Chasing God's glory through tragedy and triumph

hope

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.

I’m so excited to be a part of a huge giveaway to celebrate the release of It’s All Under Control. Jennifer and her publisher, Tyndale, are giving away 50 copies of the book in celebration of its release! Enter below to win. Giveaway ends September 30. Winners will be notified by Tyndale House Publishers. Click here to enter.  

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 | No 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, 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.

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.

{Head over to www.incourage.me for the rest of this article on prayer. Please leave a comment about your own experiences with prayer. I love hearing from readers!}

{Featured photo by Avi Richards on Unsplash}

 


Unexpected friendship in a cup of cold water

Posted by | compassion, courage, friendship, Haiti, hope, laughter, sharing faith, social justice, Stories | No Comments

The sun blazed and dust swirled. Sweat dripped in every crevice of my body. My belly swelled announcing my third baby, expected to appear sometime that winter. My unexpected assignment that summer: to help start a jewelry business employing women in the mountains of Haiti.

I arrived in Haiti, excited and nervous. I knew I had to start by building trust with the women, but the task felt daunting with the cultural barrier between us.

A small collective of mamas gathered under the church awning to learn how to roll beads. As I prayed for an open door to connect with them, an idea flashed through my mind: I ran into the kitchen for a pitcher of cold water and a stack of cups.

A few of the women looked at me sideways as I approached their circle. No one said a word, and the awkwardness hung thick in the humid air. Then one of the women smiled and walked over to me.

Dlo?” I pointed at the pitcher. “Water?”

She nodded.

The other women didn’t make eye contact, but Madame Moise took a risk and invited me to sit next to her. I watched as she held the skewer in her left hand and used her other fingers to roll strips of cardboard into perfectly-symmetrical beads. She spread glue over the beads to seal them.

She showed up the next afternoon with an English-Haitian Creole dictionary. “How are you?” she pronounced each word with care. Her question invited me in. “I want to learn to speak English,” she said.

“I want to learn to make beads,” I said, pointing at the rainbow-colored skewers full of beads drying in the sun.

{Hop over to (in)Courage for the rest of this story about unexpected friendship}

 

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{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

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

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

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

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

I found myself at the intersection of fear and faith.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Isaiah 54:5

 

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

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

Running After His Glory in the Darkness

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

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

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

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

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

My once strong, athletic husband depended on me to take him to doctor’s appointments, to make decisions about treatments, to prepare special meals for him and even to brush his teeth. The work was heavy and heartbreaking. Lift. Inhale. Lift. Exhale. Lift. Inhale. Lift. {Jump over to incourage.me today for the rest of this article on “Running After His Glory in the Darkness.}

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.

 

Mothers of All Kinds: A spoken word for Mother’s Day

Posted by | courage, creativity, grief, hope, kids, Stories, video | No Comments

The following is a spoken word piece I wrote for The Bridge Church to share on Mother’s Day 2018. You can watch the piece here. The transcript of the piece is below.

 

I am Eve, the mother of mankind, the first to walk with God in the garden

the one to sink her teeth into that forbidden fruit that would change history.

 

I am Sarah, who left my people and my comfort zone

to link arms with my husband in a new land, to raise up nations.

 

I am Hagar escaping the heat of my mistress by running to the desert with my Ishmael

and discovering a God who sees His daughters in the wilderness.

 

I am Esther, an orphan-turned-queen, called into the palace

to pray, persuade and leverage my privileges for my people.

 

I am Rahab, who extended a rope of hope to strangers because I believed

in the power of God and became the mother to Boaz, the great great grandmother to King David.

 

I am Ruth, a widow-turned-warrior, who worked and gleaned and gained

the attention of one Boaz, who stands a story of how God turns ashes into beauty.

 

I am Hannah, weeping in the synagogue for God to open my womb

and experiencing the miracle of my sweet boy Samuel, my gift back to the Giver.

 

I am Elizabeth, who became a mother even with wrinkled face and tired shoulders,

who birthed John, the friend and forerunner of Jesus Christ himself.

 

I am Mary, the mother of God’s own Son, who watched her son die a horrible death on the cross and stands witness today to the power of resurrection.

 

You are the new mother, cradling your cherub in your arms, wondering if you were cut out for this constant work of changing diapers, wiping noses, buckling into car seats and grocery carts.

 

You are the grandmother serving up spaghetti and meatballs along with Bible stories and songs to help your little saplings grow in strength and faith.

 

You are the wife who stood at her husband’s graveside, burying him too soon and bearing up his grown children to help them navigate their grief.

 

You are the single woman watching other women’s children, waiting, wondering when it will be your turn.

 

You are the working mom, packing lunches and slipping into heels, whisking them off to school before the bell rings, before you start your day at the office.

 

You are the adoptive mom, crossing cultures to mother, to raise up, to stand in the gap for this child who carries the blood of another.

 

You are the barren mother, who weeps when she sees another negative pregnancy test, when she hears the treatment didn’t work. Again.

 

You are the mother whose babies have already flown to heaven, who endures the sting each Mother’s day that reminds you of this deep and hidden loss.

 

Your tears glisten like stars – tiny holes of light pricking through the night sky.

And He sees you there.

He does care.

He walks with you every step of the way.

He comforts you in your sorrow.

He waits patiently for you to come home.

 

You are the missionary to the outcast;

You are the sister to the prodigal;

You are the friend to the friendless;

You are the coach to the child;

You are the mentor to the young mother…

 

We are the women of Haiti, rolling beads from recycled cardboard, dreaming of days to come when we might pay for our children to go to school, when we might build that house on the hill.

 

We are the women of Japan, taking vintage kimonos and refashioning them into scarves and purses and jewelry. Our hearts are mended as we push needles through soft cloth.

 

We are the women of Germany, reaching out to refugees, crossing cultural barriers to lift up the foreigner, the other mother without a place to rest her head.

 

We are the women of the Bridge, reaching out to the neighborhood, investing in schools, non-profits, serving on Sundays, greeting new friends at the door

 

We are the women who prepared His body for burial, who washed His feet with our hair, who stood by when others denied Him.

 

We are the women, who were first to the tomb, who were surprised by angled light and the curve of miracle

 

We are the women sent out to preach the Good News, to tell the story of our Risen King.

 

We are the women bending knees in our war rooms on behalf of our children, husbands, city, valley, country, neighbors, and friends.

 

Mothers of all kinds,

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:16-23, ESV)

 

**I would love to connect with you in a more personal way. Please join my Glory Chaser tribe. I send out a weekly email with words of encouragement, recommendations for books and podcasts and my publishing news. 

Book Review: Grace Like Scarlett: Grieving with Hope After Miscarriage and Loss

Posted by | book reviews, brave, compassion, death, family life, grief, hope, struggle | One Comment

The texts were pecked out late into the night. I could read the desperation and grief between the short lines she wrote. My dear friend had endured another miscarriage. Her body had betrayed her again. I cried out to God on her behalf. Honestly, I didn’t know exactly how or what to pray, but I wanted to support. I learned to listen and groan alongside her in that season. I learned about the power of the ministry of presence.

Statistics show 15 to 20 percent of pregnant women in the U.S. experience miscarriage. I remember when I was a young girl my mama shared with me that she, too, endured miscarriage. I have often thought about what it might be like to meet my older sister in Heaven one day.

Experiences like these solidify for me the profound need for Adriel Booker’s new book, Grace Like Scarlett. 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. I am not a fast reader. I underline and highlight and journal in the margins of books. I like to savor the pages over weeks and months. I make books my companions for seasons.

This week I’ve carried this book everywhere with me. I’ve holed up in my bedroom, curled up on a couch in a coffee shop, read while waiting at small claims court and in the pickup line at school. I gobbled up Adriel’s words because she seemed to be writing my heart. At moments, I wondered if she had somehow read my own journals. It felt that personal and resonated that strongly.

Adriel writes, “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.”

Although I have never had a miscarriage, I felt like she was mentoring and affirming me on my own grief journey. After my husband died from cancer in 2014, I have grieved and mothered three young daughters through grief.

What I appreciate most is Adriel’s honesty and authenticity. She doesn’t gloss over the pain. She doesn’t skip over her own ugly feelings of jealousy and anger. She doesn’t shy away from the theological conversations about suffering and God’s sovereignty. To use her words, she takes a deep dive into the hard stuff.

I love the metaphor she uses of the duck dive. “Surfers learn early on that unless they want to get swept back to shore, they have to learn to duck dive – take the whole surfboard and duck underneath the coming wave. Instead of trying to get over it or around it, they know the best way through is to go under.”

This metaphor rings true in my own grief journey too. In these last four years, I have learned the way through grief is to dive under with Jesus. The waves swirl and smack. They are powerful and unpredictable, but we must lean in or drown.

I also resonate with these poignant words Adriel writes in “And Then She Laughs”:

“Grief expands the soul and exposes our need, but it also expands our heart to receive love and be changed by it. This becoming can make us more whole if we are open to receive (and by changed by) God’s astonishing love.”

This book is an important read for anyone grieving, and particularly for families navigating pregnancy loss. I was especially touched by the letter to grieving dads written by her husband and ideas for helping kids process grief in miscarriage included in the appendix.

 

**I would love to connect with and encourage you more regularly! I send out book, podcast and recipe recommendations to my Glory Chasers tribe here.

**I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to amazon.com. There is no additional cost to readers.

Resurrection rising: How to wait through the winter of grief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

(Featured photo by Thomas Wolter on Pixabay)

Finding real rest after a tragedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 Ideas for self-care for widows and others grieving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

**black and white version

*full-color version

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hugged her and lifted her up.

“He’s gone,” she cried.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Featured photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

**black and white version

*full-color version

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

**black and white version

*full-color version

 

 

 

*Featured Yosemite Photo by James Donovan on Unsplash

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

Posted by | death, family life, grief, hope, kids, Stories, struggle, transitions | 3 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

Letting dreams die

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

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

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

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

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

Tuning my heart

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

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

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

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

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

Cultivating new dreams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

**black and white version

*full-color version

*Featured photo by Caleb Whiting on Unsplash

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

**black and white version

*full-color version