Chasing God's glory through tragedy and triumph

grief

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.

 

Grief Journey: Embracing Your Child’s Individuality

Posted by | brave, courage, grief, individuality, Stories, struggle, transitions | 2 Comments

As a mama of three girls ages 2, 5 and 8, there’s a lot I’m still learning. In fact, every day is a wild journey of discovery about my girls and myself. One thing I do know for sure: we are all different.

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Introducing the Widow Mama Collective

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

I never wanted to be a part of this club.

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

I am a widow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love after loss: When the end of the book was actually the next chapter

Posted by | abundance, death, family life, grief, hope, kids, parenting, relationships, Stories | One Comment

Three years ago today, I floated down the aisle and stepped into the most unexpected glory story. After my beloved husband Ericlee graduated to Heaven in September 2014, I believed my love story was over. Until death do us part. On January 16, 2016, our Author-God handed us a new draft, a new chapter. He invited my three daughters and me into a redeemed story only He could write.

Like the widow Ruth in the Bible, who in her grief found a path to her new husband Boaz, God led me to mine. Shawn was one of Ericlee and my dearest friends. We had many grand adventures with him through the years. He supported our ministry in Haiti. He celebrated with us when our three daughters were born. We prayed faithfully for his future wife. I never ever imagined it would be me.

When I look back over our wedding pictures from that glorious day 3 years ago, joy bubbles up in my spirit. We laughed, we cried, we feasted, we danced, and all the while giving God glory for the surprising beauty He brought from our ashes.

These last 3 years have been full as God has grafted Shawn into our family and woven us all together. I always felt the deepest brokenness about my girls growing up without their daddy, but now they have a new daddy who lives Ericlee’s legacy. He cares for them, provides for them, patiently helps them with homework, and takes them on special Daddy dates. He has adopted them as his own. (Talk about a plot twist for a single guy who never imagined having children!)

The other night I went to dinner with girlfriends. When I came home, I noticed Shawn wasn’t in our room so I tiptoed over to our youngest daughter’s room. Sure enough, he was asleep right next to her – the two holding hands. Don’t get me wrong, our home life isn’t always peaceful and perfect, but that picture of the two of them side by side speaks volumes of the redemption God has brought into our narrative.

My own grief journey did not end the day Shawn and I said “I do.” That’s the funny thing about grief; It isn’t easily brushed aside or replaced by moments of happiness or even deep joy. The grief ebbs and flows, and we must go with it. I’m grateful for a husband who gives me permission to grieve even four years out, who sits quietly and holds me when I cry, who feels the depths of loss because he also lost a dear friend.

I also had to find the courage to love again. It is a deliberate and daily choice. I try not to compare my husbands. Each one is unique, each gifted in his own way. In this new chapter of life, I have to continue learning to be vulnerable, to lay down my selfishness, and embrace what God has given us as a family in this new season.

Recently, Shawn and I got to share our story on the #staymarried podcast. The light bulb moment for me was when Shawn said Ericlee and my marriage was the one he most looked to as an example. We were the most influential couple in his life. In that way, Ericlee lives on with us today. His legacy is not forgotten because his love as a husband and father influences who we are as a family. It’s a thread that is woven intentionally throughout our story.

Today we celebrate a wedding anniversary, but more than that, we stand witness to the glory of a great God who is constantly redeeming our relationships, rewriting our stories, and restoring with abundance. Friend, I want to encourage you that your story isn’t over yet.

**Are you navigating grief? Are you on a journey after the loss of a spouse, sibling or friend? I would love to mentor and encourage you. Sign up here for my weekly Glorygram to receive stories, resources and recommendations that will usher you through your unique story.

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

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


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Book review: Rhythms of Rest

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

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

This has become a Sunday tradition for us.

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

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

I exhale. I savor this time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those words inspired and convicted me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Running for a purpose: Remember Haiti team exceeds goals

Posted by | compassion, courage, grief, running, Stories | No Comments

3-2-1- GO! The whistle blew. And we were off. We were a group of 12 adults and 6 youth chasing the finish line and raising funds for HaitiGO’s school lunch program. Lots of people run for fun or fitness, but this crew trained for 3 months and raced the Two Cities Half Marathon and relay on Sunday for a greater cause.

The goal: to raise $6,000 to help build and equip kitchens in the schools that are part of the HaitiGO ministry. Some team members participated in the relay race running 7.2 or 5.9 miles, depending on which leg. Others ran the Clovis or Fresno half marathon (13.1 miles).

Nine years ago, when my late husband Ericlee and I decided to run the Two Cities Half Marathon and raise money for our upcoming move to Haiti, we had no idea what God had in store. That year 19 friends and family joined us. Each year since, we have linked arms with HaitiGO and picked a project to raise up our brothers and sisters in Haiti. Thousands of dollars have been raised through the years to help build an orphanage, to dig a well, to support pastors and churches.

On Saturday, November 3, more than 50 people gathered in our home and celebrated another year of training and honoring Ericlee’s legacy. Ericlee coached the team and ran the race for 4 years with me before he graduated to Heaven in September 2010 after a swift battle with cancer. He loved to run and use fitness as a platform for sharing about Haiti and giving God glory.

Every year this race is a new experience full of new memories. This year’s team was driven by the perseverance of six kids ranging in age from 9-12 – Hannah Lafferre, Natalie Garcia, Amin Moreno, Jeremiah Valorosi, Mia Vasquez, and my daughter, Giada Gilmore. These kids were dedicated to running three times a week with the team and fundraising so kids in Haiti could get a meal that would sustain them. At each practice, they would join hands and pray for their Haitian friends, for new sponsors and for safety as they trained.

The entire team raised more than $8,000, exceeding their original goal. We are especially grateful to our corporate sponsors also featured on our Remember Haiti team T-shirt. They include:

-Self-Publishing School

-ICAD Automation

-Digital Attic

-Higton Bros Real Estate

-Granville Homes

-W&W Concrete

-Lazo & Associates

-EECU

-Huckleberry’s Fresno restaurant

-Woodward Fit Body Boot Camp

-Leavenworth Elementary School

-Wooten’s Auto Glass

-Jay Chapel

The treasure of this team was the community built through training and fundraising together. Several of the families have been a part of the team for years. I’m always surprised and blessed by those who did not know Ericlee or who have never been to Haiti, but still feel called to run for God’s glory! Each one of us has a choice as to how we spend our time and where we invest our energy. This race is one of our annual choices to continue to live out Ericlee’s legacy in community.

From homeless to hopeful: A story about the artisans of Street Hope

Posted by | christmas, community, compassion, culture, grief, hope, Incourage essays, Stories, struggle | No Comments

Caroline sits in a circle of plastic chairs pulled up to a rustic wood table. Her children play nearby. She holds together two pieces of felt in one hand. Her thumb and forefinger hold a needle threaded with black. She drives the needle through the red and green felt and pulls the thread gently through to the other side.

Her fingers fly and the stitches begin to curve into the outline of Mary, Joseph, and the Christ Child. There is something in her dark eyes — a flickering, like the white lights on a Christmas tree. She is filled with a confident expectation of what lies ahead and what lies right there in the ornament she sews.

She has the gift of hope. Something hard to come by given where she came from.

Caroline was forced from her home along with her brother when she was twelve years old. Her parents said they would be better off in the Nairobi streets. Caroline’s brother did not survive the first year. She lived on the streets for fifteen years — defenseless, bitter, alone — where she became pregnant several times and one of her children died.

Today, Caroline is a part of an artisan group called Street Hope. She joins a dozen women who were once homeless and who now sew products in exchange for a fair wage to help with living expenses. (in)courage alum Kristen Welch started Street Hope in 2016 as an extension of Mercy House Global after a visit to one of the largest slums in the world located in Nairobi, Kenya. Her heart was to empower these mamas who desperately needed a dose of hope.

Jump over to www.(in)courage.me for the rest of the story and details on how you can link arms with Caroline and Street Hope this Christmas season!



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

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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5 myths about grief and 1 important truth

Posted by | compassion, death, grief, identity, kids, laughter, Stories, Uncategorized | 16 Comments

After my husband’s death, I quickly discovered people had a lot to say about grief. Sometimes they would share their opinions in hopes of offering comfort. I realized oftentimes these comments were driven by myths about grief that get passed around, rather than a deeper understanding.

Through my grief journey, I have learned how vital it is to separate the misconceptions from the reality of grief. When we are grieving, we are vulnerable. People’s well-intentioned words can sting us in surprising ways. When you’re actually grieving the death of a spouse, or the loss of a child, or the loss of community when you’ve moved to a new place, comments about how you should be grieving are not helpful.

I decided to take an informal poll of some of my widow sisters and friends. The following are some common grief myths that frequently find their way into attitudes and conversations. There is great value in having conversations about how we process our grief because it helps us learn about ourselves and helps others understand our journey. Whether you are grieving yourself or supporting someone who is, I hope this will help you gain a deeper awareness of the grief process and how unique it is for each person.

Myth #1: Grief has five stages.

People often talk about these definitive five stages of grief. The five stages of grief were a theory developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in 1969. These stages include: denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance. Some people think you go through these five stages in order and then you are done with grief.

David Kessler, co-authored a book with Kubler-Ross called On Grief and Grieving. He explains that these five stages are tools to help us identify what we are feeling. “They are not stops on some linear timeline in grief.” Grief cannot be simplified or tucked into a logical flow chart. If your grief looks different from the next person’s grief, you are not crazy.

Myth #2: Grief is linear with a beginning, middle and end.

Grief can skip, repeat, do a loop-de-loop and double back. In other words, grief is a journey, not a destination. At times, the journey feels treacherous and uphill. At other times, it’s about walking slowly forward one step at a time on a steadier path.

When I realized that my grief and loss would be with me long-term, it helped me shift my focus. I was no longer wondering when I would “get over it.” I was free to concentrate more on how to grieve well. I have to be intentional to check in with myself. Around certain anniversaries, I know I need to carve out space for grief. When I am unexpectedly triggered by grief, I need to give myself the gift of grace.

Myth #3: Time heals.

I have heard some widow friends talk about how the first year after their husband’s deaths were the hardest. I have heard others say that year 4 and 5 are the most difficult. One friend explained it this way. Time doesn’t heal loss. Over time we simply get more used to our new normal and how to live with the loss.

My grief counselor once suggested that grief is more like a tangled ball of yarn. You never know exactly what you are unraveling. It’s a mix of many threads and emotions and we need to give ourselves time to untangle these at our own pace.

Myth #4: You shouldn’t feel joy or happiness while grieving.

A few weeks after my husband’s funeral, some friends invited the girls and me to a concert. We desperately needed to get out of the house. That night I discovered how important it was for us to let that music wash over us. The girls laughed and danced with their friends. I was filled with such surprising peace and joy after such a long season of caregiving for my husband and watching his health deteriorate.

After the concert, a friend who I hadn’t seen in years came up to me and burst into tears. I wasn’t particularly close with her, and I wasn’t even sad in that moment. She sobbed into my shoulder and told me how sorry she was for what we had endured. I appreciated her words and willingness to reach out to me, but later I felt a little guilty. Maybe I should have acted sadder. Maybe I shouldn’t be out at concerts laughing and dancing with my daughters so soon after my husband’s death. These ridiculous thoughts swirled in my head.

I brought these questions about my grief to God. I realized then through His gentle reminders that I was free to grieve in my way. Over time, I have learned that every day can be filled with joy and grief dancing together. As Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4 reminds us: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens… a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.”

Myth #5: The goal of grief is to “find closure” and move on.

I have encountered this attitude in different conversations since my husband died. People long for us to be “ok” so they ask questions like: “Do you have closure about your husband’s death?” Or they say, “It looks like you’ve moved on.”

As a person who is still very much grieving the death of my husband and my children’s father, I’m never quite sure what to say. I have an indescribable peace in my heart that God is and will continue to use my husband’s death for His glory. I trust God in this. I’ve already had the privilege of seeing the way He has saved lives, encouraged souls, inspired people to draw closer to their families, and bolstered the faith of my daughters because of Ericlee’s death.

Do I have closure? No. Am I ready to move on? No. I am moving forward. Day by day, step by step, decision by decision, I am moving forward. I am not closing a chapter. I am not getting over him. I am moving into a season where I have a choice to live his legacy and remember him in a new way.

***

I’ve shared with you five common myths about grief. Let’s end with this truth. We can’t fit grief into a box or a series of stages. Jesus is our model throughout his ministry that we need to lean into the unique experiences of individuals who are grieving.

My favorite example is the way Jesus took time to weep with Mary and Martha over the death of their brother Lazarus. John 11:33 says, “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.”

We learn in verse 35 that Jesus actually wept. He knew that Lazarus would later be raised from the dead, but he still takes time to weep with his friends. He knew they needed Him. He enters into their pain, and through His presence offers comfort. He weeps with each of us in our grief today. And, in turn, we have the opportunity to be present with someone who is grieving.

 

**I want to learn from you. What are some of the myths about grief that you’ve heard? What has your journey been like? I hope you will add some of your own experiences in the comments.

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

*Photo by Killian Pham on Unsplash

*Disclosure: Affiliate links are used with no extra cost to readers.

When “Let Go and Let God” is Bad Advice

Posted by | brave, community, courage, grief, hope, Stories, Uncategorized | No Comments

Today I’m welcoming my friend Jennifer Dukes Lee to my table. She is one of my (in)courage sisters. That means we both write regularly for Dayspring’s (in)courage blog. Jennifer just released a book called It’s All Under Control. I’ll be sharing my full review of the book next week. Her words are mentoring me today, and I hope they will encourage you too!

 

Sometimes “let go and let God” is bad advice. Let’s all take a deep breath and not let that sentence scare us.

I understand why “letting go” becomes our default phrase when we want to live surrendered to Jesus. “Letting go” definitely sounds more Jesus-approved than “hanging on.”

But there will be times when you simply can’t let go. You’ve got to hang on tight, as if your life depends upon it. It will feel like you’ve hitched a ride on the back side of a hurricane. Your hands will get calloused and cramped. This isn’t the kind of surrender we usually hear about, is it? This kind of sweat-on-the-brow surrender is fiery and wild. It will ask so much of you that it will hurt.

Perhaps you will be able to let go later. But not yet.

Don’t let go when it gets difficult. Let go only when it’s time.

Until then, hang on.

Scott and I had to hang on tight a few years ago when uncertainty hit our farm like a punch to the gut. Scott’s father, Paul, died of leukemia. Scott would not only grieve the loss of his father and business partner, he would also care for the land alone.

Paul died in the cold of winter. That spring, we were so grateful for the mercy of God when our crops grew tall, thickening over the rows so everything green was touching. There was something so beautiful and hopeful about that. It felt like everything was going to be okay, even though Paul’s old John Deere cap drooped, sad, on a nail by the back door.

We had hope.

But then October came. Not a single plant had been harvested when we awoke to find a thick blanket of snow covering the crops. The snow stole the hopefulness we’d felt earlier that year.

Late that afternoon, a farmer who lived a few miles away tapped his knuckles on the back door. I opened it and found him standing on the doormat with his fists shoved into a thick quilted jacket with a corduroy collar. He showed up at our house on a really hard day, during a really hard year.

“Scott home yet?” he asked.

“No,” I told him. “Still doing chores.”

“Well,” the farmer continued, “you just tell him that I stopped by because I want him to know something for certain. I want him to know that the harvest always comes. You’ll let him know?”

I nodded my head, feeling a catch in my throat.

The farmer had come to remind us, in his own way, what the Bible says about hanging on in hard times. “At the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9, emphasis added).

Friend, I don’t know exactly what you’re going through. Maybe it feels like the harvest will never come. Maybe if feels like all hope is lost. Perhaps you want to “let go” or give up. But what if you need to hang on a little longer?

Today I’m the friend at your back door, tapping my knuckles to see if you’re home. I’m standing on your doormat to tell you the same thing the old farmer told me: “The harvest always comes.”

And I’m here to tell you that the farmer was right. Weeks after he stood on our stoop, the harvest did come. The snow melted, and Scott drove the old green combine back and forth across a gently sloping hill and harvested the crops.

Don’t give up, friend. Hang on when God tells you to hang on. He is still in this.

Hang on. Yes, it’s hard, but it might not be time to let go.

Hang on. This might be only a season, with relief around the corner.

Hang on. When you hang on with bravery, you emotionally strengthen others who are struggling to hang on themselves. You’re showing them that it’s possible to do hard things.

Hang on. For your marriage. For your kids. For your church. For the people that your ministry bravely serves. For the hurting. For your friends who don’t know if they can hang on anymore.

Hang on. Because Jesus will meet you in the middle of your hardest battles.

Hang on.

 

Jennifer Dukes Lee is the wife of an Iowa farmer, mom to two girls, and an author. She loves queso and singing too loudly to songs with great harmony. Once upon a time, she didn’t believe in Jesus. Now, He’s her CEO. Jennifer’s newest book, It’s All Under Control, and a companion Bible study, are releasing today! This is a book for every woman who is hanging on tight and trying to get each day right―yet finding that life often feels out of control and chaotic.

Adapted from It’s All under Control: A Journey of Letting Go, Hanging On, and Finding a Peace You Almost Forgot Was Possible by Jennifer Dukes Lee, releasing September 19, 2018 from Tyndale House Publishers.

 

Table talk: Savoring time around the table

Posted by | christmas, community, cooking, culture, food stories, friendship, grief, hope, kids, laughter, Recipes, relationships, Stories, Uncategorized | No Comments

My Italian mama made dinner time a special event. She was always in the kitchen stirring the sauce, putting my brother and me to work rolling meatballs, and stuffing manicotti shells for company. She instilled in us that meals were an opportunity to extend hospitality. My parents loved to invite friends from church, neighbors, and my friends from school to our table.

Everyone loved my mama’s cooking, but more than that, I think they were attracted to the rich sense of community they found at our table. Laughter rang out on Friday nights when my high school friends gathered after a game. On Sunday afternoons, we told stories around the table with friends and dished bowls of ice cream with my mama’s famous pizzelle cookies.

Even though we didn’t have extended family in town, we always had extra guests at our dinner table. The table was the gathering place where friends became family through the years.

Now that I’m a mama myself, much of our life also revolves around the table. The table holds a centrifugal force, drawing our family together. The table is the place where the stories and light most often unfold.

I treasure the times my three daughters are in the kitchen with me. One sets the table while the other two help with dinner. At ages 12, 9, and 6, they have learned the art of chopping, mixing, stirring, sautéing and serving up meals. Their creativity and tastes are beginning to blossom as I give them more responsibility and freedom.

We have a multicultural family, and my kids share my love for all kinds of ethnic foods. On a given day, we could be chopping vegetables for Filipino pancit, measuring spices for Indian butter chicken, sautéing Chinese fried rice or baking our favorite salted caramel chocolate chip cookies. We love to play with ingredients and make a mess.

Through the years, I have discovered our most meaningful times at the table include four ingredients. Click over to https://www.kindredmom.com/2018/09/16/savoring-time-around-the-table/ to read the rest of this reflection. 

Moving forward after loss

Posted by | brave, courage, death, family life, grief, hope, Incourage essays, Stories, struggle, transitions | 3 Comments

Six boxes. Our family just moved to a new house this past weekend and all that’s left at our previous house is six dusty, tattered boxes of my late husband’s treasures. I donated at least a dozen boxes of books and a random smattering of home décor from my other life. I feel like I have made steady progress over these last few months. Yet I’m still paralyzed by these final boxes.

My fingers linger over his favorite sweatshirts, t-shirts, and his high school letterman jacket. I keep wondering if these are precious or pointless. Will my daughters need a hug from their daddy in the future? Will they wrap themselves in his jacket on prom night and feel him close? These are the decisions that leave me heavy and decision-fatigued. My mind swirls with a thousand questions and angles to look at each piece.

Another box is full of letters and cards given to me at his funeral. These are handwritten stories that form the tapestry of his legacy. A student who still remembers the way he made her laugh in math class. An athlete who made a choice to become a coach because of the way my husband poured into him when he was a troubled teen. A colleague who met my husband a few mornings a week to pray for students and their families.

September 9 is my husband’s four-year heaveniversary, and I can hardly believe the work God has done in my family and heart these past four years. We have learned to move forward. There were days when I never believed I could live without him. The grief was so heavy I felt like I was walking around carrying a backpack of heavy boulders. I couldn’t imagine a new life for my three daughters and me.

Then God came in gently and said,

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

{Head over to www.incourage.me for the rest of this article on “Moving forward.” Please leave a comment about your own experiences with moving.}

Book Review: Unexpected

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: A Grace Disguised

Posted by | book reviews, brave, community, compassion, death, grief, transitions | 10 Comments

We are moving in a week. As I’ve been preparing for the move, I’ve been sorting through boxes upon boxes of books. This is an almost torturous task for me – a book lover who would much rather be reading books than tossing books to the donation pile. The other day I happened upon a copy of the book A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser. This book was recommended to me several years ago. Then I discovered another used copy in a different box from my mom.

Mind you, I just purchased a brand-new copy of this book a few months ago when a writer friend quoted it in her new book I was reviewing. I am a firm believer that certain books come to us in specific seasons of life when we need to read them. I like reading new releases, but I have no problem returning to classics or books I haven’t gotten to from the past.

This summer I needed to read A Grace Disguised. The timing was just right.

This book is a moving meditation on the losses we all suffer and the grace that can transform us. Loss is that word we try our best to evade, but sometimes we just can’t escape. I’ve experienced many losses in my life, but the most profound loss was my husband’s death to cancer in 2014. Author Jerry Sittser’s loss was through a tragic accident that claimed the lives of his wife, mother and young daughter.

A Grace Disguised: How the soul grows through loss 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.

“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,” writes Jerry.

He approaches the topic as a husband, father and religion professor. Jerry reminds us that it is our response to suffering that will shape our lives after loss. He covers topics like how to reconcile God’s sovereignty with human freedom, how to face the darkness when it closes in, and how community lifts us in our brokenness.

As I read this book, I found myself nodding and writing things like “yes and amen” or “This is my experience too” in the margins. Jerry’s personal experiences with grief affirmed my own. He acknowledges that each grief journey is unique, but has a powerful way of bringing out the universal truth in the experience as well.

I especially resonate with the way Jerry talks about his loss experience. He writes,

“Yet the grief I feel is sweet as well as bitter … Never have I felt as much pain as I have in the last three years; yet never have I experienced as much pleasure in simply being alive and living an ordinary life. Never have I felt so broken; yet never have I felt so whole. Never have I been so aware of my weakness and vulnerability; yet never have I been so content and felt so strong. Never has my soul been more dead; yet never has my soul been more alive.”

On September 9, we will celebrate my husband’s 4th heaveniversary. A Grace Disguised caused me to reflect on the ways my soul has grown through loss these last several years. Like Jerry, I see my experience as both bitter and sweet.

Though it is counterintuitive for my personality type, I have learned to lean into suffering and grief. Instead of avoiding the pain, I have learned to hold space for it, to sit quietly with the memories, and to let the tears fall freely when they come. I have learned to be present with my daughters in both their grief and glory moments. I have embraced rest and creativity with a newfound freedom. I have also grown a deeper sense of compassion and empathy for others who are grieving and suffering.

Jerry spoke at a leadership conference I attended in the summer of 2014 when my husband’s health was quickly deteriorating. I breathlessly held on to every word of his experience. At that time, my grief was anticipatory. I had no idea what the path looked like ahead. Jerry’s message prepared me then and affirmed me now in my journey.

This book is a must-read if you have endured some kind of tragedy or find yourself on a grief journey. It’s also a beautiful choice for a gift for someone processing loss. You might also check out the sequel book, A Grace Revealed, which tells the story of how God redeems our lives and unexpectedly turned the ashes into beauty for Jerry’s family.

*Every month I give away a free book to one of my subscriber friends. Simply subscribe here for my Glorygram newsletter and you will be entered for this month!

Photo by Pepe Reyes on Unsplash.

If God wills: How to pray when healing doesn’t come

Posted by | brave, community, compassion, death, grief, hope, prayer, Stories, struggle | No Comments

On the day my husband received a stage four cancer diagnosis, a group of our closest friends and family gathered at our house to pray. They all crowded in our bedroom and circled around my husband, our three daughters, and me. On one of the scariest days of my life, I was strengthened by the fervent prayers of those in our community.

We cried out to God together for his healing. I knelt on the carpeted floor and with hot tears spilled my worst fears to God in the presence of my friends and family. That time of corporate prayer was powerful and important for all our hearts.

But after my husband’s death in 2014, I wrestled with God. Hundreds of people across the globe had prayed for months for my husband’s healing, and it hadn’t come.

Why continue to pray when our prayers weren’t answered?

As a new widow, I struggled to know how to pray and how to proceed. My faith was strong, but my heart felt fragile. My prayers escaped as desperate whispers on the darkest nights of grief.

But God was patient with me. If He could handle the bold prayers of Paul, the emotional prayers of David, and the heart cries of Job, then He could handle my doubting, imperfect, raw prayers.

Over time, I was reminded that just because we pray doesn’t mean we get our way. We don’t put in a certain amount of time on the prayer time clock to gain a certain outcome. In fact, the purpose of prayer is not to persuade God to do things our way; it’s to draw close to the Heavenly Father and sit in His presence.

Jesus models this for us when He prayed at the Mount of Olives before His betrayal.

And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed,
saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.
Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”
Luke 22:41-42 (ESV)

In this honest prayer, Jesus shows us how to express our hearts to God and how to pray with trust for His will to be done. In the verses that follow, an angel appears to Jesus. He is strengthened by the angel even in His deep anguish.

My heart shifted over time as I realized the purpose of prayer is to connect more intimately with the Father and trust His sovereignty. In my grief, He was close to me. He wept with me. He offered comfort when the ache was heavy and the future seemed hopeless. Now I embrace the sweetness of knowing I can surrender the outcome of every single prayer to a capable and all-knowing God.

I still believe God answers prayers. I believe miracle healings are possible, but I pray differently now. I pray boldly that “if God wills” He would heal my friend, my child, and my neighbor. I preach hope to the wife whose husband battles cancer, to the friend who wonders if his marriage will ever be repaired, to the mother who struggles with her rebellious child. I’ve been in the trenches praying with my people, and I’ve seen God answer prayers quickly, slowly, and in the most unexpected ways.

I also pray that God will give courage, grace, and strength to those who are suffering and enduring pain. My prayers are no longer based on fear and disappointment because He has proved Himself faithful time and again.

Four years after my husband’s death, I am grateful. I am not grateful for his death or our suffering, but I am grateful for the ways God has transformed our grief for His glory. I am grateful God did not reveal the outcomes to me all at once but instead guided me step by step, day by day, prayer by prayer, back into His arms.

{The original version of this post was published at www.incourage.me. Please leave a comment about your own experiences with prayer. I love hearing from readers!}

{Featured photo by Avi Richards on Unsplash}

 


{Summer Blog Swap} How to keep your eyes on the light when darkness surrounds you

Posted by | death, family life, fear, grief, Guest blogger, hope, rest, Stories | No Comments

Welcome to my Summer Blog Swap. This month I am inviting four of my blogger friends over to this space to share some of their posts and perspectives. It’s a fun way to introduce some of my favorite people to all of you. This week I’d like you to meet my friend Tara Dickson. We met through a writing group called Hope*writers. Tara is a recent widow and mother to four children. Following her husband’s death to glioblastoma, brain cancer in 2016, she began sharing her story of grieving with hope and pursuing her dream of writing.

 

When my beloved husband went to Heaven at the age of 45, I felt like life as I knew it was over. I couldn’t imagine how to step forward. In fact, it felt like my own heart had stopped beating with his. But the ache didn’t lie. I was still here with four children to guide, most of them still teenagers. They were on the cusp of adulthood. Who would lead them forward? Who would teach my boys to become men? Whose arms would comfort our daughters? I wanted to do all those things but was struggling to find how to breathe, myself.

Then His Spirit breathed, upon us. He gave us permission to hide our hearts in His shadow.

What does it mean to hide in His shadow, while he puts us back together? What if we believed that the things of this world have not broken us, but only bruised us?

Dear ones, we may feel shattered beyond repair and of no use to Him or anyone, but we are merely being refashioned for another purpose.

Psalm 91 makes some mighty promises:

“He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress.”
My God, in Him I will trust.
He shall cover you with His feathers, 
And under His wings you shall take refuge;
His truth shall be your buckler. 
You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, 
Nor of the arrow that flies by day,
Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,
Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
And ten thousand at your right hand;
BUT it shall not come near you.

He shall call unto me, and I will answer him; 
I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him.”

Abide.
Trust.
Take refuge under his wings.
Use your shield, let every thought be sifted through the voice of truth.
Don’t give in to fear.

When you call, He will answer.

“But trouble surrounds me,” you say. “Where is he?”
He is with you in the trouble. He is with you and He will deliver you and give you honor. And after you have suffered a little while he will strengthen confirm and establish you!

The secret beloved is to not get lost in the dark. Why do you think scripture speaks so much about the light? Because, he knew there would be darkness beloved. In this world you will have trouble, not you might or if you are good you won’t… but YOU WILL have trouble.

But take heart, he says, “I Have Overcome the World.”

So how do we follow the light when darkness seems to surround us? We start by not looking at the darkness.

Have you ever stood outside on a dark night with only the light of the moon to illumine the dark? I mean really, dark, without even a street lamp for comfort. The darkness is an inky black, and the more you stare into it the more disoriented you become. But, glance at the moon, the only source of light, and objects take on their perspective. Shadows recede and tree branches take on a beautiful etching across the night sky.

Beloved, we must keep our eyes on the light rather than the darkness to keep our perspective. The enemy would love to overwhelm and overcome us. He would like us to feel lost. But take heart, you have a safe place to hide, under His wings. You can trust Him, He is a good king. Send fear on its way, because when you call, He promises to answer.

Maybe it’s loud and you need to get quiet so you can hear him. Maybe you are tired and you need to rest. Let him lead you beside quiet waters and restore your soul.

Come what may, never forget that He is with you! He is! Fear is a liar, darkness distorts our vision and our feelings that carry such weight with us, don’t always speak truth. His word is the anchor that holds us in any storm. Fix your gaze back on him, hide in His shadow and let Him do his holy work in secret.

Let him piece you back together fit for the purposes He still has in store for you.

 

 

Tara spends her time teaching as well as writing words of hope for children and adults.  She is an agented author with Credo Communications. You can find her sharing words of encouragement at taradickson.com or on Instagram. Her ingredients for a good writing environment include a good cup of coffee, dark chocolate with a cozy blanket nearby. Rain on the roof is a bonus.

 

 

 

*Main photo by Natalya Letunova on Unsplash