Chasing God's glory through tragedy and triumph

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

**If you’re interested in more on the theme “All Things New,” the introduction to this blog series can be found HERE. If you are navigating grief or could use some regular encouragement, please join my Glorygram Community HERE.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Read the next article in the series, “All Things New: Beyond the hospital doors,” by my friend Danielle Comer HERE.

***

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

**black and white version

*full-color version

Book Review: Remarkable Faith

Posted by | behold, book reviews, hope, identity, inspirational, sharing faith, Stories, writing | 2 Comments

 

I have always loved stories. Even from the time I was a little girl, I have been enthralled with the power of story. When I was in the throes of my elementary school years, my family attended a little neighborhood church on the south side of Chicago. I was always eager to get to Sunday School class. There were not a lot of bells and whistles. We didn’t have a fancy worship band or videos with animated Bible characters to capture our attention.

We did have two teachers who were gifted storytellers.

Every week, these teachers would take turns unfolding the details of the Bible. I was filled with wonder when I heard about the ark-builders and giant-slayers, but I was also drawn to the “quieter stories.” I was intrigued by the woman who gave her copper coins in the offering, which was a sacrifice of all she owned. I could not get enough of the stories about Jesus. I was captivated by the way he talked to the woman at the well and washed his disciples’ dirty feet.

These were not just stories to me, but examples with skin on them that eventually led me to deepen my young faith.

 

When I opened Shauna Letellier’s recently-released book, Remarkable Faith, I was filled anew with childlike wonder over the Bible stories. Like a master storyteller, Shauna draws us into eight Bible stories of “unremarkable” people who went to great lengths to get to Jesus. As a result of their faith, Jesus healed them and used them as examples of remarkable faith.

I was immediately drawn into this book because of the way Shauna reimagines these stories in such a vivid and historically accurate way. She helped me to feel the exhaustion of the father whose son was demon-possessed, to understand the wrestling in the mind of the paralyzed man, to appreciate the response of the noble centurion who counted himself not even worthy to take Jesus’ time and to see the courage of the blind beggars who called out for healing.

This is not typically the genre of book I would pursue but Shauna makes me think outside of the box. Shauna doesn’t just retell the story. She invites us to see, hear, smell, taste and touch the nuances of the culture and experience the world through the eyes of the characters.

I also appreciated her commentary after each story. Her words invite me to think about the implications of faith highlighted by each character. In her chapter on “Unworthy Faith,” I was especially challenged by these words:

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

What a powerful reminder!

My favorite chapter in Remarkable Faith unfolds the story of the hemorrhaging woman in Mark 5 and her “suffering faith.” Readers are invited into the depths of this woman’s story. She was not only bleeding for more than 12 years, but she was also an outcast in her community because she was considered unclean. She was alienated from her family and likely taken advantage of by doctors. Shauna’s description of her healing is visceral and dramatic. We cannot help but rejoice and worship with her.

Whether you have read these stories many times in the Bible or you are new to them, I highly recommend Shauna’s Letellier’s book, Remarkable Faith. It’s a good read that offers a fresh perspective on faith through the lens of the Bible.

 

**If you love books, we need to be friends. I’d love to slip my Glorygram into your box each week with recommendations for my fave reads. You can also check out my other book reviews here. As always, leave your comments below, especially if you are interested in Shauna Letellier’s book or have your own take on it!

Book Review: At Home in the World

Posted by | book reviews, community, culture, family life, friendship, identity, outreach, serve, Stories, Uncategorized, world travel | No Comments

My first real venture out of the United States was a study abroad program in Central America during my senior year of college. Our home base was San Jose, Costa Rica, but we also spent time sojourning through Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

I still remember that moment.

I was sitting around a rugged wooden table with a diverse group of Guatemalans and a group of college students from across the United States. The table was spread with billowy, soft bread, crema for dipping, sliced avocadoes, juicy steaks, rice and beans, and a pitcher of some kind of icy, hand-squeezed citrus refresco. We bowed our heads to pray before our meal, and my heart swelled a bit.

I was home.

Mind you, I don’t have any Central American blood. I had never traveled to Guatemala before. But something deep inside me felt at home. The warmth of the people, the bright colors of their woven clothing and wall hangings, the rich flavors of the food, the passion of their praise and worship, the abundant affection of the children – all of it felt like home to me.

In fact, I felt more at home there than I had ever felt back home in the U.S.

Less than three years later I found myself surrounded by hundreds of Haitian children in the middle of a soccer field in the Northern mountains of Haiti. I was there with a group of young career singles from my church in California to put on a Track and Field camp. In the sweltering July tropical heat, we marked off the field like a circular track and we watched these kids race joyfully around it in bare feet. Somehow by the end of that week, I had learned enough Kreyol and cross-cultural sign language to communicate with these kids.

I felt it again. I was home. I was far from home, yet I was very much at home.

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

This book is unique because it takes readers on an adventure with Tsh’s family across four continents in nine months. She and her husband are not your typical world travelers. They are not trying to escape responsibility or drop out of college or avoid a withering relationship. They are happily married and have three kids in tow. They limit themselves to one backpack each and endeavor to stay in neighborhoods and homes where real people live across the globe.

This is not a fancy vacation. This is “worldschooling” at its best.

I was immediately captivated and intrigued by Tsh’s storytelling and reflections. This book whispers, “Come along” without pomp or pretense. We adventure with this family through the bustle of traffic in Beijing. We join them to snorkel the magnificent Great Barrier Reef. We linger with them over Thai food in Chiang Mai. We celebrate a summertime Christmas with them in Queensland.  We join them for a coffee ceremony in Ethiopia and mint tea at the market in Morocco. We coast the Nile River with them in Uganda and stand in awe before Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. We buy bacon together at the boucherie in France and sample gelato more than once a day in Italy.

I love Tsh’s reflections on home throughout the book. She challenges me with this: “Travel has taught me the blessing of ordinariness, of rootedness and stability. It’s courageous to walk out the front door and embrace earth’s great adventures, but the real act of courage is to return to that door, turn the knob, walk through, unpack the bags, and start the kettle for a cup of tea.”

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book purely for fun. I savored every chapter of At Home in the World. I tucked it in my tote and took it with me to the beach in Malibu, a café in Fresno, and on a camping trip to Soledad Canyon with all my people. I devoured every delicious word. And when I got to the last page I was faced with the dilemma of either starting the book again or booking tickets for my own family of five to somewhere new.

**If you are an avid reader, I encourage you to check out some of my other book reviews. These books have carried me through seasons of tragedy and triumph.

I often serve on book launch teams as a way to get to know authors and their message better. I had the privilege of being part of Tsh Oxenreider’s team for At Home in the World.

Up next: I’ll be reviewing Remarkable Faith: When Jesus Marveled at the Faith of Unremarkable People by my friend Shauna Letellier for July. Pre-order it today!

What are your favorite summer reads for kids or adults? Comment below and let me know what you’re reading! Also, I send out a weekly Glorygram with stories, reading and podcast recommendations, and my recipes. I’d love to deliver it to your inbox. Opt in here.

Navigating Grief: When Someone You Love Dies Suddenly

Posted by | flourishing, grief, Guest blogger, hope, identity, parenting, Personal Stories, relationships, Stories, struggle, transitions | One Comment

 

By Kimberly Rose

Your mom lives forever. At least that is what I told my little girl self growing up. Or at least I was counting on that as truth since I was being raised by a single parent.

I grew up poor, and we moved a lot. I have three older sisters, but there are a dozen years between us. For many years, that meant I had my mom all to myself.

My older siblings were not able to break out of the poverty we lived in. They struggled with many of the same pitfalls and addictions that plagued earlier generations of our family.

I knew about the history of failure and defeat in my family. I was a watcher. I carefully watched the mistakes my sisters and mother made so I would not grow up and make them too.

My mom knew that I had a potential for greatness. She saw the fire and passion in my eyes when I talked about future dreams. My mom knew one thing for sure: God had given her another chance at motherhood late into her thirties. He had also given her what she believed would be a child she could pour into and push to higher ground.

And push she did. I almost buckled under the weight of her expectations. Always late, but never giving up.

I worked hard and earned my high school diploma. Mama cried uncontrollably when I handed it to her. Only one of my family members had completed high school up to that point. I told her that some people at church were going to help me get to college. We were both uncertain about how the financial aspect would all work, but we knew that even though we had economic challenges, I was smart and worked hard. Mom was supportive and inspired. We knew with God on our side it was possible.

Climbing the mountain of college, nearing the peak, seeing the summit of the very last semester, I got the phone call.

“Are you sitting down?” My oldest sister’s voice over the phone. “Mom’s gone.” I wasn’t sure I’d heard right. The air in my body was sucked out. My knees hit the ground. I couldn’t breathe.

My sister’s voice was shaking.

My mother was crossing a popular intersection in our town in the middle of the afternoon. A car ran the light, and hit her, killing her instantly. The car never broke, and never stopped. No one really saw what happened. Only a vague description of the car was reported. She laid in the street for all the world to see, and no one knew what to do.

I called her answering machine over and over to hear her voice just one.more.time.

It was not like terminal illness, where I had to painfully watch her die. I was never given the opportunity to say that one last goodbye. She was here one day, and gone the next, passing through me like the wind.

No more.

No more holidays, no advice on marriage, no one to call when I nervously held my crying newborn at 2 a.m.

I asked my professors for two weeks leave from school to bury my mother and take care of my affairs. I knew what I had to do. In my grief, I felt the push. The same push I’d felt all my life – to go on and to honor her with the one thing she wanted.

I graduated that spring earning my bachelor degree. Sitting alone in a crowded auditorium my eyes searched frantically for a sign, anything to symbolize her spirit. My eyes rested on the school emblem. “There you are,”  I barely whispered. The school I attended for four years was founded the same year my mother was born.

Sometimes a song, a smell, or someone in a crowd who looks so much like your loved one causes you to look again. Hints of grief are always there. But, we can move forward.

One day, one step, one breath at a time. The best way to navigate grief is to live.

 

 

 

Kimberly Rose lives in Central California. She teaches full-time and is working on a master’s degree in administration. She is a marathoner/ultra runner, chasing the Boston dream. Kimberly embraces grief today by finding the small moments that make life meaningful. 

 

 

Don’t miss the other articles in this “Navigating Grief as Life Moves Forward” series. Feel free to SHARE with a friend who might need these words of encouragement.

The Garden – an introduction to the series

Grieving Together – an article on grieving with children

Choosing Joy – a guest post about a spouse choosing joy even on a long cancer journey

When a Grandparent Dies – a guest post about how one mom is navigating her own grief and grief with her kids 

Facing Triggers and Trauma – an article about steering through grief when triggers and trauma color the journey

When You are the Caregiver – an article about navigating grief and feelings of guilt when you have a front-row seat to a loved one’s decline

When You Have to Say Goodbye to the Place Your Heart Calls Home – a guest post exploring the idea of “good grief” we experience when we are uprooted from a place or home we love

When You’ve Experienced Pregnancy Loss – a guest post sharing a first-hand experience with miscarriage and stillbirth.

Would you like a copy of my FREE resource for “Grieving with Kids“? I’m passionate about meeting people in their grief and sharing a message of hope and glory. Let’s connect!

 

Book Review: You Are Free to Be Who You Already Are

Posted by | behold, book reviews, community, grief, identity, Personal Stories, Stories, struggle, transitions | No Comments

I have dreamed about traveling to Italy since I was a little girl. I never imagined that I would get to experience the Sistine Chapel, run around the Colosseum, walk the steps of Trevi Fountain, and stand awestruck before the statue of David at age 38 with a new husband. I never imagined I would get to share handcrafted raviolis and tiramisu we made together in a cooking class.

I remember sitting on a train careening across the country en route from Rome to Florence. My eyes were glued to the window. The landscape was changing right before me. In a few hours, we traversed from the big city bustle to a more serene countryside with rolling hills.

On that train, God spoke to me about something more important than all the breathtaking sites and delectable food.  After so many months of deep grief following my husband’s death, after so many restless nights of crying out to Him and wondering what the future would hold for my daughters and me, God was changing the landscape. He gave me a wide-angle view of His glory.

The words of this verse breathed over me so many times in the last few years came to life: “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19).

He had made a way. He was reminding me that I was free.

On that trip, God reminded me who I was at my very core, who He created me to be. He began rekindling some of my passions and dreams. He was giving me permission to trade my mourning for dancing, to step into a new marriage, a new family life, a new season that I was free to create.

When I first saw the title of Rebekah Lyons’ new book, You Are Free: Be Who You Already Are, I couldn’t help thinking about my trip to Italy. It’s the place where God most recently reminded me of this important biblical message – that we are all free. I was eager to read Rebekah’s book because this is a journey I was already on.

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

I heard Rebekah speak at the first IF:Gathering I attended in Fresno four years ago. She was one of the teachers who caught my attention with her vulnerable, personal story coupled with her passionate preaching. Rebekah overcame depression and anxiety to step into a new place of freedom in Christ.

Perhaps the most impactful chapter for me was “Free to Grieve.” Rebekah shares about the birth of her son Cade, who had a traumatic birth and was born with Down syndrome. Her words pierced me:

“Something died in me that day: the controlled plan for my ‘perfect’ life. In return, something was born that day: surrender to an unchartered and forever-changing path.

As I have navigated my own grief journey after my husband was diagnosed with cancer and died four months later, I have found this to be true. That year there was a shattering of my dreams.

Rebekah’s perspective challenged me: “But here’s the truth I’ve found: we only find that wholeness, that unity, when we allow ourselves to mourn the death of our worldly expectations.”

She encourages all of us that we not only need to give ourselves permission to cry and mourn, but there is actually freedom and comfort to be found in grief. Jesus meets us there. This was a profound reminder. My own story serves as a testimony this is true.

I highly recommend You Are Free as a great Spring Break read or even a book to work through more reflectively with a journal in hand to answer the “Becoming Free” prompts at the end of each chapter.

 

**If you are an avid reader, I encourage you to check out some of my other book reviews. These books have carried me through seasons of tragedy and triumph. I often serve on book launch teams as a way to get to know authors and their message better. Next month I’ll be reviewing Never Unfriended by Lisa-Jo Baker.

**Do you have a favorite book you are reading right now? Please let me know about it in the comments! I love to share recommendations. Sign up here for my Glorygram – a weekly(ish) gift of encouragement just for close friends, including lots of book and recipe recommendations.

I Don’t Believe in a Colorblind Christmas

Posted by | hope, identity, inspirational, Personal Stories, Stories | One Comment

It’s time for us Christians to live and breathe and speak and act like we are Christmas people. We need to believe in the Hope brought by our Christ-King and fight for it.

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