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{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.}

Book review: Picturing Heaven

Posted by | book reviews, death, gifts, grief, sharing faith, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

The other night I went for a walk with my 6-year-old around the track at our local high school. The sun set far quicker than I anticipated, and we found ourselves strolling in the dark. Of course, it wasn’t completely dark because as we rounded the bend we looked up and saw the sky was lit up with stars. I smiled, savoring this sacred moment with my youngest girl.

We wandered into a conversation about stars, and then, as is common in our family, we started talking about Heaven. We chatted about whether we thought Daddy in Heaven could see the other side of those stars.

“I love my daddy so much,” came the sweet voice of my girl.

“I know you do, sweetie,” I said.

I have learned to let her share freely when she starts talking about her daddy. These conversations are a part of our rhythm. We wondered aloud if he could see us walking around the track. We imagined him talking with his grandma. My girl perked up because she knows she is named after her great-grandma. She remembered our chef friend, who died recently, and talked about him making cream puffs for Daddy in Heaven.

As I reflected later, I remembered that our initial conversations about Heaven happened with the help of author Randy Alcorn. After my husband died, I immediately tracked down a copy of Randy Alcorn’s Heaven book. My daughters were asking lots of questions, and I heard the book was a primer on all things Heaven from a Christian perspective. It’s a dense book packed with 25 years of research and answers to questions anyone might have about heaven.

I still use it as a bookend on my shelf, joining my other books about grief. I also bought Heaven for Kids.  After their dad died three years ago, I read chapters of the book aloud after dinner. Even though some of it was over my girls’ heads, those two books invited us into conversation and using our imaginations about what Heaven would be like.

Recently, I was scrolling through Instagram and happened upon the cover image of a new coloring book devotional using some of the content from Alcorn’s book. I ordered Picturing Heaven right away, thinking it would be a great gift for my. What I discovered is that God intended to use the coloring book to minister mostly to me.

This book features beautiful spreads illustrated by Lizzie Preston with special gold overlays and short devotionals by Randy Alcorn. The beautiful images to color attracted my attention initially, but it was the deep reflections paired with scriptures that invited me into the Heaven conversation anew.

What I like most about this book is that it breaks down some of the main themes from Alcorn’s Heaven book into easy-to-understand nuggets. For example, I was reminded in the first devotional that the “present Heaven” is the place believers in Jesus go when their physical bodies die, but it’s not our final destination. The Bible reminds us that we are destined for another place – a resurrected Earth.

Alcorn writes, “God’s children are destined for life as resurrected beings on a resurrected Earth. We must not lose sight of our true destination!”

I have been reading this devotional with my family – my new husband and my three daughters, who are now ages 6, 8 and 11. We all have resonated with it on our own terms. We also love getting out our colored pencils and coloring the pages while we chat about the content.

I would highly recommend Picturing Heaven for any individual or family, especially those navigating grief. It would make a great gift to share with friends along with a nice set of colored pencils!

Interested in more book recommendations? I share some of my favorites in my weekly Glorygram. Sign up here, and I’ll slip it gently into your inbox. 

Journey back to Haiti: Learning to Behold

Posted by | behold, grief, Haiti, hope, One Word, sharing faith, Stories, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

The moment I set foot on the new tile in the church nestled in the mountains, I could feel the buzz. Wide-eyed, I scanned the crowd. There was an excitement among the women who gathered. They greeted me with smiles and kisses and enthusiastic hugs. Many of them have become dear friends over the years. This was the Esther Women’s conference in Pignon, Haiti – three days carved out each year to join hands and hearts, to sing and seek God together.

For me, this moment felt like coming full circle. My first-ever speaking engagement for a women’s retreat was here in this place six years before. Back then, I delivered one short message on friendship as a complement to the central teaching by my dear friend who was the keynote. Hands shaking and knees trembling, I stood before those ladies, and God planted a seed.

He wanted me to speak. He wanted to use my story.

Six years later, after much tragedy and triumph in my life, I stood before these ladies a transformed woman. My friend Rici from Fresno joined me to lead worship. My Haitian friend, Walquis, stood at my side. He was my first English student in 2002. What joy for him also to come full circle with me now working as my translator!

Is it any wonder that just as I started sharing about how we can see evidence of God’s glory in Creation that a tropical downpour began? The rain played a symphony on tin house roofs and danced outside the church windows. And we marveled at the glory of His Presence inside.

Some might see rain as a sign of a storm – something to fear or deter – but I encouraged the women to remember that in the rain there is provision and abundance. The rain nourishes the crops. The rain cools the air. The rain cleanses. The rain cultivates the soil of our hearts and builds resilience in each of us.

The women connected. They nodded and called out their response in amens.

I prayed for weeks that God would provide just the right illustrations that would reach out to the Haitian women and draw them into understanding. Behold, this was preaching with props included. Let it rain.

Back in January, I chose the word “behold” as my theme for this year. I’ve discovered it’s one of those words splattered across every book of the Bible but I rarely paid attention to it before. In fact, some versions of the Bible even edit it out. The original word “behold” in Aramaic is a verb that means “to see or witness.”

Starting in Genesis 1:31, there is a call to behold: “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.”

As I shared with my friends in Haiti at the conference, God took time to pause and see that all the things He made were good. We are called to do the same.

I see Him in the strong wings of the butterfly forged through pressure and metamorphosis.

I see Him in the brilliant red-orange flowers of the flamboyant tree providing shade for us in the yard.

I see Him in the eyes of my new husband, whom I met in Haiti more than 16 years ago on my first mission trip.

I talked with the women about how He is El Roi, the God who sees, named by a woman who endured much suffering and discovered great faith. Her name was Hagar.

In the Matthew 1:18-25, an angel of the Lord comes to Joseph and asks him also to see and witness. “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”

That word “behold” precedes the most important announcement ever made – the coming of Emmanuel.

These last seven months I’ve been pressing in and God has been teaching me to behold. It requires I stop, look and listen. To behold is a call to slow, to rest, to marvel at how far God has brought us and trust He is working underground at all times.

On my recent trip to Haiti, I was called again and again to behold. I found myself beholding the progress and redemption I saw in this beautiful place I have called my home in the past.

I witnessed God at work as now a third generation of Haitians are rising up to lead the churches and ministry there. My late husband’s grandparents were pioneer missionaries in these parts in the 1940s. What joy to see the young people carry this torch and continue the legacy with the blessing of their elders!

I witnessed God at work as some of the women who were once on the fringes of this community were now helping lead the conference, cook the food and serve the other women of the church.

I witnessed God at work in the young people who were once fragile, malnourished children I interviewed to bring into the orphanages. Now they are confident and compassionate teenagers contributing to their community and their church. They are dreaming about future careers – a mark of lives transformed.

I witnessed God at work in my three daughters who embrace Haiti and its people as their own, who carry on the passion of their late father who grew up visiting Haiti.

My challenge and encouragement to you today is to ask yourself these key questions: How can God use your story? What are you beholding today?

Beholding beckons us to awake to the wonder of serving Him.The night before the closing session of the women’s conference, I paused with my family to pray. I had some ideas about the last message I would share but I wanted to hear from God. I wanted to listen to where He might specifically lead.

I slept well that night, went for a sunrise run, and then slipped into the church as the women began singing. I knew the finale of this conference must be about beholding God’s glory in community. I shared about how God had provided abundantly for my daughters and me after the death of my husband Ericlee.

And I unfolded the story of how God brought my new husband Shawn out of the fold of our community. It’s a story I never could have crafted or illustrated myself. The women recognized it too. They giggled and clapped. They lifted hands to the heavens with me. And that’s what beholding is all about. It’s stepping back to savor the wild painting the Master artist is in the process of creating. It’s pausing to see how He is “making all things new.”

Beholding calls us to chase His glory in every day. Won’t you join me?

 

Haitian stuffed chayote squash: It ain’t easy being cheesy

Posted by | community, cooking, creativity, culture, Haiti, Main Dish, Recipes, side dish, Uncategorized, world travel | No Comments

One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to hang out in the kitchen with the native cooks. On my recent trip to Haiti, I did just that and learned a new recipe for Militon Faci.

Madame Adeline, a new cook on staff at the guest house where we stay, attended culinary school in Port Au Prince. I’ve long had a love affair with Haitian food. Although I’ve tasted and prepared lots of the Haitian dishes, Madame Adeline introduced me to some dishes I’ve never had before. She was delighted to teach my daughter, Giada, and me the recipe for Militon Faci or Stuffed Chayote Squash using some French cooking techniques.


Chayote belongs to the gourd family, along with melons, cucumbers and squash. Chayote is known around the world by other names including christophine cho-cho, pipinola, pear squash, vegetable pear, or choko. I’ve tasted chayote in Mexican salads and prepared Haitian-style cut in strips and sautéed in a tomato-garlic sauce.

Militon Faci reminds me of a twice baked potato. The shell of the chayote provides a vessel to hold the cheesy mashed insides. It’s pretty dish with melt-in-your-mouth goodness. We were begging in Haitian Kreyol for more!


What’s your favorite squash dish? What culture does it represent? We want to hear all about it in the comments!


Ingredients:

-5 chayote squash

-1/2 teaspoon salt plus 1/4 teaspoon salt

-1 small onion

-1 small green pepper

-1/2 cup flour

-1 cup milk

-1/4 cup butter plus 2 tablespoons cut into small chunks

-3 sprigs parsley

-1 stalk green onion

-2 drops Tabasco sauce

-1 bouillon cube

-1/4 cup parmesan cheese


Directions:

1. Cut 5 chayote in half. Remove center seed.

2. Boil 10 minutes in salt water (1/2 teaspoon salt).

3. Heat oven to 350 degrees.

4. Remove soft insides of the squash. Mash squash with potato masher.

5. Chop one small onion and small green pepper.

6. Put mashed squash in strainer to drain juice. Discard excess juice.

7. Measure out 1/2 cup flour.

8. Heat pan and add 1 cup milk and 1 cup water. Heat through but do not boil. Set aside in separate bowl.


9. Create a bechemel sauce: Add 1/4 cup butter to pan. Whisk until completely melted.

10. Add chopped onion and green pepper to butter in pan. Sauté.

11. Add flour and whisk together with onions and peppers for 1 minute. Add milk and water to pan.

12. Tie together a small bundle of parsley and 1 stalk green onion to create a Bouquet Garni (pronounced “bo-KAY gar-NEE”). Add to sauce to flavor it.

13. Add 2 drops Tabasco sauce, 1 cube bouillon. Keep whisking.

14. Add 1/4 cup parmesan cheese. Let mixture bubble until it thickens. Add small amount of salt (about 1/4 teaspoon).

15. Remove parsley and green onion.

16. Add bechemel sauce to squash and stir together to incorporate.

17. Grease/butter a cookie sheet with sides.

18. Line up squash shells on pan. Fill with bechemel mixture.

19. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

20. Add tiny piece of butter (about 1/2 teaspoon) to the top of each squash.

21. Put tray in oven for 20 minutes to brown tops of squash.

Summer soup?!: Tomato-Basil Bisque

Posted by | cooking, Recipes, soup, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

I know what you’re thinking. Soup is the last thing you want to make – let alone eat – when the temperatures are soaring. I hear you.

However, when you are tired of grilling and the crockpot, you might need to shake it up a bit and make some of this soup. (You won’t even have to heat up the oven!)

I love this bisque because it features some of my favorite summer ingredients fresh from the garden or farmer’s market. Basil. Tomatoes. Peppers. Yum! The original version of this recipe was shared by my college roomie Jen. She likes to serve it up on Sunday nights with grilled cheese sandwiches.

Yesterday I had a small group of ladies over, who are going to help me with leading the New Song bible study group this fall at my church. I know food is central to fostering community with this group of women. We all laughed about how silly it seemed to eat hot soup in summer. I cranked up the air conditioning, and then we licked our lips and dug in for more. The ladies insisted I share this recipe. (Chris and Diane, this is for you!)

In Spain, they serve a cold tomato soup called gazpacho that incorporates some similar ingredients. You could serve this bisque cold with crusty bread like gazpacho if you can’t bear the thought of hot soup in summer. Either way, you must try this recipe! It’s great for a crowd.

 

Ingredients:

2 cups celery, chopped (approximately 8 ribs)

2 red pepper, chopped

1 large onion, chopped

1/2 cup butter, cubed

3 cans (28 oz) diced tomatoes, undrained or 10.5 cups coarsely chopped tomatoes with juice

1 small can (8 oz) tomato paste

4 cups fresh basil leaves

2 tablespoons organic sugar

1 tablespoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 cup heavy whipping cream

Directions:

1. In a large soup pot, saute the celery, onion and red pepper in butter for 5 minutes until tender.

2. Add tomatoes and tomato paste. Bring to boil then reduce heat, cover and simmer 40 minutes.

3. Stir in basil, sugar, salt and pepper. Either transfer half of soup mixture to blender and blend or use immersion blender in soup pot to process about half the soup until pureed.

4. Add cream and heat through. (Do not boil.)

5. Garnish with basil leaves.

**I’d love to hear from you? What is one of your favorite summer meals to gather people at your table?

Book Review: At Home in the World

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

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

I still remember that moment.

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

I was home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Building community in the kitchen: The secret is in the sauce (and three recipes!)

Posted by | cooking, creativity, culture, end-of-school year, family life, food stories, kids, laughter, Main Dish, Recipes, Uncategorized | No Comments

Cooking has always been a place of creativity, community and comfort for me. I grew up in the kitchen stirring sauces with my mama, kneading dough with my Italian Nana, and rolling lumpia egg rolls with my Filipino grandma.

As an adult, I have gathered many friends and family members in my kitchen to cook together. When I was a young married girl, I hosted a Cooking Club in my home for almost eight years. It all started because one of my friends told me she didn’t know how to boil water. Another friend loved to cook and asked if we could swap recipes. I looked around me and realized there were a host of women longing to learn and get in the kitchen together.

Our Cooking Club was born. We would meet monthly. I would choose a theme and some core recipes. People would bring ingredients. The ladies would cook and the guys would clean. We tackled time-intensive projects like homemade gnocci and and rosemary focaccia bread. We discovered new ethnic cuisines like Ethiopian key wot and Hawaiian sweet potato casserole. We created Pumpkin Party soup using farmer’s market abundance.

Through the years, we all started having babies and the Cooking Club grew to well over 40 people coming each month. We finally took a break when my husband and I took an assignment working full-time for a non-profit organization in Haiti. I still look back on those gatherings with fond memories. Maybe one day we will revive Cooking Club when all our kiddos are in high school.

I believe there’s so much to learn when we gather together to get our hands messy, employ our creativity, and share stories around food.

This school year I had the opportunity to teach a series of cooking classes for my daughter’s fifth grade class. My daughters attend Kepler Neighborhood School, a local charter that focuses on project-based learning. I started by sharing the children’s book I wrote. Cora Cooks Pancit tells the story of a girl named Cora who is the youngest in her family. She ventures into the kitchen one day with her mama and learns to make a Filipino signature dish called pancit. In the process of cooking together, Cora learns about some family history and history of the Filipinos in California. The book concludes with the recipe for pancit.

When I visit classrooms to share my book, I often teach the kids to make pancit. They help me wash and chop the vegetables and add the noodles to the pan. I am always surprised at the number of kids who taste the dish at the end even though it’s full of vegetables and new flavors for them. I think they feel ownership because they were involved in the process of creating the pancit.

I taught five cooking classes for my daughter’s fifth grade class this school year. One of my favorite classes was teaching the kids the secret in the sauce. I have three go-to sauces in my Italian cooking repertoire. These sauces celebrate my Southern Italian roots and my own creativity.

I invited the kids to re-create two of the sauces – pesto and a sausage ragu. We talked about tips on combining ingredients. For example, a little sugar is added to tomato-based sauces to reduce the acidic.

Then I set the kids free to create their own recipes. I told them the ingredients in each sauce but I didn’t tell them the quantities or the process of making it. They had to be creative, think critically, measure, taste test and write their own recipes. Their teacher and I also made this into a math lesson so the students were practicing multiplying fractions.

 

I loved seeing the teamwork that happened naturally as the kids created their recipes. Some wanted to get their hands dirty and add ingredients. Others engaged their senses smelling the spices and tasting the sauces. A few dove right into the math problem, writing down the recipes. I thought back to my cooking club and how over the years each of those friends discovered their tastes and their gifts in the kitchen.

Each of these sauces are pretty simple to make. They do not require a lot of time or a long list of ingredients. They do require attention and love. The kids gained some practical skills in cooking but they also learned to engage their creativity in community.

I hope this summer you will take some time to gather some friends or your own children in the kitchen. You might choose a favorite family recipe or try one of these sauce recipes. If you want to get adventurous, you can cover up the quantities of each ingredient and let your kids explore and combine on their own. You might take advantage of this time together in the kitchen to tell stories about your grandpa or great-aunt who made a special recipe.

**I’d love to hear how it goes. Please come back and COMMENT below about your experiences. Did you find any creative uses for these sauces? Which was your favorite?

 

 

Pesto Sauce

Ingredients:

2 cups fresh basil leaves

2 cloves garlic

½ cup walnuts or pine nuts

½ cup olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

½ cup parmesan cheese

 

Directions:

  1. Combine all ingredients in blender or food processor except cheese. Pulse or process until sauce has a course spreadable, texture.
  2. Stir in cheese at the end.
  3. A few options:

-Brush on pesto sauce top of chicken and grill or bake the chicken (30 minutes at 350 degrees).

-Mix in with cooked, hot pasta of your choice and serve.

-Spread pesto sauce on top of toast or pita bread for an appetizer.

 

 

 Italian Sausage Ragu Sauce

-2 tablespoons olive oil

-1 onion, chopped

-1 (28-ounce can) crushed tomatoes

-1 (15-ounce can) can tomato sauce

-1 tablespoon dried oregano

-1 tablespoon fennel seed

-1 tablespoon basil

-1 tsp salt

-2 cloves garlic, minced

-1 teaspoon organic sugar

-1/2 cup parmesan cheese

-1 package uncooked Italian sausage (I love Trader Joe’s sweet Italian sausage.)

 

Directions:

  1. Heat saucepan. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil.
  2. Meanwhile, chop 1 onion.
  3. If sausage is inside casings, squeeze out into a bowl. When oil is heated, add sausage to the oil. Use a potato smasher or a fork to break it up.
  4. Once the sausage is lightly browned, add onion and cook until clear/translucent.
  5. Add the spices: oregano, fennel seed, basil, salt, sugar.
  6. Chop two cloves garlic or mince in garlic press.
  7. Add sugar, parmesan cheese and mix together.
  8. Pour in cans of marinara sauce and tomato sauce. Simmer on low heat for 15 minutes. (Meanwhile, prep your favorite pasta/noodles.)
  9. Add to cooked pasta and garnish with more parmesan cheese.

 

 

Alfredo Sauce

 -1 cup of butter

-1 cup heavy cream

-1/2 cup parmesan cheese

-1/4 teaspoon sea salt (or light sprinkle)

-1/4 teaspoon dried basil

 

Directions:

  1. Combine butter and cream in a skillet or shallow frying pan.
  2. Heat to medium and let slowly simmer. Turn down heat once bubbles start. As bubbles form, sauce will thicken. Whisk frequently and be patient.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare your pasta as desired.
  4. Add salt and basil to sauce.
  5. Stir in parmesan cheese.
  6. Pour over pasta and serve.

 

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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!

It takes a village: Letter to all the mamas who have journeyed with me

Posted by | community, death, family life, flourishing, friendship, grief, hope, kids, laughter, Personal Stories, Stories, Uncategorized | No Comments

Dear Mama Friends,

I think you know who you are. You are the ones who have walked with me over the last decade on this wild journey called mothering. You are my people, my kindred spirits, my mother blessings.

You are the ones who called me to encourage me when the breastfeeding was hard and the baby was losing weight. You are the ones who brought me hot meals and chocolate when I was adjusting to the new normal. You are the ones who ventured out on field trips and play dates to the zoo, the museum, and the park.

You are the mamas at Borders bookstore that day when our oldest kiddos were just babes. We were such a beautiful, motley crew of mamas from many cultures and many parts of the city, trying to find our footing on this mother journey. We were nursing and laughing through our insecurities and learning from each other. We were so thirsty for friendship and someone to say, “Yes, me too.”

And that was only the beginning.

You are the one who stood in the kitchen with me and tried out new recipes when our littles were racing through the house. You and I strolled through the farmer’s market and discovered fresh vegetables to offer up to our families in creative ways.

You are the ones who came every week to work out in my backyard and met me in the chaos. We sweated, we laughed, we prayed. You provided accountability and encouragement when I needed it most.

You are the grandma who takes her shopping and teaches her to love the stories of the Bible just like her daddy in Heaven did.

You are the Nana who helps my little girl learn to read, who piques her interest in poetry and science experiments. You are the one who invites her into the kitchen to measure and pour and lick sticky fingers.

You are the new grandma who takes special care to buy the perfect gifts, who praises their energy, and speaks life with words of encouragement. You have welcomed me into the fold so quickly and made me a daughter.

You are the friend who taught me to embrace the unique personalities of all three of my girls, to nurture their talents and weather the challenges they face.

You showed me what it looked like to advocate for your boy when he had special needs. You spoke up for all of us – for your child and mine. You walked the line with grace.

For this, I am grateful.

When I met you years before when we were single girls with a heart for traveling the world, I never imagined what our mother journey would look like. You celebrated with me through pregnancies and baby showers even when your own arms were empty.

We cried together when Mother’s Day was hard for you, when the questions came and the days grew long. And I was there when you arrived home on that airplane from halfway across the world with your baby boy, and when you got that call came from the hospital that another baby boy was born. I love these boys like my own girls now because that’s what mothering together looks like.

I still get choked up when I think about the long summer days three years ago when you rushed in to help me mother when my husband was battling cancer.

You are the mothers who came to fold my laundry on the big red couch, to wash our endless dirty dishes, and pick lice out of my daughters’ hair. You are the mothers who rubbed my shoulders and read me the Psalms to strengthen me so I could go back in that room to care for my dying husband.

You are the mamas who helped pick up my kids from school and read them books before bed. You are the mamas who passed your own kids off to tired husbands so you could be with my family in our time of crisis.

You are the ones who grocery shopped, delivered meals and gave gift cards months after he was gone. You are the widow-mamas who sat with me on Sunday afternoons and cried with me about how hard it was to move forward without our teammates.

You are the one who came every week for tacos and dance parties when I needed a friend. You were that voice, that reminder that God’s grace would cover me even as I learned to solo parent.

I have not forgotten. I will not forget the way you gifted us your presence.

You are the ones who invited me to your table to pray, weep and dream about a new future. You are the ones who urged me to keep writing and preaching my story even when it felt hard.

You lifted me with that late-night text when I was weary. You told me on our early-morning runs that I better keep following my passion, my convictions to the finish line. You stood long hours with me at the track and on the soccer field cheering our big kids through disappointment and victory.

You are the mamas who visited me in the hospital, who sat with me watching the sun set over ocean waves, who stood with me by the grave, who clinked glasses at our wedding and celebrated a new marriage.

Mothering should not be a solo journey. It should be a community dance. A place where we band together and hold each other’s hands and laugh long and lift each other up. We might have to stop once in a while to wipe a snotty nose or take that one to the bathroom, but we are in this mothering thing together.

I am thankful for the all the women in my life who have joined me for this glorious dance. And I am especially grateful for you.

 

**Would you like some encouragement for your weary soul? Sign up for my weekly Glorygram where I share personal stories, recommendations and recipes just for mamas!

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: Facing Triggers and Trauma

Posted by | fear, grief, hope, Stories, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

 

I take the exit for Herndon Avenue. My heart starts to race as I approach that intersection. I look to my right, and my eyes linger on the stone statue of Jesus with hands spread, that circular drive, the white façade of the towering buildings. I feel a little queasy.

Although my husband only spent three days in that hospital during his cancer journey, I remember it felt like an eternity. I had to take him in after his tumor ruptured. They performed an emergency surgery. We spent two sleepless nights together tossing and turning in the nightmare of our new reality.

Both the surgeon and the oncologist told me he only had a short time to live. My worst fears were coming true.

My husband graduated to Heaven less than two months later.

For a long time, I had trouble driving down Herndon. I knew I had to pass that hospital and the anxiety would rise up from the depths of my stomach. I would start to feel sweaty. My hands would shake on the steering wheel. I would find myself frozen in time. The scenes and conversations from our time there would repeat in my mind.

That place, that intersection is a trigger for me. Triggers are common for widows and people in general who have lost a loved one or endured a traumatic event. In a simple sense, a trigger is a sight, sound or smell that brings a person back to a memory that causes her to review the death or traumatic event over and over in her mind.

My choices: avoid that street altogether or lean in and process the memories.

According to Jill Harrington LaMorie, a licensed clinical social worker with Open to Hope ministry: “Most are not aware that death by traumatic means qualifies as a traumatic stressor and leaves the survivor more vulnerable to post traumatic stress in addition to grief.”

I didn’t think about the trauma I’d been through over my husband’s death until one day when I was sitting in circle with a group of young widows and one said she had PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). Prior to that, I always connected PTSD with those who have experienced trauma because of military service. My dad counsels war veterans. He tells me PTSD is common among them. I never thought about PTSD in the context of other types of death and the grief journey.

Then I started paying attention.

I listened to another widow friend unfold the details of her husband’s death because of cancer. As she spoke in a trembling voice, I knew her memories had triggers like mine. She affirmed that going certain places or even seeing certain people threw her back to memories of his death. In some ways, it’s like a repeating track in the mind that just needs someone or something to press play.

Patty Behrens, my friend and therapist who specializes in grief and loss, says trauma is common in her clients. She says it’s especially prevalent among young widows and those who have lost children when there was a sudden or traumatic death. This can manifest into PTSD, depending on the length and symptoms of the actual diagnoses.

I still drive by that hospital almost every day but my reaction is not the same as it was two years ago. Thankfully, with God’s help, I have been able to work through these triggers. I had to create new grooves for my mind so it wouldn’t play that track. I learned to pray, recite scripture and deliberately move my mind to think about good memories with my husband.

I know navigating trauma is unique process for every person. For some, it might require counseling. For others, it might require the support of community. For others, that may be a personal journey leaning into the memories and learning to redeem them with the help of the Holy Spirit. There is no shame in any of these. It’s another reminder that every grief journey is unique. We need to offer up grace to ourselves and others as they steer through this difficult journey called grief.

 

 

 

Have you experienced these kinds of triggers or memories in your own grief journey? How do you face them? Please comment or share this article with a friend who might benefit.

 

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!