struggle

Marathon Lessons: How to persevere when your race isn’t turning out how you expected

Posted by | behold, community, courage, death, finishing well, flourishing, grief, running, Stories, struggle | 6 Comments

We began to inch toward the start line. Throngs of runners from 100 countries around the world joined us for this epic race – the 40th Chicago Marathon. I tried not to focus on my nervousness and instead enjoy the experience of being there with so many people from all walks of life chasing the same goal.

About a year before, I started dreaming up ways to celebrate my 40th birthday. Choosing something for my 40th carried some weight and grief for me as I remembered that my beloved went to Heaven in his 40th year of life. Running the Chicago Marathon bubbled to the surface as a big challenge I wanted to work toward. I live in Central California now so journeying together with my family back to the city where I grew up seemed like a memorable way to celebrate.


I run races year-round, but my focused training for the marathon began in June. My friend and I disciplined ourselves to run before dawn and the stifling heat of the day descended on Central California. We enjoyed long weekend runs on the trails around our city. Those runs afforded me a new rhythm of quiet to connect with God, to process my grief, to breathe new life to my dreams.

And now, five months later, the big day was here. As the announcer signaled for us to start, I felt a surge of excitement. We began to navigate the streets and neighborhoods of Chicago. I tried to take one mile at a time and not focus on the entire 26.2 miles before me, which was still daunting.

The first challenge was finding space to run. With 44,000 runners, I had to do a lot of weaving and negotiating to find a path for my feet. The timing had to be just right.  You don’t want to cut anyone off, but you also don’t want to get stuck behind a group running a slower pace. Runners elbowed me and pushed me more than once. My hubby-coach ran next to me, and my training partner ran just ahead. I tried to steady the cadence of my breathing. The three of us struggled to stay together because of all the people surrounding us.

I started thinking about a passage in Hebrews I have been working to memorize with a group of women from my church. It says,

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1-3).


Remember the witnesses

These verses came to me at just the right time, providing inspiration for tackling the race ahead. At mile 3, we passed our family cheering crew – my parents, three daughters, my sister and brother’s family, and even some friends who have become family through the years. They motivated us on with smiles, high fives, hugs and hand-decorated signs. Not only were we surrounded by more than 1.5 million fans lining the streets of Chicago, but we were supported by our people, our witnesses.

I couldn’t help reflecting on how critical the support of my people has been through the years. My tribe has supported me at races, the births of my girls, graduations, weddings and more. They stood with me at my husband’s bedside when he battled cancer. They held me tight at the grave when we surrendered him to Heaven. Their encouragement buoys my strength.

As I ran the race, I could almost hear my Ericlee cheering from Heaven. I imagined him pumping his fist and calling out in that bellowing coaching voice. I thought of the others gathering in Heaven with him to witness my race. I saw my grandparents on both sides, many dear friends, and other heroes of the faith. This is the power of a community of support. I do not believe we humans are meant to run the race alone.


Weed out the thoughts that entangle

I felt a little slower than usual. I couldn’t find my pace and my stomach felt queasy. I made it past the half marathon point. At mile 15, I knew I had to find a bathroom fast. Just in the nick of time, I found one. After waiting in line, I got back out on the course with my team. I was disappointed because I knew I had lost precious minutes there. I felt weak.

My running partner said she was going to go on ahead. I have to admit this was hard. I don’t blame her a bit. In fact, I probably would have made the same choice if the tables were turned.  The competitive side of me just had a hard time accepting that I couldn’t push harder to stay with her.

I would say about 80 percent of running a marathon is the mental game. My mind started to spiral downward at this point. The temperature was rising. The sun started to beat down on me. I felt tired with each plodding step. I was disappointed in myself and felt ashamed that my husband had to run such a slow pace to keep me going. I started to compare myself to others in my mind.

Then those words rang out: “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” I was hindered by my self talk. My sin was in my attitude, my comparing, my jealousy, my shame. I felt like a tangled mess. I wanted to just lay down in the middle of the street and ugly cry.

I knew I had to rally. My husband offered to carry my hydration vest for me. I literally had to throw that thing off my tired shoulders and figuratively throw off my negative self talk as well.


Run with perseverance

I didn’t realize it until later when my hubby told me but I started saying the words to the verse out loud: “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…” I kept thinking about that word perseverance. It means persisting in spite of difficulty, obstacles or discouragement.

I reminded myself that I believe in doing hard things. I want to model that for my daughters. If I have learned anything in my grief journey, I have learned that the best way to navigate grief is to lean in, to take the next step, and the next. I made it to mile 20.

On mile 22, God sent me an angel. There was a woman on the side of the street giving the most rousing victory speech. Her words spoke truth and life into me. She reminded me that the marathon is about grit and glory. I believe that we are to be glory chasers, giving glory to God even in the most difficult times. Here was my chance. I had to run the race marked out just for me.


Follow the pacer

I’m not going to lie. Those last 4.2 miles were not easy. I was hot. I could feel the chafing beneath my shirt. I kept drinking water but still remained thirsty. Everyone around me was walking. I was tempted to stop, but I couldn’t. Shawn started running just ahead of me then. I knew what he was doing. He was pacing me. He knew I needed someone to follow, someone to chase. I fixed my eyes on his neon yellow “Run Big” shirt, and we ran.

And these words were running through my mind: “…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Some days are just hard. Sometimes the race is not what we hoped for or expected. It’s easy to focus my eyes on my shortcomings and disappointments. Hebrews 12 reminds me where to fix my  eyes – on Jesus. He’s the pioneer, the first, the one blazing the trail, my pacer for life.

We had one last hill to climb and then we turned the corner. That bright red banner screaming “FINISH” was my invitation. I shifted to that last gear, and ran my guts out.


And in the end, it turns out the marathon was not just a birthday challenge to accomplish. The marathon was an important teacher for life. I learned to remember the witnesses, weed out the thoughts that entangle, run with perseverance and follow the Pacer.

All for His glory!

 

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The uninvited guests: Battling guilt and shame after loss

Posted by | brave, community, courage, death, grief, parenting, Stories, struggle | No Comments

**I’ve developed a free resource to help people combat the lies that guilt and shame bring. Click here if you’d like a copy gently delivered to your inbox.

 

After my husband died, we had many friends and family who came to visit. People brought us meals, cards, and abundant gifts for my girls. But there were two uninvited guests who kept showing up at my door at the most inopportune times. Their names were Guilt and Shame.

After an intense and harrowing four-month cancer journey, I was especially haunted by guilt that I didn’t do more to save my husband. I agonized over whether or not we had chosen the right treatments.  I questioned God if I should have done this or that to make my beloved more comfortable in the end.

It wasn’t until a few years later that I found the peace I needed to release my guilt. A friend reminded me that when my husband was diagnosed with cancer he was already in stage four. There is no stage five cancer. There was not anything I could do to “save” my husband at that point. In fact, now I realize it’s arrogant for me to even entertain the idea that the treatments we choose will “save” a life. We do our best and follow His leading, but the number of our days is up to God alone.

I also felt guilt about not allowing more visitors to see my husband in his final days. I know many of our friends and family felt guilty for not seeing my husband or reaching out to him before his death. No one realized how aggressive his cancer was. I felt very protective of him in his final days. I knew he was very weak and wasn’t himself. I had to make that hard call to limit the visitors. Later, I took on the guilt of our friends and family who did not get to say their final goodbyes.

When I became a widow and an unexpected single parent, I began to feel guilt and even shame about asking people for help. Without my life partner, I suddenly needed assistance with common household tasks and repairs. Some of these things I weathered through by myself. I learned to do things like taking out the garbage and locking the doors at night – tasks my husband always covered. On some things, I allowed friends to help me. One friend came to fix my garbage disposal, another walked around my home and found things that needed to be repaired.

In that season, I grew an empathetic heart for single mamas. I realized how difficult it is to arrange childcare and to taxi drive kids to events when you’re the solo parent. I would ask for help, but sometimes I felt guilty. I’m grateful for the friends who generously offered up time in their busy schedules to love on my kids so I could attend meetings and work.

I felt guilty for leaning on my friends so much for emotional support. Of course, my tribe wanted to be there for me but it was an emotional shift for me because I was used to being there for them. I had to allow myself to be vulnerable and invite them to sit with me in my grief.

In the last few years of this grief journey, I’ve discovered through research and friends’ experiences that it’s common for widows to feel guilty after a spouse dies. It’s also characteristic for children and other family members to take on guilt. We have a lot of time on our hands to mull over what we could have done differently and guilt sneaks in. For some, this becomes an even deeper battle against shame.

Brene Brown, shame researcher and author of Daring Greatly, defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” She differentiates in her book that guilt is best understood as the attitude “I did something bad,” while shame is believing “I am bad.”

For me, I realized I really had to put my self-talk in the check. There were times when I was particularly sad or feeling insecure because of my grief that I found myself swimming in self-doubt. I wondered if I could go on. I doubted if I could be a good mother to my three girls who desperately needed me to lead and love them well. I wrestled with simple decisions. I found myself resenting household and mothering tasks because I had to do them alone. In those times, my guilt could quickly move to shame if I let it.

When I find myself sitting at the table with shame and listening to her lies again, I have to remember the weapons of what Brene Brown calls “shame resilience.” She says “shame derives its power from being unspeakable” so the first weapon is to call out or name guilt and shame. I learned to just tell my people, “Hey, I’m having a hard time asking for help today but can you help me with…”

My second strategy is one I learned years ago through Beth Moore’s Bible study, Breaking Free. She taught a method for visualizing and taking captive any controlling thoughts. The idea is that you recognize the lie you are hearing in your head and you stand up against that lie with God backing you. Then you tear down that lie from the walls of your mind and put up truth from God’s word. Finally, you make that lie bow down to the truth.

Beth writes, “Taking thoughts captive to Christ doesn’t mean we never have the thought again. It means we learn to ‘think the thought’ as it relates to Christ and who are in Him.” Beth’s method and values help me put things into perspective. Feelings of guilt and shame are natural for all humans but what we do with those thoughts and feelings is important in allowing us to move forward.

I want to encourage you fellow widow mamas and others on the grief journey to bathe yourself in the grace and compassion of Christ in this process. Let these words from Hebrews 4:16 wash over you: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Friends, we are not meant to walk this journey alone. Today, with God’s help, I’m inviting Courage, Resilience and Grace to my table.

 

**I’ve developed a free resource to help people combat the lies that guilt and shame bring. Click here if you’d like a copy gently delivered to your inbox.

Photo by Sasha Freemind on Unsplash

Celebrating a Heaveniversary: 10 ways to honor a loved one’s death

Posted by | courage, death, family life, grief, kids, running, Stories, struggle | 4 Comments

It surprises me every year at this time. We are finally settling into a school routine and a fall activity rhythm. I’ve hit my stride with my creative work and the groups I’m leading are kicking off. Then out of nowhere I start to get this slow ache deep in my soul.

Grief sneaks in.

And somehow my body and my soul know before my brain that this was the week. Three years ago, these were the final days when my husband was fighting for his life. My memory skids and careens and bumps over the memories. The call to hospice. The oxygen tank. The way my bedroom was turned into a hospital room. The desperate prayers whispered in the kitchen or the bathroom, in the darkest hours when none of us could sleep.

I prayed a prayer I never believed I could. I begged God to take him, to release him from his pain. I looked into his hazel eyes and told my beloved the girls and I would be ok.

And on September 9, 2014, my beloved husband soared to Heaven.

Such beautiful sweet redemption for him after an intense cancer battle. And unexpected relief for me. I did not have to watch him suffer anymore. I had confidence he was running the streets of gold with a new body in Heaven.

Three years later, my soul still knows. My body still remembers. This Saturday we will celebrate Ericlee’s 3-year Heaveniversary. The girls and I decided last year to name this sacred day his Heaveniversary. I was tired of the awkward phrases like the “day he died” or “death day.” I want this day to be an anniversary when we remember a husband, father, coach and friend, and his amazing legacy. Death was not the end of his story; Heaven is.

Are you longing to celebrate a loved one and their legacy? Do you have a Heaveniversary fast-approaching?

I polled some of my widow friends and asked them how they celebrate their husbands’ Heaveniversaries. The following is a list of creative ideas you might consider to honor your husband, your wife, your mother, your aunt, your friend or others on their Heaveniversary. For us, it has been about discovering meaningful ways to remember each year.

  1. Bring a picnic to the cemetery. It’s a tradition for many families from different cultures to visit the grave site of a loved one on their Heaveniversary. We put a twist on this last year by bringing a picnic. I brought pizza and sandwiches from my husband’s favorite spot. We spread a blanket over the grass. Grandma came to sit with us, and we shared stories about him and other family members who were buried at that cemetery.
  1. Release balloons into the sky and send prayers to Heaven. My friend said she took her three children to the cemetery and they released balloons into the sky in memory of Daddy. There’s something beautiful and sacred about letting go and watching these balloons fly to the heavens.
  1. Take a day to go to the lake or another place your loved one would spend a lot of time. Another friend said she took her daughters to a nearby lake, which was her husband’s favorite place to be. They brought lunch and relaxed together. Sometimes getting away on a trip can be the best way to celebrate.
  1. Visit a favorite restaurant and share memories around the table. We might be tempted to avoid special places during the year, but a Heaveniversary is a perfect day to return to a favorite restaurant or a place you shared your first date. Bring friends or family and share memories around the table.
  1. Look through some of your loved one’s treasures together. We have several boxes in our garage with my husband’s favorite childhood treasures, some of his clothes and cards people sent with special stories about him. A Heaveniversary is an opportune time to get these out and to share them.
  1. Peruse pictures and create an album together. The majority of our pictures are digital now, which means less time to select the best photos and assemble albums. When you take time to peruse pictures and put together a special album, you participate in meaningful remembrance of your loved one.
  1. Gather some friends to watch videos together. One of my daughters’ treasures is their dad’s old iPhone. They found all kinds of silly videos he made of them when they were little or workouts he used to do. Last year, we saved those videos to our laptop and hooked that up to our TV to watch them together. We loved the opportunity to hear his voice and laugh again.
  1. Do something active in honor of your loved one. My husband was an athlete and coach. He loved to get outdoors for a hike or run. One way to celebrate his legacy is to do something active in his honor. You might do this with friends or family. You might even sign up for a race and run in your husband’s honor. The training can be a time for grieving and remembering.
  1. Journal your memories. Sometimes I worry that the best memories of my husband will be forgotten. Carve out some time on this Heaveniversary to write down a few memories of your loved one. They don’t need to be perfect or polished. Writing them down helps you remember and record these memories for family in the future.
  1. Host a Heaveniversary dinner. We started this tradition last year and other widow friends have done the same. We invite some of our treasured friends to our house for a special meal. I intentionally invited some of my husband’s friends who we don’t see as much anymore. After dinner, we gathered in our living room to share stories about my husband. What I thought might be a somber day turned into a true celebration.

One thing I’ve learned these last three years is that I need to be intentional about carving out time and inviting my family into practices of remembrance. I can’t wait for others to stand up and offer their thoughts spontaneously. I need to find courage to lead.

Even three years later, my mind is often triggered by memories of my late husband. He appears in my dreams or I find myself saying something the way he used to say it. These make me pause. The grief never goes away but the path somehow grows easier. A big part of this journey has been taking time to lean in together as a family and remember the man he was, and to continue carrying his values into the future.

This Saturday, we will host another Heaveniversary party to remember my Ericlee. We will laugh, we will cry and we will celebrate.

 

**Interested in reading more about why it’s important to give yourself permission to grieve? Check out this post.

***I would love to send you my FREE guide on Navigating Grief with Kids full or ideas and resources. Opt in here.

 

Featured photo via VisualHunt

Book Review: And Still She Laughs

Posted by | book reviews, brave, family life, fear, grief, hope, laughter, Stories, struggle | One Comment

I remember the weekend after my husband died I took my girls to a concert. It was just the healing balm we needed. The music washed over me and somehow helped me breathe. My girls jumped and danced with their friends. Laughter rang out in the aisles.

After the concert, we saw a friend who used to attend our church. She rushed down the row and burst into tears in my arms. “I’m so sorry,” she sobbed.

For the first time, I realized this grief journey was going to be hard and awkward. I would have my private grief, and I would have my public grief. And I would have to learn to navigate both.

I was not feeling sad at that exact moment. God met me during the concert and my spirits were lifted. Even though I was the newly-minted widow, I was not in the moment of sorrow. I had no tears to share with that friend.

I wondered who else I knew was at the concert that night. Did they see me singing and raising my hands? Did they see the girls and me laughing? Were we grieving right in public? Were we dishonoring my husband?”

These questions raced through my mind, but as the weeks unfolded I realized I had to quiet the temptation to please others in my grief. I had to step into the messy and awkward moments, and allow my community to grieve with me and apart from me too.

I had to let myself dive into the deep of being without my life partner, my beloved. I also had to give myself permission to laugh again. And, that I discovered, takes courage.

Kate Merrick’s book, And Still She Laughs, examines the Bible’s gritty stories of resilient women as well as her own experience losing a child to reveal surprising joy and deep hope even in the midst of heartache. The book was released in March but I happened upon it at just the right time smack in the middle of this summer. I took the book to the ocean and drank up the words with the crashing of the waves as my backdrop.

Kate’s a Southern California girl from a surfer family and she weaves her love affair with the ocean into her story of grief and glory. Sometimes a book can be healing. Sometimes a book read in a specific season in a specific place can be even more healing.

Kate writes,“This book is not intended to take the place of grieving; rather, it speaks to what to do when the tidal wave washes past, when the sizzle from the burn settles, when we finally look around and wonder what’s next.  When we wonder if it is actually possible to come out of the paralysis of darkness and find laughter again.”

Needless to say, I was hooked.

If you are walking through grief of any kind, or if you love beautiful, candid storytelling, this book will minister to your soul. Kate also helped me see some of my favorite Bible characters through new lenses and with new compassion.

What I appreciate most is Kate’s honesty. She doesn’t sugarcoat the pain. She doesn’t offer up pat answers or trite, happy thoughts for navigating grief. She’s frank, funny and real. She’s not afraid to talk about the day of her miscarriage or the time a dog peed on her at the beach or how she and her daughter pranked the nurses during her daughter’s cancer treatment.

Kate makes me laugh. And she is convinced laughter is the key to survival. Laughter “can be healing, literally,” she writes. “It can inject an impossibly terrible situation with a whoosh of fresh air. Sharing laughter fosters a bond between humans. In its purest form it brings life.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Kate’s book opens with this: “She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future” from Proverbs 31:25.

My prayer is that you and I can live and laugh like that too.

 

**If you’re a reader and you love to talk books, check out more of my book reviews here.

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Community life insurance: The greatest investment you’ll ever make

Posted by | community, compassion, grief, hope, marriage, Personal Stories, Stories, struggle | 6 Comments

This year my family has faced the most beautiful and painful season of our lives. My husband was diagnosed with stage four melanoma cancer in May. The news came like a sucker-punch to the gut, but it was no surprise to God. In the weeks that followed, we experienced God’s presence and provision in the most profound way and I began to understand how critical community is to our lives.

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Running therapy: how grief crashes like ocean waves

Posted by | brave, courage, death, fear, finishing well, hope, running, Stories, struggle | One Comment

 

The ocean has always been my happy place. Ever since I was a little girl I have found refuge near the water’s edge. There’s something about the crash of the waves, the salty air tickling my tongue and the breathtaking sunsets that draws poetry out of me.

I have run over a diversity of terrains these last few years but Saturday was my first time running an actual race on the beach. I participated in the “Rock’n Around the Pier” Half Marathon from Morro Rock to Cayucos Pier. I found out this memorial run was started to honor runner and teacher Brian Waterbury who died of melanoma cancer in 2003. This out-and-back trail run was quite literally on the hard-packed sand along the Pacific Ocean.

We rode a charter bus with about 35 friends from our Fresno running club, The Express. When we disembarked the bus, we were greeted by the misty, cool air of the Central Coast. This was a welcome contrast to the temperatures that have soared in the triple digits this month in the Central Valley. Fog seeped over the hills and spilled out over the ocean, creating an ethereal mood at the start of this race.

I generally run with my ear buds pumping a carefully-curated playlist of music but there was no need for music when all creation was singing to me. The waves, the wind, the birds. We weaved through kelp, crunched over sand dollars, avoided crabs and leapt rivulets of water.

“Make the race your playground, not your proving ground,” says Lauren Fleshman, a former American track and field athlete. This quote holds particular weight for me. Although I am competitive by nature and training, I have come to experience running as a kind of grief therapy.

When I am running, I feel free. I dig deep and God breathes healing.

My play was interrupted Saturday by two back-to-back phone calls. One from my mom, and one from my brother. I’m not in the habit of answering the phone when running but two phone calls from family alerted me that something might be wrong. My brother let me know that my uncle had died.

Just last week we received word that my 31-year-old cousin died of a heart attack in her sleep. My mom attended memorial services last month for her dear aunt, a close friend and a former student. Our family has experienced so much loss in such a short time.

Of course, these losses stand against a backdrop of losing my husband in 2014 to melanoma cancer. When you’ve experienced this depth of loss, any future losses tend to stir up old grief wounds.

A symphony of waves crashed at my side while waves of grief crashed anew in my heart. This was grief upon grief. It’s hard not to live in fear when grief stacks up. It’s hard not to let your mind wander to the next tragedy, to get beaten down by anticipation of the next death.

Then my feet hit the soft sand. I was running but getting nowhere fast. I found myself gasping for air – the anxiety rising up to choke me. My chest burned. The salty air stung my eyes. The tears started to come. I had to slow my steps to steady my breathing again.

In through the nose, out through the mouth. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale.

I felt like Moses and the Israelites standing in the darkness before the Red Sea. “…and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided” (Exodus 14:21). God was working through my darkness to hold back this sea of grief. If He could harness the wind and these ocean waves, He could surely help me navigate these rough waters.

Then I saw my husband Shawn. He had finished the race and returned looking for me. I felt the hope rising. I found the rhythm of my feet again. I strained and squinted for that arch that marked the finish. Shawn kept telling me it was there but I couldn’t make out the black letters through the mist.

I could see the Great Rock – Morro Rock – rising glorious and majestic before me, and I ran toward it. The words of the Psalmist were suddenly on my lips: “My rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God” (Psalms 62:6-7).

Are you being drowned by waves of grief? Are you squinting through the mist for a finish line? I encourage you to run toward the Rock. The waves of grief will come and go, ebb and flow, but the Rock will provide that refuge.

Finally, I saw it. I picked up the pace. I felt my strength and fight returning. My feet kicked to the next gear. I ran for the finish line. And just beyond towered the Rock.

**Are you navigating a grief journey? Could you use some words of encouragement? I’d love to add you to my Glorygram list, which includes a weekly dose of courage and recommendations. Read more about my Grief Journey here.

Stepping into the sweet spot of ministry

Posted by | behold, compassion, death, flourishing, gifts, passion, social justice, Stories, struggle, world travel | 3 Comments

The original version of this blog was published on August 28, 2013 on my blog “Gilmores for His Glory,” which followed our family’s everyday adventures and life doing mission work in Haiti. I’m returning to these lines, this story, today as a reminder of where I have been and where God is taking me.

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I had one of those moments the other day. I was sitting in our pick-up truck headed back to our mission complex in Haiti to make dinner for my family. My dear friend and right-hand man Walquis was driving, trying desperately to avoid the assortment of chickens, goats, motorcycles, kids and huge holes in the road. A group of women from our Haitian Bead Project were in the back of the truck singing a worship song in four-part harmony. Dust swirled on the rocky road before us. I looked out across the sugar cane fields with Mount Pignon in the background. 

Then it dawned on me: I’m in the sweet spot.

Something deep inside my heart was almost singing, “I love this.”

I recalled the scene in one of my favorite movies, Chariots of Fire, when the runner and missionary Eric Liddell says, “When I run, I feel God’s pleasure.”

That’s how I felt in that moment. I felt God’s pleasure. I felt this warmth rising up in my soul and spreading all over my body. I was unwrapping an amazing gift. 

I’m 36 years old, married to a man who is a courageous leader, a disciplined athlete and a faithful daddy. We are raising three girls who are growing and learning every day what it means to cross cultural lines, to live like Jesus and to bridge the gap between the haves and have nots. I have an amazing circle of friends who encourage and support me on this wild journey.

Speaking in Haiti

My “job” is spending time with women in Haiti, teaching them how to create jewelry and sharing my faith with them. The other part of my job is marketing their work and sharing their stories of transformation with friends in the United States.

Somebody pinch me. These are all realized dreams.

I just didn’t realize I was there. Somehow I forgot that these are all the things I have specifically prayed for through the years.  

How I got here

I certainly did not arrive at this place – the proverbial sweet spot – overnight.

I definitely did not follow any road map or take the path I originally planned.

Much of this journey has been hard. I’ve whined and kicked and screamed quite a bit actually. I’ve questioned the calling. I’ve devised plans to make my life more comfortable and predictable.

Our life is far from idyllic. Even as I type this I am sitting in an airplane balancing my laptop on my knees while nursing my youngest. We have been on standby living in airports from Port Au Prince to Fort Lauderdale to Dallas to Phoenix for two days. Mama’s “Mary Poppins bag” is just about empty with only a few more diapers, some stray peanuts, a plastic finger puppet and a pad of post-its (mostly scribbled on) to keep my girls busy.

I’m wearing the same pants, underwear and tank top I had on yesterday – with a different sweater to spruce it up. (My traveling fashion secret.) My kids clothes are stained with toothpaste and pizza grease. Our Haitian braids are looking frizzy, our eyes red with travel.

Most people would not call this life I live glamorous. 

Orphans in Haiti on porch

What I had to leave behind

Every day that I work in Haiti, I am reminded of what I leave behind. I leave behind my air conditioner, my hybrid cars, my nicely-fenced backyard, my iced fraps and my pillow-topped king-sized mattress. I leave behind my skinny jeans and makeup and high-speed internet.

I leave behind dreams of publishing books and sending my kids to swim lessons and Vacation Bible School with their friends.

I leave behind a predictable calendar, a consistent income.

Some days what I leave behind digs deep, leaves tread marks on my heart. I leave behind my family, my closest friends.  

I leave behind safety.

I leave behind planning and retirement.

I leave behind so much but I also gain much more than I ever imagined.

Braided

I have learned a new language. 

I have befriended people I might not otherwise.

I have participated in amazing stories of transformation of women, mothers, daughters, and grandmothers.

I have climbed to the top of mountains and looked out over vast oceans.

I have tasted a dozen varieties of island mangoes.

I have awakened before dawn to the sound of angels singing in the church just outside my window.  

I have offered a handmade dress to an orphan girl who wore it like a princess.

I have spooned a plate of rice and beans for a young man dying of hepatitis.

I have prayed with a blind woman, mother of 7. I have watched her down a glass of water, whetting her parched lips, before she returned to the streets.  

I have held a newborn baby with brown, round cheeks and chubby legs. All the while, her defying the odds.

I have gained the courage to stand up in the middle of conflict, to embrace miscommunication and racial tension.

There is so much to gain when we risk loving, when we risk leaving our comforts, when we risk saying Yes to God.

Haiti kids for MOPS

What the sweet spot in ministry is really all about

In the game of tennis, when that little neon ball hits the “sweet spot” it results in a more powerful hit – not to mention that ping noise that makes the tennis ball sing.

I’m starting to see that hitting the sweet spot in ministry is never about what I’m doing or accomplishing or how I’m impressing or leading. The sweet spot is that place where I feel wholly alive using my God-given gifts and at the same time humbly submitted to following His lead.

This summer I had a taste of it when I was given the opportunity to speak at a women’s conference. I looked out over an audience of grandmas and mamas, and I shared my story. The story of my difficult, beautiful mess. And somewhere in sharing my story I was sharing the story of Hagar and Ruth. I was sharing a story of El Roi, the God who sees the invisible, the God who comforts, the God who casts out fear with love.

I loved sharing these stories. When I shared these stories I felt His pleasure.  

This may be surprising coming from the girl whose nervous knees would knock hard against the piano during recitals, who used to take a seat in the back and used to hurl before speech class in college. Public speaking is the last career I expected to pursue. Working with women and children who reek of poverty and disease is a place I never imagined I’d find joy. The rural mountains of Haiti is the last place this city girl expected to find home.

Riding donkey in Haiti

One of my favorite parts about writing is that when we scribble something down in a journal or share it on a blog we have the ability to return to it later. My writing has always served as a kind of “Ebenezer stone” for me. In 1 Samuel 7, the Israelites must face the the Philistines in battle. Samuel cries out to God for help. God’s response is quite dramatic when He sends loud thunder to frighten the Philistines and the battle is won by the Israelites. In verse 12, it says Samuel placed a large stone between Mizpah and Shen as a landmark. He named it Ebenezer as a reminder of the ways God helped them.

As I was reading through the archives of my blog the other day, I happened upon the above story about the “sweet spot.” I remember writing this post in 2013 and marveling at the place God had me. I reflected on all the challenges he had brought our family through.

The post itself was an Ebenezer stone. I was laying down a rock and thanking God for helping me find a “sweet spot” where I could feel His presence and He was using me in my giftings.

Of course, I had no idea my husband would be diagnosed with stage four cancer a year later. I had no inkling that Ericlee would graduate to Heaven the following September. I did not know our time serving in Haiti would be cut short. I did not anticipate how I would have to grieve the loss of my Haitian community and serving in my “sweet spot” there.

Looking back, I now see how God used my time in Haiti to grow new passions, interests and gifts in me. He gave me a heart for serving women and helping them grow in their faith and knowledge of the Bible. Over time, he grew a confidence in me to speak in public settings. I know those are not things I would have pursued if God had not led me to Haiti and given me space there to practice.

In this season of life, I feel called to live and serve in Fresno, California. God has opened many new doors for me to speak in schools and churches, for me to share my grief journey with women’s groups, and publish books for children.

I’m returning to Haiti at the end of this month to speak at that same women’s conference in Pignon, Haiti. This time I’ll be sharing a new set of stories of how God has proved faithful to me even in the death of my husband, the grief journey, and the redemption of my family.

I believe there are times when we will feel like we are in the “sweet spot,” when we will feel wholly alive as we help others flourish. It’s important to mark these moments. It’s also important to realize that these moments may just be God cultivating our seeds to help us bloom in a new place and a new calling in the future.

How sweet it is.

In the Shadow of the Giant: How to be a Glory Chaser

Posted by | behold, community, courage, finishing well, flourishing, laughter, running, self-care, Stories, struggle | 6 Comments

There is no gun to signal the start of this race. Just a voice bellowing “Go!” that echoes throughout the forest. I start up the trail. When I say up, I mean straight up. My trail shoes hit the rocky path, and I feel the strain. I lift my knees and pump my arms. My lungs burn for the first few miles because of the elevation, which soars above 5,000 feet.

I run today with a band of 10 mama runners (with 30 kids among us), who have become my tribe this year. We all run at different paces but we cheer for each other along the way. I’m not sure how it happened exactly. A few of us said we were going to try a trail race. Then several more signed up. And a few more stragglers registered at the last minute. And the rest is history. They remind me that I can do hard things in community.

This race is called the Shadow of the Giants, started in the 1990s by a notorious trail runner known as Big Baz. We’ve been told the now-75-year-old likes to harass runners out on the course.

This is my first trail 20k. I’ve run marathons and half marathons but this is the longest distance I’ve tackled on the trail. I’m a road runner. I grew up in the city racing 5ks and 10ks with my daddy and then eventually joining the high school track team when my soccer coach told me it would be good cross training.

The trail is different.

It taunts and charms me at the same time. The trail requires embracing the unknown. The trail experience is less about pace and mileage, and checking my Garmin watch, and more about lifting my eyes to drink in God’s glory around every curve.

I once heard a preacher talk about how we are called to be “glory chasers.” Pastor Mitchel Lee’s phrase sparked something deep inside me. He argued that we humans were put on this earth to discover God’s glory and reflect it back to God and those around us.

We have permission for ambition but not for personal glory. We are to live and work and run for God’s glory.

I pray for God to show me ways I can be a “glory chaser.”

I started this back in 2014 when I chose the word glory as my theme word. I had to train myself to notice His glory around me through the tragedy and the triumph. That was the year my husband was diagnosed with stage four cancer. That was the year I experienced God’s glory in sunsets and along the coast. That was the year He showed up for us through our community, who served us, fed us, collected money for medical bills, and lifted us. That was the year my lover leaped into Heaven – the ultimate Glory – leaving me a widow with three children.

Now three years later, I’m still a glory chaser. I’m still looking for God in my every day. I’m tracing his faithfulness through every piece of my past. I’m leading others up the trail to unearth His glory for themselves.

This trail through the famous Nelder Grove not far from Yosemite National Park is the perfect teacher. The first four miles of our race is uphill. The battle on the trail is always against the mind.

My mind zigs and zags as I fix my eyes on my feet. So many rocks and rivets to navigate. Can I do this? Will my knees hold up? Do I have enough water? Will they leave me behind? How will I finish?

I start to lift my head when I hear my running buddy say, “We need to remember to lift our eyes up from the trail.” She, too, is driven to see the glory.

My eyes can’t help chasing up the trunks of the majestic sequoia trees – each one pointing toward Heaven. I am reminded of a Creator God who took time to plant every tree in this grove and design every bird and beast and flower that call this place home.

A glory chaser lifts her eyes to see God’s glory even when the trail is uphill.

I am overwhelmed by the beauty of this view – miles upon miles of trees and sapphire sky. My soul is calmed by the sound of water dancing down little waterfalls below us. We are in the shadow of the Giants and the shadow of the Most High God.

My friend just read Psalm 91 to me. I meditate on these words as I run: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.” I whisper a prayer of thanks.

Thank you, Lord, for the shade provided by these trees shielding us from the heat of the sun and strengthening us on this uphill track. Thank you for lungs that can breathe and legs that run. Help me not to take these for granted but to see them as part of your glory too. Amen.

Before long, we have been running 7 miles. We hear water rushing below us and we know the river crossing is near. This is the X-factor, the uncertain part of the trail I have been most anticipating. After a heavy rain fall this past winter, I have heard this crossing could be as high as my waist. I debated for days what to wear and how to carry my gear.

When we arrive at water’s edge, I look at my friend. “Well, here we go.”

A glory chaser runs through the water instead of around it.

I think about Moses in Exodus 15 and how he followed God’s command. He led the Israelites straight to the roaring Red Sea. They ran for the water and the rapids parted.

A voice sings through my ear buds: “Your grace abounds in deepest waters.”

I step into the ice cold and begin to blaze a trail. I am filled with laughter as the water rushes over my legs and splashes my arms. I anticipated this as a difficult obstacle to cross but it proves a refreshing and memorable part of the race. Baz is on the other side of the shore with his white beard and broad smile.

“You made it, darling,” he says, warmly. “What did you think of it?”

“It was glorious,” is all I can say.

My friend Amber is behind me. She catches up and we continue on the trail. We feel a rush of excitement that we have survived the river and we are almost finished with our 20k.

We can breathe again without burning lungs. We chat about books we’ve read and travels we hope to take one day with our families. The trail offers a mix of companionship and solitude. I am grateful for my friend on these long miles to keep me going.

Her knee starts to hurt. We walk a while. I try to encourage her. We give ourselves no pressure to make time goals like I might in a road race. We want to savor every step. The sun crosses our path in patches but just when I put on my sunglasses we have ducked back into the shade. The temperature is perfect – another glimpse of God’s glory today.

My watch tells me we have finished 12 miles. Amber urges me that I must go ahead. She wants to walk and insists I run to the finish. I concede. The solitude will serve us both well, I know.

A glory chaser always runs with the finish in mind.

The trail turns from a wide road big enough for a fire truck to a single track of switchbacks headed downhill. I can’t help it. My feet take me faster and faster. I jump over logs and duck under tree branches. I am chasing the finish line now. I don’t know where it is exactly, but I trust my legs and my God to show me the course step by step.

This is a lesson I have learned these past three years. If God had revealed the whole course – all the details of my husband’s cancer journey, his death and our grief, and even the redemptive pieces of my story like getting remarried to one of his best friends, I am not sure I would have survived. I would have been overwhelmed by His full glory. He ran just ahead of me and paced me with His presence. I always ran in the protective shadow of the Giant.

My sprinter’s heart is pounding. I want to finish well. I want to run for His Glory. I want to cross the line like my husband did with arms outstretched and hear Him say those long-anticipated words, “Well done.”

 

**Are you interested in going deeper in learning how to be a glory chaser? Check out my brand new Glory Chasers bible study here!

***Join here for my free weekly Glorygram – a more personal note of encouragement full of recommendations for you! And please feel free to share ways God has shown His glory to you in the comments below!

A conversation about “Grieving Together” on the Kindred Mom podcast

Posted by | behold, community, compassion, death, family life, flourishing, grief, hope, kids, relationships, Stories, struggle, Uncategorized, writing | No Comments

 

My new friend Emily Allen interviewed me a few weeks ago for her Kindred Mom podcast. I’m excited to announce the podcast just went live. I hope you will tune in to hear our conversation. I’m chatting with Emily about navigating grief with my kids after their dad died in 2014. She asked some really sensitive and insightful questions. In the podcast, you will learn more about my story, some tangible ways our community came alongside us in our grief, and the backstory behind my children’s picture book, Cora Cooks Pancit.

This podcast conversation was inspired by an essay I originally wrote for the Kindred Mom blog called “Grieving Together.” I hope this will encourage mamas and others who might be navigating grief with littles. It can be hard and exhausting work. Believe me, I know. That’s why I’m passionate about sharing on this topic to walk with others.

In the podcast, I mention a free resource I developed sharing tips on how to navigate grief with kids. The resource includes encouragement for parents, practical ideas on how to honor a loved one after death, and a list of books and movies I’ve used with my girls to stimulate conversation on our grief journey.

Listen to the podcast here or paste this link into your browser:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/kindred-mom-podcast/id1236598848?mt=2&i=1000385429230

Last month I did a series on “Navigating Grief When Life Moves Forward.” In case you missed it, I encourage you to check out some of the articles or share with a friend who is grieving:

The Garden – an introduction to the series

Grieving Together – an article on grieving with children

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

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

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

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

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

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

Navigating Grief When Someone You Love Dies Suddenly – a guest post sharing about the sudden death of her mother.

Would you like a copy of my FREE resource for “Grieving with Kids“?

I’m passionate about meeting people in their grief and sharing a message of hope and glory. Let’s connect!

Navigating Grief: Soaring Above the Turbulence

Posted by | behold, death, grief, hope, Stories, struggle | 3 Comments

 

By Dorina Lazo Gilmore

I am not one for window seats. As much as I love to travel, my Achilles heal has always been motion sickness. Let’s just say I always know the location of the nearest barf bag. Sitting near the window doesn’t usually help with that affliction.

But there I was, peering out the airplane window with such delight. I could not help but pause in wonder of the sapphire sky and the feathery clouds below us. My hubby squeezed my hand. You would have thought I was a kid on a ride at Disneyland.

Our destination was even better: the Big Island of Hawaii.

Shawn knows my heart for travel. He surprised me with a 5-day trip using airline miles to celebrate our first anniversary in Kona. This was a big deal for me. We had contemplated going to Hawaii for our honeymoon but it was the place I enjoyed my first honeymoon with my late husband Ericlee. A year before I wasn’t quite ready to lean into the joy and the pain of that place. I needed a new and different kind of adventure.

Now I felt eager to make new memories with Shawn. I was one year stronger. That blue sky outside the window beckoned me. The promise of ocean waves and time for rest with my love allured me.

Near the end of that flight, the tray table in front of me began to shake. Passengers grabbed for their plastic cups with jiggling ice cubes and devices sliding into their laps. The captain quickly came on over the speaker and warned us we were flying through clouds and there was a long spell of turbulence ahead. My heart sunk. My stomach dropped. I closed my eyes and tried to relax.

Those clouds that appear so beautiful when you are flying above them or looking up from the ground actually cause turbulence when you get too close. I have discovered this is the way it is with grief as well. Turbulence, you see, is normal on flights in the same way grief is an integral part of the flight of our lives.

Grief does not interrupt life. Grief is life. At some point, in some way, we will experience loss. This month we have traversed many stories of grief through my friends who have contributed to this series on “Navigating Grief As Life Moves Forward.” I have learned from these stories that every journey is unique but also holds threads of familiarity to my own story of loss. Whether losing a spouse, a grandparent, a child or a mother, there is turbulence. Even in moving away from a place or a ministry we love, there is uncertainty. There is longing for something we can never quite recover here on earth.

I have survived three Aprils now – the hardest month of my year – brimming with his birthday, our wedding anniversary, and Track and Field season full of memories of coaching together through the years. April is also a month of anticipation. I remember the uncertainty we felt three years ago. I remember the stage four cancer diagnosis that came in May.

Grief creates layers of depth, compassion and grit in us. Grief forever colors the way we see the world. Grief knows the contrast of suffering and grace. Grief can also give us a special lens to see God’s glory in a more vibrant and nuanced way.

From a distance, I can see the beauty in the storm. I can trace God’s glory lighting the edges of the clouds of my life. And certainly, my plane can dip and dive through the clouds but I choose to soar higher.

I love the example of the eagle. This unique and powerful bird flies higher than most birds. The eagle uses a soaring method of flying. She spreads her long, rectangular wings for hours and only beats those wings occasionally, letting the thermals of hot air carry her to great heights. Eagles actually lean into storms and high winds to soar higher and farther.

If you are navigating grief today, I want you to know you are designed to soar. This does not mean avoiding turbulence or running from the pain of grief. Those are important parts of the journey. It does mean choosing to fly higher. It means focusing our eyes on Heaven and the Glory to come. It means renewing our hope daily in the One who strengthens us and gives us wings.

Isaiah 40:31. “…those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

 

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

The Garden – an introduction to the series

Grieving Together – an article on grieving with children

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

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

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

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

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

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

Navigating Grief When Someone You Love Dies Suddenly – a guest post sharing about the sudden death of her mother.

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

Navigating Grief: When Someone You Love Dies Suddenly

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

 

By Kimberly Rose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My sister’s voice was shaking.

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

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

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

No more.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

The Garden – an introduction to the series

Grieving Together – an article on grieving with children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Navigating Grief: When you have experienced pregnancy loss

Posted by | death, family life, grief, Guest blogger, hope, kids, parenting, Personal Stories, Stories, struggle, transitions | One Comment

 

By Sharon McKeeman

The wound remains.

Time has passed, is passing still, and I hold our long, awaited baby. The pain of the full-term stillbirth and two miscarriages has dulled, but three of my seven children are not with me. The pieces will never be put back together here on earth.

And now, as I hold this newborn bundle growing into a healthy, wiggling child my arms remember the shape of what I have lost. Grief has become tangible, abstract mourning swallowed up by tiny breaths upon my neck, grasping fingers and curling toes.

This is a time of joy—I relish it. But when I stare at her button nose and deep blue eyes, I also see the son I held unbreathing. Her eight pounds curled in my arms remind me of his nine, and I cry behind closed doors because I can’t bring back my child.

How do I tell of this? When everyone hugs and rejoices, how do I say that this precious little life is one more unexpected turn on my journey with grief? It is hard to navigate life as well as death, joy as well as sorrow.

The wound will always remain.

There is no new child that will replace the ones I have lost. There is no wholeness aside from Christ in this life. The only healing is in the One who blesses the brokenhearted, but even His scars remain. My mind presses into His nail torn hands and feels His tears upon my cheek. I take one step and then the next, breathing gratitude for every minute here and every loved one held. Still, I hold space for the precious little ones I cannot reach. I have no choice; the journey is a long one. The grief will not fall fully silent until we meet again.

This is my secret—how holding a new life brings healing, but also triggers memories and longing. I do not tell all the rejoicing onlookers, for fear they will think me ungrateful. Maybe they would understand. One thing I know, the grandmother with five of her own and more grandbabies on the way still drops tears like rain when she tells me of the two she lost.

We are spirit souls.

Holding, loving, ever reaching out.

And when a piece is cut away, the wound stays with us—a blessing, a message—a sign of just how deep our capacity to love, and how real the one we wait for is.

 

Sharon McKeeman is a homeschooling mama to three sons and a daughter here on earth, and three precious children in heaven. She is a Midwestern girl at heart who now lives with her family on the sunny beaches of Southern California. She is an author, educator, speaker, and photographer who shares more of her story as @sharonmckeeman on Instagram and at www.sharonmckeeman.com where you will find her blog, Writing in the Dust, as well as her newsletter, Mourning into Joy, which is filled with encouragement and resources for navigating pregnancy loss with hope.

 

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

The Garden – an introduction to the series

Grieving Together – an article on grieving with children

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Navigating Grief: When you have to say goodbye to the place your heart feels home

Posted by | community, culture, grief, Guest blogger, kids, outreach, Personal Stories, relationships, serve, Stories, struggle, transitions | 2 Comments

By Melissa Ens

“Good grief, Charlie Brown.” I’ve sighed a lot these last few years and wondered what kind of grief, exactly, is the good kind? True, there is godly sorrow that leads to repentance, (2 Cor. 7:10) but what I’ve needed is sorrow that would lead to healing.

In December 2011, my husband, our 3 children and I moved to Peru, where we expected to live for the next decade. Less than two and a half years later, however, we moved back to Fresno, brokenhearted after saying goodbye to our friends, our dreams, and the best golden retriever in the world.

In California and in Peru, seasons come and go. Yet even years later, memories mixed with grief can surface. I still sometimes hesitate to feel and release the sadness they stir up for fear that releasing will somehow mean forgetting.

And that’s what I really don’t want.

I don’t want to forget the wonder I felt in the warmth of our first southern hemisphere’s holiday season. The wonder of arriving in a new country with dreams of a new life there. Our kids’ first Peruvian church service. The ladies spontaneously taking Mikaela and me to see Juanita’s amazing nativity display with hundreds of animals and figurines. (How I miss those mujeres!)

I want to remember Pastor George picking us up near midnight on Christmas Eve, driving us through the plaza to see the decorations on the way to his home to share Christmas with his family. (We still laugh about Timothy falling asleep in the car and then sleeping on the couch through the whole gathering. He was sure after that he’d never been to Pastor George’s house!)

I remember the oddness of seeing Christmas decorations – snowmen, Santas and wrapping paper – on display right next to swimsuits and beach towels for the summer vacation that was just beginning. We got our kids a pool for Christmas the next year and our dog barked in circles around them as they splashed the January afternoons away with our Peruvian pastor’s kids.

Maybe you’ve seen Panetón here. (It’s a sweet cake with candied fruit pieces that Peruvians can’t celebrate holidays without.) Walking through the supermercados there, I was stunned by the endcaps stocked and shelves sky high with boxes and boxes (and hundreds more boxes) of Panetón. Christmas “chocolatadas” for the neighborhood kid ministries meant gallons of hot chocolate made over a wood fire in a huge pot in the back of Anny’s house. (And more panetón.)

And the music… It’s the music I miss the most. I fell in love with Peruvian Christmas music at that first Christmas Eve service. There was even more music in the malls and markets, in restaurants, and the town plazas all decorated for Christmas with trees, trees and more (artificial, but huge and fancy) Christmas trees.

Melissa and her friend, Claudia, pose together in Peru where they met.

 

In 2013, suspecting it might be our last December there, I bought a couple recordings of the traditional Christmas music piped everywhere during the holidays. Two years later I was back in Fresno with those CD’s in my hands.

I had yet to listen to them.

I held them that morning in 2015 and read the titles of the songs wondering what kind of flood of grief would come crashing on the shore of my heart when I heard them. (The year before, I couldn’t even stand the idea.) Now would it bring a tsunami of tears that would wash me away? Or would I just laugh at how awful some of the music was?

I recalled the Christmas program at church our last December in Peru. The kids performed and I had recorded Toby’s class on my phone. As I held the CD’s, I was terrified realizing I didn’t know where that phone was, or if the photos and videos were backed up anywhere. No matter that if I played that song Toby would run away to hide from the grief it stirred up. He couldn’t handle it yet, but I needed to find it so I could hold it in my hands and listen to it again and not run away.

I think now that’s what good grief is. It’s whatever grief we don’t run away from but are willing to run to Jesus with. It’s grief we allow Jesus to carry us through. It’s grief we allow to rain down or well up and felt for what it means – that something or someone we love is no longer with us in the way they used to be.

Good grief recognizes the good that was and accepts the sadness in holding it as just a memory now.

 Dreams, hopes, and even places we held dear in our hearts become part of us. When we lose them or have to let them go, it hurts and we need space to grieve. In our case, leaving Peru meant we all grieved the loss of friendships, the surrender of dreams, and saying goodbye to a place, people (and even a dog) we truly loved.

I finally understand good grief.

Good grief trusts that even as specifics of memories fade, it really is the love that remains. I might not remember everyone’s names, but I will forever carry love for them in my heart. Good grief trusts that carrying love and being carried by Love will be enough.

I knew someday we’d look back and marvel at the fact that we really lived in Peru. I knew it would eventually feel a bit like a dream, but the sadness helps me know it was real. The ache helps me know we really did live there, and we really did love there. I am thankful for that.

Immanuel is still with us. In many ways, healing has come. Grief (and sadly, memories) will continue to fade. But love will always remain.

 

Melissa Ens loves Jesus, singing, words, learning, laughing, watching sunsets with her hubby of 21 years and playing games with her kids. She thinks praying with a pen and journal or talking with friends are the best forms of therapy ever. She used to blog at Musing Melissa, but these days is working on finishing and sharing her story. She’s excited about visiting loved ones in Peru this summer.

 

 

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

The Garden – an introduction to the series

Grieving Together – an article on grieving with children

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

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

Facing Triggers and Trauma – an article about steering through grief when triggers and trauma arise

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

Navigating Grief: When you are the caregiver

Posted by | death, grief, hope, self-care, serve, Stories, struggle | No Comments

 

Dawn crept through our bedroom window. I hauled myself out of bed and stumbled down to the kitchen. I ran the water in the sink and began to scrub carrots for his morning juice. As the water flowed, my own hot tears streamed down my face.

I wept, recalling the harrowing night before – his moaning, his struggle to breathe, and my own fear that if I fell asleep I might wake and he would be gone. I wept with heavy shoulders because I was staring down another day of serving when I was already past my breaking point. I whispered a desperate prayer to God to give me a seed of courage.

Somehow I walked back to the bedside of my husband to offer him the gift of hope. This went on for days and weeks. The memories are vivid for me even three years later. This is the work of the caregiver. This work is marked by physical, emotional and spiritual exhaustion. For some, the work lasts for years.

It is hard and holy work.

I now know the most difficult job I have ever faced is being a caregiver for my husband when he was diagnosed with cancer at age 40. I also would not trade that time with him for anything. It was my privilege to usher my husband to the throne of God.

Battling guilt

Caregivers often battle guilt. As I watched my husband’s health decline and the weight fall off his once-athletic body, I felt guilty.

Why him? Why not me? What had we done wrong?

I secretly longed for respite. I pined for time away from the house. I needed a break from the heaviness of it all. I also had a hard time accepting the relief when it came.

One weekend, my husband’s best friend offered to come stay with him and rallied some of his best college buddies to come visit. I was slated to take a group of mom leaders from my church to a one-day conference. I desperately needed the time but I was filled with such anxiety and guilt about leaving my husband behind. I knew he was in good hands, but it was difficult to step away.

If any of you have ever cared for someone with a terminal disease, you know what I’m talking about. Death seems to lurk around every corner. There’s no time for self-care when someone you love is suffering.

Now I know that’s not true. It’s pertinent that caregivers take breaks. We cannot care for others well when we are depleted of energy ourselves, when we don’t feel in our right mind.

Is it any wonder that the conference I attended that Saturday was entirely devoted to supporting people in times of crisis? Every word, every message, every song penetrated my soul.

Diving into anticipatory grief

I needed that time away to breathe, to process and to grieve.

I grieved the way things once were. I grieved the beautiful memories we had made and the adventures we chased in our life together. I grieved dreams of growing old together. I grieved a life my three young daughters would face without their beloved Daddy.

I understand now I was experiencing anticipatory grief. People rarely talk about anticipatory grief, but it’s the kind of grief that helps us to process the impending death of a loved one. Those days of grief were horrible, but they were doing important work in my heart. They enabled me to release my husband when the time came.

My mother-in-law told me it would happen. She told me I would feel the shift in my heart. For weeks, I didn’t want to believe it. I thought acknowledging death would somehow be giving up hope.

She was right.

One day my prayers changed. For months, I prayed fervently for the miracle of healing. I believed that my God who raised Lazarus from the dead could also revive my Ericlee. I still believe that. I also remember that one day my prayers became pleas for mercy. I begged God to take him home. I just wanted the suffering to stop.

I was able to whisper in my husband’s ear that we would be ok. Our community would care for the girls and me. He was free to go on to Glory. That day I gave him wings.

Pivoting away from haunting memories

Perhaps the most challenging part of grief when you were the caregiver is wading through the haunting memories. I watched my husband’s face become gaunt. I saw the tumor grow. I followed the bumps appearing all over his body as the disease spread. I heard the strain in his breathing as the cancer invaded his lungs near the end.

Try as I may, I can’t wipe away these memories.

I also have some sweet memories of serving him. I remember one Sunday when we had friends coming to visit I found myself fumbling through the bathroom drawer for his toothbrush. All the supplements, medicines and juices were staining his teeth. At the time, it felt silly – maybe even obsessive of me – but I wanted him to have clean teeth.

There was so little I could do at that point that brushing his teeth felt important. Looking back, that little act of service has become a savored memory. Did it matter that he had clean teeth? No. Would perfectly brushed teeth save him from death? No. It mattered to me because it was one of my last chances to give my man the gift of dignity.

It mattered to me because I saw the look of love in his hazel eyes when he could not even speak words of gratitude.

If you are caring for someone today who is battling a disease or nearing death, you are not alone. In the midst of it, you may not feel like it’s a privilege to stand by someone’s death bed, but it is. Caregiving is important work. It’s hard, beautiful, and sacred work.

 

 

 

Have you missed the other articles in our Navigating Grief as Life Moves Forward series? Check them out here:

The Garden – an introduction to the series

Grieving Together – an article on grieving with children

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

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

Facing Triggers and Trauma – an article about steering through grief when triggers and trauma arise

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

Navigating Grief: When a grandparent dies

Posted by | grief, Guest blogger, hope, parenting, Stories, struggle, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

By Sue Concannon

My 3-year-old daughter awoke in the middle of the night sobbing because she missed Nana. After a long hug, we talked about what we missed most about Nana – her laugh and the way she sang songs to my daughter. We then prayed, and I laid down next to her until she fell back asleep.

This has become a regular occurrence for her. Throughout the day, she cries and says she misses Nana and all I can say is, “I do too.” She says it so much I’ve grown numb. The reality is she is hurting and grieving, and doesn’t know how else to express it.

My 6-year-old son, who was closest to Nana, can’t find the words to express his grief so he loses his temper and then sulks. His heart is breaking. Like so many, he tries to avoid it by filling his life with fun things as often as he can.

My mother-in-law died seven months ago due to complications from a routine knee surgery. Because my mom died 11 years ago, I now watch my kids grieve the only grandma they’ve ever known. Her death happened so suddenly it left all of us in shock. They are now trying to navigate life without Nana, while dealing with all kinds of emotion they’ve never had to experience.

When my mom passed away due to pancreatic cancer, it was just my husband and I without kids. I had time and space to grieve, which I now see as a luxury. It was hard, but oddly enough, I now look on that time as a fond memory of sweet moments with God where I could lay my heart out on the table and give him the broken pieces.

But now that I have kids that are still home with me, I no longer have long periods of time where I can sit and process my grief with God. I’m lucky if I can get out of bed in the morning before I must start getting the kids ready for school. Quiet time with God is rare. On the days my daughter is home with me, I find myself constantly trying to get time to myself. I become quickly irritated when that doesn’t happen. It’s like my grieving heart is so full it can’t possibly handle caring for anyone else – let alone myself. As a result, I’m noticing myself becoming angry all the time.

I’ve been speaking with a grief counselor, and she’s said a few times that I am not giving myself grace to grieve. I’m often hard on myself. I’m always demanding myself to function at an efficient level. I find it ironic because I’ve made it my passion to give grace to those who are hurting.

As a physical therapist, I often spent a lot of time with my patients educating them on their injury so that they could give themselves grace and time to heal. And yet, I’m refusing to allow God’s grace to come in and breathe healing on my wounded heart.

Zac, 6, and Hannah, 3, with their Nana in their backyard soon after they all moved from Indiana to Colorado.

 

The other day, I felt God impress these words on my heart: “Breathe in grace and breathe out mercy.”

It dawned on me that if I’m not taking in God’s grace for myself, I cannot give away His mercy for my kids because I’m too busy beating myself up for what I’m not doing well.

God seemed to say: “Take time for yourself to breathe in my words and my grace so that you can breathe out mercy to your hurting family. They need my mercy and you need my grace to grieve and feel and live.”

I realized that even though I don’t always have long periods of alone time to process my grief with God, I can daily breathe in His grace through prayer.

When I find myself getting irritated and short with my kids, I can breathe in God’s grace and ask Him to breathe out His mercy to my kids in that moment. It’s those breath prayers that can make all the difference because it’s inviting God into those everyday moments.

If you and your family are grieving or hurting in any way, I pray that you can breathe in God’s grace today. God’s grace may look like taking a nap, reading a book, ordering groceries online, taking time to visit with a friend, or playing with your child instead of getting your laundry done.

I pray you can breathe in His grace so that you can breathe out God’s mercy to those around you. Most likely, if you are hurting, there are people around you hurting as well and in need of God’s healing grace and mercy.

 

Sue Concannon lives with her husband and two kids in Littleton, CO. She is a Christ follower who has the privilege of being a stay at home mama to two children by the gift of domestic adoption. She loves running, hiking, reading and cooking. She has a passion to come alongside those who are hurting by offering them words of grace through her story and her writing at Daily Dependence.

 

FREE 5-Tips for Grieving with Kids

 

Have you missed the other articles in our Navigating Grief as Life Moves Forward series? Check them out here:

The Garden – an introduction to the series

Grieving Together – an article on grieving with children

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

Facing Triggers and Trauma – an article about steering through grief when triggers and trauma arise

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

Navigating Grief As Life Moves Forward: The Garden

Posted by | community, death, flourishing, grief, hope, parenting, Personal Stories, Stories, struggle, writing | 6 Comments

 

This month I’m hosting a blog series: “Navigating Grief As Life Moves Forward.” I am working to be more intentional with my blog to serve readers like you who are navigating the winding path of a grief journey.

This series was inspired by many conversations I have had with friends about the struggle to move forward after experiencing loss. There’s not really a finish line to the grief journey but it certainly changes over time.

One of the most powerful things I’ve learned about grief these last several years is that when we share our stories vulnerably in community, we are stronger.

There’s a Swedish proverb that says, “Shared joy is a double joy; Shared sorrow is half sorrow.”

This proverbs rings true in my life. I have been blessed by a community of friends who have shared in both my joy and sorrow.

The goal this month is to create a safe place to share our grief stories. I long to encourage you, to bless you, for you to say, “me too” deep in your spirit. I want to link arms with you and say, “You are not alone, my friend.”

I’ve invited several writer-friends to share their stories in this space during April. My friend Danielle will unfold her experience with anticipatory grief as her husband Kenny faced a cancer journey that last several years. My friend Sue will be sharing about navigating the death of a grandparent with her kids. My friend Sharon will give us a glimpse into her life dealing with pregnancy loss. I hope their diverse stories will be a reminder that while every journey is unique, there are a host of us who have walked the path of grief.

I think of my friend Janine. Her husband died in a cycling accident just a year before my husband Ericlee died of cancer. I remember standing at her Jim’s funeral reception and Janine squeezing my hands tight: “Cherish every moment,” she whispered. Ericlee and I wept with Janine. We had no idea what lie ahead for us.

Janine has walked ahead of me on the grief journey, modeling for me what it means to embrace life after loss and grieve well. She has also walked by my side, teaching me to trust in God to fill in all the holes and gaps. I’m grateful for her vulnerable sharing through the process. Janine and the other widows I know give me courage.

I hope this month you will read these stories and share your comments or pieces of your own story. You have permission to grieve and process here. I imagine us all as potted plants. We can sit in the sun and struggle to grow in our own little pots or we can be transplanted into a grand garden and nourish each other. We can offer up our stories and colors to flourish together.

 

Have you missed the other articles in our Navigating Grief as Life Moves Forward series?

Check them out here:

The Garden – an introduction to the series

Grieving Together – an article on grieving with children

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

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

Facing Triggers and Trauma – an article about steering through grief when triggers and trauma arise

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

Grieving Together

Posted by | death, family life, grief, kids, rest, self-care, Stories, struggle, transitions, Uncategorized | No Comments

 

Just in the nick of time, I dropped off my older two daughters at elementary school before they were tardy, and then continued on to my youngest daughter’s preschool. Green, yellow…slow red. Green, yellow…slow red. I followed the rhythm of the stop lights as my 5-year-old sang at the top of her lungs in the backseat. I smiled as I listened to another one of her off-tune, made-up songs.

Then I leaned in to hear some of her lyrics: “My daddy is in heaven. His leg was hurt. We need to pray for him. He’s with God,” she chirped. “I miss my dadddddddy.”

“What are you singing about, baby?” I asked her, trying to be nonchalant. It had been several months since she mentioned her daddy, who died from cancer two and a half years earlier. We pulled into the preschool parking lot. I reminded myself not to panic but to let her process.

“I’m singing about my daddy in Heaven,” she informed me.

“You know, he has a new body in Heaven now,” I said gently. “He doesn’t have that big tumor on his leg anymore.” Her face lit up with a smile, “Really?! I can’t wait to see him again.”

These conversations have become normal life for us now. Never in a million years did I imagine I would be helping my children navigate the death of their father at such a young age. If you would have asked me a half dozen years ago, I would have told you that skill just wasn’t in my wheelhouse. Then again, isn’t mothering about rising daily to learn new skills and praying regularly for God to cover our shortcomings?

{For the rest of this article, click over here to Kindred Mom. I am so honored to be a featured writer on their site today.}

 

 

**If you would like to read more about my grief journey, check out these articles.

**I send out a weekly word of encouragement with recommendations, recipes and more. Join me for Glorygrams here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Soup’s on: Italian sausage & kale soup

Posted by | food stories, friendship, inspirational, politics, Recipes, soup, Stories, struggle, transitions, Uncategorized | No Comments

 

This time of year – when colds are plentiful and the air has that memorable chill – all I’m thinking about is SOUP! After perusing many Italian sausage soup recipes, I decided to create my own healthy variety and it was a big hit with my family.

The great thing about this recipe is it uses kale, which you can find fresh at the local farmer’s market this season. Kale has huge health benefits, including being rich in beta-carotene (which protects against diseases of the skin) and a host of vitamins. Kale helps ward off colds and flus during the winter.

This has been a big week for our nation as Donald Trump was inaugurated 45th president. There has been a lot of chaos swirling on the internet and in the world. Now, more than ever, I believe it’s important for us to gather in our homes, our churches, and even in our city’s public spaces to listen well and share our deeper stories. I believe in these challenging times we are all called to the “ministry of presence.” It’s easy to mouth off on Twitter or re-post that article on Facebook that supports our views, but the reality is people are hurting and scared. The most courageous thing we can do is listen. The bravest thing we can do is stand with them.

I’m putting out a soup challenge to you. Make a big pot of soup sometime this month. It could be this recipe below, or another favorite like my Tortilla Soup, or a family recipe of your own. There’s something about the warm comfort of soup that brings a group of people together. You might add a salad or a loaf of crusty bread and butter to melt over top of it. Invite some neighbors, perhaps a family from your kid’s school, or someone else you want to get to know. Step out of your comfort zone and into their story, then come back to tell us about it here or on Instagram.

Soup’s on! #soupsonchallenge
Italian Chicken Sausage and Kale Soup

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 red potatoes, chopped
1 15-oz can crushed tomatoes (or fresh, of course, if they’re in season)
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 cups (cage free, organic) chicken broth
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 package Italian Chicken Sausage, cooked and cut into bite-sized pieces (I use Trader Joe’s sweet Italian sausage or Sicilian Italian sausage if the crowd can take a little spice.)
3 cups thinly sliced kale (green or purple)
1 15-oz can canellini (white) beans
¼ cup butter

½ cup grated parmesan cheese
Garnish: Shaved parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Add olive oil to a large stock pot and turn to medium-high heat.
  2. Remove sausage from casing and saute in olive oil. (You can use a potato masher or fork to break up sausage)
  3. Meanwhile, chop all onions, celery and potatoes.
  4. Add the minced garlic to the sausage and saute until fragrant.
  5. Add the chopped veggies and tomatoes to the pot.
  6. Add chicken broth and spices to pot. Bring to a boil.
  7. Reduce heat and add kale and beans to pot. Cook an additional 10 minutes.
  8. Stir in butter and parmesan cheese.
  9. Serve with shaved parmesan cheese for garnish.

Makes approximately 8-10 servings.

*Gluten-free

 

The Ministry of Presence

Posted by | community, compassion, courage, culture, death, fear, friendship, grief, hope, Personal Stories, politics, relationships, serve, sharing faith, social justice, Stories, struggle | 2 Comments

 

Last night I woke to the sound of my 5-year-old whimpering in the next room. I ran in to check on her. “Mama, mama, I had the baddest dream,” came her trembling voice. I climbed into the top bunk bed next to her and laid down. “Mama’s here,” I assured her. She put her little hand in mine. Immediately, I felt her body relax. She drifted back to sleep. In that moment, I realized what my baby-girl needed was my presence.

That little scenario made me pause. I couldn’t help thinking about the emotions I have felt in the weeks following the election and the Inauguration last Friday. This season has been harrowing to say the least. I have voted in six presidential elections in my lifetime, and I never remember it being this bad. The divisiveness, the name calling, the character bashing, the violence, the fear, the dismissiveness of those in my community grieves me.

Immediately following the election, I read a lot of posts on social media that people should stop being crybabies about the outcome. I read more of the same after the Inauguration on Friday and the Women’s March on Saturday. These were painful to read because there is so much more at stake here. It’s not a simple, “Your team won; mine lost” scenario. Meanwhile, my Facebook and Twitter feeds have also been teeming with posts about hate crimes and sexual assaults committed, about friends with families and local businesses who fear being deported, about school children expressing uncertainty about their future.

My heart aches for my people and our country.

I have been searching for my place in all this. I have been asking myself, “How can I use my voice as a woman, as a multi-ethnic American, and as a Christian in this climate? How can I leverage my privileges to lift up the most vulnerable? How can I offer grace and love to my neighbor in tense times like these?” The answer I keep hearing is related to what my 5-year-old taught me when she was fighting her nightmare. I need to offer up the “ministry of presence.”

In this context, a “ministry of presence” means moving in close to listen, laying down our defensiveness and agendas, and offering up empathy instead. I have been reading Ann Voskamp’s latest book, The Broken Way, and she reminds me anew that Jesus always moves into the places of grief and offers up the ministry of presence. She writes, “In a broken world, isn’t the call always to koinonia, to communion with community that bears our burdens with us? Wasn’t suffering then actually a call for us to be a community, to stand together and bear under, trusting that arms of love are always under us?”

I have been offered the gift of presence several times in my life, and it has been important to my healing. When I was in college, I was walking to class one day and two men grabbed me from behind. In the days that followed that sexual assault, fear rose up inside me like an all-consuming monster. Thankfully, I escaped rape but the damage to my mind had already been done. I could not walk down the street or a hallway without feeling anxiety or going into a panic attack.

During that season, a dear friend and her boyfriend (who later in life became a police officer) decided to be present with me. They woke up early every morning and walked me to my classes. They waited around to see me home in the evenings. It was a simple gesture but their presence made all the difference in the world. Little by little – through counseling and mountains of prayers over many years – I regained confidence. I found the tools to combat my fear. Of course, it was unrealistic for them to be my bodyguards for life but their willingness to be present with me in that initial season was a powerful gift.

More than 15 years later, I faced a devastating stage four cancer diagnosis for my beloved husband. This was a different kind of trauma. During that journey, I had hundreds of people who offered to help us in tangible ways but it was the ones who offered the “ministry of presence” whom I needed the most. Friends came to play worship music for my husband in his final days. Friends came to sit with us through the long hours of the night when he faced the most pain, and I was the most exhausted. My community stood with me by the graveside, and they offered my young daughters and me a safe space to grieve in the months to follow.

One family offered us the gift of their presence just a few months after his death when it was time to buy a Christmas tree. Our family’s tradition was to go to a local Christmas tree lot and pick out a tree with Daddy. As the time drew closer to Christmas, dread heightened in my heart. Our friends asked me this question, “How can we be present for you this season? What’s something we can do to support you?” They agreed to accompany us to the Christmas tree lot.

The girls ran down the aisles of the tree lot in search of the perfect tree with their friends. The husband helped secure it to my car. My dear friend hugged me tight as we put it up in our home. The tears pooled in my eyes when a gathering of friends came to decorate our tree. We shared ornaments with all of them as reminders of my husband and his quirky personality.

This simple act was healing for our family because it was more than a “like” on Facebook or an act of service, more than a check or card in the mail. They were not focused on giving advice or urging me to get over it. These friends stepped into a messy, awkward situation full of grief and memories, and they were present. They listened to our needs and offered to go with us on the journey. We were not alone.

I give these two examples because I believe in these challenging times we are all called to the “ministry of presence.” It’s easy to mouth off on Twitter or re-post that article on Facebook that supports our views, but the reality is people are hurting and scared. The most courageous thing we can do is listen. The bravest thing we can do is stand with them.

We recently visited a family who has adopted children from Ethiopia and Mexico. A picture of Donald Trump flashed on the television behind us. Their middle son asked his mama again and again if his brother would be deported. She told me he has asked hundreds of times in the last week. His parents try to reassure him and offer up comfort, but it’s hard.

I sat at my kitchen table the other day listening to the story of a dear friend who has been working for years to get her American citizenship. The process has been hairy. She watched the election with fear and trembling, realizing the ramifications for her family after living and contributing in the U.S. for decades. I listened. She educated me. She spoke with courageous faith and prayed for God to make a way for her now.

I recently dined with a group of my heart friends at a local Indian restaurant, where we often celebrate each other’s birthdays. This group of friends represents a diversity of cultures and professions. We all attend different churches and live in different parts of the city. It was important to be present with each other, to sit face to face and listen to each other’s unique experiences. One woman’s son was afraid his grandma (who is a citizen) will be sent back to El Salvador. Another friend said one of her clients just chose to move to Mexico to escape all that is happening.

I considered my own multi-ethnic daughters, whose hair colors and skin colors vary in hue. How would these next four years shape their cultural identities? Would they endure comments and prejudice? As mamas, my friends and I contemplated: How can we administer grace, teach resilience and model peace in our communities and our homes?

My challenge to myself and to you is to ask: How can I be present for someone today? This is not just about acts of service or help. It’s taking time to listen, to empathize, to grieve alongside others.

These are some practical examples that have inspired me:

-invite friends to dinner and ask them to share their stories
-walk to school with neighbors and friends
-make something and deliver it to a neighbor from a different cultural background and ask them how they are doing
-offer to sit and be present with someone who is grieving
-read books to your children about empathy, kindness and other cultures
-stand with someone in your community who is afraid
-speak up against racist or sexist remarks

Friends, this is how we can be used by God in these uncertain times. In Matthew 1:23, an angel announces the birth of Jesus Christ: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God with us.’)” God chose to put on flesh and come to earth as a baby, who grew to be a man, who chose to be with people, to walk alongside them in their suffering, and lay down his life for them.

In the same way, we are designed to dwell with others in community. We need to carve out space for lament in our churches. We need to ask the hard questions and listen to our neighbor’s story. We need to set aside our political differences and be present with others, especially those vulnerable during this season. This is activism too. We need to seize the opportunity to be Immanuel – God with us – to those in our community.

**This article was previously published on www.inAllthings.org.