Chasing God's glory through all circumstances

Incourage essays

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.

How pruning clears the path for new growth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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.

 

 

For those longing for a little Good News

Posted by | behold, christmas, compassion, family life, Incourage essays, inspirational, kids, One Word, Personal Stories, sharing faith, Stories, wonder | No Comments

Our friends Jenny and Peter recently posted a collection of the sweetest photos announcing their pregnancy. Baby onesies and ultrasound pictures were pinned to a clothesline they held between them. What joy to see their smiling faces and to wish them congratulations on this good news!

We make a big deal about baby announcements in our culture. It seems like every week I see some adorable photo on Facebook or Instagram announcing a “bun in the oven” or revealing a baby’s gender in a unique way.

I also had the amazing experience of being with close friends when they received the good news their baby was born in a hospital nearby and adoption papers were being finalized. After a long journey with infertility, this news was full of rejoicing. This good news proclaimed a message that beauty does come from ashes.

Friends, are you longing to behold some good news?

Maybe it’s been a hard year for you. Maybe you’re stuck with a diagnosis. Maybe you’re grieving the death of your husband. Maybe your arms feel empty as you are still longing for a baby. Maybe you are spending the holidays in the hospital with a loved one. Maybe you are feeling bone-weary from all the news of shootings, destructive fires and floods, and war in our world.

Are you wondering if there really is any good news anymore?

In Luke 2:10, the shepherds receive the ultimate good news. They were watching over their sheep one night when an angel appeared to them. Naturally, they were frightened by the glory of God shining all around them. They weren’t expecting this news.

The angel said:

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
Luke 2:10-11 (ESV)

The word ‘behold’ precedes the most important announcement ever made: the good news that a Savior has been born. The shepherds behold the good news by going to Bethlehem to see for themselves that this announcement is true. Then they spread the news about Jesus.

For the rest of the story,  jump over to (in)courage.me with me today.

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!



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Moving forward after loss

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

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

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

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

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

Then God came in gently and said,

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

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