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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!

Navigating Grief as Life Moves Forward: Choosing joy

Posted by | finishing well, grief, Guest blogger, hope, running, Stories, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

 

It’s overwhelming some days, actually. I have this indescribable guilt for being happy.

When a loved one dies, they don’t hand you a “Grieving for Dummies” book and wish you luck. There are no set rules or even guidelines on how to grieve, how long you should grieve, or what grieving looks like.

They say everyone grieves differently, in their own ways and for their own amount of time. I’ve caught myself numerous times comparing my grief journey to others’ grief journeys.

I’m the widow. I was his wife, his best friend, shouldn’t I be the one grieving the most and the longest? If so, then why am I so happy?

Truth is, I started my grief journey long before May 30, 2015.

Grieving is our response to a loss. Any loss, not just death.

My late husband, Kenny, was diagnosed on his 18th birthday with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a bone cancer most prevalent in children and young adults. He fought his battle for over 11 years and went to Heaven, still fighting, on May 30, 2015.

During the last years of Kenny’s fight, we gave up a lot in exchange for more years of his life. Some tangible, and some not. He lost hair, a leg, and half a lung. With each loss, we grieved. I grieved. I was slowly losing bits and pieces of my husband – one surgery at a time, one round of chemotherapy at a time, one clinical trial at a time.

The one thing we didn’t lose was our love for each other.

Danielle and Kenny pose at the Oklahoma City Memorial 5k Race in April 2015. Danielle pushed her husband in his wheelchair to the finish line. (Photo provided by Danielle Comer)

 

Even though Kenny was the one coping with the physicality of his new way of living, I seemed to struggle just as much with his new disabilities. In the beginning, I had a hard time accepting the fact that my big, manly husband was not going to be able to do the same things other husbands would do for the wives. There was no carrying me across the threshold, no holding hands while walking down the street, no going for a run together, no placing my hand on his leg at dinner, no more wrapping his legs around me. We often take these small, everyday treasures for granted.

During the first couple years of our marriage, I held a lot of resentment in my heart, and it came out in the ugliest forms. Although I had verbally accepted this new life change for us, it was a façade because internally I was struggling. I hated that I would never have these things again, and I envied anyone who still did. When I heard someone complain about insignificant things, anger built up inside me.

I let this anger and resentment consume me at times, and it affected our marriage in ways I’m not proud of. In fact, it’s difficult to finally admit. I eventually learned that I needed to get over my own resentment and practice what I was preaching – enjoy the small, everyday treasures with your loved one.

Once I started appreciating the small things, life magically became much sweeter. All the struggles, worries, concerns minimized, and the blessings bloomed.

This is not to say we never worried or struggled again. With every new scan, we felt like we were faced with another life-changing decision.

We could’ve easily focused on all the losses and all the things not going in our favor, but we knew that focusing on the things we couldn’t control only created more misery in our already challenging life.  We chose to focus on the positives, on the little things that truly mattered.

We enjoyed more impromptu dates, took more walks, watched T.V. on the couch (guilt-free), and slept in a little longer. We soaked up every minute we had together.

If you only focus on the negative things in life, that’s all you’re going to see, and ultimately get. When you turn that focus back on the positives and the things that bring you joy, then you will create the tiniest shift in your life that will bring about the greatest rewards.

I believe this is why my grief journey has been one filled with more happiness than sadness.

Throughout our journey, I experienced anticipatory grief. I had the time and space to grieve in anticipation of Kenny’s death. This isn’t to say I don’t still have hard days without my husband or days I wish Kenny was here.

I believe I have a choice every day either to dwell on the past and the things that happened to me or to make the most of the small joys throughout my day and be grateful.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
When you’re grateful and rejoice in that, happiness and joy will follow.
Every day you have a choice. You can choose to be sad and dwell on things that cannot and will not change.  Or you can choose to be happy and create good things. Go and create good bonus days!

 

Danielle Comer lives on the Oregon Coast where she is a city planner and blogs about discovering hope and courage through loss at www.portrayalofhope.com.  During her free time, Danielle enjoys exploring the Oregon Coast with her dog, Tank, discovering new coffee shops, and capturing life’s moments with her second set of eyes – her camera.  You can find Danielle on Instagram and Facebook.

 

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

The Garden – an introduction to the series

Grieving Together – an article on grieving with children

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

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

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

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

Grieving Together

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

Personal Sabbath: How training for a marathon taught me to rest

Posted by | finishing well, flourishing, grief, running, Stories, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

 

I grew up in a house where we were constantly on the go. When I was in elementary school, my evenings were filled with piano lessons, soccer games, ballet and jazz dance classes, church youth group and more. As I entered junior high and high school, I added activities like newspaper, yearbook, Track & Field, and voice lessons. While I enjoyed all these activities, I remember we were always running, always pushing deadlines, always melting into bed at night exhausted. I am grateful for the many amazing opportunities my parents gave me but sometimes I wonder if it also was an inadvertent training to always chase busyness.

Rest is the way we detox from the busyness. If we have gone through a season of pruning, it may take some time to recalibrate. I found this to be true last summer after I pruned some big branches from my life. I felt like God was calling me to make space for some new goals. I stepped down from my position teaching at the university and leading the large moms group at my church. I said no to a bunch of invitations and new commitments. It was difficult to let go of these things that had become so much a part of my identity. I knew I needed rest and time to refocus.

At first, I didn’t know how to rest. I felt anxious and uncomfortable with the extra time in my schedule. I felt guilty for taking time to myself instead of working, serving or being with my family.

Then I learned a new rhythm of rest in an unexpected way. I signed up to run a marathon. I know what you’re thinking: running 26.2 miles is not resting. That’s mostly true.

I put together a training schedule with the help of my hubby-coach, who is also an endurance athlete. As I ran, I talked to God. I discovered the runs afforded me the time and space to grieve my losses and all I had pruned from my life. The miles were hard but they became a precious time of connecting with my Father. They were like a scheduled Daddy date.

I had one problem. I was training in the summer months in Fresno, California. The average daytime temperatures were in the triple digits. I don’t do well exercising when it’s that hot. I quickly discovered if I wanted to beat the heat, I had to wake up early!

Let’s just be clear: I am by nature a night owl.

In different seasons, I have trained myself to wake up early but I always feel like a night owl masquerading as an early bird. It’s not pretty.

The bonus: running taught me to rest. That combination of waking up early and running long miles left me naturally exhausted by the afternoon. I had to build naptime into my day or I would be a crabby mess by dinner time. (For those of you who have toddlers, you know exactly what I’m talking about).

My husband encouraged me that the rest was just as important as the runs because my body needed to recover. He explained that when we do a hard workout we are breaking down muscle. When we rest, the body has time to rebuild on a cellular level and the muscles are built up even stronger than before.

I started a resting hour with my kids (ages 4, 7 and 10 at the time). They were allowed to read books, color or sleep. The house was quiet. Mommy had permission to nap. When my husband got home from work, he would ask me about my day. He congratulated me when I told him I had napped. The first time he praised me for resting something inside me was surprised – even shocked. When my girls were younger, rest was so often sabotaged by one of them needing something. I often gave up. He was helping me retrain my brain and body to embrace the benefits of rest.

One of my favorite verses is Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God.” Those words have also challenged my attitude about rest. The command is to actually “be still” with our bodies and our minds. My husband coached me that even just laying down and not moving can be a resting state.

At first when I tried to nap, my mind would race all over the place. I would craft to-do lists in my head. I would worry about things. I had to return to the words of Psalm 46:10 and get in the habit of being still – both body and mind.

In her devotional, Flourish, Margaret Feinberg writes, “In resisting busyness, we can once again restake our claim as wholly loved by God and flourish in the joy of being his children. This frees us from the bondage of overproduction and liberates us; our hearts lie fallow to receive God’s goodness and grace.”

I challenge you to think about some ways you can resist busyness. What can you release from your schedule for this next season to make space for rest? Before you say yes to the next commitment, what can you say no to graciously?

We are led to believe: time is money; those who multitask best are the most productive; and there is no time for rest. The Bible tells us just the opposite. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus leans in and shares these words with the crowd: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

God is calling each one of us into sweet Sabbath rest. It’s the only way we will make it to the finish line without crashing and burning. Rest might look different for you than it does for me. You will need to work it out in your attitude, your schedule and your family context, but I do know that it involves turning down the noise around us and entering into His presence.  I invite you to a place of rest this week so you can abide in the Vine. Rest is a gift from a Good Father who longs to see us flourish.

 

*I send out a weekly email with words of encouragement, free resources, recipes and recommendations. I would love to slip this into your inbox. Sign up here.

**Check out more posts on the theme of “flourishing” right here.

Image credit: Captivating Sports Photos

Chili Pizazz & Honey Cornbread: Something warm for your insides

Posted by | Recipes, Uncategorized | One Comment

 

I grew up in Chicago. I always loved my mom’s spicy chili on brrrrrr-cold winter nights. This chili packed with veggies and served with a slice of warm, crusty bread was a family favorite. The winter months always stretched a little longer than I wanted in the Midwest so chili kept our insides warm.

My Italian mama spent lots of hours creating in the kitchen but I remember Sunday nights after church she usually served up quicker, easier meals. We needed time to get ready for the week ahead. This chili was easy to make and good to feed a crowd on a budget.

Even though I call California home today, I still have that longing at certain times of year for something with a little heat. My daughters are more sensitive to spicy than their mama. If I’m making this for the family, I use less cayenne pepper or cut it out altogether.

Another pairing I love is chili and cornbread. I created this cornbread recipe one night when I didn’t have much cornmeal left. It’s been a hit in my family ever since and my mom even has her fifth grade students make it each year when they are studying prairie life. I love the moist, honey tones. Serve it warm with a touch of organic butter as a side to the chili. I also like to serve it with our Tortilla Soup or Butternut Squash & Turkey Chili.

Is there a special meal that you ate growing up that speaks comfort to you? Please share in the comments about some of your faves. Join my email list to get recipes, encouragement and free resources delivered to your inbox!

Dorina’s Chili Pizazz

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 red pepper, cut into 1-inch strips
1 yellow pepper, cut into 1-inch strips
1 green bell pepper, cut into 1-inch strips
1 cup ground beef or turkey, browned
1 15 oz. can kidney beans
1 15-oz. can black beans
1 29-oz. can organic diced tomatoes (or fresh if in season)
1 15-oz. can organic tomato sauce
1 quart chicken broth
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes (optional if you like spicy)
2 teaspoons salt
2 bay leaves

1. Saute veggies in a large pot with olive oil.
2. Meanwhile, brown ground turkey in a frying pan and add to pot.
3. Add spices to veggie mix with tomatoes, sauce and chicken broth. Cook approx. 30 min.
4. Add beans and simmer additional 20 min.
5. Serve with warm bread or over rice.

Honey Cornbread

1/2 cup cornmeal
1 1/2 cups unbleached, unbromated flour (or gluten-free flour)
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup organic butter, melted
2 teaspoons (aluminum free) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (aluminum free) baking soda
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8 by 8 square pan.
2. Beat eggs. Add remaining ingredients and mix in.
3. Pour in pan and bake approximately 30 minutes until golden brown on top.
4. Serve warm with honey and/or butter.

A Book Review: Nothing to Prove by Jennie Allen

Posted by | book reviews, community, margin, Stories, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

 

I am a recovering achiever. I was raised in a family of Filipino-Italian immigrants of the pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps variety. I attended a college prep school from elementary through high school. As I was growing up, I raced from piano lessons to dance lessons to theater productions to year-round sports events. I was the editor of the yearbook in high school and the newspaper in college. In short, my schedule was always packed, my homework list long, and my dreams and goals list was even longer.

This was my foundation.

None of these things is bad, of course. In fact, I am thankful for my family, my education and the way God wired me. I am also a person who thrives on words of encouragement and affirmation. Today I recognize that this combination of life experiences and personality traits can be dangerous. All that striving. All that reaching can be a perfect storm for breakdown.

In recent years, my brokenness covered by God’s amazing grace has far outweighed my appetite for achieving but I still have to be cautious about a natural tendency to strive. When I opened the pages of Jennie Allen’s newly-released book, Nothing to Prove: Why We can Stop Trying So Hard, I felt like she was speaking right into my recovering achiever’s heart.

“My prayer is for you to start enjoying the freedom that comes when we quit trying to prove ourselves, when we surrender what is out of control to the One who is control,” she writes. “We strive to be seen, to be known, to matter….We are not enough. We are not God.”

Nothing to Prove is written for the weary traveler, the woman who is overwhelmed by expectations and pressures, as well as the hidden belief that she is not good enough, talented enough or spiritual enough. Jennie shares real-life stories of her own struggle with inadequacy and insecurity, and then invites readers into a more spacious, grace-filled place.

The book is divided into two parts. Part One tells Jennie’s story of striving and invites readers “to start enjoying the freedom that comes when we quit trying to prove ourselves, when we surrender what is out of control to the One who is in control.”

Part Two focuses on the following feelings and insecurities that plague women: thirsty, lonely, tired, passive, afraid, ashamed and empty. Jennie unpacks how God is enough for each one of us in those places. Jennie uniquely starts each chapter with the retelling of a Bible story in first person. Her words make these familiar stories come alive in a new way.

I especially resonated with her retelling of one of my favorite passages, John 11, when Mary and Martha send word to Jesus that their brother Lazarus is deathly ill. Jennie writes from Mary’s perspective running through all the doubts and emotions she must have felt as she waited for Jesus to come. I’ve studied and even taught this story many times but Jennie helped me see it with new eyes.

What I appreciate is that Jennie writes the way she speaks. I have had the privilege of hearing Jennie speak live several times at conferences. I have also joined her at the dinner table with a small group of leaders. In real life and her book, I love her vulnerability, authenticity and passion. She is at once an honest storyteller and a passionate preacher.

This weekend she will be leading the IF:Gathering in Austin, Texas while thousands around the globe will watch through simulcast. I have the privilege of helping host our own IF:Fresno gathering here in Fresno, California at The Bridge Church starting at 5:30 p.m. today and 9a.m.-4:30  p.m. Saturday. This event brings women leaders and preachers from all over the globe to gather and share with an eager audience of women. I’m grateful for Jennie’s vision to disciple a generation of women.

Jennie always challenges me and calls me up as a leader. She writes, “The degree to which we believe and embrace our identity as a Spirit-filled child of God will be the degree to which His light shines through us. We are God’s and He is ours. He is in us and through us and with us. That is our identity and it changes everything.”

The lesson is not lost on me: If I am secure in my identity in Christ, I have nothing to prove.

Soup’s on: Italian sausage & kale soup

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

½ cup grated parmesan cheese
Garnish: Shaved parmesan cheese

Directions:

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

Makes approximately 8-10 servings.

*Gluten-free

 

Learning to Flourish through the Seasons (and the big reveal of my 2017 One Word)

Posted by | behold, death, flourishing, grief, margin, rest, running, self-care, Stories, struggle, transitions, Uncategorized, writing | 5 Comments

 

For me, 2016 started with fireworks. On January 16, Shawn and I celebrated our wedding – a true redemption story after losing my beloved Ericlee to cancer in 2014. That year was a journey of finding God’s glory even in the darkest hours. Then 2015 was a year to redeem, to witness God bringing new value to all that had been broken and lost for our family. As I stood at the altar with my bridegroom, surrounded by more than 500 friends and family, I felt like I was stepping into a new and spacious garden ready to bloom. I was eager to flourish.

I chose FLOURISH as my One Word to focus on for 2016. At the start, flourish sang to me of bright colors and new beginnings. The dictionary tells me that flourish is a verb, meaning to thrive; to grow luxuriantly; to be in one’s prime; to be at the height of fame, influence, success; to prosper. I marched into 2016 with a spirit of newfound joy and fierce hope.

Of course, just as in past years, I had no idea how that one word would shape me, challenge me, break me and remake me from the inside out.

A few months into 2016, I started to feel overwhelmed. I had way too much on my plate. I was still leading in several large capacities, while adding a new husband, new family situation and a giant new speaking/writing project to my list. Something had to give. In a conversation on one of our regular date nights, my hubby gently suggested I clear my plate of commitments so I could really focus on the new projects God was calling me to.

I balked.

Clear everything from my plate at one time? Who does that? I loved everything I was involved in. Every piece felt important and meaningful. What could I possibly get rid of or step down from? They needed me, right? I hemmed and hawed. I strategized about ways I could keep certain things and be more efficient with my time.

One afternoon, I overheard my mother-in-law giving my middle daughter a lesson in keeping roses. The two of them were on the front patio of our new home with huge garden clippers. I saw the sad state of our rose bushes. The one in the middle had two thick, root branches that were so heavy they were making the whole bush topple forward. As Grandma directed, my 7-year-old went to work pruning branches. Even some of the prettiest roses on the bush had to be clipped for the good of the entire bush.

The lesson was not lost on me. I knew deep in my heart it was time to prune.

These familiar words echoed in my heart: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15: 2-3, ESV).

Did you catch that? It doesn’t say he leaves the branches that are thriving, the biggest branches, the ministries that look the most successful, the activities that bring in the most people or seem to depend the most on you. The verse says every branch – even the ones bearing fruit – must be pruned.

Hadn’t I already learned enough about pruning? After all, in the past year and half I had sacrificed my husband to cancer, my position working for a non-profit in Haiti, several circles of friends, and so many of my life-long dreams for our family. Letting go of those things was excruciating. Why would God ask me to give up more?

This time it was about obedience. Looking back, I know He was asking me to let go of some good things that had become so big in my life they defined me. These were the thickest branches of my rose bush weighing me down. He wanted me to lean into His present calling on my life so my identity was re-defined in Him.

This spring I surrendered my teaching job at the university. I passed on my role leading a thriving moms group (MOPS) at our church. I stepped out of some other community groups and said no to a bunch of invitations to speak and attend events that had become regular on my calendar through the years.

At first, it was much harder than I thought it would be. I thought I could just move on to the next thing but I discovered even when God prunes us for the good we need to give ourselves time to grieve. I missed the communities and circles of friends. I missed the sense of purpose I had felt in those spaces.

I also discovered something scary about myself. I didn’t know how to rest.

After more than a decade operating a non-profit with my husband and working in highly-demanding leadership and ministry places, I didn’t know how to sit in the quiet. In those months, my branches felt naked, bare, no sign of green or color. I had to learn to wait and listen and trust.

During the summer, I chose to focus on a few things to nourish my soul and my body. I chose to read more books and signed up to run a full marathon. This was important not just to fill the time but to deliberately and intentionally take time to learn and be quiet. As I logged lots of miles and hours, I started to feel alive again. Especially when I was running, I carved out time to listen and pour out my heart to God. And when I would come home from long runs, I was exhausted and ready to rest. Naps were unapologetically part of my day.

Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. (John 4:13-14, ESV)

Like my thirsty rose bushes, my soul needed water. I needed to let this living water seep deep into my soul soil and nourish my roots. For years, I had only afforded myself quick drinks at the drinking fountain. This summer I drank deeply from the well. I gave myself permission to rest, to run with my Father and spend time investing in my husband and daughters. That nourishing phase was important to helping me recalibrate my heart and all of us to bond as a family.

When September rolled around, our family rhythm changed again. My girls went back to school and for the first time in more than a decade I had at least three full days a week to focus on my writing. For years I had dreamed of this time but it was finally here, and it felt revolutionary somehow. I had the time to work on editing and sending out several of the children’s book manuscripts I had written. I also had brain space to work on a bigger book and bible study project.

One day as I was slipping in our front door, I stopped in my tracks before the rose bushes. Huge pink blooms the size of my 5-year-old’s head were on multiple branches. I had never seen roses this big. We clipped half a dozen to put in a spacious, glass vase on our dining room table – a reminder that God often allows us to bloom in unexpected ways in His perfect timing.

In November, I received an email from a children’s book agent that she was interested in representing my work. Then I heard from another and another agent. After 10 years of receiving rejection letters and wading through the discouragement of having so little time to devote to my writing, I had choices. For such a time as this I am stepping into a new season of writing, publishing and sharing my stories for His glory.

This fall, Shawn and I also signed up to help coach the cross country team at our daughters’ school. We decided this was something we could invest in as a family and could provide a door for us to develop relationships with more families in our school community. Just before Christmas we hosted an end-of-season celebration at our house. As kids jumped on the trampoline in the yard and the kitchen and dining room were spilling with parents and coaches, I felt a deep joy welling up inside. I flushed with the color of this new garden we found ourselves flourishing in.

If I had not gone through the process of pruning, resting and nourishing, I might not have the chance to experience these surprising blooms.

I am returning tonight to the words of John 15, this time in verse 8: “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (ESV).

In a year’s time God has taught me much about the process of flourishing. I cannot become a flourishing garden overnight. In fact, I have to prepare myself to be pruned in every area at one time or another. And most importantly, I need to cultivate my time to have space to help others flourish so my Father – the Master Gardener – can be glorified. I know the process of flourishing will circle back around. He will continue to ask me to prune, rest, nourish and bloom in various seasons.

I am looking to 2017 with expectancy.  My One Word chosen for 2017 is BEHOLD. This word has allured me for a few months now. I believe it is about BEing, pausing and living present in His presence. I know it’s about allowing Him to HOLD me close, to hold still and to savor each moment. I’ve already started a treasure hunt through the Bible. I’ve discovered that word BEHOLD is used in many ways. Most prominently, it’s used as a call to fix our eyes upon, to observe with care, and to reflect God’s glory. Sounds like the perfect banner to hold boldly overhead as I enter into 2017.


What are some of your reflections on 2016? Have you chosen One Word for 2017? Please comment below and start the conversation.

Embracing grief as part of Christmas

Posted by | christmas, grief, Stories, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

 

My fingers page through this precious Advent book, my eyes scanning through the readings and my own handwritten reflections from the last three Advent seasons. Each year, has been marked by such grief and such surprising joy. I trace the words of this journal, remembering the days I felt most vulnerable and the days I felt most strengthened. This book marks the journey of my heart to the manger.

This will be my third Christmas missing my beloved – our third Christmas with him missing at the table, his loud voice missing when we sing the carols on Christmas Eve, his laughter missing during the unpacking of stockings and unwrapping of gifts.

I still remember our first Christmas after he died. We tried to hold it together. We tried to stay the course with certain traditions, but it was clear something was off-kilter. We passed the Bible around the circle to read the Christmas story, but his blazing voice was missing. We tried to make conversation at the table, but it felt strained, awkward, empty without his presence.

Looking back, I wish I had been more intentional that year to speak up when things felt wonky. My heart was pained, but I couldn’t push to find the words to articulate it. As a newly-single mama, I was cracking inside for my three girls who were without their gregarious daddy. I saw my family stumbling through the holidays as we lacked his leadership. Now I know it takes time to recalibrate when someone is lost.

I discovered some traditions need to be reimagined. We need to provide space to acknowledge, to be quiet and to remember together. One year we sent out Advent books to all our friends and family in his honor. I love getting the messages from friends as they are reading that book with their families each year and remembering Ericlee’s legacy of faith. Last year I decided to let go of the long-time tradition of going to pick out a real Christmas tree. That was something we did with him, and I wanted to reserve that for our memories. Now our family takes time to share memories of Daddy in Heaven while we hang each ornament on our artificial tree.

I know many of you are stepping into this Christmas feeling raw and vulnerable. That miscarriage you experienced a few months ago, that recent cancer diagnosis, that child estranged from your family, the death of your spouse or grandparent, the unspeakable injustices raging in our world – all these weigh heavy on our hearts. Christmas is the not time to turn away from our grief; it’s time to draw close and offer the present of our presence to each other.

This is not the time to plaster on the cheery face, to try to go through the motions and shut down our emotions. This is the time to muster up the courage to sit together, to weep with each other, to listen to each other’s stories, to rejoice in the new beginnings and the unexpected gifts. Let’s vow to lean in together.

Christ’s birth was always pregnant with a certain bittersweet. Like the birthing process, there is pain always wrapped up with the joy. God knew He was sending His son to earth as a baby born to die so we all might live. This baby wrapped in swaddling clothes has been wrapped in the paradox of death and life from the very beginning of the story.

To fully understand Christmas we have to embrace the grief with the joy.

After my husband died, I wondered if I should be cautious about experiencing joy. I hesitated to laugh because I was never sure when the trigger would come that would make me cry. I worried that people might judge me for finding new happiness and new love. These past few years, I realized that finding joy does not replace the grief of missing, but we still have permission to dance.

This year we count three Christmases missing my beloved, three years he has enjoyed in Glory. And this will be my first Christmas celebrating in a new house with my new husband and girls. This is a dance of joy and pain, a dance of breathtaking redemption only my Heavenly Father could orchestrate. I am starting to believe this dance is the way to embrace Christmas. I could sit on the sidelines and fake it or I can jump into the dance whirling with joy and pain, memories and merriment.

If you’re grieving this Christmas, give yourself space to remember. Be present with those around you. Think about how you might reimagine the traditions to honor the lost. Embrace the pain with the joy. Lean in with me.

I can’t stop singing the words to my favorite carol: “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn…” He continues to show me His glory shines in every dark corner, in every cold stable, in every rough manger.

sydg_married_0563

Move over, pumpkin! A more sophisticated squash has arrived

Posted by | community, cooking, food stories, Recipes, Uncategorized | No Comments

 

 

I am a pumpin lover. Let’s just be clear about that. I live in Central California so our weather is not always the greatest indicator that Fall has arrived. Sometimes it’s way into November before we get to pull out the cozy sweaters and don our boots. When I see pumpkin products at my fave grocery stores and coffee shops, I know it’s time.

That said, I have noticed some pumpkin backlash this year. The marketing of pumpkin products has pushed people so over the edge they can’t deal. Never fear: a much more sophisticated squash is here.

Butternut squash has long been one of my personal favorites. I love its subtle flavor in soup, chili, ravioli, lasagna, tacos or even as the more classic, roasted veggie side.

As with most squashes, the hardest part of dealing with butternut squash is actually breaking into the thing. You might want to skip your arm workout for the day if you intend to prep a raw butternut squash. I like to choose the ones with a longer neck and shorter bottom. This means less seeds to dig out and more melon-colored flesh to cube for your recipe.

Not up for veggie chopping therapy? There’s a simple short-cut. Go buy pre-cut butternut squash from places like Trader Joe’s or Costco. (It’s so worth it!)

Today I’m sharing two of my favorite recipes using butternut squash. One is considered a chowder, the second is our classic Thanksgiving first course. Tradition! (she sings loudly in her best “Fiddler on the Roof” impression…) Both of these recipes feed a crowd. It’s the perfect excuse to invite people to your table for some face-to-face time.

I don’t know about you but I’m longing for in-person connection these days. Everything feels so tense and nasty online. It’s difficult to wade through the newsfeed to really hear each other’s stories. I’m pushing myself to make space for community, for processing around the table, for asking the hard questions, for pressing in to engage with family and neighbors. Won’t you join me? Please share about your gathering over butternut squash in the comments!

 

The proof is in the pot

 

Fall Squash & Corn Chowder (serves 10-12)

 

Ingredients:

10 slices bacon, chopped (We prefer turkey bacon but you can choose!)

4 tablespoons organic butter

2 medium onions, chopped (1 yellow & 1 red.)

2 chopped bell peppers (red, yellow or green)

1/4 cup flour (I use gluten-free flour or whole wheat pastry flour.)

8 cups chicken broth

4 cups 1/2-inch cubed, peeled, seeded butternut squash (You can use a whole squash measuring about 1 3/4 pounds or get the pre-cut packages of squash in the refrigerator section of Trader Joe’s or Costco)

4 medium russet potatoes or sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 1/2 tablespoons oregano

2 16-oz. bags frozen corn or 4 cups fresh corn kernels

1 cup whipping cream or plain yogurt

2 chicken breasts (Save time and buy a rotiserrie chicken & shred)

1 cup chopped green onions

1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon pepper

 

Directions:

  1. Add butter to a large pot and melt.
  1. Chop bacon and saute in butter until crispy.
  1. Add chopped chicken to pot and saute with bacon until golden brown.
  1. Add chopped onions and 1 bell peppers. Saute until onions and peppers are soft.
  1. Add flour; stir 3 minutes until flour starts to bubble.
  1. Mix in broth, squash, potatoes and oregano; bring to a boil.
  1. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer uncovered until veggies are tender (approximately 15 minutes).
  1. Add corn, cream/plain yogurt, remaining bell peppers and simmer additional 10 minutes.
  1. Add green onions, 1/2 cup cilantro; Simmer 5 minutes.
  1. Add salt & pepper.
  1. Ladle chowder into bowls and garnish with cilantro.

Prepping butternut squash aka the best arm workout ever

Thanksgiving Butternut Squash Soup

 

Ingredients:

1 medium onion, chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons butter

2 medium butternut squash, peeled & cubed

2 tart granny smith apples, grated

1 cup celery, chopped

3/4 cup white wine (sherry or chardonnay)

Organic chicken broth (48 ounces)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1 tablespoon parsley, for garnish

1/4 cup heavy cream

 

Directions:

  1. Melt butter in large pot. Add butternut squash. Saute in pot for 15-20 minutes until soft.
  1. Meanwhile, prepare other vegetables and apples. Add to pot and allow to sweat until soft.
  1. Add wine, broth and spices to pot. Bring to boil and cook 5 min. Lower heat and cook for additional 45 min.
  1. Puree soup using immersion blender.

 

*For fancy garnish, drip small amount of heavy cream on top of each bowl of soup. Use toothpick to drag cream around in curly designs. Top with fresh parsley.

 

Serve with cornbread muffins, crescent rolls or other hearty bread.

Book Review: How The Broken Way leads to abundance

Posted by | book reviews, gifts, grief, hope, passion, social justice, Stories, Uncategorized | 8 Comments

 

I remember that day so vividly. We were at a luncheon as part of the Justice Conference in Chicago. She was on a panel sharing about her experiences on a recent trip visiting women in crisis in the Middle East. The place cleared out pretty quickly after lunch as people rushed off to the next workshops. I spotted her near the stage with a few other panelists. Only a few other women were mulling about waiting to see Ann. This was a rare moment that the New York Times best-selling author was not being mobbed by faithful fans.

I knew I had to meet her. I had to tell her about how her words had changed my life.

I forced myself to walk awkwardly to the front of the room. My hands trembled as I waited: What could I say? How could I possibly squeeze my story of tragedy and triumph into a few quick minutes? How could I sufficiently tell her that her words had changed me and trained me for the most difficult season of my life?

She turned to me and looked straight into me with those piercing blue eyes full of deep compassion. She clasped my shaking hands in hers. The tears welled up in my eyes as I introduced myself and quickly spilled out my gratitude. I thanked her for teaching me the art of eucharisteo – giving thanks in all circumstances.  I told her how her practice of counting gifts had prepared me for horror of walking my husband through cancer and navigating his death with my three young daughters. Tears of sympathy glistened in her eyes as somehow I managed to talk about the secondary losses – walking away from our heart work in Haiti and stumbling forward into a new life as a widow.

I apologized for taking too much of her time. She called me by name and shook her head no. She said, “I hear you, Dorina, and I’m going to remember you.”

In that moment, I realized Ann Voskamp was the real deal. Authentic. Vulnerable. Compassionate. Broken. She took time to enter into the brokenness with me. She wasn’t rushing me along. She wasn’t some celebrity with perfect makeup and a precision haircut signing books with an agenda. She listened. She cried with me. She poured herself out.

broken_way

It was no surprise to me when I opened the pages of Ann’s new book, The Broken Way, that the book is about exactly what God has been asking me to do over the last two years: to find purpose in my pain.

Her words mentor me once again: “Not one thing in your life is more important than figuring out how to live in the face of unspoken pain.”

The theme of this book is identifying our brokenness and stepping into the brokenness of others as the path to a more abundant life.

I read each sentence slowly, really let the words sink in. This is not what you call a “quick read.” In fact, all of Ann’s writing is like that for me. I am forced to slow down, to drink in the words deliberately like a steaming cup of chai on a fall day, like reading a poem aloud and savoring every word. Sometimes I circle back and reread a line or two because I don’t want to miss a thing. She makes me think.

These words pierce me, “Jesus always moves into places moved with grief. Jesus always seeks out where the suffering is, and that’s where Jesus stays. The wound in His side proves that Jesus is always on the side of suffering, the wounded, the busted, the broken.”

I am reminded that as we endure suffering we can experience the greatest intimacy with our Maker. When we give ourselves permission to grieve and invite others to share with us in that space, there is communion. In the grief, there is healing. Grace abounds.

The Broken Way is the perfect sequel to One Thousand Gifts. Ann teaches us to go beyond counting gifts to being the gift to others. The acronym she uses is G.I.F.T. – Give It Forward Today. She dares us to let our brokenness be made into abundance. In her signature, turn of phrase, Ann proposes a challenge: “Maybe the only abundant way forward is always to give forward.”

I have experienced the truth of these words so profoundly over the last two years. I have learned the power of vulnerability. I have felt the healing balm of grieving with others. I have learned how to receive from community and give out of my brokenness. And I’m still learning.

In a world plagued by brokenness, this book is timely. The headlines scream about hurricanes in Haiti and human lives sacrificed in Syria, about shootings across our homeland and wars raging across the world. The Broken Way calls us out and calls us up. We don’t need bucket lists; We need to empty our own buckets again and again on behalf of others. Ann shows us that in that sacrifice we will experience abundant joy.

thebrokenway_godsees

“Wounds can be openings to the beauty in us. And our weaknesses can be a container for God’s glory… God does great things through the greatly wounded. God sees the broken as the best and He sees the best in the broken and He called the wounded to be world changers.”

If you feel broken and bruised, if you are wondering whether there could possibly be a way forward through grief, if you are burdened by the suffering in our world, you must read The Broken Way. It may just be your path to the abundant life.

 

 

 

AND THE WINNER IS….

Janna Olson!

Thanks to everyone who entered the Giveaway for a copy of The Broken Way! Stay tuned for more giveaways in the future!

 

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