\ Stories | Dorina Lazo Gilmore

Chasing God's glory through tragedy and triumph

Stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 inspiring books I read in 2018

Posted by | book reviews, courage, fear, flourishing, grief, hope, identity, inspirational, parenting, passion, prayer, rest, sharing faith, Stories, struggle, transitions, wonder | No Comments

10 Inspiring Books I Read in 2018 - Books always usher me through new seasons, transitions and trials

Books have always been companions to me. When I was a little girl, I used to find a corner near the lamp in our living room on the red shag carpet and read for hours. My mom knew where to find me. I discovered myself in the pages of books. Books took me on grand adventures to imaginary places I couldn’t go in real life.

As I went off to college and became an English Literature major, my reading was out of necessity for my schoolwork. That said, I discovered dozens of books I loved that I never would have chosen for myself. (I also had to read several that did not speak specifically to me.)

When my daughters were babies, I found little time for reading adult books. It felt like a luxury to sit for 20 or 30 minutes and read something that wasn’t a board or picture book. More often, I digested quick blog posts and magazine articles that took less time to read.

In this season of life, with school-aged children, I have realized that I have to be intentional to carve out time for reading because it’s something I love. I have to keep my goals realistic, but I have to pursue reading like I would invite a friend to coffee.

These last few years, I’ve put together a stack of books I hope to read in a year. My grace-filled goal is to read at least one per month and then to choose my top 10 most meaningful books for the year.

This list includes non-fiction books that have ministered to me, inspired me, and shaped me in 2018. Of course, as a children’s book writer and mama, I’ve also read fiction and picture books, but I’ll save those for a different time and separate list. I hope these books will connect with your heart in this season and make for good companions.

  1. Wonderstruck by Margaret Feinberg

Subtitle: Awaken to the Nearness of God

Genre: Christian Living

Quotable: “God delights for us to cup our hands in prayer and scrunch our faces against the vault of heaven in holy expectation that he will meet us in beautiful, mysterious ways. The Creator desires to captivate us not just with his handiwork but with himself.”

My review: I started off the year by diving into Margaret Feinberg’s book. She invites readers to chase wonder through their everyday lives. She helps us to wake up to wonder in a variety of ways, including the wonder of God’s presence, creation, rest, prayer, restoration, friendship, forgiveness, gratitude and abundant life. She so beautifully articulates what I have been learning over the last several years. Each day – no matter how ordinary or extraordinary – is an opportunity to chase God’s glory.

For the full book review, click here.

  1. Breaking the Fear Cycle by Maria Furlough

Subtitle: How to Find Peace for Your Anxious Thoughts

Genre: Christian Living

Quotable: “Once we gaze upon our fears with honest indignation, we can see that, yes, God is bigger than even the worst thing we can imagine.”

My review: What I love about Maria’s book is that it is a mix of honest storytelling and Biblical truth. She lived through her worst fear and provides raw, beautiful tools to help the rest of us navigate our journeys with faith. She taught me how to find peace in trusting God.

For the full book review, click here.

 

  1. Rooted by Banning Liebscher

Subtitle: The Hidden Places Where God Develops You

Genre: Spiritual Growth

Quotable: “When we come through that valley of the shadow of death, when we emerge out of the deep end, then what? We have an awareness of God’s abiding presence that forever changes the way we see impossible situations… Our roots are firmly established in the revelation of a Father who never leaves us.”

My review: In Rooted, Banning takes us through the life of David to show how God expands our root system underground in order to later make an impact above ground. Banning illuminates the way God prepared David for the crown.  He develops an intimate relationship with God in private that fuels and guides his actions in public. Banning’s premise: before we can develop our vision for life and ministry, we must let God develop us.

For the full book review, click here.

  1. Grace Like Scarlett by Adriel Booker

Subtitle: Grieving With Hope After Miscarriage and Loss

Genre: Self-Help, Death & Grief

Quotable: “We had to resist the impulse to deflect our grief or fight our brokenness. We had to reject the compulsion to figure out how this could be rewritten into a success story. We had to enter in as is.”

My review: The book is a moving, personal narrative about how one family endured pregnancy loss and navigated grief. Adriel invites readers to wrestle, to wonder and discover redemption in the wild waves of grief with her.  Her passion is to walk alongside women who endure the “secret grief” of miscarriage. You know a book has touched your soul deeply when you simply can’t put it down.

For the full book review, click here.

 

  1. Holy Hustle by Crystal Stine

Subtitle: Embracing a Word-Hard, Rest-Well Life

Genre: Christian Living, Women’s Issues

Quotable: “We need to slow down, spend time in the Word, and be quiet enough to hear God’s voice so we are better equipped to do the work He’s calling us to do… God worked and called it good, and He rested and called it holy.”

My review: Crystal presents a challenging and refreshing examination of the roles of work and rest in our lives. Her central message is that we should “work without shame and rest without guilt” for the glory of God. I love the way Crystal holds both of these ideas in tandem. Crystal encourages women to pursue “holy hustle,” a word-hard, rest-well lifestyle that chases faith instead of fame.

For the full book review, click here.

 

  1. Whispers of Rest by Bonnie Gray

Subtitle: 40 Days of God’s love to Revitalize Your Soul

Genre: Christian Living, Devotionals

Quotable: “We often burn ourselves out trying to serve God, rather than taking care of ourselves – the way God would want, if He were here in person today. Somehow, we’ve learned we don’t deserve rest – until we’ve solved our problems or we’re no longer struggling. It’s the opposite.”

My review: Whispers of Rest helped call me back to intentional rest during this season – a rest that starts in the arms of my loving Father basking in His truth. The book includes some unique elements. In addition to the scripture, devotional, prayer and reflection questions, Bonnie includes a section called Soul Care Trail Notes. This is one of my favorite parts of the book. She includes practical tips and interesting studies to reduce stress and give yourself creative outlets from the everyday busy.

For the full book review, click here.

 

  1. A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser

Subtitle: How the Soul Grows Through Loss

Genre: Christian Living, Death & Grief

Quotable: “We do not always have the freedom to choose the roles we must play in this life, but we can choose how we are going to play the roles we have been given.”

My review: This book is a moving meditation on the losses we all suffer and the grace that can transform us. This is not just a book about one man’s sorrow. Jerry bravely and poignantly leads readers into a conversation about what we can learn from suffering. The premise of the book is that it’s not the circumstances that are important, but it’s more important what we do with those circumstances.

For the full book review, click here.

 

  1. Unexpected by Christine Caine

Subtitle: Leave Fear Behind, Move Forward in Faith, Embrace the Adventure

Genre: Christian Living, Personal Growth

Quotable: “Holding to our faith–even in the face of deep disappointments–is critical.. Making God’s promises bigger than our disappointments is essential.

My review: Christine Caine’s new book reaches out to people in all seasons of life who are faced with the unexpected like I was. Through compelling stories and practical strategies, this book helps readers anticipate the unexpected and to live with true joy trusting God in all things.

For the full book review, click here.

  1. It’s All Under Control by Jennifer Dukes Lee

Subtitle: A Journey of Letting Go, Hanging On, and Finding Peace You Almost Forgot was Possible

Genre: Christian Living, Women’s Issues

Quotable: “We ask for a map, but instead Jesus gives us a compass and says, ‘Follow me.’”

My review: Jennifer Dukes Lee drew me in with her on-point storytelling and her tell-it-to-you-straight girl humor. I felt like she was mentoring me about how let go of this need for control and how to embrace true peace in trusting God with all the details of my everyday life.

For the full book review, click here.

 

  1. Rhythms of Rest by Shelly Miller

Subtitle: Finding the Spirit of Sabbath in a Busy World

Genre: Spiritual Growth, Ritual

Quotable: “Preparation in rest precedes the miracle. When we run errands early in the week, clean up the house, prepare food for the weekend, these are acts of love at the root. Preparing for Sabbath communicates to Jesus, ‘You matter most. I want to spend time with you.’”

My review: Shelly offers up this book as a gift for the weary soul who longs for rest but doesn’t know how to make it reality. This isn’t about following certain rules or being religious. This is about making space for God. I love the way Shelly uses her own struggles and grappling with the concept of rest to gracefully invite her readers into this conversation about Sabbath in a busy world. She models for us how to create Sabbath in personal and practical ways.

For the full book review, click here.

 

BONUS: I love devotionals and here’s fave from 2018:

Gracelaced by Ruth Chou Simons

Subtitle: Discovering Timeless Truths Through Seasons of the Heart

Genre: Devotional, Christian Living

Quotable: “Just because God does not remove the thorn doesn’t’ mean He’s not using it for our good and for His glory.”

My review: Ruth Chou Simons encourages readers in any circumstance to become deeply rooted in God’s faithful promises. She uses hand-painted scriptures coupled with honest and inspiring devotionals to point women to God’s Word. I love how Ruth takes us on a journey through the seasons to rest, rehearse, respond and remember His provision in our lives. This devotional also offers space to journal and passages for further study on each theme.

Join me for a fun giveaway this week! For anyone who signs up for my Glory Chasers tribe Jan. 11-18, 2019, you will have a chance to win a copy of Shanna Noel’s NEW interactive Bible Journaling notebook. Whether you’ve been Bible journaling for a while or are just thinking about getting started, A Workbook Guide to Bible Journaling is for you! This book is filled with easy, fun, & creative techniques to get you digging deeper and lingering longer in God’s Word.

Simply subscribe for my weekly Glorygram here, and you will be entered into the giveaway! Please feel free to share this post with friends too! 


 

 

*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.

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.

Book review: Rhythms of Rest

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

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

This has become a Sunday tradition for us.

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

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

I exhale. I savor this time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those words inspired and convicted me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*This post includes affiliate links at no extra 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.

Running for a purpose: Remember Haiti team exceeds goals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Self-Publishing School

-ICAD Automation

-Digital Attic

-Higton Bros Real Estate

-Granville Homes

-W&W Concrete

-Lazo & Associates

-EECU

-Huckleberry’s Fresno restaurant

-Woodward Fit Body Boot Camp

-Leavenworth Elementary School

-Wooten’s Auto Glass

-Jay Chapel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Noticing Goodness in the Gifts Around Me

Posted by | flourishing, gifts, grief, Stories | No Comments

We need to dig through the soil, unearth the painful shards of glass and see the beauty in that traveled journey. I learned to trust Him with my fears, my plans, my future.

Read More

When God transplants you to a new garden

Posted by | family life, finishing well, flourishing, identity, inspirational, Stories, struggle, transitions, Uncategorized | No Comments

I grew up in Chicago in a neighborhood where the houses were like little boxes made of brick sitting in neat rows along the city streets. Even though we had a small backyard, my mama always made space for a garden.

Every spring we would head down to the local nursery and pick out packets of seeds and plants. We dreamed of making Italian pesto and marinara sauce with our herbs and tomatoes. We salivated over eggplant parmigiana or moist zucchini bread we could create. Of course, we had work to do before we would ever taste the fruit of our labor.

Mama would hand my brother and me little shovels and spading forks. Our first assignment was to break up the hard soil to get it ready for planting. This was the cultivating process, where we also had to uproot any pesky weeds.

We mixed in the dark, rich top soil with the gray, ashy dirt that had endured Chicago’s winter. They say it’s best to prepare the soil a week in advance so we had to be patient in the process. Our soil needed extra nutrients before we could transplant the seedlings from the nursery.

Finally, we would gather around as Mama dug little holes evenly-spaced in the garden boxes. Then she removed the plants from the containers and gently loosened the roots. She slipped the seedlings into the holes and we would gently pat the dirt around them. Mama always had us soak the soil right after the seedlings were planted. They needed lots of water to nourish them as they got settled in their new home.

A few months ago, God transplanted our family. We moved into a new house. My three daughters transferred to a new school. My husband’s company restructured, which meant he had to move to a new office. We also decided, after much prayer and processing heavy things, that it was time to find a new church.

These are beastly transitions. Whenever you shift your daily rhythm, relocate or transfer to a new position, it takes time to recalibrate. It takes time to get fully rooted and ready for new growth.

As I survey my life, God has transplanted me several times. He transplanted me when I went off to college three hours away from my family. He transplanted me after college from Michigan to California to start a new job as a newspaper reporter. He transplanted our young family when my husband and I started a non-profit in Haiti. And now we are being transplanted again.

Through these experiences, I have learned several lessons:

Click over to (in)courage to read the lessons learned…

Photo by Benjamin Combs on Unsplash

Disclosure: Compensated affiliate links used at no extra cost to readers.

5 myths about grief and 1 important truth

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

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

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

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

Myth #1: Grief has five stages.

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

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

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

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

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

Myth #3: Time heals.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

 

**I want to learn from you. What are some of the myths about grief that you’ve heard? What has your journey been like? I’ll be sharing part two of this series later this month. I hope you will add some of your own experiences in the comments.

*Photo by Killian Pham on Unsplash

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

Book review: It’s all under control

Posted by | book reviews, brave, fear, finishing well, flourishing, Personal Stories, self-care, serve, sharing faith, Stories | No Comments

I’ll be honest: I didn’t think I needed to read It’s All Under Control.

I don’t operate under the illusion that I have it all under control or even that I need to have it under control. Our family has weathered so much loss and transition in the last four years that I’m pretty convinced the only one in control here is Jesus.

Basically, I feel like I have my inner control freak under control.

Jennifer Dukes Lee drew me in with her on-point storytelling and her tell-it-to-you-straight girl humor. And I’m so glad she did. Bottom line: I needed to read this book. Right now. This month. In this season.

I felt like Jennifer was mentoring me as I’ve been reading this book. She speaks candidly on topics like “When being in control gets out of control,” “Finding courage to do really hard things,” “Why every control freak needs to take God off her to-do-list” and “Learning to pause when you want to push.” Those are all chapters in the book and areas I need to think through in this middle season of life.

I am a mother to 2 elementary kids, 1 junior higher. I am ramping up a writing and speaking career, living in a new neighborhood, attending a new church, and investing in a fairly new marriage after my husband died from cancer four years ago. My friendships are shifting. My passions and purpose are shifting. I’m 40-something and my whole world appears to be shifting.

Jennifer describes it this way: “We ask for a map, but instead Jesus gives us a compass and says, ‘Follow me.’”

So true. I’m in that season where daily I’m learning to follow Him. Obedience is about baby steps. And let’s be real: it’s not comfortable. It means saying goodbye to rhythms and people who have been instrumental to my growth. It means being misunderstood by friends. It means embracing vulnerability and sharing my story whenever and wherever He tells me.

Jennifer speaks into this very struggle: “Obedience is not for wimps. At first, obedience can resemble the passive posture of letting God carry you where he will. It turns out that obedience is quite often a gutsy thing that will compel you to stand upright and march forward, even if it threatens your security, your own longing and your idea of success.”

I love the way Jennifer ushers us seamlessly between her story and experiences into stories of people in the Bible who learned the same lessons. This book also contains lots of special features to help readers take these lessons from the theological to the practical.

Jennifer includes exercises at the end of each chapter to take inventory on our life and help make key decisions. She coached me through writing down my “core boundaries” and my “burdens and carriers.”

I highly recommend It’s All Under Control to any of my friends who are on “a journey of letting go, hanging on and finding a peace you almost forgot was possible,” as the subtitle says.

*Jennifer Dukes Lee wrote a guest post for my blog called “When ‘Let go and Let God’ is bad advice.” Check it out here.

*Images for this post were provided by Jennifer Dukes Lee.

*Disclosure: Compensated affiliate links used at no extra cost to readers.


When “Let Go and Let God” is Bad Advice

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Until then, hang on.

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

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

We had hope.

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

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

“Scott home yet?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hang on.

 

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

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

 

Table talk: Savoring time around the table

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#Blessed: How my view of blessing shifted after my husband’s death

Posted by | death, finishing well, gifts, Pinterest, sharing faith, Stories, struggle | 2 Comments

A few years ago, I received a gift. It was a canvas that artfully displayed this phrase: “Thankful, Grateful and Blessed.”

I hesitated to display it in my home. You see, I struggled with the word “blessed.” About the time my husband Ericlee was diagnosed with melanoma cancer in 2014, a hashtag became popular on social media. On Twitter, Facebook and Instagram posts, people began to use #Blessed as a way to “humbly brag” about their lives.

Family Christmas photos with folks in coordinating Christmas outfits, Pinterest-perfect dining room tables, delectable meals at restaurants and announcements of fabulous job promotions were posted with #Blessed.

Ironically, my husband’s nickname during college was “Blessed Boy” because of all the amazing things he experienced. His friends teased him for the ways he excelled in sports, the gifts he received, and the way he seemed to sail through life.

When Blessed Boy was diagnosed with stage four cancer, I began to question it as his wife. At the time, all those #Blessed social media posts pricked my heart. I found myself wrestling with God and asking:

Are we still blessed on the hardest days?

Are we only blessed when life goes according to our plans?

Are we blessed even in the face of disease and death?

The dictionary tells me the word “blessing” means favor or a gift bestowed by God. In Genesis 1, we see how God blessed His people from the very beginning.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them.

– Genesis 1:27-28 (ESV)

Somewhere along the way though, the meaning of the word blessed has become skewed and overused. As American Christians, we often refer to material blessings and a life full of ease and privilege as #Blessed.

Is this really what blessing is all about?

Kate Merrick says it this way in her book, And Still She Laughs: “We throw around the word blessing haphazardly, as if God is a supernatural Santa Claus waiting to bring treats to good little girls and boys.”

Kate helped me set my theology straight. We do not receive blessing from God because we deserve it, because we have served him a certain way, because we have gone to church 3 out of 4 Sundays this month. In fact, we cannot earn His blessing at all. It’s a gift. Freely given. Undeserved.

Blessing is about being loved deeply by our Creator God. We are blessed when we possess that peace that surpasses understanding, when we receive the help of the Holy Spirit, when we feel the tender comfort of the Father.

Matthew 5 helps drive home this idea that blessing is not quantified by our possessions, but by the condition of our spirits.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

-Matthew 5:3 (ESV)

So let’s be clear. If you’re widow, a single mom, an orphan, a homeless family or a community in the path of a hurricane, blessing is still yours. In fact, you are smack in the middle of the blessing, according to Matthew 5:4-5:

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

-Matthew 5:4-5 (ESV)

Jesus concludes this section about what it means to be blessed with this encouragement:

“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

-Matthew 5:12 (ESV)

I have learned two things about blessing: We are not blessed because of what we acquire but because of what has been gifted to each one of us. The ultimate blessing is eternal life we receive because of Christ’s sacrifice and His daily presence with each one of us.

When my husband was battling cancer, God was with us in the waiting rooms. He was with us during the surgery. He was with us during the painful nights. We felt Him in the scriptures we read. We heard Him in the echoes of the worship music we listened to around the clock. His presence was profound as the days passed and the cancer coursed through Ericlee’s body. We were not alone. God was with us, and that was our blessing.

Second, we have the opportunity to bless others when we multiply a perspective of gratitude to God through hardship.

My dear sister-friends in Haiti have magnified this for me. I have visited and worked in Haiti for almost 17 years now. Every time I go and spend time there I am inspired by my friends who live in abject poverty with unspeakable challenges, but still see life as a blessing. They worship with such passion because they know God is with them through every storm.

After Ericlee’s death, I was challenged as a widow to daily look for God around me. I practiced gratitude to lift me from the heaviness of grief. When my eyes were on the swelling colors of the sunset or my daughters dancing in the yard, I felt blessed. When I filled my lungs with oxygen, I felt blessed. I was reminded that my Creator God was with me. He comforted me on the darkest days of grief. This was a profound blessing.

This past week one of my dear mentor-friends Eunie McEntee soared into Heaven. Although Eunie battled ocular melanoma cancer for the last several years, she modeled how to truly live blessed by blessing others.

The root of the word blessed in Hebrew means “to praise, to fill with strength, to adore.” According to these definitions, Eunie lived a blessed life. It wasn’t an easy life. It wasn’t a life that was pain-free. Yet her life pointed everyone she came into contact with back to Jesus. She was strengthened in her trials and used them as an opportunity to strengthen and bless others.

I remember her talking about how ocular melanoma cancer actually gave her new eyes to see from God’s perspective. She overflowed with grace and gratitude. I know her reward is great in Heaven today because of the investment she made in others for His glory.

We have to be careful about how we throw around hashtags and statements about blessing. If I scroll through #blessed on Instagram, I might confuse blessing to mean something it’s not. Blessing always turns the glory away from us and back to God.

 

I would love to connect with you more personally on your journey. Subscribe here for my weekly, Glorygram email full of encouragement, recommendations and resources.  

Photo by Kayle Kaupanger on Unsplash.

 

Moving forward after loss

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

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

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

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

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

Then God came in gently and said,

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

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

Book Review: Unexpected

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{Featured photo by Avi Richards on Unsplash}

 


{Summer Blog Swap} Facing uncertainty: stepping out of the boat

Posted by | brave, courage, fear, Guest blogger, identity, inspirational, Stories | No Comments

Welcome to my Summer Blog Swap! This month I am inviting four of my blogger friends over to this space to share some of their posts and perspectives. It’s a fun way to introduce some of my favorite people to all of you. This week I’d like you to meet my friend Carol Graft. We met through a writing group called Hope*writers. Carol loves to encourage women to be creative and cultivate their faith. She writes on her blog here and for the Breathe Writer’s conference blog.

 

Matthew 14:22-33 tells the story of an encounter Peter had with Jesus. The disciples are on a boat in the middle of the Galilean sea when a storm happens. Peter was in a situation of uncertainty. I’ve been there many times. I’m sure you have as well.

Your Galilean storm, your fishing boat, may look different but it’s still a call to step out of your comfort zone.

Over the years my comfort zone for many things has been stretched. Whether that was getting up in front of people to lead worship, or speak, or teach, it has required a lot of stretching and even more faith.

I was especially challenged when I was asked to do things I hadn’t seen anyone do before. This was traveling in what was new territory for me. A step out of the boat moment.

There have been times when I wasn’t sure if I was entering the Twilight Zone, or if I was hearing Jesus  saying, ‘Watch me.”

Now, in this season of life, stepping out of the boat requires putting words on paper. My comfort zone became chapel speaking or Sunday teaching. Writing has involved a lot of apprehension, a lot of intimidation. This writing life is definitely not comfortable. It’s still new to me. As writers, we always wonder, “Will my words have any impact?”

Like Peter though, I am stepping out. The water may be rough; the voices of the enemy and the naysayers are harsh, much like the winds Peter and the rest had to wrestle against. Jesus though, is there, asking me, asking the rest of us to step out of the boat.

Stand on the water and start taking those steps. Take that small step out of our comfort zone.

“Wait! Don’t look down.”

“Look straight ahead,” Jesus says. “Keep your eyes on me.”

His arms are outstretched, His face is encouraging. His hand is waiting to grasp ours when we get to where He wants us to go.

If we take those first steps out of our comfort zone and out onto the water, He will meet us. He will guide us.

He will also wait until we are comfortable again, and say “Now, step out some more.”

 

 

Carol lives in West Michigan where she’s close enough to the beach to chase  sunsets. She has been married 34 years and counting. Carol is mom to 7, mostly grown, children, 4 of which are married and blessed with three grands. She loves to teach and encourage others in this journey with Jesus. She is learning to follow God and step out on the water.