Chasing God's glory through all circumstances

hope

6 Ways to Find God’s Peace Difficult Circumstances

Posted by | courage, death, fear, flourishing, grief, hope, inspirational, rest, Stories, struggle, Uncategorized | No Comments

Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved the hymn “It Is Well.” There was something about those lyrics that brought a sense of peace whenever I sang them: “When peace like a river, attendeth my way… It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

Horatio G. Spafford, the man who penned that hymn, experienced profound tragedy with the death of his son to sickness, the loss of most of his real estate investments in the Great Chicago Fire, and then later the news that all four of his daughters had perished at sea in a ship wreck.

How did Horatio find peace in the face of so much tragedy?

He was rooted in his faith and he understood peace in his soul.

I only began to understand this in the midst of my own tragedy in 2014 when my husband was diagnosed with stage four cancer at age 40. Though we were often gripped with fear and uncertainty, God continued to give us surprising peace in the midst of our storm.

Peace is certainly not a formula or a 5-step process, but here are some specific ways we found peace in our situation:

Start by defining peace.

We often think of the word peace as the absence of fighting and chaos. Jesus gave peace as a gift to us in the midst of turbulent situations. His definition of peace was different from world peace. He cared most deeply about peace in our hearts.

Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Don’t let your heart be troubled or fearful.” John 14:27 CSB

In this chapter, Jesus was talking about the gift of the Holy Spirit. He explained that He would be going away to heaven, but he was leaving the Holy Spirit to personally guide and give us peace.

 

Separate lies from the truth.

When we are facing trials, we often let our minds wander to the worst-case scenario. We entertain our fears and let them rule our hearts. The Psalmist warns us:

Turn away from evil and do what is good; seek peace and pursue it. Psalm 34:14 CSB

We actually have to pivot from the lies of the enemy and bask in God’s truth. We have to intentionally seek peace by separating lies from the truth. For example, when my husband was diagnosed with cancer, I was fraught with fear. I feared being alone and raising my girls without my partner. Yet, all throughout scripture God promises to be with me and to never leave me alone. I had to cling to that truth and turn away from my fears.  

 

Surrender control to the One who controls it all.

Oftentimes we do not feel peace because we are trying too hard to control a situation. I learned this in my husband’s cancer journey. I believed if we chose just the right treatment it would save him. The reality is we are never in control. The peace only came when I was able to surrender control to God and trust Him for the outcome.

This verse reminds me that God’s peace surpasses understanding and control of all the details:

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7 CSB

 

Meditate on scripture to encourage your heart.

One practical way I learned to find peace is by writing out and reciting scripture. A mentor of mine encouraged me years ago to develop a scripture notebook. In each season, I write out verses that encourage and bring me hope.

When I focus my mind on the truth in scripture, I do not have space for stress and worry. This proved helpful in doctor appointments and during the hardest days of my husband’s cancer journey.

 

Listen to worship music.

Music is another way to fix our minds on God’s truth and to calm our fears. I love the story in 1 Samuel 16 when David played the lyre for Saul who was being attacked by a harmful spirit. The music calmed and refreshed him.

I like to create worship playlists on Spotify to help me through different seasons. When the chaos is swirling or I am fraught with worry, music helps me fix my mind on the truth and calms my soul like Saul. It’s difficult to worry and worship at the same time.

 

Discover His glory through Creation.

God frequently brings me peace through nature. The petals of a perennial freesia pushing through hard earth, ocean waves crashing, 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 daughters 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 that brings me a profound sense of comfort and peace.

 

Friend, remember you are not alone. We all face unexpected trials. God promises to offer peace and comfort if we continually seek Him.

Write out the following scripture and pray for peace in your present situation:

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all. 2 Thessalonians 3:16 ESV

{The original version of this article was published at www.Dayspring.com.}

Running for His glory: When showing up for your race matters

Posted by | courage, finishing well, grief, hope, identity, inspirational, parenting, self-care, Stories, struggle, Uncategorized | No Comments

The following is the closing article to my summer series, “Running for His glory,” on the intersection of running and faith. This particular essay was originally published at www.incourage.me. I am so grateful for the diversity of voices and guests who have joined me in writing for this series. Leave a comment if something in this essay or the series was a help or inspiration to you!

 

By Dorina Lazo Gilmore

The announcer for the Miguel Reyes 5k race introduced the elite athletes. I watched in awe as the elite group lined up first. Each man and woman were unique – some tall, some shorter, some with shaved heads, some with long hair, but all with that similar lean frame and chiseled muscles. The rest of us fell into place behind them.

The whistle sounded, and we took off. This 5k course winds through the undulating dirt hills and green spaces of Woodward Park in Fresno, California. This is the same course that high schoolers run for the State Cross Country Meet. As a coach and runner, I’ve traversed this course for many races, but I still felt out of place that morning.

I didn’t have much get-up-and-go to tackle those hills or sprint it out at the finish. I slogged along and battled with my thoughts: You’re not in shape for this. You are getting too old. You’re carrying too much weight these days.

I’ve been a runner most of my life. I ran my first 5k when I was eight with my daddy in our Chicago neighborhood. In high school, I was a track and field athlete. I took up distance running and trail running as an adult, completing dozens of races over the last few decades.

These last several years, I’ve had the huge realization that my running glory days are probably over. I’m not standing on podiums or hitting personal records much anymore. My pace is getting slower the older I get.

My forty-two-year-old body has birthed three baby girls and navigated a tough grief journey these past five years since my husband soared to heaven. I’m mushier around the middle. I look in the mirror and see these laugh lines dancing around the corners of my eyes.

My goals and focus have shifted. Now, I run to clear my head. I run for therapy. I run to feel God’s presence.

A few weeks ago, I found my first gray hair. That wild thing sprung out from the side of my temple with much gusto as if to announce a new season. I plucked it and laughed. I raised it up in the car like a trophy for everyone to see and joked that my three active daughters might be responsible.

Perhaps you might say I’ve arrived. I’ve reached what we call this middle season of life. My friend, Lisa-Jo Baker, describes this so well in her new book, The Middle Matters: “The middle is the place where we have grown into the shapes of our souls even as we might have outgrown the shapes of our jeans. The middle is the marrow. The glorious ordinary of your life that utterly exhausts you but that you might have finally started to understand in ways you didn’t at the beginning.”

That day in the 5k race, God reminded me of something important: Showing up matters. My goals may shift and my pace may wane, but I’m still running. My race isn’t over until it’s over. Being older and slower doesn’t discount me from the race. In fact, maybe this is just the beginning. Maybe He’s leading me down a new path to a new purpose in this season.

When I was in my twenties nursing babies and running a non-profit, I dreamed of days like today when I could send my kids off to school and spend my time writing. I whispered little seed prayers to God about book ideas and creative projects. Now I have the space to cultivate and grow these seeds.

Today, I’m clinging to these words from the Apostle Paul:

 So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace.
2 Corinthians 4:16 (MSG)

A few years ago, a younger mama came up to me and asked if I would mentor her. I paused at first because I didn’t feel “old enough” to be a mentor. What wisdom did I have to offer? The more we chatted, the more I realized what she really wanted was someone to run alongside her in this race called life.

Now, we set our eyes on the finish line together. Some days we run; other days we kneel. Finishing well and leading our people to God’s glory is the goal.

Friend, whether you are still raising babies or launching them out into the world, whether you are hoisting your broken body out of bed or speed walking on a nearby trail, it still matters. Someone is watching you run your race, and you moving forward today could make all the difference.

After the Miguel Reyes 5k race, I savored tacos, agua de jamaica, and paletas with my daughters. I was sweaty and out of breath, stretching there on our red picnic blanket near the finish line. My seven-year-old looked up at me with her dark chocolate eyes and said, “Good job, mama!”

Another unexpected reminder that showing up still matters: we are teaching our baby birds how to fly.

Photo by Jon Marley

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-In “4 ways a half marathon transformed my prayer life,” Heather Lobe shares her personal story and gives some practical ideas on how we can incorporate prayer and scripture in our runs as well.

 

**Dorina Gilmore has also written a Bible study called Glory Chasers: Discovering God’s Glory in Unexpected Places with a running theme. Peruse a full-color sample from the Bible study here

Providing a sense of home for widows in Haiti

Posted by | community, compassion, courage, death, friendship, grief, Haiti, hope, outreach, serve, social justice, Stories, struggle, Uncategorized | No Comments

She would often tap-tap-tap on the back screen door of the Bell Mission House built by my husband’s grandparents, where our family typically stayed. The first thing most people notice about Comère is she’s blind. Comère walked more than 5 miles from her home in Bahoncy beyond Fontaine in the northern mountains of Haiti. She would bring one of her six children to guide her steps on the dusty road to our house.

Part of her story that you might not guess is that Comère is a widow. Her husband died 9 years ago because of malnourishment and dehydration. Comère’s frail frame and gentle voice always stir up compassion in my heart.

In the early days, she would ask me for canned food to help feed her children. The cans were something they could carry on the long journey home to share with the others. I would dig through our cupboards and send home canned chicken or tuna, and sometimes tomato paste or soup with her. She would down a glass of water and squeeze my hand before she left.

I don’t remember exactly when I met Comère. In my 19 years of traveling and working in northern Haiti, she has shown up regularly. Somehow, she always knows when I am in town.

Widows in the country of Haiti are among the most vulnerable members of society. Comère is just one of many widows who struggle to survive. Many widows become homeless and outcasts when their husbands die. Few have extended family to care for them. While widows in the United States might have access to social security, life insurance, or death benefits, there are no government programs to provide for the needs of widows in Haiti.

When my husband Ericlee and I were first married, we talked a lot about God’s heart for the vulnerable. Our own hearts were especially burdened for the orphans in Haiti. I remember one summer we looked up all the verses in the Bible that talked about orphans. What I didn’t realize was important at the time is that most of the scriptures that talk about caring for the orphans also mention providing for widows.

It wasn’t until my husband soared to heaven in 2014 that I returned to the Bible to investigate these scriptures that express God’s heart for widows. As a newly-minted widow with three fatherless daughters, I wanted to remind myself what God said.

James, Jesus’ brother, describes it this way: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).

I believe James exhortation is literal. God wants us to care for orphans, widows and the most vulnerable in our culture. Dozens of scriptures from the Old Testament to the New Testament show this heart.

This past July, my family traveled to Haiti again to visit friends and so I could speak at a women’s conference in the northern city of Pignon. While we were there, my long-time friend, Pastor Gerby, invited me to share at his country church in Fontaine. I delivered a message on the book of Ruth and how God sent His son as our ultimate kinsman-redeemer.

After service, I asked Pastor Gerby if I could meet some of the widows in his congregation. I was surprised when more than 20 women shuffled their way to the front of the church. They were a mix of ages – some had children or grandchildren, some did not. Several of them had been attending the church for years. My heart was overwhelmed as I realized almost 20 percent of the church was comprised of widows.

That Sunday morning, I got to hear the stories of several of these women. Their grief and loss was familiar, yet the struggles they faced were so different. Jobs were hard to come by. I learned the church fed them after service. For some, this might be the only full meal they would enjoy for several days. I prayed and wept over my widow sisters.

Sitting on the end of the front pew, was my friend Comère. After our time of sharing she rose, reached out for my hand, and clung to me. Pastor Gerby led us outside the church. He showed us the orphanage and school that were part of the campus. Then he began to illuminate his vision for building a Widows Home for these women in his church.

My heart was immediately moved by this vision. My new husband Shawn also felt the call to invest in this project. We were especially impressed by the idea that the local church was already moving. They were already feeding these women. Pastor Gerby also talked about how these women could be given jobs on the campus like serving lunches to the school children, helping in the orphanage, or beautifying the church. They would have a new sense of purpose and community.

I couldn’t help thinking about my own grief journey. After my husband’s death, I questioned my calling and my purpose. I stepped down from my work helping direct the non-profit we started in Haiti. I needed time to heal and navigate loss with my children.

Over these last five years, I’ve learned that there is profound purpose and healing in coming alongside others in their distress and grief. God has given me many opportunities to share my story and to journey with others who are grieving. As it says in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” Now, I believe, He is opening the door for us to help build this home for widows in Haiti. Sometimes offering a helping hand can lead to our own healing journey.

 

Friends, we are inviting you to link arms with us today to raise up the Widows Home in Fontaine, Haiti through Haiti Gospel Outreach. We know many of us here in the United States have resources that can be used to help provide not just a house, but a home for these Haitian women. Every little bit counts. Our goal is to raise $15,000 by November 30, 2019. If you would like to give toward this project, you can donate here. Please include “Widows Home – Dorina” in the notes. You can also help us spread the word by sharing this Facebook live video.

 

Running for His glory: How one mother trusts God’s timing

Posted by | family life, Guest blogger, hope, parenting, rest, running, self-care, Stories | No Comments

This essay is part of our summer series called “Running for His glory,” focusing on the intersection between running and faith. Lindsey is a guest on my blog today, sharing about how pregnancies took a toll on her body. She had to press the pause button on running for a season, but God brought it back around for her in a new place and new way. 

 

By Lindsey Zarob

My first pregnancy had complications resulting in strict bed rest at 29 weeks through the end of the pregnancy. My second pregnancy required a more modified bed rest starting at 31 weeks, until the end. (Oh, and these precious little babies were only 13 months apart.)

Yep, two babies in a little over a year. This meant I barely recovered before we had baby #2 on the horizon. Because of the challenges with my previous pregnancy, this momma couldn’t walk much, let alone run during this second pregnancy. My body was a sacrifice for my kiddos, and I felt it.

Before children, running was my go-to adventure. It was my excuse for travel — hello Dublin Marathon! — and my sanctuary. Running helped build my community as I connected with friends over long runs. It was my lifeline.

I met God on those runs. I talked with Him at length. I professed my gratefulness to Him and listed all the good things in life, whether I felt them or not. I pleaded my case in prayer.  And, at times, I lamented great loss. Running was a wholistic endeavor for me.

After baby #2 was born, our condo in the city was a little tight. We knew it was time to move to the suburbs. This meant I was leaving my lake-front running path in the beautiful Windy City of Chicago for who knows what? Sidewalks and streetlights? I couldn’t run on my beloved path for what seemed like ages, and now we were leaving it forever.

We had another child about two years later. This meant I had three kids under three and a half. I hadn’t started running again because, well, life. I was working, I had young children, and I knew that these pregnancies had taken a toll on this body of mine.

I had split core muscles to repair, pelvic floor challenges to consider, and zero time to do the work to heal these things. I felt like I was missing something and no amount of brisk walks was going to replace it.

Sadly, I had given up on ever really running again. I couldn’t see how I could fit it in. Being a wife, mom of three, and working (sometimes part-time, sometimes full-time) meant there was little room to fit in the things I loved. (Can I get an amen from all the mommas of littles out there?)

Running became my long-lost love. And I really thought I would never find it again.

But it found me.

Finally, six years after my oldest was born, we decided I would leave the workforce and stay home with the kids. We felt this was God’s nudging for our family. We made some drastic moves, including down-sizing our house to make it happen.

This was a hard transition for me, but God was working behind the scenes as He always does.

Because I was home now, I could squeeze in the time for physical therapy so I could repair  some of the physical challenges that came from my pregnancies. After doing the necessary work, I was hitting the pavement again. And man, did it feel amazing.

This was the same year that my oldest child started kindergarten. He was making friends left and right, which meant I was being introduced to new parents all the time. It turned out that our new “tiny home” (as I affectionately call her), was in a tight-knit little neighborhood with a lot of amazing people.

Unbeknownst to us, God had moved us right down the street from one of my son’s new best buddies. And wouldn’t you know, his buddy’s mom is a runner. In time, she and I became great friends, and now we run together weekly. In God’s kindness, He brought my lost love back and with even greater blessing.

My body didn’t seem the same. My environment and circumstances had drastically changed. I thought a part of me had died and would not return. But God had different plans and provided in abundance. In His time, He made it beautiful.

I also discovered a running path right behind our house that extends through multiple towns and forest preserves. It winds through marsh lands, meanders through horse farms, and goes on for what seems like forever. That path is an incredible gift right outside our back door!

Friends, let me encourage you to not give up even when it seems like all signs point to the end of something. Our God delights in giving us the desires of our hearts. It may look different than in the past, and it might not come about the way you thought it would, but He will provide.

Don’t give up on the love that He placed in your heart. He placed it there for a reason and will make sure it comes back to you in full measure.

 

Lindsey is a wife, mom, and part-time Creative Strategist/copy-writer who works from home. Balancing roles and responsibilities keeps her on her toes. She loves to run and be outdoors whenever possible, but her most favorite thing is to enjoy the stillness before her household wakes in the early hours of the morning. You can find her at www.lindseyczarob.com, on Instagram @lindseyczarob and on Facebook @lindseyczarob.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

*Main photo by Fil Mazzarino on Unsplash.

Running for His glory: Learning to breathe at higher altitudes

Posted by | abundance, community, courage, flourishing, friendship, grief, hope, Incourage essays, relationships, sharing faith, Stories, Uncategorized, writing | No Comments

Breathe in deeply. Let the air gently fill your lungs. Pause. Then release. Feel the tension in your shoulders drift away. Inhale again. Then exhale.

This is the give and take of breath. This is a deliberate slowing of the cadence of our breath. This is discovering a new, unforced rhythm.

Breathe was the theme of the retreat I attended in June for the writers of (in)courage. After a wildly busy Maycember, this was exactly what we all needed. Thirty-one writers and staff traveled to Estes Park, Colorado for three days at the base of Rocky Mountain National Park to just breathe.

The goal: to exhale the rush of responsibilities and inhale the presence of God through fellowship with sisters.

Although we spent some time in meetings and creating new content, the leaders carved out lots of space for us to breathe. We were encouraged to take a nap, go shopping or hiking, participate in rooftop yoga, or spend time with God in the mountains. To just breathe.

The Hebrew name for God is Yahweh. It is said when the Hebrew letters YHWH are pronounced, they sound like a deep breath. This connection is no coincidence in my mind for God Himself fashioned Adam from the dust of the earth and breathed life into his lungs.

Here’s one thing I learned about breathing that weekend in Colorado: Sometimes the air feels thin at higher altitudes.

One morning I went for a 5-mile run on a path not far from our cabin. My chest pulled tight as I tried to fill my lungs. I slowed down and took shorter breaths. I had to give myself grace that my pace was not as fast as it might be at home, where I live in a valley.

In life, sometimes the same is true. We find ourselves at an unfamiliar altitude, and we need to take shorter breaths. We need to slow our rhythm to breathe deeply.

Maybe you can relate. Maybe you’ve experienced some trauma in your past or you are presently walking through a crisis, and it feels hard to breathe.

These are the times when it is a gift to sit shoulder to shoulder with others. It’s so easy to default into isolation when we feel overwhelmed. When we share our stories, when we bear witness to truth and pain, we offer each other breath.

Breathing then comes a little easier. Inhale long. Breathe out.

I experienced this in Colorado with my (in)courage sisters. Writing and speaking can be lonely work. I don’t have many people in my everyday life who understand what I do and its challenges. These women, who live all over the country and minister in many different ways through words, are my colleagues, my co-laborers.

As I listened to the stories and experiences of other writer-mama-sisters from diverse backgrounds, I felt breath fill my lungs. I was bolstered for the task ahead – to continue to share the Gospel message and to help people discover God’s glory through my words.

In Ezekiel 37, the prophet talks about a valley of dry bones – a symbol of lifelessness. God says to these bones:

I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.

Ezekiel 37: 5-6 (NIV)

Then He breathes into them, and the dry bones miraculously rattle and snap to life. These bones were once dry and dead, but now they are alive and moving.

God breathes – sometimes through the stories and encouragement of others – and we come to life.

May we also look for opportunities daily to breathe new life into each other. As a mama, I want to consider ways I can breathe life into my children. This may mean softening my tone when I’m irritated. This may mean encouraging my daughters to try new things or persevere through challenges.

I desire for my words to be life-giving to my friends. This may mean calling out talents my friends have or speaking truth to them when they are struggling with self-doubt.

One of my favorite songs is “Great are you, Lord” by All Sons & Daughters. This song became especially meaningful to me in 2014 when my beloved husband was battling cancer. A couple of friends from the worship band at our church visited our home to sing with my husband. He was too weak at that point to go to church.

As they sang and played guitar, my husband sat on our big red couch and listened with a look of heavenly contentment on his face. Our three daughters danced as these worshipful words filled our home:

“It’s your breath in our lungs so we pour out our praise…”

Ironically, the cancer was spreading during that time to my husband’s lungs. His breathing was labored. Little did we know that soon he would soar to meet the One who first breathed life into him. He would exhale this earth and breathe in Yahweh face-to-face.

Whenever I hear this song, I can’t help but think of that moment. I reach for gratitude even when breathing feels hard like on my run or when I’m working. I thank God for my lungs, for this daily cadence of borrowed breaths, and for the privilege of living one more day to reflect His glory.

 

My new husband Shawn and I love connecting with Christian runners. Check out our Glory Chasers running group on Facebook where we offer up courage, community and coaching for runners at all levels.

Running for His glory: Run the hill

Posted by | courage, Guest blogger, hope, Personal Stories, relationships, running, Stories, struggle | No Comments

 

This essay is part of our summer series called “Running for His glory,” focusing on the intersection between running and faith. Mark is a new friend, whom I met through an online writers community called Hope*writers. I’m grateful for his honesty and example of perseverance in this story. He shares about how running up hills literally and in life has helped him on his journey. 

 

By Mark W. Jackson

I dropped my bike and ran toward the scene of the accident. My son was lying on the ground, his bike and older brother beside him. A woman was there also, her parked car only feet away. She looked up as I approached. 

Had he been hit?

Conscious and still breathing. Good. He had struck a pothole and skidded across the pavement on his wrist. I looked at the swollen and badly disjointed arm and took a deep breath. I thanked the woman for checking on my son then dialed my wife’s number. 

My wife. She had just moved out of our apartment. The love we had found over 13 years ago had been steadily eroding, and I felt powerless to shore it up. It was Labor Day weekend, days before I was to start my new teaching job and only a few short months since we had left the mission field. 

“Oblique fracture,” said the doctor at the Emergency Room. “We’ll need to sedate him before setting the bone right.” Fractured, I thought. A morbid metaphor for our lives at that moment. 

 ______________________________________________________________

I had taken up jogging as a teen and never looked back. Now, as a divorced dad of three, running has proven to be medicine for my body, mind, and spirit. I remember those days during the separation and divorce when my emotions boiled within me and I found myself at times sprinting down the lane to let off steam. The intensity of those emotions have cooled with the passing of time, but still I run. I run every week through that cemetery. Like the plaster cast which encased my son’s broken arm, it has become a place of healing. 

Just inside the entrance to the cemetery is a set of stone steps leading up a hill to an overlook. I often run those stairs first. I like the strain it puts on my body, knowing that it will result in greater strength. 

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5, ESV)

The top of that hill has become a sacred place for me. I spend a moment in reflection there. I  pray for others and tell God what’s on my heart. It’s a place to remember His faithfulness to me and to renew my trust in his ways. In the whisper of wind through the pines, I hear the voices of saints gone before, telling me God is worthy, urging me to press on. 

“We have all these great people around us as examples. Their lives tell us what faith means. So we, too, should run the race that is before us and never quit.” (Hebrews 12:1a, ERV)

The cemetery was also the place where I began to go off track. Two years after the divorce, I met a woman. In many ways she seemed a great match except we didn’t share a common faith… yet, I told myself, but she’s so close to trusting in Jesus. We enjoyed running together, and our relationship quickly progressed. I stood with her one summer afternoon on top of that hill and told her she had my heart. But even as I said those words, I felt an unease deep within. 

In the weeks that followed, God’s Spirit relentlessly worked on my heart. He used A. W. Tozer’s “The Pursuit of God,” various passages of Scripture, and the wounding words of love from friends to convict me that I was veering from the path God had for me. Before summer’s end I broke off the relationship and gave my tear-drenched heart back to God.

“We should remove from our lives anything that would slow us down and the sin that so often makes us fall.” (Hebrews 12:1b, ERV)

There is a final hill, and it comes at the end of my run, just before I reach home. It’s the hardest climb. I often feel spent as I approach it, but there’s a phrase I repeat to myself as I get closer: “Run the hill.” 

I put one foot in front of the other and strain for the top without thinking about the distance left to get there. Endurance. Perseverance. This, for me is the most important carry-over from running to my personal life. The learned fortitude to stay the course. 

Yet inner strength does not always look like running; it sometimes looks like walking or even crawling on all fours. When Jesus faced Calvary’s hill he did not run it. He stumbled up it, bearing the weight of a cross loaded with our sin and shame. Outwardly he was never weaker; inwardly never stronger. He had built that strength through innumerable acts of surrender and obedience, persevering in the path the Father planned for him. 

“We must never stop looking to Jesus. He is the leader of our faith, and he is the one who makes our faith complete. He suffered death on a cross. But he accepted the shame of the cross as if it were nothing because of the joy he could see waiting for him. And now he is sitting at the right side of God’s throne.” (Hebrews 12:2, ERV)

What hill are you looking up at right now? For whatever reason – perhaps unknown to you – the Father has called you there. Satan may be taunting you; daring you to try another step; tempting you to take an easier way. But look around you: Faithful witnesses are cheering you on.

Look within: The Spirit that cries “Abba, Father” is there saying you can trust God’s heart.

Look up: At the top of that hill stands One who has gone before you. He is Jesus the Christ. He is your Hope. He is your Strength. He is your Home. Set your gaze on Him as you take one step and then another. Run, walk, crawl that hill for the Joy that awaits you.

 

Mark developed his love of running in Zimbabwe where he was born to missionary parents. He now lives in New Hampshire with his three children and works at an inner city school, teaching English Learners. Connect with him on Facebook at Mark W Jackson.

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

-In “Discovering running as soul care,” Erin Reibel talks about how she grew into loving running as a busy mama. She consider it an important soul care practice.
-In “How I started running for all the wrong reasons,” Gloryanna Boge shares about how she started out running for all the wrong reasons, but God redeemed it for her.
*Dorina and her husband Shawn recently started the Glory Chasers running group on Facebook. They offer up courage, coaching, and community for Christian runners. If you’re a runner or know one, pass it on.

Redeeming Ruth: The Father’s Heart for the vulnerable

Posted by | abundance, community, compassion, courage, culture, death, flourishing, grief, hope, inspirational, relationships, Stories, struggle, Uncategorized, video | One Comment

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

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

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

Check out the full video of the message here!

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

Running for His glory: How running provided healing during mental illness

Posted by | courage, Guest blogger, hope, Personal Stories, running, self-care, Stories, struggle, Uncategorized | No Comments

This essay is part of our summer series called “Running for His glory,” focusing on the intersection between running and faith. I met Abigail through an online writers community called Hope*writers. I am grateful for her honest story on how running provides an avenue for healing for her as she battles mental illness and physical setbacks.

 

By Abigail Alleman

It was a poignant moment on a summery June day. My sister asked me a simple question. “Will you run a 5K with me?”

I didn’t know what to say. Did she really think I could?

Three months earlier, we were ripped out of our missionary life, suddenly and completely. We had spent 10 years building a ministry in Hungary.

Prior to our leaving the country, I spent two weeks in a state hospital, punctuated by three days in the ICU. I was eventually given a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Along the wearying journey of stabilization, I had early side effects to medicine. It left me walking like an elderly woman.

I had to learn to sleep, walk and even breathe again. My confidence was low, and it was a struggle to do basic things, like take care of my three young children.

But all of this changed that warm June day.

I was staying at my other sister’s house, and I decided to try to run. Physically, it was about 10 years since I last ran. I hadn’t been able to figure out how to do it while having babies and living in different countries.

And then came my life-altering diagnosis. Life pulled no punches, and I was beaten and bloody.

My sister’s invitation was the perfect question at the perfect time.

As I went out to walk, I decided I would try to run part of the time. I had no phone or watch to measure distance or time. I just ran. Most likely it was about half a mile. I was amazed. I could run!

I sprinted into the house and hugged my twin sister: “I feel alive again. This is symbolic of the healing God wants to do, I know it!” I felt a tingling from my head to my toes at the promise of it all.

Now, four years, three half marathons, and numerous 5K’s later, I am still running. The joy which God has restored in my life through running is immeasurable. I feel capable and strong as I run, and it bolsters me for the journey I am on with mental illness.

Running is one of the most powerful spiritual disciplines I have known in my 40 or more years as a believer. Sometimes, I pray, meditate on Scripture or listen to music while running. This refreshes me and is a win-win. But it is also true, sometimes I am just trying to make my goal.

I will say to myself, “Okay…just another mile. No too long, another half mile. Still too long, another quarter mile. Ok, just this next stride, it’s all I can handle right now.”

Whenever I want to give up on running, I remember how it’s parallel to my life’s course. Around all of it, all the days and ways, highways and byways, is the grace of God. He loves me no matter what and will bring me Home forever. This is eternally true.

Yet, running shows I have a choice as to how I will get there. Will it be an aimless meander where I often stop moving forward, or a focused path journeyed with enthusiasm? Will I fight against the things that try to make me stop running the race of my life for God’s glory? Will I be an overcomer?

As I run, I learn to make the choices which vault me forward in my growth. With every stride, I am sowing thankfulness. Along the sidewalks of my life, daisies, lilies and roses bloom. A treasured gift was given through a trusted sister’s question, and I will forever be grateful.

What about you, friend? How does running make you stronger on this long, winding road home?

 

 

Abigail Alleman is a wife, mother and missionary. She and her husband have served 14 years with the student ministry of Cru in both the U.S. and Hungary. Her writing is known for its vulnerability, authenticity and redemptive beauty. She blogs her love of story at www.abigailalleman.com. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.

 

 

*Read the other articles in the “Running for His glory” series:
-In “When God brings you full circle,” Dorina describes how sometimes we have to return to particular places, relationships or memories in order to measure just how far we’ve come. She learned this on a trail race she ran a few times in different seasons of life.
-In “How running found me,” Danielle E. Morgan shares her story about how running found her as a young adult and has shaped her health, her mothering, and who she is in Christ today.
-In “Battling negative self-talk,” Kristy Wallace runs us through how she reframes her internal dialogue using scripture. She runs and meditates on specific passages throughout the week.
*Dorina and her husband Shawn recently started the Glory Chasers running group on Facebook. They offer up courage, coaching, and community for Christian runners. If you’re a runner or know one, pass it on.

How to celebrate Father’s Day when your daddy is gone

Posted by | community, compassion, death, family life, grief, hope, parenting, Stories | No Comments

I still remember that first Father’s Day after my husband’s death. I didn’t know what to do.

As the day grew closer, I felt more and more paralyzed about how to prepare for the day.

I was invited to an out-of-state wedding. Despite my guilt in leaving my three daughters behind with grandparents, I knew I needed to go. It would be good for my soul.

My girls enjoyed that Sunday celebrating their Papa Doug and visiting with their Uncle Paul and cousins.

As for me, I woke up early that Father’s Day morning. I had some time alone in my hotel room to let the grief wash over me. I ended up writing a reflection about how my late husband had been a father figure to so many. He invested deeply in our three daughters, but also in friends and orphans in Haiti.

Deep in my soul, I felt the weight of his absence, but also the strength of his legacy. I also felt compelled to thank all the family friends and fathers who stood in the gap for my girls and me in our grief.

Father’s Day, like many holidays, can be filled with mixed emotions. Maybe some of you have a daddy in heaven like my girls. Maybe some of you will feel the ache of separation from your father because of divorce, deployment, imprisonment or a job that takes him out of town.

Sometimes Father’s Day is complicated because grief mingles with joy as we celebrate fathers who are alive, but also long to remember our daddies who have died.

The following are some ideas compiled with the help of some of my widow friends on how to remember and celebrate Father’s Day when a daddy is gone. I have found it’s important to make plans ahead of time, but to hold them lightly and cover ourselves with grace on the actual day.

  1. Write a letter to your father. Even if you can’t deliver it or mail it, the act of writing a letter can be healing. Include some special memories, perhaps some things you wish you could say today, or a description of how you are feeling today.

 

  1. Take a picnic to the park. Pack a lunch and spend some time sharing as a family. My daughters love having me tell stories from when they were little or trips we took with their dad.

 

  1. Go to a special place like the ocean or the cemetery and allow kids to release a balloon in honor of their dad. There’s something sacred about letting go and watching these balloons float to the heavens.

 

  1. Make a reservation for Dad’s favorite restaurant and take the family out in his honor. Use your time together to talk about his legacy.

 

  1. Look through photos together and compile a “Best of Dad” collection to print in a photo book. Many of our pictures are digital now, which means we seldom take time to curate our favorites. Perusing and selecting photos can be a meaningful time of remembrance.

 

  1. Write thank you cards to the father figures in your circle. Take some time to thank the men who have influenced you, loved on you, and nourished you through the years.

 

  1. Buy ingredients and make you dad’s favorite dessert. Talk about some of dad’s favorite things as you eat the dessert together.

 

  1. Do simple art project together. Paint a photo frame. Pull out some markers or crayons and color together. Make a collage of things that remind you of your dad and his legacy.

 

  1. Take a sunset walk together through the neighborhood or at a local park. Give yourself space to share if you want to or to simply hold space for remembering your father.

 

  1. If it feels overwhelming to see all the fathers at church on Father’s Day, plan your own special devotional time for your family. Read a favorite Bible story or from a family devotional. Pray together.

Here’s the bottom line: There’s really no wrong way to celebrate Father’s Day. Be gentle with yourself as you make space to remember, to be sad, to experience joy, to laugh, to grieve, and to celebrate.

I am reminded of these words in Romans 8:15-17: “And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

What a gift that we are adopted into God’s family. We are not fatherless. We are his children, His co-heirs. I’m learning to cling to this truth and hold the weight of it.

Grief and glory are always co-mingling. May our Father God meet you in your grief and comfort you there this Father’s Day.

 

**Dorina hosts The Widow Mama Collective, a support group on Facebook designed for widows who are navigating grief and still mothering kids at home. Join Dorina and friends here or pass this on to a friend who might need it!

 

 

 


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

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?

What to do when you’re not “joyful in hope”

Posted by | book reviews, hope, sharing faith, Stories, struggle | No Comments

I met Shauna through the online writing community I am a part of called Hope*writers. I had the opportunity to read her first book, Remarkable Faith, and write a book review on it. Her writing captivated my imagination as she illuminated stories from the Bible with cultural context and details. I am honored to invite Shauna as a guest on my blog today. She is sharing on a topic dear to my heart – hope.

***

Guest post by Shauna Letellier

When I wrote my first book, Remarkable Faith, I felt like I had made a pioneer discovery. I saw a pattern in the gospels that demonstrated a biblical truth, and I wanted to share it with everyone. Like a child wide-eyed over a fossil dug from a backyard sandbox, the matter of faith as dependence rather than performance had always been there. But I was just discovering the vivid illustrations in the people Jesus met.

Writing my second book, Remarkable Hope, was more of an investigation. Not so much, “Hey! Look what I found!” but more “I wonder why that is?”

The apostle Paul wrote to his friends in Rome, “be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” (Romans 12: 12). Faithful in prayer and patient in affliction, I understood. Keep praying and trust God in the hard times. But “joyful in hope” struck a dissonant chord, like a toddler banging on the bottom three keys of a piano.

If we’re called to be joyful in hope, I wondered why I inwardly rolled my eyes when I said, “I hope so.” Hope sounded more sarcastic than joyful. “I hope so” felt like ineffective fairy dust sprinkled on an impossibility.

I went to my Bible to discover true hope, to learn from the folks who saw Jesus face-to-face and still experienced severe disappointment, even despair. It didn’t seem to harmonize.

My own usage of the word “hope” was throwing me off. My definition was the eye-rolling, doubt-filled sarcastic verb I had been employing.

I hope I don’t get sick.

I hope we make it on time.

I hope it doesn’t rain.

Much of the time I ended up wet, late, and sneezing. In my mind, hope was more akin to doubt than joy.

But biblical hope, the kind written about by Paul, Peter, and John is active waiting for a good future you can count on. Its fulfillment is not predicated on weather or timing or health. It is held in place by Jesus’ finished work for us. His timing, purposes, and plans are sometimes confounding and, in our minds, disappointing.

Even people in the gospels—who met Jesus, who ate with him and hosted him in their synagogues—even they experienced differing degrees of disappointment. But after studying eight of those people, I can confidently declare with the apostle Paul that “our hope does not disappoint us.” (Romans 5:5)

Remarkable Hope: When Jesus Revived Hope in Disappointed People, is the result of that study and reflection. It retells the stories of eight hopeful people in the Bible who appeared—at first—to be disappointed by Jesus. Their stories reveal a pattern of being surprised by him in drastic ways. As we observe Christ’s faithful commitment to them, we will be wowed by his unseen plan and revived by his enduring presence.

With unexpected methods and surprising gifts, Jesus transforms disappointment into the certainty of remarkable hope. Not only for them, but for us too.

 

Shauna Letellier is the author of Remarkable Hope: When Jesus Revived Hope in Disappointed People. Drawing upon her degree in Biblical Studies, she weaves strands of history, theology, and fictional detail into a fresh retelling of familiar Bible stories in her books and on her blog. With her husband Kurt, she has the wild and hilarious privilege of raising three boys along the banks of the Missouri River where they fish, swim, and rush off to ball games.

{This article was first published at www.shaunaletellier.com and is republished here with permission.}

**I’m giving away a copy of Remarkable Hope, which releases on March 5, 2019. Simply subscribe here for my weekly Glorygram newsletter and you will be added to the giveaway drawing. A winner will be announced on Friday, March 29, 2019.

You are not forgotten this Valentine’s Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beloved, be loved today.

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

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

 

 

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 | 2 Comments

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


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

Discovering the dignity of work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

 

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