Chasing God's glory through all circumstances

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Running for His glory: When showing up for your race matters

Posted by | courage, finishing well, grief, hope, identity, inspirational, parenting, self-care, Stories, struggle, Uncategorized | No Comments

The following is the closing article to my summer series, “Running for His glory,” on the intersection of running and faith. This particular essay was originally published at www.incourage.me. I am so grateful for the diversity of voices and guests who have joined me in writing for this series. Leave a comment if something in this essay or the series was a help or inspiration to you!

 

By Dorina Lazo Gilmore

The announcer for the Miguel Reyes 5k race introduced the elite athletes. I watched in awe as the elite group lined up first. Each man and woman were unique – some tall, some shorter, some with shaved heads, some with long hair, but all with that similar lean frame and chiseled muscles. The rest of us fell into place behind them.

The whistle sounded, and we took off. This 5k course winds through the undulating dirt hills and green spaces of Woodward Park in Fresno, California. This is the same course that high schoolers run for the State Cross Country Meet. As a coach and runner, I’ve traversed this course for many races, but I still felt out of place that morning.

I didn’t have much get-up-and-go to tackle those hills or sprint it out at the finish. I slogged along and battled with my thoughts: You’re not in shape for this. You are getting too old. You’re carrying too much weight these days.

I’ve been a runner most of my life. I ran my first 5k when I was eight with my daddy in our Chicago neighborhood. In high school, I was a track and field athlete. I took up distance running and trail running as an adult, completing dozens of races over the last few decades.

These last several years, I’ve had the huge realization that my running glory days are probably over. I’m not standing on podiums or hitting personal records much anymore. My pace is getting slower the older I get.

My forty-two-year-old body has birthed three baby girls and navigated a tough grief journey these past five years since my husband soared to heaven. I’m mushier around the middle. I look in the mirror and see these laugh lines dancing around the corners of my eyes.

My goals and focus have shifted. Now, I run to clear my head. I run for therapy. I run to feel God’s presence.

A few weeks ago, I found my first gray hair. That wild thing sprung out from the side of my temple with much gusto as if to announce a new season. I plucked it and laughed. I raised it up in the car like a trophy for everyone to see and joked that my three active daughters might be responsible.

Perhaps you might say I’ve arrived. I’ve reached what we call this middle season of life. My friend, Lisa-Jo Baker, describes this so well in her new book, The Middle Matters: “The middle is the place where we have grown into the shapes of our souls even as we might have outgrown the shapes of our jeans. The middle is the marrow. The glorious ordinary of your life that utterly exhausts you but that you might have finally started to understand in ways you didn’t at the beginning.”

That day in the 5k race, God reminded me of something important: Showing up matters. My goals may shift and my pace may wane, but I’m still running. My race isn’t over until it’s over. Being older and slower doesn’t discount me from the race. In fact, maybe this is just the beginning. Maybe He’s leading me down a new path to a new purpose in this season.

When I was in my twenties nursing babies and running a non-profit, I dreamed of days like today when I could send my kids off to school and spend my time writing. I whispered little seed prayers to God about book ideas and creative projects. Now I have the space to cultivate and grow these seeds.

Today, I’m clinging to these words from the Apostle Paul:

 So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace.
2 Corinthians 4:16 (MSG)

A few years ago, a younger mama came up to me and asked if I would mentor her. I paused at first because I didn’t feel “old enough” to be a mentor. What wisdom did I have to offer? The more we chatted, the more I realized what she really wanted was someone to run alongside her in this race called life.

Now, we set our eyes on the finish line together. Some days we run; other days we kneel. Finishing well and leading our people to God’s glory is the goal.

Friend, whether you are still raising babies or launching them out into the world, whether you are hoisting your broken body out of bed or speed walking on a nearby trail, it still matters. Someone is watching you run your race, and you moving forward today could make all the difference.

After the Miguel Reyes 5k race, I savored tacos, agua de jamaica, and paletas with my daughters. I was sweaty and out of breath, stretching there on our red picnic blanket near the finish line. My seven-year-old looked up at me with her dark chocolate eyes and said, “Good job, mama!”

Another unexpected reminder that showing up still matters: we are teaching our baby birds how to fly.

Photo by Jon Marley

 

*Are you a runner or enthusiastic walker? Dorina and her husband Shawn recently started the Glory Chasers running group on Facebook. They offer up courage, coaching, and community for Christian runners. If you’re a runner or know one, join us!

Read more articles in the “Running for His glory” series:

-In “When God brings you full circle,” Dorina describes how sometimes we have to return to particular places, relationships or memories in order to measure just how far we’ve come. She learned this on a trail race she ran a few times in different seasons of life.

-In “How running found me,” Danielle E. Morgan shares her story about how running found her as a young adult and has shaped her health, her mothering, and who she is in Christ today.

-In “Battling negative self-talk,” Kristy Wallace runs us through how she reframes her internal dialogue using scripture. She runs and meditates on specific passages throughout the week.

-In “How running provided healing during mental illness,” Abigail Alleman shares her personal story of how running provided an avenue for her to continue healing during dark seasons.

-In “Discovering running as soul care,” Erin Reibel talks about how she grew into loving running as a busy mama. She consider it an important soul care practice.

-In “How I started running for all the wrong reasons,” Gloryanna Boge shares about how she started out running for all the wrong reasons, but God redeemed it for her.

-In “Run the hill,” Mark W. Jackson unfolds how running hills has helped him learn perseverance through life’s trials.

-In “Finding God’s sanctuary on the trail,” Allison Tucker shares about how God meets her on the trail. I love that she is a grandma who still ventures out into God’s sanctuary in Creation!

-In “Learning to breathe at higher altitudes,” Dorina Gilmore talks about how God breathes life into us, and we live on borrowed breaths as we run life’s path today.

-In “How one mother trusts God’s timing,” Lindsey Zarob shares about how pregnancies took a toll on her body. She had to press the pause button on running for a season, but God brought it back around for her in a new place and new way.

– In “When you feel like running away,” Shannon Rattai writes about how running has become a kind of therapy for her where she can release her burdens and anxiety to God.

-In “4 ways a half marathon transformed my prayer life,” Heather Lobe shares her personal story and gives some practical ideas on how we can incorporate prayer and scripture in our runs as well.

 

**Dorina Gilmore has also written a Bible study called Glory Chasers: Discovering God’s Glory in Unexpected Places with a running theme. Peruse a full-color sample from the Bible study here

Running for His glory: 4 ways a half marathon transformed my prayer life

Posted by | death, Guest blogger, prayer, running, Stories, Uncategorized | No Comments

This essay is part of our summer series called “Running for His glory,” focusing on the intersection between running and faith. Heather is a new friend I met through the Hopewriters online writing community. Heather shares how running has transformed her prayer life and gives some practical ideas on how we can incorporate prayer and scripture in our runs as well. 

 

By Heather Lobe

I laced up my sneakers and packed all of the essentials for my longest training run yet – 11 miles. Breathing in deep through my nose, I pushed off against the greenway path and steadied my pace. Mile by mile, I prayed for the individuals whose names were in my pocket on a 3×5 note card.

With the rhythm of my feet on the pavement, and the sound of the rushing water with the river next to me, I entered into a time of communion with God. The rest of my week was packed full and overflowing, loud and chaotic, but in those long runs it was just the Lord and me. This was a chance to clear my mind and embrace the beauty of the open sky above.

When my lungs or legs grew tired, I flipped my index card over to remind myself of that day’s meditation. For that run, I prayed through Isaiah 40:30-31:

“Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

I wasn’t always a runner. In fact, there are distinct memories burned into my mind of timed tests during physical education classes in school. We were supposed to run laps on the track, and I just remember feeling so bored from the repetition of the flat red track. I had trouble running a full lap without stopping, so I often just used my long legs to power-walk as fast as I could around the track. Whenever I passed the gym teacher, I worked my way up to a jog for as long as I could endure.

In 2014, I entered a season that opened up time and space for me to address some areas that I had been neglecting for years. As I took stock of my mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health, I realized that I needed to do a better job of taking care of myself. I entered into a time of counseling, joined a support group, and decided to nourish my body with healthier eating and exercise.

In that period of finding myself again, I decided to become a runner.

When I first started out, I was discouraged that I couldn’t even finish a mile. I pushed too hard. I tried to run too fast. It was too much too soon.

I learned to embrace the process and just start small. Run 3 minutes, walk 2. Run 4 minutes, walk 1. Run 5… see if you can keep going. It took a month, but I finally was able to run a mile without stopping. It seems like such a small accomplishment, but it represented the beginning of a journey for me.

Eventually, I signed up for 5k races and regularly ran 3 miles at a time. In 2016, I signed up to run a half marathon in the mountainous college town where I work. During that training time, I decided to press in to the quiet. I started to pray as I ran. This opened up a completely new way of approaching those training runs and the long stretches of time dedicated to race preparation.

God revealed some amazing lessons about communicating with Him through my half marathon training:

Prayer is not a stagnant thing. I am missing out if I believe prayer requires me to kneel beside my bed or talk to God when I am in the pew at church. God invites us into regular conversation with Him and wants to be part of every ounce of our day. He invites us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). We can pray while we drive, walk, parent our children, sit at our desks, cook dinner, or sit with hurting friends. We can offer up our requests and listen for His voice even in the busyness of our weekly routine or in the rhythm of a training run.

Scripture is a powerful prayer tool. Over the course of my training, I wrote various words from Scripture onto a 3×5 notecard that I could carry in my pocket. Some were verses that gave me strength or courage to keep pressing into my run, and others were calming truths I needed during that hard season. When I don’t have the words, I can use words that God gave us to return to Him as a plea, a meditation, or an offering.

We are called to pray for others. For most of my life, I think my prayers sounded more like, “Dear Heavenly Father, Gimme, gimme, gimme.” During my long runs, a friend suggested that I pray for a different person each mile. On the back of the notecard with my verse for the day, I also wrote a name next to each mile I was planning to run.

Something transformative happens in our hearts when we repeatedly pray for others in our lives. It takes our eyes off our own problems, and joins us as partners in prayer with others who also have needs. My notecard even contained a few names of people I really didn’t want to pray for who caused hurt or who I was having a hard time forgiving. I focused on asking God to bless those people and to soften my heart towards them. He was and is faithful in answering those prayers.

Take it one step at a time. Training to run a half marathon (13.1 miles) happens one step at a time. I cannot jump past all of the hard stuff in my life to get to the finish line. As I worked through sore muscles, shin splints, tired lungs, and adjustments to my protein and caloric intake, I grew in my capacity to listen to my body and learned how to move forward in my training – one run at a time.

That same season was filled with many questions about the future and how to move forward, but God taught me to trust Him to lead, one step at a time. I prayed for His wisdom to show me the next right thing, and He used my training to remind me to slow down my tendency to run ahead and just listen to Him.

 

Heather Lobe is a grateful believer in Jesus Christ who has seen firsthand how God redeems broken lives and heals our deepest wounds. Heather is a writer, speaker, and worship leader with a heart for others to know Jesus. Active in her local community and the Celebrate Recovery ministry, Heather’s heart is for women to know that they are known, loved, and healed in relationship with Christ. She delights in making gratitude lists, finding good local coffee, and running and hiking the mountains of Roanoke, Virginia where she lives with her husband and son. You can find more of Heather’s writing at www.heatherlobe.com, and she’d love to connect with you on Instagram.

*Are you a runner or enthusiastic walker? Dorina and her husband Shawn recently started the Glory Chasers running group on Facebook. They offer up courage, coaching, and community for Christian runners. If you’re a runner or know one, join us!

Read more articles in the “Running for His glory” series:

-In “When God brings you full circle,” Dorina describes how sometimes we have to return to particular places, relationships or memories in order to measure just how far we’ve come. She learned this on a trail race she ran a few times in different seasons of life.

-In “How running found me,” Danielle E. Morgan shares her story about how running found her as a young adult and has shaped her health, her mothering, and who she is in Christ today.

-In “Battling negative self-talk,” Kristy Wallace runs us through how she reframes her internal dialogue using scripture. She runs and meditates on specific passages throughout the week.

-In “How running provided healing during mental illness,” Abigail Alleman shares her personal story of how running provided an avenue for her to continue healing during dark seasons.

-In “Discovering running as soul care,” Erin Reibel talks about how she grew into loving running as a busy mama. She consider it an important soul care practice.

-In “How I started running for all the wrong reasons,” Gloryanna Boge shares about how she started out running for all the wrong reasons, but God redeemed it for her.

-In “Run the hill,” Mark W. Jackson unfolds how running hills has helped him learn perseverance through life’s trials.

-In “Finding God’s sanctuary on the trail,” Allison Tucker shares about how God meets her on the trail. I love that she is a grandma who still ventures out into God’s sanctuary in Creation!

-In “Learning to breathe at higher altitudes,” Dorina Gilmore talks about how God breathes life into us, and we live on borrowed breaths as we run life’s path today.

-In “How one mother trusts God’s timing,” Lindsey Zarob shares about how pregnancies took a toll on her body. She had to press the pause button on running for a season, but God brought it back around for her in a new place and new way.

-In “When you feel like running away,” Shannon Rattai writes about how running has become a kind of therapy for her where she can release her burdens and anxiety to God.

-In “How running taught me to stay,”  Jennie G. Scott writes about how running has helped her to stay the course God has set out for her in this life.

 

Main photo by William Farlow on Unsplash

Running for His glory: How running taught me to stay

Posted by | brave, courage, discipline, finishing well, identity, running, Stories, Uncategorized | No Comments

This essay is part of our summer series called “Running for His glory,” focusing on the intersection between running and faith. I met Jennie through the Hopewriters online writing community. Jennie and I had this enlightening conversation earlier this year on her “In This Skin” podcast, which includes a bit about how running has helped us both. She writes in this essay about how running teaches her to stay the course God has set out for her. 

 

By Jennie G. Scott

Salty streaks ran down my cheeks as my ponytail bounced behind me. I couldn’t tell if the streaks were sweat or tears. Probably a combination of both.

My lungs burned, my legs ached, and my watch calculated the miles. When I laced up my running shoes that morning, I didn’t know the training run would be what broke me. Not physically — that was the part I could handle.

But emotionally.

*****

I didn’t run a step until after my second child was born. Six months after I delivered her, I pinned on my first running bib – and almost threw up during the race.

The marathons I’ve run since then were easier than that 5k. (Training makes a difference.)

Now, years later, running is a part of my lifestyle. It’s one of the ways I keep my body healthy, but more importantly, it’s a way to keep my invisible self in shape. When I run, the distractions disappear that usually keep me from thinking about the hard things. It’s as if I’m a captive audience to my own thoughts. The cadence of each footfall gives rhythm to the thoughts I’d rather keep at bay. The monotony of the run opens the floodgates of my mind.

*****

That morning, I chipped away at the miles my training plan spelled out. As I did, my body reluctantly complied with what I asked it to do. I’ve heard it said that the first mile is a liar, and I couldn’t agree more. The first mile always tells me to stop and that it’s just not a good day for a run. But there always comes a point when the body gives in and agrees that yes, perhaps, a run is what we need.

I followed my normal route, barely noticing the lake on the left and the construction on the right. Instead of my brain registering what my eyes saw, it drifted to the hurt that was filling my heart.

I pushed it down to prevent it from coming to the surface during the work day and in the evenings with my children. I pretended I was doing fine.

But I wasn’t.

Step after step, arms pumping in propulsion, my body took over and let my heart have room to move — a luxury I’d been denying it, since I couldn’t trust what it would do.

That morning, it finally acknowledged the truth. With nothing in the way, my heart released its pain, its feelings of betrayal, its questions, and its doubts. My heart was honest for the first time in weeks, and the physical release that came with my run brought an emotional release I desperately needed.

It’s amazing how often a run will release an emotion.

In my years as a runner, I’ve logged thousands of miles, run dozens of races, worn out more shoes than I can count, and have even won my age group a time or two.

But more than that, I’ve learned countless lessons you can’t see from the outside. The most important of those? Running has taught me to stay.

It’s forced me to stay in the moment. My first marathon training partner told me, “Just run the mile you’re in,” and I can’t think of better advice for life. We can’t undo the past, and we can’t live in dread of what might be. All we can do is stay here, in this moment, fully present and fully alive.

It’s taught me to stay when it hurts. When you run, there’s always an element of pain or discomfort. A calf muscle that’s tight, a blister from last week’s long run, a sock that’s twisted in a shoe, or some chafing you couldn’t prevent.

Runners can’t prevent pain; we can only learn to handle it. Life will hurt, no matter how well-trained we are or how much preparation we’ve done. Pain is inevitable and inescapable, but we get to choose how we’ll face it when it comes.

Running has taught me that everything I’d rather run from is usually what I need to face the most. Every race has a hill that elicits groans, a gravel portion that tests the nerves, or a weather condition we couldn’t predict. Though our preference would be to run around those obstacles or avoid them altogether, the only way is through.

The only way is to stay.

Running has taught me to stay in spite of my doubts, my insecurities, and my feelings of inadequacy. At the starting line of every race, I look around and wonder just who I think I am. I gauge myself against the clearly more experienced runners, the ones whose muscles look well-toned and whose gear looks more professional than mine. I look at them and doubt myself, but then I turn up my music and remember my training and acknowledge that I, too, have a place in this pack. I stay, and I start, and somehow I always finish.

Running reminds me that while the easiest choice may be to run from difficulty, sometimes the best choice is to remain in it. This is true in races as it is in life. Stay the course.  My runs teach me to stay the course God has placed me on. This pain, this detour, and this unexpected obstacle will not derail me.

Friend, if you stay, you will grow. If you stay, you will change. If you stay, you will become stronger.

 

Jennie G. Scott is a former high school English teacher who now uses her love of words to share the hope of the Kingdom. A writer, speaker, and runner, she is a self-described deep thinker who can spend way more time than she should choosing the just-right word. She is a mom of two who has journeyed through single parenthood into marriage with the most patient man on the planet. She writes online at ww.jenniegscott.com. You can also find Jennie on Instagram @jenniegscott or hosting the “In This Skin” podcast.

 

*Are you a runner or enthusiastic walker? Dorina and her husband Shawn recently started the Glory Chasers running group on Facebook. They offer up courage, coaching, and community for Christian runners. If you’re a runner or know one, join us!

Read more articles in the “Running for His glory” series:

-In “When God brings you full circle,” Dorina describes how sometimes we have to return to particular places, relationships or memories in order to measure just how far we’ve come. She learned this on a trail race she ran a few times in different seasons of life.

-In “How running found me,” Danielle E. Morgan shares her story about how running found her as a young adult and has shaped her health, her mothering, and who she is in Christ today.

-In “Battling negative self-talk,” Kristy Wallace runs us through how she reframes her internal dialogue using scripture. She runs and meditates on specific passages throughout the week.

-In “How running provided healing during mental illness,” Abigail Alleman shares her personal story of how running provided an avenue for her to continue healing during dark seasons.

-In “Discovering running as soul care,” Erin Reibel talks about how she grew into loving running as a busy mama. She consider it an important soul care practice.

-In “How I started running for all the wrong reasons,” Gloryanna Boge shares about how she started out running for all the wrong reasons, but God redeemed it for her.

-In “Run the hill,” Mark W. Jackson unfolds how running hills has helped him learn perseverance through life’s trials.

-In “Finding God’s sanctuary on the trail,” Allison Tucker shares about how God meets her on the trail. I love that she is a grandma who still ventures out into God’s sanctuary in Creation!

-In “Learning to breathe at higher altitudes,” Dorina Gilmore talks about how God breathes life into us, and we live on borrowed breaths as we run life’s path today.

-In “How one mother trusts God’s timing,” Lindsey Zarob shares about how pregnancies took a toll on her body. She had to press the pause button on running for a season, but God brought it back around for her in a new place and new way.

– In “When you feel like running away,” Shannon Rattai writes about how running has become a kind of therapy for her where she can release her burdens and anxiety to God.

 

*Main photo by Morgan Sarkissian on Unsplash

Providing a sense of home for widows in Haiti

Posted by | community, compassion, courage, death, friendship, grief, Haiti, hope, outreach, serve, social justice, Stories, struggle, Uncategorized | No Comments

She would often tap-tap-tap on the back screen door of the Bell Mission House built by my husband’s grandparents, where our family typically stayed. The first thing most people notice about Comère is she’s blind. Comère walked more than 5 miles from her home in Bahoncy beyond Fontaine in the northern mountains of Haiti. She would bring one of her six children to guide her steps on the dusty road to our house.

Part of her story that you might not guess is that Comère is a widow. Her husband died 9 years ago because of malnourishment and dehydration. Comère’s frail frame and gentle voice always stir up compassion in my heart.

In the early days, she would ask me for canned food to help feed her children. The cans were something they could carry on the long journey home to share with the others. I would dig through our cupboards and send home canned chicken or tuna, and sometimes tomato paste or soup with her. She would down a glass of water and squeeze my hand before she left.

I don’t remember exactly when I met Comère. In my 19 years of traveling and working in northern Haiti, she has shown up regularly. Somehow, she always knows when I am in town.

Widows in the country of Haiti are among the most vulnerable members of society. Comère is just one of many widows who struggle to survive. Many widows become homeless and outcasts when their husbands die. Few have extended family to care for them. While widows in the United States might have access to social security, life insurance, or death benefits, there are no government programs to provide for the needs of widows in Haiti.

When my husband Ericlee and I were first married, we talked a lot about God’s heart for the vulnerable. Our own hearts were especially burdened for the orphans in Haiti. I remember one summer we looked up all the verses in the Bible that talked about orphans. What I didn’t realize was important at the time is that most of the scriptures that talk about caring for the orphans also mention providing for widows.

It wasn’t until my husband soared to heaven in 2014 that I returned to the Bible to investigate these scriptures that express God’s heart for widows. As a newly-minted widow with three fatherless daughters, I wanted to remind myself what God said.

James, Jesus’ brother, describes it this way: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).

I believe James exhortation is literal. God wants us to care for orphans, widows and the most vulnerable in our culture. Dozens of scriptures from the Old Testament to the New Testament show this heart.

This past July, my family traveled to Haiti again to visit friends and so I could speak at a women’s conference in the northern city of Pignon. While we were there, my long-time friend, Pastor Gerby, invited me to share at his country church in Fontaine. I delivered a message on the book of Ruth and how God sent His son as our ultimate kinsman-redeemer.

After service, I asked Pastor Gerby if I could meet some of the widows in his congregation. I was surprised when more than 20 women shuffled their way to the front of the church. They were a mix of ages – some had children or grandchildren, some did not. Several of them had been attending the church for years. My heart was overwhelmed as I realized almost 20 percent of the church was comprised of widows.

That Sunday morning, I got to hear the stories of several of these women. Their grief and loss was familiar, yet the struggles they faced were so different. Jobs were hard to come by. I learned the church fed them after service. For some, this might be the only full meal they would enjoy for several days. I prayed and wept over my widow sisters.

Sitting on the end of the front pew, was my friend Comère. After our time of sharing she rose, reached out for my hand, and clung to me. Pastor Gerby led us outside the church. He showed us the orphanage and school that were part of the campus. Then he began to illuminate his vision for building a Widows Home for these women in his church.

My heart was immediately moved by this vision. My new husband Shawn also felt the call to invest in this project. We were especially impressed by the idea that the local church was already moving. They were already feeding these women. Pastor Gerby also talked about how these women could be given jobs on the campus like serving lunches to the school children, helping in the orphanage, or beautifying the church. They would have a new sense of purpose and community.

I couldn’t help thinking about my own grief journey. After my husband’s death, I questioned my calling and my purpose. I stepped down from my work helping direct the non-profit we started in Haiti. I needed time to heal and navigate loss with my children.

Over these last five years, I’ve learned that there is profound purpose and healing in coming alongside others in their distress and grief. God has given me many opportunities to share my story and to journey with others who are grieving. As it says in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” Now, I believe, He is opening the door for us to help build this home for widows in Haiti. Sometimes offering a helping hand can lead to our own healing journey.

 

Friends, we are inviting you to link arms with us today to raise up the Widows Home in Fontaine, Haiti through Haiti Gospel Outreach. We know many of us here in the United States have resources that can be used to help provide not just a house, but a home for these Haitian women. Every little bit counts. Our goal is to raise $15,000 by November 30, 2019. If you would like to give toward this project, you can donate here. Please include “Widows Home – Dorina” in the notes. You can also help us spread the word by sharing this Facebook live video.

 

Running for His glory: Learning to breathe at higher altitudes

Posted by | abundance, community, courage, flourishing, friendship, grief, hope, Incourage essays, relationships, sharing faith, Stories, Uncategorized, writing | No Comments

Breathe in deeply. Let the air gently fill your lungs. Pause. Then release. Feel the tension in your shoulders drift away. Inhale again. Then exhale.

This is the give and take of breath. This is a deliberate slowing of the cadence of our breath. This is discovering a new, unforced rhythm.

Breathe was the theme of the retreat I attended in June for the writers of (in)courage. After a wildly busy Maycember, this was exactly what we all needed. Thirty-one writers and staff traveled to Estes Park, Colorado for three days at the base of Rocky Mountain National Park to just breathe.

The goal: to exhale the rush of responsibilities and inhale the presence of God through fellowship with sisters.

Although we spent some time in meetings and creating new content, the leaders carved out lots of space for us to breathe. We were encouraged to take a nap, go shopping or hiking, participate in rooftop yoga, or spend time with God in the mountains. To just breathe.

The Hebrew name for God is Yahweh. It is said when the Hebrew letters YHWH are pronounced, they sound like a deep breath. This connection is no coincidence in my mind for God Himself fashioned Adam from the dust of the earth and breathed life into his lungs.

Here’s one thing I learned about breathing that weekend in Colorado: Sometimes the air feels thin at higher altitudes.

One morning I went for a 5-mile run on a path not far from our cabin. My chest pulled tight as I tried to fill my lungs. I slowed down and took shorter breaths. I had to give myself grace that my pace was not as fast as it might be at home, where I live in a valley.

In life, sometimes the same is true. We find ourselves at an unfamiliar altitude, and we need to take shorter breaths. We need to slow our rhythm to breathe deeply.

Maybe you can relate. Maybe you’ve experienced some trauma in your past or you are presently walking through a crisis, and it feels hard to breathe.

These are the times when it is a gift to sit shoulder to shoulder with others. It’s so easy to default into isolation when we feel overwhelmed. When we share our stories, when we bear witness to truth and pain, we offer each other breath.

Breathing then comes a little easier. Inhale long. Breathe out.

I experienced this in Colorado with my (in)courage sisters. Writing and speaking can be lonely work. I don’t have many people in my everyday life who understand what I do and its challenges. These women, who live all over the country and minister in many different ways through words, are my colleagues, my co-laborers.

As I listened to the stories and experiences of other writer-mama-sisters from diverse backgrounds, I felt breath fill my lungs. I was bolstered for the task ahead – to continue to share the Gospel message and to help people discover God’s glory through my words.

In Ezekiel 37, the prophet talks about a valley of dry bones – a symbol of lifelessness. God says to these bones:

I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.

Ezekiel 37: 5-6 (NIV)

Then He breathes into them, and the dry bones miraculously rattle and snap to life. These bones were once dry and dead, but now they are alive and moving.

God breathes – sometimes through the stories and encouragement of others – and we come to life.

May we also look for opportunities daily to breathe new life into each other. As a mama, I want to consider ways I can breathe life into my children. This may mean softening my tone when I’m irritated. This may mean encouraging my daughters to try new things or persevere through challenges.

I desire for my words to be life-giving to my friends. This may mean calling out talents my friends have or speaking truth to them when they are struggling with self-doubt.

One of my favorite songs is “Great are you, Lord” by All Sons & Daughters. This song became especially meaningful to me in 2014 when my beloved husband was battling cancer. A couple of friends from the worship band at our church visited our home to sing with my husband. He was too weak at that point to go to church.

As they sang and played guitar, my husband sat on our big red couch and listened with a look of heavenly contentment on his face. Our three daughters danced as these worshipful words filled our home:

“It’s your breath in our lungs so we pour out our praise…”

Ironically, the cancer was spreading during that time to my husband’s lungs. His breathing was labored. Little did we know that soon he would soar to meet the One who first breathed life into him. He would exhale this earth and breathe in Yahweh face-to-face.

Whenever I hear this song, I can’t help but think of that moment. I reach for gratitude even when breathing feels hard like on my run or when I’m working. I thank God for my lungs, for this daily cadence of borrowed breaths, and for the privilege of living one more day to reflect His glory.

 

My new husband Shawn and I love connecting with Christian runners. Check out our Glory Chasers running group on Facebook where we offer up courage, community and coaching for runners at all levels.

Running for His glory: How I started running for all the wrong reasons

Posted by | courage, fear, finishing well, inspirational, running, self-care, Stories, struggle, Uncategorized | No Comments

This essay is part of our summer series called “Running for His glory,” focusing on the intersection between running and faith. Gloryanna is a dear friend, whom I met through an online writers community called Hope*writers. She and I have connected on a variety of topics, including writing, mothering, marriage, and running. In this essay, she shares about how she started out running for all the wrong reasons. I’m sure many of us can relate!

 

By Gloryanna Boge

“Just try to stay with her as best you can,” Coach said as she staggered us on the track.

I was in lane two with my eyes locked on the feet in lane one. Lane one was a senior and she was one of our fastest runners – that much I knew as a wide-eyed, bushy-tailed seventh grader.

Coach wanted a few of us to run a timed trial of the 200-meter dash. Mainly we were bodies to give the senior a practice run. I had never run 200 meters on a track before in my life. I went to a small, Christian school so pretty much everyone was expected to go out for track.

There I was completely inexperienced and unsure of myself. My heart beating nervously.

But I was excited.

I have loved running ever since I could race the kids around the block in my neighborhood.

That hot spring day on the track, I had the chance to see if I was any good.

Coach blew the whistle and we took off. I don’t remember how many of us were on the track that afternoon, probably only three or four. I remember staying as close as I could to the senior, within arm’s reach of her back.

I remember no one else passed me that day. I also remember Coach saying I’d train with the senior for the 200 meters as our second runner.

I became competitive in our Christian school track community. I thrived every spring when we lined up for repeats on the track. I won some races and broadened my training as I took on more events. By the time I was a senior, I had a small box filled with medals from various races. A little space for my pride to sit nice and safe.

I ran for the medals, to stand on the pedestal when I was done. I ran to feed my young teenage ego.

If I knew then what I know now about running, I’d tell that seventh-grade teenage girl to pace herself. I’d tell her running would open doors she never knew were closed. Doors that only the grace of God could pry open.

When I was in college, I ran to stave off the Freshman Fifteen. I’d binge eat as I studied for exams and wrote essays late into the night. Then I’d wake up the next day filled with guilt about eating all the food. So, I’d punish myself with a four-mile run.

Running became a cleanse that only left my heart feeling more soiled than before.

After college, I got married. During the first five years of my marriage I wrestled with resentment, unhappiness, and depression. I worried about sharing my fears with friends because I didn’t want to trash talk my marriage. I didn’t want my marriage to have a different image than what I presented to the world. I stressed about what my heart felt and wondered if I was a bad Christian.

My heart filled up with questions and concerns. I had no one I wanted to turn to. So, I’d get up in the morning and run. I’d come home from work and run some more.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but God met me in those stress-related runs. God used the rhythm of my feet on the pavement as a path to clear out the lies I had about my husband.

When my mother passed away a few years ago, I was numb with grief. There was a window of time when I pushed grief away and numbed myself with busyness in order to avoid the pain.

Guess what helped break down the walls of grief?

Going for a run.

When your feet hit the ground and your heart rate increases, when the sweat starts to roll, your mind starts to clear. And when your mind starts to clear of all the lies from this world, you make space to hear God’s voice. To listen to his truth.

I find God’s truth that smashes the lies the Enemy feeds me about my marriage.

I find strength in knowing God grieves with me.

My box filled with medals collects mostly dust these days. I let myself enjoy that piece of cake without counting the calories I would need to burn in a run the next day.

Life without running feels empty. Each time I get that 30 minutes or an hour to myself, I find rest in the embrace of the Holy Spirit. I find his voice and my heart attunes to his words.

I hear God say, “Surrender. Stay with me as best you can, Gloryanna.”

I surrender all the wrong reasons and in exchange, God reminds me that I am His. He tells me I am not defined by how many miles I’ve covered, but that my identity is grounded in being a child of the King.

 

Gloryanna is learning to look to Jesus for growth instead of Google for fixes. She encourages women to reclaim their faith from the noise of this world so they can focus more on Christ. Join her on Facebook or Instagram. Read more at www.gloryannaboge.com/blog.

 

*Read the other articles in the “Running for His glory” series:
-In “When God brings you full circle,” Dorina describes how sometimes we have to return to particular places, relationships or memories in order to measure just how far we’ve come. She learned this on a trail race she ran a few times in different seasons of life.

 

-In “How running found me,” Danielle E. Morgan shares her story about how running found her as a young adult and has shaped her health, her mothering, and who she is in Christ today.

 

-In “Battling negative self-talk,” Kristy Wallace runs us through how she reframes her internal dialogue using scripture. She runs and meditates on specific passages throughout the week.

 

-In “How running provided healing during mental illness,” Abigail Alleman shares her personal story of how running provided an avenue for her to continue healing during dark seasons.

 

-In “Discovering running as soul care,” Erin Reibel talks about how she grew into loving running as a busy mama. She consider it an important soul care practice.

 

*Dorina and her husband Shawn recently started the Glory Chasers running group on Facebook. They offer up courage, coaching, and community for Christian runners. If you’re a runner or know one, pass it on.

Redeeming Ruth: The Father’s Heart for the vulnerable

Posted by | abundance, community, compassion, courage, culture, death, flourishing, grief, hope, inspirational, relationships, Stories, struggle, Uncategorized, video | One Comment

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

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

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

Check out the full video of the message here!

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

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

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

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

 

By Abigail Alleman

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

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

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

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

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

But all of this changed that warm June day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

Remembering Grandma Cora: Cooking Up a Legacy in the Kitchen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her hospitality was paramount.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aloha, Grandma Cora.

 

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

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

How pruning clears the path for new growth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

You are not forgotten this Valentine’s Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beloved, be loved today.

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

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

 

 

When God transplants you to a new garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Through these experiences, I have learned several lessons:

First, I have to dig in to do the work of cultivating the soil. Before I could move to these new places and spaces, I had to be willing to shake things up, to dig through the memories, to sort through what we would be leaving behind and grieve. I had to say goodbye to people and mark what God taught me in that season. Cultivating is the hard part, but it yields such growth.

Secondly, when we’re being transplanted to a new garden, we have to nourish ourselves well with the truth. Mama taught us to add nutrient-rich soil and plenty of water to help our seedlings grow at the start. In the same way, our souls need nourishment. We need more time in God’s Word, more time in prayer, more time to connect with the Master Gardener as we navigate transition.

When people or settings are new, our souls go through a kind of shock like a seedling does in new soil. Insecurity, resentment, and doubt can creep in. We may find ourselves longing for the old garden because it was familiar and comfortable. This is when we need to press in to the truth that we are known and loved by God no matter where we go.

Once we have been transplanted, we also need to give ourselves time to listen and observe how things work in the new garden. It’s tempting to rush into familiar rhythms, but we might miss something new God wants to bloom in a new place. For example, I’ve led women’s Bible studies for years. I was tempted in our new church to sign up for Bible study right away and inquire about leadership, but I felt God encouraging me to hold back. He’s invited me into a sweet season of rest and personal Bible study that I believe has been important to strengthening my roots in this new season. This also has afforded me more time to be present with my daughters in this transition.

Maybe some of you have been transplanted recently. Maybe you’ve moved to a new city, a new job, a new church. Maybe you’ve just graduated from college or now you have an empty nest. Maybe you’ve just sent your baby off to kindergarten or have found yourself back in school. As you are transplanted to this new place or new situation, remember to keep your eyes on the Master Gardener. He is faithful to go before us to cultivate the soil and help us root ourselves if we cling to Him.

It’s not the one who plants or the one who waters who is at the center
of this process but God, who makes things grow.
1 Corinthians 3:7 (MSG)

Have you ever been transplanted? How did you stay rooted in that season?

*I have written more on how God designed each of us to flourish for His glory in my Bible study, Flourishing Together: Cultivating a Fruitful Life in Christ. Details here.

Click over to (in)courage to read the original of this post…

Photo by Benjamin Combs on Unsplash

 

5 myths about grief and 1 important truth

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

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

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

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

Myth #1: Grief has five stages.

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

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

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

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

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

Myth #3: Time heals.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

 

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

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

*Photo by Killian Pham on Unsplash

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

When “Let Go and Let God” is Bad Advice

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Until then, hang on.

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

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

We had hope.

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

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

“Scott home yet?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hang on.

 

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

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

 

Table talk: Savoring time around the table

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Running After His Glory in the Darkness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah 61:1, 2-3 (NIV)

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

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

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

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

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

 

By Natalie Guy from Everyday Natalie

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

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

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

 

Some creative ideas to work through a spiritual funk:

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

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

 

*****

Podcast suggestions:

The Next Right Thing by Emily Freeman

Dear Daughters by Susie Davis

Gospel in Life by Tim Keller

Bethel Podcast by Bethel Church Redding

 

Scripture coloring books for adults:

Sweeter Than Honey: a Coloring Book to Nourish your Soul

Promises of Joy

Whatever is Lovely: A Coloring Book for Reflection and Worship

 

Devotional suggestions:

New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotion

Five Minutes with Jesus

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

 

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

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

*This blog was originally posted at Everyday Natalie.

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

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

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

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

They told me He was a Master,

the most skilled Gardener in all the land.

I had to trust His gentle, yet mighty hands.

He planted me, helped me to burrow deep into

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

I drifted to sleep dreaming of becoming

a magnificent tree one day.

 

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

It was the most excruciating pain –

like a pushing and pulling at the same time.

I wondered if this was normal.

I felt like my heart was breaking open,

birthing pains surging through my body.

I reached out for the Master Gardener,

but I couldn’t see Him in the darkness.

I heard a gentle whisper,

“I am doing a new thing.”

 

These words strengthened me.

“I will be with you.”

I reached out for Him,

sending my new roots through the soil

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

I was thirsty, and He provided

all the water I could drink – and more –

until I was filled to overflowing.

I wanted to be like those mother trees

I saw planted by the water.

They did not fear the heat to come

and their leaves always seemed green.

 

Then I heard a deep voice above,

bellowing, beckoning me.

“Arise, little one,” He said.

It was the Gardener King!

He wanted to see me.

He was inviting me out into the world.

Rays of angled light danced above me.

I reached out with all the power, wisdom and knowledge

He had given me underground.

He lifted my head, and I began to grow.

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

we spent together the longer and stronger

my branches and limbs grew.

I waved to the other trees in the orchard.

 

Then one day, the Gardener Counselor came to me.

He said it was pruning time.

Pruning was an important part

of the journey for a tree, He explained.

Pruning would shape me and stimulate new growth.

Methodically, He clipped and cut, clipped and cut.

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

His sharp clippers touched every one of my branches,

especially the biggest ones.

I tried to focus my eyes on the Father Gardener

when I ached, when I felt naked in the garden

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

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

“The harvest is yet to come.”

 

I waited, I wondered, I rested.

It felt like many long winter days, months

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

When grief and insecurity crept in,

I had to remember the words He had spoken

over me

when I was just a seed living underground.

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

“I love you with an everlasting love.”

“I rejoice over you with singing.”

After enduring many long days,

new green leaves appeared on my branches.

I saw the Gardener Shepherd tending to

other plants and trees in the garden too.

New life was awakened all around me.

 

And then came the blooms!

Pale pink and white petals perched

on every branch across the orchard.

I was not the only one coming alive with color,

flashes of purple, crimson and gold;

faith, hope and love lit up every corner.

I could not help but give thanks for the work

accomplished in each of us

through the Gardener who Sees.

We were flourishing together in His garden.

 

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

After death, sprung a kind of

redemption, restoration, resurrection.

Fruit ripened in the places where flowers once bloomed.

I was reminded of our Gardener Provider,

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

who lovingly pruned, nourished and cultivated me

through the winter and spring months.

What transformation!

 

The Master Gardener made his way over to me.

With great delight he plucked a plump peach

from one of my branches.

He sunk his teeth into the flesh of that fruit

and juice chased down to His elbow.

He smiled at me, holding the fruit.

Finally, He gently removed the seed and bent to plant

it in the soil not far from my trunk.

 

Then He spoke these words over me

*******

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

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

Amen.

 

Book review: Rooted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Book Review: Breaking the Fear Cycle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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