Chasing God's glory through tragedy and triumph

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Redeeming Ruth: The Father’s Heart for the vulnerable

Posted by | abundance, community, compassion, courage, culture, death, flourishing, grief, hope, inspirational, relationships, Stories, struggle, Uncategorized, video | No Comments

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

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

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

Check out the full video of the message here!

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

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

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

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

 

By Abigail Alleman

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

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

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

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

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

But all of this changed that warm June day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

Remembering Grandma Cora: Cooking Up a Legacy in the Kitchen

Posted by | cooking, courage, creativity, culture, death, family life, finishing well, flourishing, food stories, grief, hope, identity, individuality, inspirational, laughter, passion, relationships, Stories, Uncategorized, world travel | No Comments

The second you walked into my Grandma Cora’s house you could smell the fragrance of onions, ginger, and garlic sautéing. She would swirl pancit noodles in her big pot and you could hear the music of the carrots and celery dancing as she added a splash of soy sauce.y

No matter what time of day – morning, noon, or night – Grandma always had something going in the kitchen.

Sometimes she would invite me to the table to roll Filipino lumpia with the aunties. We would scoop little portions of filling onto the egg roll wrappers. Tuck-flip-flip-roll. Tuck-flip-flip-roll.

Their fingers would fly, and I would try to keep up. I loved to listen to their stories of growing up in Hawaii and later raising their kids together in the Bay Area.

Grandma had a rice vending machine at her house. She would send me with a little bowl and tell me to press the button for one, two, or three cups of rice. Then she’d pull out the stool so I could climb up and dump it into the rice cooker. She’d measure the water using the first line on her index finger. Grandma made me sweet rice balls for snacks and twice-boiled rice when I was sick.

Somehow Grandma could make some rice and a package of chicken legs stretch to feed a multitude. There were always cousins, neighbors, and strangers showing up at the table like hungry baby birds eager for Grandma’s cooking.

Her hospitality was paramount.

Her family, including six kids, immigrated from the Philippines to the Hawaiian islands when she was a girl. Their Filipino culture blended in with the locals. They embodied the Hawaiian spirit of aloha that extended welcoming arms to all. They had a way of making strangers into family.

My grandma was also creative. When she wasn’t making art in the kitchen, you could find her crafting, sewing, or singing. She took up oil painting in her late fifties, and every inch of her home was covered in framed canvases. Her greatest delight was in painting fuchsia-colored hibiscus flowers and crashing ocean waves.

When I was a young teen, she encouraged me to pursue my creative interests. She would jump on a plane and fly across the country to see me perform in a piano or dance recital or to cheer on my brother at the theater. Her courage to try new things encouraged me as young person.

Grandma had a deep sense of adventure and loved to travel. She worked for thirty years for United Airlines so she could enjoy the privileges of exploring the world with reduced-cost airline tickets. She and my grandpa took trips to places like Australia, Italy, England, France, Spain, China, and the Philippines. She loved to eat food with the locals and make new friends.

During my senior year of college, my vivacious grandma had a sudden heart attack and went into a coma. I flew to California to be by her side in those days of quiet waiting. Despite the machines and the tubes, she was the picture of peace. I didn’t want to believe it at the time, but she was ready to meet her Savior.

We held her wrinkled artist hands and sang hymns and her favorite hula songs to her. She couldn’t speak, but she squeezed my hand whenever I would sing. I knew she heard me.

Those music notes were the last exchange of the heart we had.

I hope one day that people will reflect on my life and they will recognize these gifts of generous hospitality, courageous creativity, a sense of adventure, and deep faith. Grandma certainly planted the seeds.

The morning Grandma Cora soared to heaven, my hibiscus plant bloomed on my front porch in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I stepped outside on that brisk May morning of my college graduation, and I knew in my heart she was gone. The earth could not hold her anymore. The Master Gardener had called her home.

Some of you may spend this Mother’s Day without your mamas and grandmas. There are many of us who will taste the bittersweet of this holiday because we will miss them.

I am reminded of Timothy and how Paul attributed to him the legacy of faith passed on by his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice (2 Timothy 1:5). Friends, let’s acknowledge our losses, but let’s also embrace the opportunity to live the legacy of the courageous women who have gone before us.

Aloha, Grandma Cora.

 

*I wrote a children’s picture book called Cora Cooks Pancit that celebrates Filipino cooking, culture, and Grandma’s legacy. You can find details here.

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

How pruning clears the path for new growth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

You are not forgotten this Valentine’s Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beloved, be loved today.

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

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

 

 

When God transplants you to a new garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Through these experiences, I have learned several lessons:

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

Photo by Benjamin Combs on Unsplash

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

5 myths about grief and 1 important truth

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

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

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

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

Myth #1: Grief has five stages.

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

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

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

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

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

Myth #3: Time heals.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

 

**I want to learn from you. What are some of the myths about grief that you’ve heard? What has your journey been like? I hope you will add some of your own experiences in the comments.

**Are you struggling through a grief journey? Are you longing for a companion on your trip? Sign up for my weekly note of encouragement here. I also have a FREE resource on “Navigating grief with kids” that you will get delivered to your inbox when you sign up.

*Photo by Killian Pham on Unsplash

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

When “Let Go and Let God” is Bad Advice

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Until then, hang on.

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

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

We had hope.

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

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

“Scott home yet?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hang on.

 

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

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

 

Table talk: Savoring time around the table

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Running After His Glory in the Darkness

Posted by | brave, courage, death, finishing well, hope, inspirational, running, Stories, struggle, Uncategorized | No Comments

“Three, two, one, go!” the race director bellowed, his voice echoing through the forest. And we were off. My lungs burned as we headed straight uphill through the grove of sequoia trees at 5,000-feet elevation. Inhale. Lift. Exhale. Lift. Inhale. Lift.

I tried to find the rhythm of my breath and feet to make it up that first long hill. I had confidence knowing I had completed this race before, but five miles of hills is still five miles of hills. I knew what to expect, but I still had to put in the work.

Sometimes life is about breathing and lifting, putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes life is about lifting our eyes to chase God’s glory up the steepest hills and through the darkest corridors of the forest.

I learned this in a profound way in 2014 when my husband was diagnosed with stage four cancer. Every part of the journey felt like running uphill through the darkness. As his health quickly deteriorated, I took on the role of caretaker.

My once strong, athletic husband depended on me to take him to doctor’s appointments, to make decisions about treatments, to prepare special meals for him and even to brush his teeth. The work was heavy and heartbreaking. Lift. Inhale. Lift. Exhale. Lift. Inhale. Lift.

As I ran the Shadow of the Giants race, I could not help but take note of the landscape. The trail through the Nelder Grove — not far from Yosemite National Park — looked strikingly different from the year before when I ran the same race. Fallen trees and blackened trunks provided surprising contrast against the backdrop of the bright blue sky.

A wildfire earlier in the year blazed its way through 12,407 acres of this forest. The cause of the fire was unknown, but it threatened communities, historic buildings, resorts, and the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad. People were evacuated from hotels and homes.

I was surprised to discover that though forest fires destroy so much, good things can result as well. When a fire rages through dry underbrush, it clears thick growth so nourishing sunlight can reach the forest floor. This encourages the growth of native species, and a resilient tree, who survives the fire, can even experience a growth spurt.

As I ran, I saw evidence of new growth in the Nelder Forest. Green grass and leaves sprouted in all directions. Wildflowers dotted the trail. As I rounded the corner after the steepest part of the race, angled light beamed through the blackened tree trunks. Beauty rose up from the ashes.

My husband graduated to Heaven in September 2014. Out of the grief, a fierce sense of hope has emerged in my life these last few years. I still bear the scars of loss, but God uses these to open doors so I might impart courage to others. My three daughters have resilient spirits, which I believe spring from the fire they have walked through.

Do you feel like you are running uphill through the dark? Are you feeling the sear of the fire at your heels?

I have learned the challenge is in how we respond. Will we let the fires of life destroy us or refine us? Will we let grief overtake us or will we choose comfort in Christ? Will we sit in the ashes or will we wear a crown of beauty?

Friends, let’s draw strength from these words in Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me…
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.

Isaiah 61:1, 2-3 (NIV)

I started sprinting as I neared the finish of the race. Oh, how I love that final taste of glory! The trail turned to single track. I whizzed by lush, green ferns. I slowed to climb over felled tree trunks. Inhale. Lift. Exhale. Lift. Somehow the chase for His glory felt easier. My heart was singed by fire, but I found unexpected joy in the journey.

{The original version of this blog was published at www.incourage.me.}

{Summer Blog Swap} Creative ways to work through a spiritual funk

Posted by | creativity, flourishing, Stories, struggle, Uncategorized, worship | No Comments

Welcome to my Summer Blog Swap. Over the next four weeks I am inviting four of my blogger friends over to this space to share some of their posts and perspectives. It’s a fun way to introduce some of my favorite people to all of you. This week I’d like you to meet my friend Natalie Guy. We met through a writing group called Hope*writers. Natalie is a Central California girl. I love her recommendations for everything from favorite books to favorite wineries to favorite recipes, and her heart to share Jesus with women. Today she’s serving up some suggestions for where to turn for inspiration when you feel like you’re in a spiritual slump. Read on.

 

By Natalie Guy from Everyday Natalie

Have you ever gone through a dry season in your walk with the Lord?

You are going through the motions but your prayer and worship don’t feel genuine. That has happened to me at times, and it can be discouraging. You may feel like you are in a desert. You are parched, wind-whipped, frayed around the edges, burned out, and begging for some refreshment. You desire to have those rivers of living waters flow through you.

www.DorinaGilmore.com (Photo by Ruth Troughton on Unsplash)

 

Some creative ideas to work through a spiritual funk:

  • Listen to worship music. Play some praise music you love, songs you have worshiped along with before, or try some new tunes.
  • Be honest with God. Confess to the Lord what you are feeling. He knows and He understands.
  • Talk to a trusted friend. Share your struggle with another Christian friend and ask for prayer.
  • Remember this is just a season. Don’t be hard on yourself. No season lasts forever, so trust God that He will deliver you.
  • Listen to a podcast. There are some great faith-based podcasts that will encourage you and your walk with Jesus.
  • Switch it up. Try reading different versions of the Bible than you typically read. Pull out some devotionals you haven’t read in a while, buy a new one you’ve heard of, or borrow one from a friend. You may even try listening to the audio Bible.
  • Spend time in silence. Sit in God’s presence and listen. Open your hands and your heart to receive His words.
  • Try coloring in a Scripture coloring book. This can be a great way to read the Word and bring some life back to your dry bones.
  • Go on a retreat/day retreat. Find a place to get away from the hustle and bustle of life and focus on your relationship with God.
  • Open up your Bible and read passages that have previously brought you comfort. The Lord is faithful and will woo you back with His kind and familiar words.

www.DorinaGilmore.com (Photo by David Iskander on Unsplash)

 

*****

Podcast suggestions:

The Next Right Thing by Emily Freeman

Dear Daughters by Susie Davis

Gospel in Life by Tim Keller

Bethel Podcast by Bethel Church Redding

 

Scripture coloring books for adults:

Sweeter Than Honey: a Coloring Book to Nourish your Soul

Promises of Joy

Whatever is Lovely: A Coloring Book for Reflection and Worship

 

Devotional suggestions:

New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotion

Five Minutes with Jesus

The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms

 

Natalie Guy is a blogger, teacher, speaker and mentor. She loves to encourage women in their daily pursuit of God using anecdotes about life, faith, food, and friendship. Natalie has been married for 29 years to her husband Tony, who has spent much of that time in pastoral ministry. Natalie’s joy is to serve couples and families with him. She and Tony have three grown children.

Connect with Natalie on Instagram or Facebook, on her blog, and you can sign up to receive her weekly dose of soul encouragement and fun finds right here. 

*This blog was originally posted at Everyday Natalie.

**Photos provided by Ruth Troughton & David Iskander on Unsplash.com. 

The “speed of seed”: A spoken word on bearing fruit

Posted by | flourishing, grief, hope, identity, inspirational, Stories, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The following is a spoken word piece I wrote for The Bridge Church Fresno to share as part of the “I am, You are, We are” series. You can watch the piece here. The transcript of the piece is below.

They told me He was a Master,

the most skilled Gardener in all the land.

I had to trust His gentle, yet mighty hands.

He planted me, helped me to burrow deep into

the soft, rich soil He had carefully prepared for me.

I drifted to sleep dreaming of becoming

a magnificent tree one day.

 

When I woke up, I felt an awful ache in my belly.

It was the most excruciating pain –

like a pushing and pulling at the same time.

I wondered if this was normal.

I felt like my heart was breaking open,

birthing pains surging through my body.

I reached out for the Master Gardener,

but I couldn’t see Him in the darkness.

I heard a gentle whisper,

“I am doing a new thing.”

 

These words strengthened me.

“I will be with you.”

I reached out for Him,

sending my new roots through the soil

to seek Him, to chase after Him, to find Him.

I was thirsty, and He provided

all the water I could drink – and more –

until I was filled to overflowing.

I wanted to be like those mother trees

I saw planted by the water.

They did not fear the heat to come

and their leaves always seemed green.

 

Then I heard a deep voice above,

bellowing, beckoning me.

“Arise, little one,” He said.

It was the Gardener King!

He wanted to see me.

He was inviting me out into the world.

Rays of angled light danced above me.

I reached out with all the power, wisdom and knowledge

He had given me underground.

He lifted my head, and I began to grow.

First, I was a little shoot, but the more time

we spent together the longer and stronger

my branches and limbs grew.

I waved to the other trees in the orchard.

 

Then one day, the Gardener Counselor came to me.

He said it was pruning time.

Pruning was an important part

of the journey for a tree, He explained.

Pruning would shape me and stimulate new growth.

Methodically, He clipped and cut, clipped and cut.

He stood back and waited, and then cut some more.

His sharp clippers touched every one of my branches,

especially the biggest ones.

I tried to focus my eyes on the Father Gardener

when I ached, when I felt naked in the garden

with my ugly, bare branches extended for everyone to see.

“Abide in me,” He said to soothe my soul.

“The harvest is yet to come.”

 

I waited, I wondered, I rested.

It felt like many long winter days, months

that I did not see the sun or my Gardener Friend.

When grief and insecurity crept in,

I had to remember the words He had spoken

over me

when I was just a seed living underground.

“I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

“I love you with an everlasting love.”

“I rejoice over you with singing.”

After enduring many long days,

new green leaves appeared on my branches.

I saw the Gardener Shepherd tending to

other plants and trees in the garden too.

New life was awakened all around me.

 

And then came the blooms!

Pale pink and white petals perched

on every branch across the orchard.

I was not the only one coming alive with color,

flashes of purple, crimson and gold;

faith, hope and love lit up every corner.

I could not help but give thanks for the work

accomplished in each of us

through the Gardener who Sees.

We were flourishing together in His garden.

 

But the surprising joy came after my flowers dropped their petals.

After death, sprung a kind of

redemption, restoration, resurrection.

Fruit ripened in the places where flowers once bloomed.

I was reminded of our Gardener Provider,

who was faithful to plant the seed and send the rain,

who lovingly pruned, nourished and cultivated me

through the winter and spring months.

What transformation!

 

The Master Gardener made his way over to me.

With great delight he plucked a plump peach

from one of my branches.

He sunk his teeth into the flesh of that fruit

and juice chased down to His elbow.

He smiled at me, holding the fruit.

Finally, He gently removed the seed and bent to plant

it in the soil not far from my trunk.

 

Then He spoke these words over me

*******

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joygiving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1)

Amen.

 

Book review: Rooted

Posted by | book reviews, community, death, flourishing, Uncategorized | No Comments

A few months ago, I took my kids on a day trip to Sequoia National Park with friends. The park is full of sequoia redwood trees, which are some of the largest trees in the world. With their ruddy, giant trunks and branches extending toward Heaven, these trees are truly majestic.

I learned the General Sherman tree is the largest known single stem tree on earth standing 275 feet tall and an estimated 2,300-2,700 years old. What I find extraordinary about the General Sherman and the sequoia redwoods in general is not what we see above ground. I’m fascinated by their root systems that can hold up a tree with a mass of 2,472,000 pounds.

Redwood tree roots are surprisingly very shallow, often burrowing down only six to eight feet deep, but extending outward for more than a hundred miles. Their roots intertwine, connect and work together with the roots of other trees to share information and resources. The true majesty of these trees lies underground.

I received a text from a friend several months ago. She said I needed to read this book Rooted: The Hidden Places Where God Develops You by Banning Liebscher. The title intrigued me because I just published my second Bible study, Flourishing Together. I was preparing to teach it at my home church.

Rooted arrived just on time. Banning’s words provided rich food and affirmation for my soul on a topic God was already preparing me to share about through my study.

The book is organized into different sections. The opening six chapters lay the foundation of Banning’s premise: before we can develop our vision for life and ministry we must let God develop us.

“For you to bear abundant, enduring fruit, God needs to make you bigger on the inside than you are on the outside,” writes Banning. “You have to let Him build your root system in secret before He leads you into making a visible impact on the world.”

After the opening, Banning describes three types of soil: 1. Intimacy 2. Serving 3. Community and unpacks how these inform our journey of discovering God.

In Rooted, Banning takes us through the life of David to show how God expands our root system underground in order to later make an impact above ground. Banning illuminates the way God prepared David for the crown.  He develops an intimate relationship with God in private that fuels and guides his actions in public.

Banning was on staff at Bethel Church in Redding, California for 18 years and founded the Jesus Culture ministry during that time. Not only is he a great writer, but he has “street cred” too. He has lived this message about being rooted before growing far-reaching ministry.

Banning writes with the voice of a pastor, a teacher and an encourager. He especially challenged me with this: “When we come through that valley of the shadow of death, when we emerge out of the deep end, then what? We have an awareness of God’s abiding presence that forever changes the way we see impossible situations… Our roots are firmly established in the revelation of a Father who never leaves us.”

I have found these words to be true in my own life. As I faced the death of my husband in 2014 and entered that secret place to grieve with my Heavenly Father, I discovered His faithfulness has kept me rooted. He has shown me His presence through His word and community. Today I see how God is using my story and expanding my reach much farther than I ever imagined.

 

 

Read more about my personal story of flourishing after loss in Flourishing Together:Cultivating a Fruitful Life in Christ, a 6-week Bible study now available on Amazon. 

Book Review: Breaking the Fear Cycle

Posted by | book reviews, courage, death, fear, grief, Uncategorized | No Comments

A few weeks ago my middle daughter got sick. It’s winter and flu season so that was probably not surprising. Her fever raged on for a few days. I was slated to leave for a two-day conference that Thursday. My prayer was that she would rally and get better before I left.

I’m sure every mama hates to see her child sick, but this scenario holds extra weight for me because it is a trigger for one of my worst fears. In 2014, my husband received a stage four cancer diagnosis. I watched as his body quickly deteriorated in a few short months. We buried him three and a half months after his diagnosis.

After my husband’s death, I have often battled fears that something might happen to my kids. On the night before I was to leave for the conference, I held my little girl’s hand. All color drained from her face. She was lethargic. She did not appear to be getting better. Hot tears stung in my eyes as I started imagining my worst fears coming true.

Despite the fact that I would only be a 5-hour drive away and my daughter was in good hands with her new daddy and my mom by her side, fear started doing its ugly work in my head. I wept and prayed. Then I remembered Maria Furlough’s Breaking the Fear Cycle: How to Find Peace For Your Anxious Heart sitting on my night stand. I threw it in my bag.

On my trip, I started to read this book about how to find peace when we feel anxious. Maria’s words spoke right into my heart, meeting me in that battle with fear. What I love about Maria’s book is that it is a mix of honest storytelling and Biblical truth. She lived through her worst fear and provides raw, beautiful tools to help the rest of us navigate our journeys with faith.

I especially value the reflection questions at the end of each chapter. These thoughtful questions are perfect for journaling or discussing with a trusted friend or group. I wholeheartedly agree with Maria’s claim that we need to fight fear head on and call out our worst fears in order to overcome them with God’s help.

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

The chapter that made the biggest impact on me was “Chapter 5: Wrestling Matches with God.” I resonated deeply with Maria’s wrestling with God. She walks us through her doubts, questioning and process of wrestling. She doesn’t sugarcoat her journey.

With my husband’s diagnosis and death, I wrestled too. Although my faith was strong, my fears reared their ugly heads all of the time. Initially, I wrestled with God about the idea that my healthy, fit man could have cancer. I wrestled with God about taking away my rock and partner in ministry. I wrestled with God about the grief my young children would have to endure. I wrestled with God about healing. I wrestled with God about what would truly bring Him glory.

“I fought him tooth and nail, but it was in the fighting that true surrender came,” writes Maria in her book. “God doesn’t want our passive faith. He wants our active faith. Our very much honest and true fighting faith.”

Maria highlights other wrestlers in the Bible. She unfolds the stories of David, Job and Jacob and shows how they wrestled with God. I know that it was in the wrestling and in the fighting that my own faith also became more rooted. God proved Himself faithful again and again. He showed me that He is bigger than my fears.

If you are battling fear of any kind today, I highly recommend Breaking the Fear Cycle. It’s a quick read with practical and personal applications for everyone.

 

**I would love to communicate with and encourage you more regularly! Join my Glory Chasers tribe here.

**I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to amazon.com. There is no additional cost to readers.

Instant Pot Indian Butter Chicken: Leaning into vulnerability

Posted by | community, courage, Recipes, struggle, Uncategorized | One Comment

When you sit down face-to-face with someone at the table for a meal, it invites familiarity and intimacy. In our busy world where connection often happens in quick texts or over social media, time connecting at the table is rare. It takes vulnerability to invite someone into your space, to prepare food and go deeper in conversation.

Author Brene Brown says, “You can’t get to courage without walking through vulnerability.”

I know I have gained courage through times at the table being vulnerable with dear friends. That’s why I’m passionate about fostering community through food.

For the last few months, my go-to dish has been Indian Butter Chicken. It’s a personal favorite I’ve been trying to perfect for years. Every time I go to an Indian restaurant I have to order the Butter Chicken. It’s tradition.

My sister-in-law gave me an Instant Pot for Christmas, and I’m basically obsessed with trying out all the new recipes. Dishes that typically take hours of braising and stewing can be served up in 30 minutes or less. I read several recipes by Indian chefs who actually departed from the traditional, more time-consuming method of making Butter Chicken to use the Instant Pot.

I’ve been tinkering for several weeks, and I finally settled on the following mix of ingredients. What I love about this Butter Chicken recipe is it tastes like it’s been marinating for days. The chicken is tender and the spices are robust with each bite.

Butter Chicken holds a kind of magic for me. I have many memories sharing this meal with friends in different contexts.

I sat at my friend’s dining room table one night this winter and cried my eyes out over our Butter Chicken and naan takeout. I meet every few months with this group of friends over Indian food. When I’m with them, I feel the freedom to grieve, to question, to philosophize and to dream. They infuse me regularly with courage as I watch them navigate hard things too.

I recently sat in a local Indian restaurant with a new friend eating Butter Chicken and other Indian delights from their lunch buffet. We realized three hours later, when alarms sounded to pick up kids from school, that we had gone deep in conversation over that meal. I’ve only known her a short time, but I felt the connection. Once again, it happened over food.

This past Sunday, we invited a couple and their two kiddos to our table for Butter Chicken spooned over rice pilau. My husband and I have known them for years with lots of threads tying our lives together. It was fun to catch up. By God’s grace, both our families are navigating marriage and parenting in this season. We swapped birth stories and parenting advice, savored memories and laughter together. I loved the reminder that trust and friendship are often cultivated at the table.

I hope you will try out this new recipe and be intentional about inviting someone to your table today. Lean in to the vulnerability. Fill your plates and fill your souls.

Indian Butter Chicken {for your Instant Pot}

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon ghee (or 2 tablespoons butter)

1 large yellow onion, chopped

6 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced

1 tablespoon sea salt

2 teaspoons turmeric

2 teaspoons paprika

2 teaspoons garam masala

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 29-oz can organic diced tomatoes or 5 Roma tomatoes, chopped

1 8-oz can organic tomato paste

3 pounds boneless chicken thighs (cut into bite-sized chunks)

1 cup heavy cream (room temperature)

½ cup fresh cilantro leaves (optional)

  1. Turn your Instant Pot to the sauté feature. Add ghee, onions, garlic, ginger and salt.
  2. Sauté until soft and fragrant.
  3. Stir in spices: turmeric, paprika, garam masala, and cayenne.
  4. Add tomatoes and tomato paste.
  5. Stir in chicken thighs.
  6. Cancel the Sauté setting and then press Manual. Set for 8 minutes and lock lid. Make sure the Instant Pot is on “sealing.”
  7. When the 7 minutes is complete, switch from “sealing” mode to “venting” mode for quick release.
  8. Stir in heavy cream and let rest 10 minutes before serving so sauce will thicken. Serve over basmati rice or with Indian naan bread. Garnish with cilantro leaves.

Makes approximately 8-10 servings.

*Gluten-free

Book review: Wonderstruck

Posted by | behold, book reviews, Creation, family life, Stories, Uncategorized, wonder | No Comments

The cool January breeze swirled as we strolled down to Elephant Seal Beach.  The Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery extends for 6 miles along the Central Coast of California. A crowd was already gathered along the wooden fence facing the ocean.

This time it was not the crashing waves or the angled afternoon light in sherbet colors that captured our attention.  The real attraction was the elephant seals.

Many friends told me I *had* to see the elephant seals and their babies. I’ll admit that I’m not really an “animal person” so I was underwhelmed at the thought. I am more frequently wowed by a sunset or mountain vista.

Make no mistake, the elephant seals command attention. These massive beasts often boast up to 4,000-5,000 pounds and the pups are 60-80 pounds at birth. The elephant seals spend most of their time at sea, but from December to March, they gather at select beaches for birthing and breeding.

I could have stood watching them for hours. The mothers cared for their pups. The daddies barked back and forth in funny banter. Some appeared lazy in the sun, some alive with energy and passion. As I watched their sand-flipping and sparring, I was wonderstruck by the wild creativity of our God.

My word theme for 2018 is wonder. My family and I are spending more time outdoors exploring God’s Creation. We are taking more trips to the ocean and mountains. I’m signing up for more trail runs. We want to read the Bible together and discover more about the wonders and miracles Jesus performed. We plan to spend time marveling together as a family and recounting the stories of His provision in our lives.

I started off the year by diving into Margaret Feinberg’s book, Wonderstruck: Awaken to the Nearness of God. The book invites readers to chase wonder through their everyday lives. She helps us to wake up to wonder in a variety of ways, including the wonder of God’s presence, creation, rest, prayer, restoration, friendship, forgiveness, gratitude and abundant life.

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

She so beautifully articulates what I have been learning over the last several years. Each day – no matter how ordinary or extraordinary – is an opportunity to chase God’s glory.

Margaret leads us on a journey calling out wonder in our world and digging into the Bible to highlight stories that illuminate God’s wonder. I also love the bonus features of this book, including a music playlist and the “Thirty Days of Wonder Challenge” at the end of the book.

Wonderstruck came at just the right time for me. I took the book with me to Ragged Point and read it while I watched a mesmerizing sunset over the Pacific Ocean. These words spoke to me about what I have been missing in my rush-a-long, get-it-done days. This book helped set the tone for my year. I’m slowing my pace and chasing wonder. Won’t you come along and #livewonderstruck?

If you’d like to learn more about my journey learning to chase God’s wonder and glory, check out my Glory Chasers Bible study now available on Amazon. This study invites readers to discover God’s glory in unexpected places.

Finding real rest after a tragedy

Posted by | behold, family life, flourishing, hope, running, self-care, Stories, Uncategorized, wonder | No Comments

Trail running provided a way for me to still my heart and listen to God after my husband's death. We all need rest and that looks different for different people. This article shares about my journey discovering soul care.

The other morning, I went for a trail run at one of my favorite spots in Central California. I was mesmerized anew by the waves of golden grasses undulating over the hills, the cerulean blue of the sky, and the branches of the trees stretching in a dance toward Heaven. Water lapped at the shore below. My trail shoes connected with the earth, tracing the sapphire edges of Millerton Lake.

I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but trail running has taught me to rest.

You are probably thinking running is not resting. There’s something about running free on a winding trail with God’s glory unfolding all around me. When I’m running, my heart stills and leans in to hear God speak.

Trail running provided a way for me to still my heart and listen to God after my husband's death. We all need rest and that looks different for different people. This article shares about my journey discovering soul care.

I have discovered as a 40-year-old mama of three active kids that rest in my daily life looks a little different than expected. I have shifted my thinking about rest. It’s not always about pedicures and weekends away and sleeping in. I know that by nature I am a highly-motivated, multi-tasking mama. I have to be intentional to carve out time and give myself permission for what I call “soul care” and rest.

A real rest for our souls is about running to God for all our needs.

This kind of rest requires saying no to constant striving, mindless scrolling, friend comparison, unbridled fear and sticky guilt.

{My friend Lea Turner is hosting the rest of this article over on her blog. Click HERE to continue.}

{A blog series} All Things New: Finding the Courage to Love Again

Posted by | brave, courage, death, family life, hope, marriage, relationships, Stories, struggle, transitions, Uncategorized, wonder | No Comments

The following is part of a blog series called “All Things New: Learning to Flourish After Loss.” I am sharing this month about my journey learning to flourish after my husband’s death in 2014. Be sure to check out some of the other posts in the series, including a few by guest writers.

We stood at Yosemite National Park’s most famous lookout, the Wawona Tunnel View. Fog and threads of clouds swirled around the chiseled mountain outlines of El Capitan and Half Dome. The majestic view was decidedly mysterious.

Although I have visited Yosemite many times throughout my life, that winter day was somehow different. The beauty was unexpected and breathtaking. The snow-capped mountains were pregnant with a kind of hope for spring rains, for abundance to come. And I knew it was the start of something new in me.

Even in the uncertainty, even in the grief, I felt God speaking to me. His presence was palpable. Despite all the voices in my head that were screaming not to step in, not to trust, not to risk having my heart shattered again, I knew God was inviting me into a new story.

I took a step that day. I felt like Moses stepping into the cloud in Exodus 33. I begged Him to show me His glory.

Shawn and I talked and prayed together as we walked the trails and drove the winding roads through the park. We reminisced about my late husband Ericlee, who had been one of Shawn’s best friends through the years.

When Shawn held my hand, I knew I had to have courage to begin again. Author Brene Brown says, “You can’t get to courage without walking through vulnerability.”

Love looks different when you’ve buried your soul mate long before his time. This was not the heart-fluttering, dress-up-for-Saturday dates kind of love of my twenties. This love affair was starting with vulnerability. It was dressed in a heavy cloak of grief and loss. And it came with the extra gift of three children who desperately missed their daddy in heaven.

A few months before my mama had planted a little seed in my heart. She told me she believed God was going to provide someone new – a husband for me and a father for the girls. I was still so broken from the loss of my beloved to cancer that I could hardly receive her words. I didn’t have the strength to dream. Not yet.

But the tiny mustard seed took root in the deepest recess of my heart.

Was it any wonder that I was also studying the story of Ruth and Boaz in my Bible study at church? I read that favorite Bible story with fresh eyes as a young widow. I had always admired Ruth and her character. I never imagined I would be able to relate to the emotions she felt after the death of her husband.

As I dug deep into the soil of the book of Ruth, I unearthed some new truths now that I was a widow. Ruth was courageous. She had to step out in vulnerability to receive God’s provision. She heeded the advice of her mother-in-law and humbly presented herself to Boaz.

I often wonder if she feared judgment. In my own Ruth-and-Boaz story, I grappled with fear of what people might say about beginning a relationship so soon after my husband’s death. Although I had been grieving for many months anticipating his death, I knew it would still be hard for some people to understand. I wavered when I thought about my daughters and the shame they might endure because of my actions. I worried about weaving together a new family.

Jesus continued to guide us step by step. I heard nothing but affirmation from my family and closest friends. Trusted mentors gave their blessing. Even my mother-in-law, who had buried her son that previous year, welcomed our relationship with open arms.

When we got engaged that summer, she cried tears of joy that her granddaughters would have a daddy. She adopted Shawn as her son years before I was even in the picture. There was no doubt in our minds this wild story was being written by God.

One time I asked Shawn if it was hard for him to think about marrying me when I had already been married before. He answered without pausing: “No, I just think God sent Ericlee to take care of my wife these 11 years so I could be with you the next 30 or 40.”

His perspective both shocked and comforted me. He had waited for so long to get married. (In fact, Ericlee and I had prayed over him for years that he might find a wife.) He had a quiet confidence that this was God’s plan. We had glimpsed His glory.

I’m not going to say finding the courage to love again has been easy. My heart has often trembled at the work before me. I have buried some dreams in order to cultivate new ones. I’m grateful for the way Shawn has made space for me to grieve those dreams. He has also encouraged me to create new ones.

I work hard not to compare Shawn to Ericlee. Although they both shared several interests and passions, they are two different men. I have to be careful not to expect Shawn to do things the way Ericlee did. I have to be conscious to celebrate the memories of the past, but not to exalt them when the present day feels hard.

Marriage in all circumstances requires work and courage. We have to be willing to be vulnerable, to grieve together, and to share our hearts. I am filled with a deep gratitude to be on this journey. I recognize it is a privilege to experience two loves in this lifetime.

Throughout scripture, God promises to make all things new. He is constantly doing the work of reclaiming, restoring and rebuilding. Maybe you have not lost a spouse, but you are struggling in another relationship. Maybe you need strength to reach out again.

Ponder these questions with me today: How can you step out in vulnerability to love again? How can you open your heart to the new story God might be writing for you?

When we are in Christ, He makes us a new creation. As it says in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Let’s step courageously into that today.

**This post is part of a January series called “All Things New.” Check out the other stories in the series and my new Bible study, Flourishing Together:

All Things New: Learning to Flourish After Loss” – an introduction to the series by Dorina Lazo Gilmore, including why she chose “All Things New”

All Things New: My New Normal” – a guest post by Danell teNyenhuis about finding a new life with her daughters after her husband’s tragic death

All Things New: Life Beyond the Hospital Doors” – a guest post by Danielle Comer about life for a young widow after her husband died of cancer

All Things New: Letting Dreams Die, Cultivating New Ones” – an essay about the hard work I had to do in my heart after my husband’s death to dream again

All Things New: Learning To Breathe Again” – guest post by Tara Dickson about emptying herself of expectations and breathing in God’s truth and hope after her husband’s death

 

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

**black and white version

*full-color version

 

 

 

*Featured Yosemite Photo by James Donovan on Unsplash

{A blog series} All Things New: Learning to breathe again

Posted by | death, flourishing, grief, Guest blogger, parenting, Stories, struggle, transitions, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The following is a guest post by my widow friend Tara Dickson as part of a blog series called “All Things New: Learning to Flourish After Loss.”  After a 14-month battle with glioblastoma brain cancer, her husband went home to be with Jesus at the age of 46. She daily challenges me to lift my eyes to the new things God has for each one of us.

New beginnings and new seasons often begin with a new year. Just like clockwork ours did too. After a night of board games and egg nog, we found ourselves in a cold, sterile ER. What we thought was a stomach bug that was dehydrating my husband was a large mass pressing on his brain.

While everyone else was writing down their word for the year and making resolutions, we were resolving to fight for his life. We had four kids, three still in high school.

He did fight the good fight against cancer for 14 months, and I fought with him. Then, in the dark of night, the Lord woke me to lay my hand on his chest and feel his last exhale, and watch his triumphant entry into Heaven. It still feels like yesterday, but we are coming up on two years.

The word “new” sounds so inviting, full of possibility and expectation. Yet when you don’t choose that “new” it can be anything but. New can range from uncomfortable to paralyzing. For us, it was the latter.

Home wasn’t home anymore. He wasn’t there. Our lungs forgot how to pull in air and we felt disconnected and set apart. Overnight we had become members of this club that we didn’t ask to join. Change swirled around us and within. There was no getting away from it.

Everyone said, “You just have to find your new normal.” But, I have decided that normal is overrated. I don’t want normal. Life is not this tame predictable thing that I can plan and schedule or control.

I have found that there is comfort in abandonment. When I cling so tightly to my plans and my will, I start to fear they will be taken from me. They become something I must protect and manipulate.

When I abandon myself, all that I am and all that is mine to God, there is freedom in the releasing. It’s a laying down of my will so that I can pick up His. Though the plans we lay for ourselves might never come to pass, it doesn’t mean that God’s plans for us are over or that He isn’t good.

There must be an emptying and filling for our hearts to grow. It’s a bit like breathing.

Circumstances come to each of us that empty us. They wring our hearts dry.  Then we try to fill them up again. We can fill them with the truth of God’s word, hope for tomorrow and trust that though the way seems dark, He promises to light the way. Or we can fill them with fear, anxiety and no hope for tomorrow.

I have wrestled with both and found when I “Lift Up My Eyes” to the faithful Father and allow him to renew my mind with His word, that is when the peace comes that anchors the soul.

So breathe, dear ones, and when the emptying comes and new seasons lie around the bend, abandon yourself to the one who longs to fill you with new hope for tomorrow!

“Sing to the Lord a new song! Sing his praise from the end of the earth!

Behold the former things have come to pass, Now I declare new things.”

Isaiah 42:10,9 (NAS)

 

A former elementary school teacher, Tara has since then been following the calling the Lord placed on her heart to write, heal and connect with His body. She strives daily to remind herself and others to “lift up your eyes” and see that God is with us. She is also an agented children’s author and hopes to publish a series for children. You can read her encouraging words at www.taradickson.com or on Instagram or on Facebook @taraelizabethdickson

 

 

**This post is part of a January series called “All Things New.” Check out the other stories in the series and my new Bible study, Flourishing Together:

All Things New: Learning to Flourish After Loss” – an introduction to the series by Dorina Lazo Gilmore, including why she chose “All Things New”

All Things New: My New Normal” – a guest post by Danell teNyenhuis about finding a new life with her daughters after her husband’s tragic death

All Things New: Life Beyond the Hospital Doors” – a guest post by Danielle Comer about life for a young widow after her husband died of cancer

All Things New: Letting Dreams Die, Cultivating New Ones” – an essay about the hard work I had to do in my heart after my husband’s death to dream again

 

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

**black and white version

*full-color version

 

 

 

Featured photo by Havilah Galaxy on Unsplash

Why fitness is easier to foster in community

Posted by | community, death, friendship, grief, inspirational, relationships, running, self-care, Stories, Uncategorized | No Comments

I remember when my first daughter was born I had this funny idea that I would be able to wear my normal, pre-pregnancy clothes on the trip home from the hospital.

After a traumatic birthing journey that spread across Memorial Day weekend, I was sadly mistaken. I was torn up, sore, struggling to breastfeed, and there was no-way-in-heck I was going to get those jeans over my middle section. I cried, and I wore my trusty, velvet, maternity/yoga pants home.

This was the beginning of the battle with my body.

I learned that the sacrifice of a mother is emotional, mental and physical. There was a huge learning curve ahead of me. As a former athlete and working woman, spending hours in a glider feeding my new baby girl was more difficult than I expected. Not only did I feel relegated to the chair, but I also had to reckon with my broken and bruised body.

The doctor said it would be a couple of months before I could run again. He was right.

And when I started walking, the journey was hard – full of starts and stops, weeping, self-loathing and learning to love my body again in all of the transitions, in all the various clothes sizes I would have to wear.

That season served as a crucible for me in which God grew a passion for coming alongside women in their fitness journeys.

A year after I had my first baby girl, I found myself standing before a group of women from my MOPS group sharing about my journey. My husband, who was a physical trainer and coach, joined me and encouraged the women to reframe the way they thought about health and fitness.

He preached what he had preached to me through my hardest days. We are called to health and fitness not as a means to lose or gain weight or to look good in the latest fashion. We are called to steward our bodies well and to use them for God’s glory.

{Read the rest of the story over at Kindred Mom today. I’m sharing my heart there.}