. I have moved to a new state, where I started a job in a different industry. This also led me to a new relationship with my boyfriend, Chris. I knew dating would be one of the hardest changes after Kenny’s death, but it has also proven to be the most rewarding. I have learned more about myself, my true self, and have grown in areas of my life that otherwise wouldn’t have had I not stepped into new things.

Learning to let go of what I wanted to control so badly redefined the meaning of faith for me. The day I had to let go of Kenny, let go of the life I knew, let go of the girl I knew, and walk out on the other side of those hospital doors, I had faith that everything was going to be alright. Maybe not right then, in that moment, or even in the weeks or months ahead – but I knew it was eventually going to be okay. He was going to make everything new again in His time, not mine.


Danielle Comer lives in Oregon where she is a city planner and shares more of her story on her new blog at DanielleComer.com.  During her free time, Danielle enjoys discovering new coffee shops, exploring all Oregon has to offer with her boyfriend, Chris, and dog, Tank. She loves capturing life’s moments with her second set of eyes – her camera.  You can find Danielle on Instagram and Facebook.

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

**black and white version

*full-color version


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

**black and white version

*full-color version

One word: Embracing a sense of Wonder for the new year

Posted by | behold, flourishing, One Word, Stories, wonder | 4 Comments

On New Year’s Day, as our family was driving home in the evening from Los Angeles, we watched an incandescent full moon rising over the silhouette of mountains. She moved in a slow waltz to the center of the midnight blue sky like it was her dance floor.

My girls were squealing in the back seat, “I want to see! I want to see!” I tried to take a picture out of the window, but it didn’t do the scene justice. We had to behold this marvelous sight with our own eyes. This breathtaking moon was a reminder to me of our God who created the heavens and the earth full of so much beauty and intricacy.

My husband and I got to talking about words. He said he wanted to join me this year in choosing a word theme. I was surprised by his interest and excited to embark on this year’s word journey together.

Every year I choose one word to embody my year. I commit to studying, following, contemplating, praying over and dwelling on that one word as my focus for the year. Choosing one word has become a movement – not just among my friends but people all over the globe.

Choosing a word theme is kind of a big deal for me. In fact, the two Bible studies I published this year grew out of my experiences following the words “glory” and “flourish.” This will be my sixth year gathering with friends for a special Word Party, where we reflect on our words from last year and reveal our new words. We had to schedule our party for later in January but we are still committed to sharing and praying over these words together.

The word my husband had on his heart was “wonder.”

As soon as he said it, my heart leaped. That was it! Was it any wonder that this word had already been bubbling up in my heart for the last few months? I love the way God works. He allows the same messages – sometimes simple words – to resonate in many places. That’s often how He gets our attention.

My 2017 word was “behold.” I discovered along the way that much of “beholding” is having a sense of wonder about God and His Creation. It’s taking time to stop and notice the brilliant colors of a sunset sashaying across the sky. It’s having a sense of curiosity about the world, its creatures and even our relationships. It’s tracing God’s handiwork in all things.

God took me on a journey back to Haiti to learn to behold in 2017. He used nature and an opportunity to share my story of grief with Haitian women as a way to reveal His glory to me. He showed me the wonder of serving Him. All these themes are woven together for me.

This year I’m praying for ✨pixie dust,✨ as Author Margaret Feinberg calls it in her book Wonderstruck. I want this year to be overflowing with a sense of wonderment as we experience God in new ways. I want to live with “holy anticipation.”

Shawn and I talked about our goals and desires for this year. We want to spend more time outdoors exploring God’s Creation as a family. This means more trips to the ocean and mountains, and more trail runs for me. We want to read the Bible together and discover more about the wonders and miracles Jesus performed. We want to spend time marveling together as a family and recounting the stories of His provision. This is something we will do to honor my late husband and his legacy. He loved to tell the stories of God’s faithfulness.

I am extending an invitation to you to join me on this wonder-full journey this year. Maybe you are starting off the year tired. All the busyness of the holidays and the traditions and the company has worn you down. Maybe taking care of sick kids or navigating tension among family members has left you feeling parched. Maybe you feel like you missed out on the quiet, reflective part of Christmas. It’s never too late to begin, friend.

Let’s ask this question together: How can we enter 2018 with a sense of wonder?

We recently saw the movie Wonder and started reading the book. One of my favorite quotes from the movie says:

“It’s what you’ve done with your time, how you’ve chosen to spend your days, and whom you’ve touched this year. That, to me, is the greatest measure of success.”

I’m choosing to live a life of wonder this year. Join me.

My word themes through the years:

2012: joy

2013: grace & mercy

2014: glory

2015: redeem

2016: flourish

2017: behold

2018: wonder

10 Inspiring Books I Read in 2017

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

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

This goal was about quality reading not quantity.

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

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

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

  1. The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp

Subtitle: A Daring Path Into the Abundant Life

Genre: Christian Life/Spiritual Growth

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

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

For the full book review, click HERE.

  1. Nothing to Prove by Jennie Allen

Subtitle: Why We Can Stop Trying So Hard

Genre: Christian Living

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

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

For the full book review, click HERE.

 

  1. You Are Free by Rebekah Lyons

Subtitle: Be Who You Already Are

Genre: Christian Life/Inspirational

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

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

For the full book review, click HERE.

 

  1. Never Unfriended by Lisa-Jo Baker

Subtitle: The Secret to Finding and Keeping Lasting Friendships

Genre: Women’s Issues/Spiritual Growth

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

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

For the full book review, click HERE.

 

  1. At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider

Subtitle: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe

Genre: Personal Memoir

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

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

For the full book review, click HERE.

 

  1. Remarkable Faith by Shauna Letellier

Subtitle: When Jesus Marveled at the Faith of Unremarkable People

Genre: Christian Living/Inspirational

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

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

For the full book review, click HERE.

  1. And Still She Laughs by Kate Merrick

Subtitle: Defiant Joy in the Depths of Suffering

Genre: Christian Life/Spiritual Growth

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

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

For the full book review, click HERE.

  1. Shalom Sistas by Osheta Moore

Subtitle: Living Wholeheartedly in a Broken World

Genre: Christian Living/Social Issues

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

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

For the full book review, click HERE.

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

Subtitle: 40 Hope-filled Devotions with Coloring Pages

Genre: Devotional/Adult Coloring Book/Inspirational

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

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

 For the full book review, click HERE.

  1. Daring to Hope by Katie Davis Majors

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

Genre: Christian Living/Inspirational

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

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

For the full book review, click HERE.

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

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

An Unexpected Feast: When Grief Meets Gratitude

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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