Friday, October 23, 2015

Flourishing in our passions

No one told me how hard it would be. No one told me how traumatic the birthing experience would feel. No one told me I wasn’t going to fit into my pre-pregnancy clothes on the way home from the hospital. No one told me how long I was going to have to sit in that glider every day nursing my newborn. No one told me how many weeks it was going to take for my body (and my mind!) to recover.

I loved my baby girl fiercely. There was no doubt about it. I was madly in love with her from the first time I held her in my arms and caressed her baby skin. What I didn’t anticipate was the rough transition into motherhood. I did not love my life.

I had gone from a high-energy career as a newspaper reporter and teaching at the university to sitting on a donut pillow in a glider for 6-8 hours a day nursing my baby. I was committed to breastfeeding but I questioned that decision every time I felt the knife-like pain ripple through my chest when she fed. As I sat there, all I could think about were the worst things I had experienced in my life and how I was exposing this perfect child to an imperfect world. I wept. 

Let’s just say I was far from flourishing. Floundering was more like it.

I was grappling with the idea that in gaining a child I was also giving up my identity. My days were blending into my nights and every ounce of energy was spent on my daughter. Motherhood wasn’t as idyllic as I dreamed it would be.

Carving out time for mama

Fast forward 10 years, and now I have 3 girls. Between raising my kids, taxi-driving them to activities, cooking meals, doing laundry, working part-time, hosting a mama workout group and leading at my church, life is full. Through the years I have learned how important it is to carve out time to feed my soul.

Jessica M. Turner, in her book, The Fringe Hours: Making Time For You, speaks into this: “I’m here to tell you that you not only can but must take time to do things that matter to you, no matter how busy life gets…. You should use your gifts and passions not just for others but to fill you up. It is all too common today to run on empty, but I have learned that life is so much better when you make yourself a priority.”

Jessica challenges and inspires me with this idea that we all have little pockets of time that we can and should use to feed our creative souls. I know it’s sometimes overwhelming to even think about doing something for ourselves. I have discovered that I am a better mama when I give myself permission to step outside the to-do list and the responsibilities of the day and pursue something (however small) for me.

Uncovering our passions

There are many things I dream about doing in my “free time,” but only a few things that truly rejuvenate my soul. While I would love to be an organic gardener or painter or dancer or sing in the worship band, those things are not realistic for me in this season.

I have chosen three things that I do for myself regularly that are both realistic and help me venture outside my mommy responsibilities. The first activity is writing. I started writing children’s books before my oldest daughter was born, but after I launched into motherhood I seldom found time to pursue that career goal. When my daughter was a few years old, my husband and I both realized writing was life-giving for me and I had to be intentional about finding time to do it. Writing provides a creative outlet for me.

The second passion I regularly pursue is running. Through the years, I have discovered that running is a kind of therapy for me. When I’m running on a trail or on the track, I feel alive. I have space to think and process. I have room to dream and talk to God. When I am exercising regularly, I find I have more energy for keeping up with my kids. I also feel better about myself physically.

The third key for me is spending quality time with my people. I am an extrovert. I am energized by time with others. It may be as simple as grabbing a cup of coffee with a friend or participating in MOPS. Deeper connection with my people is important to me. I know I need to be intentional about putting it on my schedule. I make it a point to plan girls getaway weekends a few times a year so I can get that much-needed time with the people who support and sharpen me.

Learning to flourish

My challenge to you is to give yourself space to discover your passions. You might need to revive something you loved doing in the past or explore a new hobby. These things don’t need to take a lot of time or money. 

I have a friend who uses her “fringe hours” to grow and arrange succulents. Another friend has a passion for justice issues and uses her time to research and advocate. One mama I know coaches a Zumba class, another makes jewelry, another knits, while a different friend repurposes furniture. I love seeing the ways the women I know have chosen to flourish in their passions. As we flourish ourselves, our family and community benefits too.

This year our theme is a “fierce flourishing.” The word flourish means “to thrive, to grow luxuriantly, to grow in excellence and influence.” I don’t know about you but I long to flourish in this one life I have to live. And even more I would love to be planted in a garden of women flourishing all around me.

Dorina Lazo Gilmore is a mama of three creative and energetic girls. She is also the author of 3 children’s books, including Cora Cooks Pancit, and blogs regularly for Self Talk the Gospel.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

A Fierce Flourishing: Embracing Laughter

My 3-year-old loves the Tickle game.

It’s a simple game. I just stand and look at her and say, “I’m gonna tickle you” and she erupts into hysterical laughter. Sometimes I’ll flutter my fingers in front of her to tease her a little bit without touching her. She can’t handle the anticipation. She starts to curl into a ball on the bed and protect her midriff. She knows. She giggles with delight. I’ll pause and go in for a real tickle of her belly or begin to kiss her sweet little neck. Laughter ensues.

Her little laugh is priceless. I wish I could bottle it up and keep it forever. That laugh makes me smile in my soul.

According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter has great short-term and long-term effects on the body. Laughter stimulates the organs, relieves responses to stress, soothes tension, improves our immune systems, relieves pain, help lessen anxiety and depression – and this one may seem obvious – improves our moods.

A Vanderbilt University study found that 15-20 minutes of laughter a day can burn up to 40 calories. Now that’s a fun workout plan!

Research alone is enough to convince me that laughter is beneficial. I have also learned the benefits from personal experience. When my husband died a year ago, my heart was so heavy I felt like I was walking around with a boulder in my chest. The grief was so hard to bear. I also had the added challenge of navigating grief for my three daughters, ages 3, 6 and 9.

Here’s what I learned: It’s important for us to cry. We need to lean into the memories. We need to feel the heartache. We also need to laugh. Laughter ushers in healing.

We have spent time laughing over pictures and funny faces. We laugh over goofy things Daddy used to do like the robot dance. We laugh thinking about the things he might be doing in Heaven today like teaching angels how to do burpees or leading a choir for off-key worshippers.

The book of Ecclesiastes reminds us, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Verse 4 goes on to say, “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance…” I love this juxtaposition of seasons and emotions. The tears are important but so is the laughter and the dancing.

We need to give ourselves permission to laugh. Sometimes we take ourselves too seriously as mamas. It’s easy to get caught up in the guilt and the shame of not measuring up, not having enough patience with our kids, not finishing enough tasks in a day. It’s easy to push laughter aside and forget its benefits.

This year as we press into our theme of “A Fierce Flourishing” and “embracing rest,” I want to challenge you rediscover the things that make you giggle. Laughter bonds people. Laughter builds trust. Get some time with your kids or your mama friends around the table, and give yourself permission to belly laugh.

After all, laughter is the best medicine.

Dorina Lazo Gilmore is the Coordinator of the Bridge MOPS group and a published author. She is a mama of 3 active daughters, ages 3, 6 and 9, who love to jump on the trampoline, paint masterpieces and play the Tickle game.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Courage to Share Faith with our Littles

Sharing about God and faith with our kids can sometimes feel like a daunting task. I think this is mostly because as mamas we are still working out our own faith. We are all still on the journey of understanding God and seeking that personal relationship with Him. I feel this strong conviction that I must be intentional about teaching my three daughters, but then I have to work out the practical of how to do that.

I had the gift of growing up in a Christian home. My parents were diligent about taking us to church on Sundays. My mom was bound and determined for us to read the bible as a family sometime during the week. We gathered regularly – my mom, my dad, my brother and me – to read a devotional book and look up something in the Bible, but truth be told those family times would often end in yelling and gnashing of teeth. My brother was rambunctious. He and I would fight. My dad wasn’t always engaged. Bottom line: it wasn’t always pretty.

One thing I do appreciate about my mom’s efforts in mandating “family nights” is she taught me the principle of “showing up.” Sometimes as parents we just need to show up and make it happen. We need to set aside perfect expectations and embrace the chaos.

My husband was raised in a family of missionaries. His mama and grandma were amazing storytellers. They had a way of taking stories from the Bible and making them come alive. My husband was a teacher by trade and had a deep desire to teach our girls what he had learned. We would have Sunday family time where he would have the girls act out bible stories or make bible quiz games and pass out quarters for correct answers. I would often watch him in awe and just let him lead. The kids loved it.

Don’t be deceived: those family times were far from perfect. Typically, one of our children would be walking along the ledge of our bed like a balance beam, while another was likely doing cartwheels across the bedroom floor. Someone would be fighting for a costume, someone else melting down. Sometimes it was me. Somehow in the midst of it all, our girls have grown a love for God’s word and just being together.

I have learned that we need to be intentional about creating a space where our kids can learn about the Bible, ask honest questions and journey with us. We need to give ourselves freedom to define that in a way that makes sense for our individual families. Maybe you can find that space in the car on the way to school, at the breakfast table, before bed or another time.

Now that my husband is in heaven I shoulder the responsibility of teaching my girls about God. I felt paralyzed at first. Then I gave myself permission to do two things: keep it simple and use my resources. We don’t have those long extended devotional family times on Sundays like we used to with daddy. Instead we read his favorite devotional book on nights we are home together at dinner. I found a kid version of Streams in the Desert. My girls whined and complained about reading it at first. Then I enlisted my oldest (age 8) to read it aloud. She found new purpose and responsibility in being the reader. She reminds me now when it’s time to read.

We take time to discuss the one-page lesson or principle. My 6-year-old daughter is often picking at something on the table or coloring but somehow she’s still listening and has something insightful to share. There’s a short prayer at the end and we decided to have someone read a few words at a time so my 3-year-old could join us and repeat the words. I love to hear her little voice try to follow along like her big sisters. We all have a part.

The other night my soul soared as I listened to my 8-year-old explain to her siblings (and her mama!) that after hearing the story of David from this devotional that she believed her dad’s death was something God was going to use for good in our lives. She made the connection herself that our grief and hard year was going to be redeemed for God’s glory. Only the Holy Spirit could have done that kind of work in her heart. My job as a mama: showing up.
Dorina Lazo Gilmore is the Coordinator of the Bridge MOPS group. She is a mama to 3 girls, ages 3, 6 and 8. She is published children's book writer and teacher. She loves encouraging women and sharing about finding hope in adversity.



Fave resources for sharing faith with kids:

*The Jesus StorybookBible by Sally Lloyd-Jones –In a poetic and easy-to-understand way, Lloyd-Jones unfolds key Bible stories and how they point to Jesus and salvation. The beautiful illustrations cast the stories in a new and colorful light. This picture book bible is unique because it appeals to all ages from toddlers to adults.

*Streams in the Desertfor Kids by L.B.E. Cowman – This daily devotional is based off the timeless devotional for adults but gives a one-page dose with kids in mind that includes a bible verse, story or anecdote and one-line prayer to share as a family. Good for elementary-aged kids and older.

*Heaven for Kids by Randy Alcorn and Linda Washington – This book is great for elementary school and middle school students. It’s written for kids with short chapters and lots of references to the Narnia series to engage kids in questions about faith and heaven.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Courage to Live in Community

One of the scariest realities of becoming a mom is finding other mommies to mommy with. Of course there are the lucky few who seem to have aligned their first pregnancies with those of close friends or siblings, but for most of us, along-side the joyful expectation of that first precious child comes a sense of impending loneliness.

I first felt it when the school year started in August. After a whirlwind summer of preparing our home and hearts for a new baby and getting in one last unencumbered roadtrip - logging over 3,000 miles, my husband returned to teaching math during the day. And I stayed home. After 3 years of nearly year-round teaching - spending the school years in high school English classrooms and the summers teaching conversational English in China, I stayed home. And stayed home. And stayed home. And went to Target.  Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE time that is all mine. In fact, I love it so much that I didn’t really do anything to connect with other people. And, really, I didn’t know how. I was out of practice with finding and engaging in community that wasn’t established institutionally through work.

And then came the third invitation to join MOPS. I really thought MOPS was for mothers of preschoolers - as in kids in preschool… But my ready-to-pop belly and I kept getting invited.

And wow. Just wow. The first meeting was overwhelming. I didn’t know where I fit and I didn’t know what to talk about. I’m not sure that I said much of anything, actually. But just listening to these women, I knew that I wanted a way in. A way to dig deeper. And you know what? It happened. And I can’t even tell you how. I just kept showing up.  

There’s this thing that is just true about being a mama in a room full of mamas. We are all in the same boat and we all know it. We ARE a community, we just have to learn to live like it. I’ve learned that the deep stuff - the soul-nourishing community we all crave, starts with the practical. The great thing about that is the practical isn’t so scary. We can sign up for the practical - literally! There is a description of biblical community in the book of Acts that describes the early church sharing meals, pooling resources, and worshipping together. We build the foundations for community when we bring a meal to a new mama, join chaos to chaos for a playdate or a picnic, or invite a family we don’t know well over for dinner. We pool resources when we put on potluck birthday parties, pick up one another’s groceries, carpool to and from school, trade babysitting, and pass along clothes.

Where are you being led to engage in community here at MOPS? Keep an eye on the MOPS facebook page for opportunities to bring meals to new mamas. Gather gently-used clothing and toys to pass along to other mamas at meetings. Better yet, find a specific family to regularly pass clothes to. Reach out to the women at your table for playdates or coffee. Host a mama-and-me workout in your backyard or garage. Join the Zumba ministry at Pyle Elementary on Saturday mornings with Katie Valorosi or the MOPS Book Club with me (Heather Fenton). Community begins with and depends on these acts of service and engagement, and our willingness to take even small steps toward going deeper in relationships. We are all on this mommy journey, so let’s not do it alone!
Heather Fenton is mama to 4 littles 5 and under and facilitates the Bridge MOPS Book Club.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Courage to Choose Connection over Comparison

You know the scenario all too well. You see her with that cute outfit, with her adorable kids, with her Pinterest projects, with that new hair style or those skinny jeans, and you cringe. You see those posts on Facebook about that great vacation she’s taking or that cuddly picture with her husband, and you’re just plain jealous. You don’t want to feel that way but it just keeps surfacing.

Sound familiar? In an age of Instagram and Facebook, when we have “full access” to each other’s lives, it’s easy to get caught up in comparison. It’s easy to start comparing our worst days to someone else’s highlight reel. It’s far too tempting to get a glimpse of someone at the park or at church and think, “She really has it all together.”

A few years ago I had the opportunity to attend MomCon, the national convention put on by the MOPS organization. One of the speakers was mama-author Shauna Niequist. Her presentation on the topic of “Connection over Comparison” made a huge impact on me. “Connection is a soul saver, and comparison is a soul killer,” she said. “Instead of thinking about what God gave us, we become obsessed with other people’s lives.”

I am ashamed to admit that I have lost friends over comparison. It pains me to think about it today, but I have had to walk away from relationships that became toxic in this way. It’s no fun to be in a conversation where it’s constantly a contest to “one-up” each other. What would happen if we leaned in and listened instead? What would happen if we congratulated her or cheered her on for her victories instead of sulking in the background?

I have learned through the years that comparison kills community. My challenge to you today is to fast from comparison. If you are tempted to compare yourself with another mama, try a genuine compliment instead. Take a break from the internet and cross the distance between you and other real mamas. Invite her to the trampoline place or to tea. Find a way to get your families together for dinner. Brave the harder questions. Dig into the stories that shape you and not just your status. Create a space for connection instead of comparison.

What I’ve discovered is that when we dive into each other’s stories, when we welcome people into our messes and everyday challenges, we discover we are not alone. When I am willing to be vulnerable, others are willing to be vulnerable too. And somewhere on the journey of inviting and sharing and connecting, true friendships and authentic community is born.

Dorina Lazo Gilmore is mama to three active, uniquely-their-own girls. She is a published author, teacher and the coordinator of the Bridge MOPS group.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Be You, Less Busy


I like my holiday traditions. I love the after-Thanksgiving decorating, the walk down Christmas Tree Lane, the decadent desserts and dinner parties, the wrapping and unwrapping of Christmas books each night of advent, the doorbuster sales, the white elephant gift exchanges, the homemade cinnamon rolls and Christmas Day ravioli. I love Christmas cards and endless twinkling lights and Pinterest projects. For years, I have pushed through to get it all done, get it all right, get it all accomplished and then chalked up that ragged, worn-out feeling as being just part of the bustle of the season.

But this year I know I need to slow it down.

Slow down our schedule, slow down our commitments, slow down our hearts.

When I hear the same message resonating from a lot of different places from different people I respect, I know it's time to start sitting up and paying attention. This is often the way God tries to show me something important. Truth be told, God's been whispering this message to me about slowing down Christmas for the last few years, but I didn't really want to listen. 

This will be a different Christmas for my family - our first Christmas without my husband who died in September from cancer. Some might be tempted to cancel Christmas in our circumstances, but with a 3, 5, and 8-year-old I know I can't do that.

I do know I have a perfect opportunity to do something different, to slow it down and be more intentional.

Author Brene Brown wrote this in a recent blog post, "We live in a world where life can easily become pageantry, and the best performers make it look balletic and effortless. Of course, there’s no such thing as an effortless holiday show. If you sneak a peek behind most people’s red velvet curtains at holiday time, you’ll often see houses brimming with anxiety, maxed-out credit cards, crying children, and marriages that make the cold war look warm and fuzzy. I’m convinced that the only way out of this is by cancelling the show. Not canceling the holiday, but giving up the show."

I was convicted by that. On Thanksgiving, I started thinking through our long list of Christmas traditions and asking myself why each one is really important. I found myself dwelling on a few key questions: What am I really longing for this season? What traditions are just part of the show and which ones really matter to me?

I realized that every year I long for two things: quality time to enjoy the story of Christmas and a meaningful way to bless others. 

Looking through my list, I knew I needed to cut back on at least a third of our holiday traditions and then cross off a few more that were really meaningful but just made the season far too busy. It was hard work but there was great freedom I felt in doing it.

It's December 11 and none of my Christmas decorations are up. We are slated to go get our tree tomorrow night with friends. Our tradition has always been to put everything up the day after Thanksgiving. We didn't do that this year. And that's ok. It's one example of a way I gave myself grace and permission to slow down.

Instead, I've spend these first two weeks of Advent reading through a new treasured book called UNWRAPPING THE CHRISTMAS STORY by Ann Voskamp with my kids. There is a story and beautiful illustrations lighting each night of Advent. This book has encouraged some amazing conversations with my girls. We haven't finished every night's reading or every question, but we have slowed down most nights to enjoy it together. I have treasured this time. It's a new tradition that really matters to me.

My challenge to you (and myself) is to slow down for five minutes and ask yourself: What can I cut out these next few weeks? When can I say no graciously? What can I take off my to-do list so I can say yes to the heart of Christmas? If Christmas is about the birth of Emmanuel, meaning "God with us," I know I don't want to sprint through this season all bleary-eyed and miss out on the moments I could have with that God-baby.

Dorina Lazo Gilmore is the Coordinator of the Bridge MOPS. She writes books for children and also teaches at California State University, Fresno. She is a mama to three active girls.



Thursday, October 23, 2014

Be You, Creatively

On Friday, I took my kids to a birthday party. One of the activities was painting. The hostess mama had paints and paper and brushes for each child. She boldly let them go to town. My three daughters, who are wild about painting, filled up every inch of white space with thick, swirling colors. Crimson crashing gold melting green. My littlest even got some fingers in the action. As they painted, I noticed something extraordinary: a light in their eyes. This was the “creator light,” the satisfaction that they were creating something with their own hands.

The legendary painter, Pablo Picasso, said this: “Every child is born an artist. The problem is staying an artist when you grow up.”

This is the difficulty. We learn to edit. We start to look around and compare. We recognize other great artists, and we feel the weight of expectations. We squelch the creative for the practical.

David writes in Psalm 139: 13: “For you created my inmost being: you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

As I read the words of this scripture and others, I discover two things: God is our Creator. He created us to create. 

When I first became a mama, I discovered the urgency of everyday demands often trumped time for myself, time to be creative and unwind. With each child, this time proportionally diminished.
Through the years I have come to understand that I have to be intentional about creative space for myself. God has wired me to create. I bring Him glory when I create. This has looked different in various seasons of my life. My creative seasons have included writing blogs, painting canvases, making jewelry.

In other seasons, it’s been knitting. I love knitting because it involves a beginning and end. I start with a delicious ball of yarn and end up with a little baby hat or chunky scarf. There is something deeply satisfying about holding that finished piece in my hand. I created it. Perhaps it isn’t perfect or what I thought it might look like but it is my creation. I don’t find this deep satisfaction in doing the laundry or scrubbing toilets.

I have had seasons where cooking was my creative space. Sure, it was practical: we needed to eat. Yet I afforded myself some extra time for perusing cookbooks and making something more involved because I knew I need the cooking therapy. I knew the chopping and mixing and tasting was something my creative mama soul needed.

Do you allow yourself creative space?

For you, maybe it’s gardening or arranging bedroom furniture or sewing or making someone feel welcome in conversation or playing guitar. I urge you to stop making excuses about your kids and your shortcomings. Stop “pinning” and start creating.

I love the way writer and pastor Erwin McManus puts it: “When you allow the living God to shake your life loose from all that holds you, and recreate and remake you, you are once again stepping into your artist’s self.

I challenge you today to be you, creatively.