Chasing God's glory through tragedy and triumph

flourishing

Redeeming Ruth: The Father’s Heart for the vulnerable

Posted by | abundance, community, compassion, courage, culture, death, flourishing, grief, hope, inspirational, relationships, Stories, struggle, Uncategorized, video | No Comments

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

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

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

Check out the full video of the message here!

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

Remembering Grandma Cora: Cooking Up a Legacy in the Kitchen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her hospitality was paramount.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aloha, Grandma Cora.

 

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

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

A podcast roundup: My story for His glory

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a quick roundup of those programs:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Here are five podcasts I listen to regularly:

The Next Right by Emily Freeman

Jesus Led Adventure with Stephanie Bryant

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

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

Typology by Ian Morgan Cron

What are some of your favorite podcasts?

How pruning clears the path for new growth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Book review: The Road Back to You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gulp.

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

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

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

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

 

Other enneagram resources you might want to check out:

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

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

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

Typology podcast with Ian Morgan Cron

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

You are not forgotten this Valentine’s Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beloved, be loved today.

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

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

 

 

10 inspiring books I read in 2018

Posted by | book reviews, courage, fear, flourishing, grief, hope, identity, inspirational, parenting, passion, prayer, rest, sharing faith, Stories, struggle, transitions, wonder | No Comments

10 Inspiring Books I Read in 2018 - Books always usher me through new seasons, transitions and trials

Books have always been companions to me. When I was a little girl, I used to find a corner near the lamp in our living room on the red shag carpet and read for hours. My mom knew where to find me. I discovered myself in the pages of books. Books took me on grand adventures to imaginary places I couldn’t go in real life.

As I went off to college and became an English Literature major, my reading was out of necessity for my schoolwork. That said, I discovered dozens of books I loved that I never would have chosen for myself. (I also had to read several that did not speak specifically to me.)

When my daughters were babies, I found little time for reading adult books. It felt like a luxury to sit for 20 or 30 minutes and read something that wasn’t a board or picture book. More often, I digested quick blog posts and magazine articles that took less time to read.

In this season of life, with school-aged children, I have realized that I have to be intentional to carve out time for reading because it’s something I love. I have to keep my goals realistic, but I have to pursue reading like I would invite a friend to coffee.

These last few years, I’ve put together a stack of books I hope to read in a year. My grace-filled goal is to read at least one per month and then to choose my top 10 most meaningful books for the year.

This list includes non-fiction books that have ministered to me, inspired me, and shaped me in 2018. Of course, as a children’s book writer and mama, I’ve also read fiction and picture books, but I’ll save those for a different time and separate list. I hope these books will connect with your heart in this season and make for good companions.

  1. Wonderstruck by Margaret Feinberg

Subtitle: Awaken to the Nearness of God

Genre: Christian Living

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

My review: I started off the year by diving into Margaret Feinberg’s book. She invites readers to chase wonder through their everyday lives. She helps us to wake up to wonder in a variety of ways, including the wonder of God’s presence, creation, rest, prayer, restoration, friendship, forgiveness, gratitude and abundant life. She so beautifully articulates what I have been learning over the last several years. Each day – no matter how ordinary or extraordinary – is an opportunity to chase God’s glory.

For the full book review, click here.

  1. Breaking the Fear Cycle by Maria Furlough

Subtitle: How to Find Peace for Your Anxious Thoughts

Genre: Christian Living

Quotable: “Once we gaze upon our fears with honest indignation, we can see that, yes, God is bigger than even the worst thing we can imagine.”

My review: What I love about Maria’s book is that it is a mix of honest storytelling and Biblical truth. She lived through her worst fear and provides raw, beautiful tools to help the rest of us navigate our journeys with faith. She taught me how to find peace in trusting God.

For the full book review, click here.

 

  1. Rooted by Banning Liebscher

Subtitle: The Hidden Places Where God Develops You

Genre: Spiritual Growth

Quotable: “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.”

My review: 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’s premise: before we can develop our vision for life and ministry, we must let God develop us.

For the full book review, click here.

  1. Grace Like Scarlett by Adriel Booker

Subtitle: Grieving With Hope After Miscarriage and Loss

Genre: Self-Help, Death & Grief

Quotable: “We had to resist the impulse to deflect our grief or fight our brokenness. We had to reject the compulsion to figure out how this could be rewritten into a success story. We had to enter in as is.”

My review: The book is a moving, personal narrative about how one family endured pregnancy loss and navigated grief. Adriel invites readers to wrestle, to wonder and discover redemption in the wild waves of grief with her.  Her passion is to walk alongside women who endure the “secret grief” of miscarriage. You know a book has touched your soul deeply when you simply can’t put it down.

For the full book review, click here.

 

  1. Holy Hustle by Crystal Stine

Subtitle: Embracing a Word-Hard, Rest-Well Life

Genre: Christian Living, Women’s Issues

Quotable: “We need to slow down, spend time in the Word, and be quiet enough to hear God’s voice so we are better equipped to do the work He’s calling us to do… God worked and called it good, and He rested and called it holy.”

My review: 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.

For the full book review, click here.

 

  1. Whispers of Rest by Bonnie Gray

Subtitle: 40 Days of God’s love to Revitalize Your Soul

Genre: Christian Living, Devotionals

Quotable: “We often burn ourselves out trying to serve God, rather than taking care of ourselves – the way God would want, if He were here in person today. Somehow, we’ve learned we don’t deserve rest – until we’ve solved our problems or we’re no longer struggling. It’s the opposite.”

My review: Whispers of Rest helped call me back to intentional rest during this season – a rest that starts in the arms of my loving Father basking in His truth. The book includes some unique elements. In addition to the scripture, devotional, prayer and reflection questions, Bonnie includes a section called Soul Care Trail Notes. This is one of my favorite parts of the book. She includes practical tips and interesting studies to reduce stress and give yourself creative outlets from the everyday busy.

For the full book review, click here.

 

  1. A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser

Subtitle: How the Soul Grows Through Loss

Genre: Christian Living, Death & Grief

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

My review: This book is a moving meditation on the losses we all suffer and the grace that can transform us. This is not just a book about one man’s sorrow. Jerry bravely and poignantly leads readers into a conversation about what we can learn from suffering. The premise of the book is that it’s not the circumstances that are important, but it’s more important what we do with those circumstances.

For the full book review, click here.

 

  1. Unexpected by Christine Caine

Subtitle: Leave Fear Behind, Move Forward in Faith, Embrace the Adventure

Genre: Christian Living, Personal Growth

Quotable: “Holding to our faith–even in the face of deep disappointments–is critical.. Making God’s promises bigger than our disappointments is essential.

My review: Christine Caine’s new book reaches out to people in all seasons of life who are faced with the unexpected like I was. Through compelling stories and practical strategies, this book helps readers anticipate the unexpected and to live with true joy trusting God in all things.

For the full book review, click here.

  1. It’s All Under Control by Jennifer Dukes Lee

Subtitle: A Journey of Letting Go, Hanging On, and Finding Peace You Almost Forgot was Possible

Genre: Christian Living, Women’s Issues

Quotable: “We ask for a map, but instead Jesus gives us a compass and says, ‘Follow me.’”

My review: Jennifer Dukes Lee drew me in with her on-point storytelling and her tell-it-to-you-straight girl humor. I felt like she was mentoring me about how let go of this need for control and how to embrace true peace in trusting God with all the details of my everyday life.

For the full book review, click here.

 

  1. Rhythms of Rest by Shelly Miller

Subtitle: Finding the Spirit of Sabbath in a Busy World

Genre: Spiritual Growth, Ritual

Quotable: “Preparation in rest precedes the miracle. When we run errands early in the week, clean up the house, prepare food for the weekend, these are acts of love at the root. Preparing for Sabbath communicates to Jesus, ‘You matter most. I want to spend time with you.’”

My review: Shelly offers up this book as a gift for the weary soul who longs for rest but doesn’t know how to make it reality. This isn’t about following certain rules or being religious. This is about making space for God. I love the way Shelly uses her own struggles and grappling with the concept of rest to gracefully invite her readers into this conversation about Sabbath in a busy world. She models for us how to create Sabbath in personal and practical ways.

For the full book review, click here.

 

BONUS: I love devotionals and here’s fave from 2018:

Gracelaced by Ruth Chou Simons

Subtitle: Discovering Timeless Truths Through Seasons of the Heart

Genre: Devotional, Christian Living

Quotable: “Just because God does not remove the thorn doesn’t’ mean He’s not using it for our good and for His glory.”

My review: Ruth Chou Simons encourages readers in any circumstance to become deeply rooted in God’s faithful promises. She uses hand-painted scriptures coupled with honest and inspiring devotionals to point women to God’s Word. I love how Ruth takes us on a journey through the seasons to rest, rehearse, respond and remember His provision in our lives. This devotional also offers space to journal and passages for further study on each theme.

Join me for a fun giveaway this week! For anyone who signs up for my Glory Chasers tribe before January 28, 2019, you will have a chance to win a gorgeous leather (in)courage devotional Bible. Simply subscribe for my weekly Glorygram here, and you will be entered! Please feel free to share this post with friends too! You can also join the FREE Women of Courage Bible study starting February 1.

 

 

*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. Thank you for supporting the blog in this way!

One word for 2019: The big reveal!

Posted by | abundance, community, courage, flourishing, grief, hope, One Word, Stories, wonder | No Comments

This past Thanksgiving my family and I took an epic trip to Hawaii. We started planning the trip last December with the goals of spending time together, celebrating my late husband Ericlee’s life, and introducing the kids to Hawaii where our grandparents first met.

Eighteen of us cleared our schedules and boarded planes to travel to the Big Island. For much of the week, we were together as a big, beautiful, boisterous group. But on Wednesday, we chose to split the group and go on our own adventures.

I agreed to take a group to a favorite spot my husband Shawn and I fondly call “Hidden Beach” because most tourists don’t frequent it. When you approach the beach, you can see the lava rocks, which are characteristic of this island’s landscape, form a natural cove.

The sand is white-blond, but in the cove the water is serene and so clear I could see my teal toenail polish. Waves crash in the deep-blue distance. I grabbed a snorkel mask and headed out on what I call a “wonder hunt.”

My feet stumbled at first over the jagged rocks and coral. Sand swirled around me. I had to hold back my hurried pace. I began to walk slowly, deliberately, trying not to disturb the ocean playground unfolding beneath my feet. There was a heavy hush in my soul.

I stood perfectly still. Then a beautiful yellow fish with black and white chevrons sashayed before me like a ballet dancer. My eyes lit on a canary yellow fish with blue fins being chased by a parrot fish with an iridescent purple and blue body. They moved in and out of holes in the amber-colored coral, chasing each other like kids playing tag. A school of silver fish swished by.

I swelled with a sense of awe for my Creator, who spoke these creatures into being. I felt like a gleeful child twirling in the wonder of this giant, God-inspired aquarium.

Beneath the water, I learned a lesson I’ve been embracing all year. I’ve been chasing wonder as my theme word for 2018. God has continued to remind me in a myriad of ways to still my soul, to slow my pace, to stop. Every time I do, wonder kaleidoscopes before my eyes.

Navigating transition

2018 was a year of transition for our family of five. Last January, I began to feel a wrestling in my soul. Shawn and I prayed over some heavy decisions and big changes we felt God was leading us to make. We processed with our girls as well. This provided a good opportunity for us to talk with them about discerning the voice of God and His direction for our lives.

In the end, we decided to leave a beloved community and transfer all three of our daughters to a new school. We also decided it was time to look for a new church after 18 years. We did not anticipate that in this same season my husband’s company would restructure, requiring him to move to a new office. God also opened the door for us to move to a new house in August.

In many ways, I felt like we were transplanted to a whole new life. All of my rhythms were shaken up or abolished. I had to make space to grieve the loss of community and recalibrate my heart. I’m not going to lie. It was hard. Some days were heavy and lonely, but God surprised all of us with wonder.

What I learned about wonder

I learned that wonder can’t be rushed. It requires slowing and noticing God at work in the small details.

Wonder requires stillness. I learned to embrace the silence instead of being afraid of it. He met me in the open spaces we carved out on Sundays and each morning. He whispered healing to my soul. He showed me the rich value of Sabbath for myself and for my family. I started to crave solitude with God in a way I have never experienced before.

As I went on a treasure hunt through the Bible, I discovered lots of examples when God performed wonders and miracles for his people. He healed the sick, spoke through clouds and fire, and rained down grace through the birth of His Son Jesus.

In the quiet, I also leaned into some of my own brokenness and deepest questions.

Why didn’t God choose to heal my husband Ericlee from cancer?

Why does so much evil and violence prevail in our culture?

Why should I invest in communities when I know I will be met with hurt and disappointment?

God gently listened to these piercing questions, sometimes accusing questions, and ushered me to some understanding of truth. I am confident now that He always works for His glory and our good. I don’t have a full understanding of His mysterious ways – why some are healed on earth and others in Heaven – but I do still believe in miracles. And I witnessed them throughout this year.

He proved faithful to our family in small and big ways. He provided for our needs and many desires. I stepped into some exciting new opportunities to write for (in)courage and WeCoach Together. I signed with a literary agent and completed two book proposals, which will go out to publishers in the new year. New doors are opening every day for speaking and sharing my story. My girls are flourishing in their new school. We have made new friends at church and in our neighborhood.

Pursuing a new year of abundance 

Sometime in November, I began to hear a familiar whisper. A word. This one word gave me pause, made me curious. It seemed to beckon me until I finally decided to pay attention.

That word appeared in the most surprising places – in conversation, in books or blogs I’m reading and in Scripture. Somehow, I can’t stop thinking about that word.

This is my 8th year choosing a word theme. It’s become a practice for me to lean in close with God and to listen to what He might say to me. Of course, He always teaches, leads, disciplines and comforts me in ways I wouldn’t expect.

One Sunday, our Pastor Brad shared in a sermon about the nuances between the prosperity gospel mindset and the poverty gospel mindset.  At the heart of his message was a challenge to think about the difference between scarcity and abundance. Scarcity always worries about not having enough. It’s focused on lack. It believes that someone else’s gain or success or happiness will put you behind.

Then he talked about abundance, which is unexpected blessing from God – not earned or stolen – used for God’s glory. Abundance allows us to accept his good gifts and also extend generosity to others without hesitation. Abundance makes room for collaboration and flourishing in community.

God has already been showing me His abundance is quantified in a much different way from the prosperity the world chases. It’s not about excess of material stuff or wealth, but about pursuing and embracing abundant life.

Abundant life is characterized by a fullness of joy, rest, and energy for the work of God. Abundant life runs in contrast to an existence that focuses on what I lack, what I’m missing, or what I’m dissatisfied with in the day-to-day. For too long I have been bracing myself for what tragedy might be around the next corner.

On this first day of 2019, I’m stepping forward with courage and these questions on my heart:

What does God have to say about abundance in His Word?

How can I live into God’s abundance without being poisoned by selfishness, pride, gluttony or entitlement?

Where will God reveal abundance in 2019?

Friend, I’m inviting you to join me on this journey of seeking abundant life. 

Let’s meditate together on these words in Psalm 31 and and take refuge in Him:

Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind!

-Psalm 31:19 (ESV)

My word themes through the years:

2012: joy

2013: grace & mercy

2014: glory

2015: redeem

2016: flourish

2017: behold

2018: wonder


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

Discovering the dignity of work

Posted by | compassion, courage, creativity, flourishing, friendship, gifts, hope, Incourage essays, Stories, struggle | No Comments

I traveled to Haiti in the summer of 2011 with my family to begin directing a non-profit in the growing town of Pignon. During a bumpy truck ride from the Port-Au-Prince airport to the northern mountains, our Haitian director Peter shared with me his vision to provide jobs for women who were part of his church. He had a burden for these families that consistently came to him for money and food.

Peter wanted a longer-term solution than simply giving handouts to his congregants. This is the typical model for relief — especially in a place like Haiti which is often noted as the “poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.” Donated water, supplies, clothes, and more pour into the country for free distribution.

This kind of relief is necessary in times of emergency like after a natural disaster, but it’s not sustainable long term. This handout model creates a dependency and often works against poverty alleviation.

Peter discovered a fair trade jewelry company in Port-Au-Prince that used recycled materials to craft their products. He befriended the American woman who started it, and she invited him to bring some of the women from the mountains to learn how to make jewelry. He chose a few women and sent them for training with hopes of making them leaders to train other women in the church.

That day, as our truck blazed a trail through the dust and gravel, Peter asked me if I would help the women start their own business. My heart leapt when I first heard his idea. I never imagined I would have the chance in Haiti to use my passion for creativity and my love for making jewelry.

I grew up frequenting craft stores and creating jewelry to give as gifts to friends and family. While visiting colleges during my junior year of high school, my mama teased me that I would probably make my college choice based on proximity to the best bead store. Creativity was in my bones. I felt most alive when I was creating something with my hands.

That summer in Haiti I gathered the first group of artisans – nine women from Pignon who stepped up to learn how to roll their own beads from upcycled cereal boxes. We formed The Haitian Bead Project. Many learned quickly. I showed them how to arrange their beads into necklaces and twist wire to make earrings. We worked together to improve the quality of our creations and to find designs that would be on trend for buyers in the United States.

Teaching these women the skill of making jewelry opened up two important doors for them — the dignity of work and the power of creativity.

God designed humans to work, which sets us apart from all other creatures. The dignity of work is central to our value as human beings. Work can provide a sense of purpose, honor, and hope for the future. When people develop marketable skills and find jobs, they can provide for themselves and their families. They are no longer shamed into begging and reaching for handouts.

Join me over at www.incourage.me for the rest of this story and ways you can help provide the dignity of work for God’s daughters in need.

Noticing Goodness in the Gifts Around Me

Posted by | flourishing, gifts, grief, Stories | No Comments

We need to dig through the soil, unearth the painful shards of glass and see the beauty in that traveled journey. I learned to trust Him with my fears, my plans, my future.

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When God transplants you to a new garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Through these experiences, I have learned several lessons:

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

Photo by Benjamin Combs on Unsplash

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

Book review: It’s all under control

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

I found myself at the intersection of fear and faith.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Isaiah 54:5

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

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

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

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

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

{Summer Blog Swap} 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.