Thursday, May 12, 2016

Making space to Flourish

I gathered a group of seven friends at my table for lunch. We are all women leaders who serve at churches and ministries across the city. These women challenge me, pray over me, and inspire me. I arranged a small bouquet of barely-opening daffodils at each of their plates. I encouraged them to take these home and put them in water as a reminder to “Bloom where you are planted.”
A few days later, I started getting text messages from my friends – pictures of their bright yellow flowers blooming. One friend had put hers in a mason jar. Another added hers to a vase tied with raffia. Another had used her daffodils to dress up her table’s centerpiece and added greenery.
The final photo I received was of a bud vase stuffed full with daffodils. The flowers were limp, shriveled at the ends, floundering. My friend sent the following text with her photo:
“Life lesson: Don’t stifle your growth by putting yourself or your dreams in a too-small vase.”
The visual was profound for me – for all of us. I was sitting in a season where I heard God whispering that I needed to step back. I needed to create margin for myself. I needed to devote more time to my three daughters. I just got married in January and found myself in a new marriage and a new family context after the death of my first husband. I also saw that God was beginning to use my story of tragedy and triumph to encourage others.
My husband had gently and wisely told me: “If you don’t say no to some commitments now, you will not have space in the future to step into the big things I believe God is calling you to.”
I hemmed. I hawed. I squirmed at his words.
I knew he was right. His voice resonated with what God was already telling me. If I really wanted to flourish in my calling, I needed to prune back some of the commitments I had - even the things I most loved.
I took my own bundle of daffodils and put them in the biggest, widest glass vase I could find – a wedding gift from a Mentor Friend at MOPS. That vase full of water and space and vibrant, yellow flowers was a daily reminder to me about what I need to truly flourish: space to hear God, space to grow, space to add new and different flowers when the time arises.
This year I’ve been truly challenged by our MOPS theme: A Fierce Flourishing. From the start, I was struck by the paradox a “fierce flourishing” proposes we embrace. The word “fierce” is a trending word that has come to mean “exceptional quality, amazing, beautiful, sassy, strong and bold” in our American culture. The word “flourish” is a verb that means “to thrive; to be in one’s prime; to be at the height of fame, excellence, influence; to grow luxuriantly like a plant.” These definitions speak to me about not just surviving, but actually embracing, enjoying, thriving in this calling God has for each us. That’s unique for each mama, each woman.
This year I have learned that I need to make boundaries for myself. I am a high-capacity, “yes” person. I love to multi-task. I love to be involved in a lot of different areas, and I feel loyal to a lot of groups of people. I have learned that I sometimes I need to be a “no” person for the sake of my family. I don’t need to fill every square on the calendar. I need emotional space to breathe and write and take care of my soul. 
In his book Strong and Weak, Andy Crouch writes about flourishing:
“The paradox of flourishing is that true flourishing requires two things that at first do not seem to go together at all. But in fact, if you do not have both, you do not have flourishing, and you do not create it for others. Here’s the paradox: flourishing comes from being both strong and weak.”
God has shown me as the Coordinator of MOPS that I must embrace both my strengths and weaknesses. And the more I am willing to live this paradox out loud, the more other women feel freedom to step into their respective callings.
“Flourishing requires us to embrace both authority and vulnerability, both capacity and frailty – even at last in this broken world, both life and death,” writes Crouch.
In my time at MOPS, I have had the chance to embrace all of these things. I have participated in MOPS and led for almost 10 years now. That feels like a big chunk of my life. There’s a certain sadness in walking away from something that feels so integral to my development, but I also see that my obedience to say “no” to another year of leading gives another woman the opportunity to say “yes” and step up into her calling. And this is what pruning is all about.

I’m so excited to watch this group grow and flourish in the months and years to come. I am clinging to the encouraging and apropos words of our theme verse in Isaiah 55:12:

“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.”

Dorina Gilmore-Young is a mama to three active girls and recently married to her long-time friend, Shawn Young. She has written three books for children, a volume of poetry and blogs at She is the author of a new 10-week bible study experience called Glory Chasers.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

How Living in Community Helps All of Us Flourish

Every Wednesday is “Go Mama Workout Day” at my house. It’s my favorite day of the week. It’s the day I don’t shower. I hang out in my workout clothes and wear a messy braid all day. I invite women and their kids from my community to join me.

I started this almost seven years ago now. My husband, who was a personal trainer, was invited to speak at our MOPS group. He talked to the mamas about nutrition and fitness and led them in a workout. After his talk, I found myself in several conversations with mamas who were longing for accountability. They wanted to work out but lacked the confidence to walk into a gym or just needed a safe space to make fitness fun.

The Go Mama Workout was born.

Through the years, we have averaged 7-10 mamas every week with as many 20 kids running wild in the yard or sitting in Bumbo chairs watching their mamas sweat it out. What started as a handful of moms from my MOPS group working out has grown into a rich community of friends.

Now we start out each week in my living room for a time of sharing and prayer. This part is almost more important to me than the workout itself. We laugh. We cry. We share prayer requests. We change blowout diapers. We eat. We speak fitness and life goals out loud. We are inevitably interrupted a dozen times by kids needing snacks or fighting or wanting to breastfeed. It’s beautiful; it’s messy.

I love that I get to see the younger girls romping around the backyard wearing those sun dresses and sparkly shoes that my girls used to wear. I love when my friend Esther shows up with goodies from her garden or Janelle brings extras from her pantry.

Our Swap & Shop event for our moms group was also born out of my love for living in community. I wanted to create an event where we could share resources within our MOPS group. We purge our closets for the purpose of paring down and decluttering our own lives, but also to bless another mom with something new.

On Swap & Shop night, we all bring our used clothes, shoes, jewelry and kids' clothes and swap. It's so much fun to see moms going home with new treasures - and without having to spend a bunch of moolah!

I have been that mom who didn’t have money for new clothes. I have been that mom with only rice and beans in the pantry. I have been that mom with sick kids and no health insurance. I have been that mom grieving the death of my beloved husband. And all those times this MOPS community has come through for me.

We share resources; we share knowledge; and we share inspiration. My MOPS friends have inspired me to try Zumba, to stick with breastfeeding, to take care of myself. One mom put her culinary skills to use to bake my wedding cake a few months ago. Another mama friend spoke about embracing our children’s personality types and gave me skills to parent my littles better. A mentor-friend a few years ago inspired me to keep on keeping on with her story of being a working mom while still loving on her three kids.

I believe God designed each one of us for community. He himself embodies community. He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - three in one - our model of community working seamlessly. He has designed us to live in relationship, to work out our insecurities and use our gifts in the context of authentic community. Living in community is messy and hard, but it is also rich with opportunity to taste His glory.

I realized that living in community this way has grown me, challenged me, encouraged me and pushed me. These women have watered and cultivated the soil of my life and caused me to flourish through the years.

My challenge to you today is to be intentional about cultivating your own community. Gather some women. Open your home. Invite someone to the park or strike up a conversation with someone who has kids your age. Brainstorm ways you can share your resources and encourage someone else in your circle.

I am a better mama, wife, woman, friend, mentor, speaker, creative writer, business woman because of the women in my life. In a world where comparison and cattiness so often drives a wedge between female relationships, I am grateful for this diverse community of women that walk the journey of life with me. We are flourishing together.

Dorina Gilmore-Young is mama to 3 girls and thrilled to be a wife to her new hubby, Shawn. She is a published author, blogger and the Coordinator of the Bridge MOPS group in Fresno.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Noticing Goodness in the Gifts Around Me

I opened my door on that blustery February morning and there it was – a book tied with a pale blue ribbon. I could see the now iconic cover with the picture of a robin’s nest holding two blue eggs. I traced the title script, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp. My heart-friend had placed this gift on my porch. She told me it was a book I must read. In the days and months and years to follow, this little book became a map, a manual, a manifesto, leading me through a new life of daring gratitude in the face of adversity. In short, this book made a lasting impression.
After reading the first chapter of One Thousand Gifts, tears welled up. I knew this was exactly what I needed for this season of life. Maybe even for the rest of my life. In One Thousand Gifts, my friend Ann uses the original Greek word “eucharisteo” from the Bible to light her path to healing, to teach her language lesson. Eucharisteo means “thanksgiving.” This word knits together two other Greek words: Charis = grace and Chara = joy.
“Eucharisteo – thanksgiving – always precedes the miracle,” writes Ann. These words, this thesis, this enlightenment-made-mantra now penetrates me daily. I can’t stop thinking about it, seeing it everywhere in the Bible, experiencing it in my footsteps. Jesus thanks God before he turns five loaves and two fish into a feast for thousands. Twelve baskets of leftovers sing of the miracle.
Through her poetic prose and personal story, Ann unfolds a theology of gratitude. She dared me (and now millions of others) to start writing down gifts – the daily graces in my life that are pure love notes from God. “How do you count on life when the hopes don’t add up?” she boldly asks. And then she taught me to “count blessings and discover who can be counted on” (151).
During that first read, I was in a season of waiting. Our family was embarking on a new calling - moving to Haiti after the massive earthquake of 2010 to serve with a non-profit my husband was leading called Christian Friendship Ministries. In the waiting, I clung to Ann’s words and we crammed in Haitian Kreyol language lessons. We anticipated leaving our beloved community and starting a new life in the developing world. While I waited, I counted gifts. When our house wouldn’t sell after months and the roof leaked through the rainy season, I counted gifts. I created a list in my journal, shared it with friends, and began to post it on my blog and Facebook as an act of public, wild gratitude to my God. My attitude and heart tasted redemption.
During those months of counting, I learned to adjust my lens. Whereas before I might have followed my human instinct to complain, put on a hat of cynism, even a robe of jealousy, now there were grooves of habit prompting me to pray and see each moment as a gift. I learned that it doesn't help to just put a positive spin on the hard parts of life. We need to dig through the soil, unearth the painful shards of glass and see the beauty in that traveled journey. I learned to trust Him with my fears, my plans, my future.
In May 2014, when my husband was diagnosed with stage four melanoma cancer, I pulled out the book again with trembling hands and reread the lines I had highlighted, the pages I had dog-eared. This was my fourth reading and much of the book was already tattooed on my heart. God had faithfully prepared me for that devastating season of losing my love, the daddy of my three daughters. I already had learned the transforming wonder of counting gifts. I already had made it a habit to turn my face toward the Son with my list of gratitude in the midst of the suffocating darkness.
Ann’s words soothed me in my suffering: “The good news is that all those living the land of the shadow of death have been birthed into new life, that the transfiguration of a suffering world has already begun. That suffering nourishes grace, and pain and joy are arteries of the same heart – and mourning and dancing are but movements in His unfinished symphony of beauty” (100). She pointed me back to hope and His goodness.
If you are in a season of waiting, a season of loss, a season of wondering why there is so much suffering in our world, I challenge you to start a gift list. If you feel like you are just mucking through the everyday tasks of being a mother or a job that makes your shoulders pull tight with the weight of stress, I dare you to pause and notice the goodness around you.

                Dorina Gilmore-Young is a published author, blogger and public speaker. She is a mama to three active girls and serves as the Coordinator for The Bridge MOPS group.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

In Sickness and in Health

Thirteen years ago I stood up on a mountain in the presence of a host of friends and family and promised to care for my husband in sickness and in health. At age 25, this promise did not feel like much of a sacrifice. Some of the other promises I made to him that day felt like a leap of faith but health was something I didn’t think much about or really question. We were young; we were athletes; we were ready to “adventure through life together” as we pledged in our vows we had written ourselves.
Much about that day is still vivid in my memory. I can smell the tropical orchids I carried in my bouquet. I can see my dearest friends from around the country all lined up in their ruby-red dresses to support me. I can hear the bag pipes announcing our grand march down the aisle. I can taste the French cream puffs and the Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby ice cream we served up for dessert. I remember how we danced and danced and danced the night away.
I also remember that some parts of that day were unexpected. I had always dreamed of getting married in Yosemite National Park. We couldn’t find a venue big enough to marry inside the park so we decided on the beautiful Tenaya Lodge just outside the South Gate. We had rented a limo for the wedding party and planned to take everyone inside the park to the famous Half Dome lookout for pictures. The morning of the wedding it stormed. The sky was swirling with dark clouds, and the streets were low visibility. We had to settle with indoor pictures in the hotel lobby.
The unexpected gift from this winter storm came during our ceremony. Just as we were saying our vows, glittering snow began to fall  –  a glorious backdrop for all to see through the giant picture window behind us. I never imagined my perfect spring wedding with that tropical flair including snow but it felt like God’s way of smiling down on us after the unexpected storm.
Little did I know the real storm would come 11 years later when my beloved was diagnosed with stage four melanoma cancer.  This would be the real test of the vow I made that day to care for him through sickness and health.
And this is how marriage is – less about the fairy-tale stuff and more about the unexpected, the challenges and how two people might choose to face them. Ericlee and I were fortunate because we had mentors and friends who helped us on our marriage journey. These were people who preached to us about not allowing the small stuff to become big stuff. These were friends who prayed over us and held us accountable even when we faced trouble with finances and stressful career decisions.
Looking back, I can honestly say I have no regrets. Don’t get me wrong: we did not have a perfect marriage. We argued plenty and there were times I did not submit to my husband’s leadership as I had vowed on that wedding day. Yet God covered this all with grace. And when we were together there was synergy. The combination of our passions and efforts always yielded a greater result than when we acted solo. We had many grand adventures together - from traveling to Spain to see cousins to running a non-profit in Haiti, from running marathons together to birthing three baby girls, from caring for my elderly grandpa to attending grad school in Virginia, from teaching to coaching to serving together in a myriad of ways.
I stand here today without regret, without shame, without guilt for the past. I live in freedom, knowing my marriage vows were complete on September 9, 2014 when Ericlee graduated to Heaven. I know this is a peace only God could give me in spite of our own shortcomings. My challenge to my married friends today is this question: what do you need to do in your marriage so that you have no regrets when death parts you? My challenge to my single friends is to ask yourself: how can I learn from past mistakes and invest deeply in my present relationships?
On January 16, 2016, I stood at the altar with a man God sent to be my husband and the father of my three daughters in this new season. I met Shawn on the very same trip to Haiti 15 years ago when I met Ericlee. He stood up in our wedding as a groomsman. He has been a faithful friend and supporter of our non-profit for years. I never dreamed I’d get the chance to marry again or to speak new vows. As I enter into this new marriage covenant, my perspective is so different from when I was that 25-year-old girl. I’m starting today with the end in mind.

Dorina Gilmore-Young is mama to 3 girls and thrilled to be a wife to her new hubby, Shawn. She is a published author and the Coordinator of the Bridge MOPS group. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Dangerous Access: Protecting Children from the Path of Pornography

Pornography affects us all. Maybe you’re in a relationship with someone who views it or struggle with pornography yourself. Maybe you have friends or family members impacted by it. We are all at risk of pornography exposure, especially the most vulnerable among us; our children. Pornography is ever-present in our world and, as caring parents, we must pay attention.

I believe every child will see pornography. After years of studying the effects of pornography on children and its widespread availability, I am convinced of this. Still, most parents optimistically hold to the "not my child" belief. But with continual increases in technological advances combined with widespread internet availability, we would be wise to prepare all of our children.

How can we prepare? We can do this by protecting our children both externally and internally. This must begin with education. I urge all concerned parents to explore the “Resources” paper provided. This page highlights many helpful books, articles, and websites aimed at equipping parents. This information can guide parents in setting up protective software on devices (cell phones, computers, iPads, etc). It also provides guidance on how to talk with children, in age appropriate ways, about the dangers of pornography and what to do when they see it. For parents whose children have already seen pornography, addiction treatment resources are also included.

Let me share a powerful story about one mother’s experience after a seminar: 

"Just wanted to say thank you for this night, this topic, this information. On Forest's recommendation, we bought the book "Good Pictures, Bad Pictures," read it with our kids, and learned that at 9 (our daughter) and 7 (our son), our kids have both already viewed pornographic images. This allowed us to have a discussion we would not have even thought to have! Thank you!”

Despite the fear this topic induces in parents, there is hope. While the task of protecting our children is daunting, we can do so much. Even for parents who have made mistakes in this area, today is a great day to take this new information and start again.

It is my hope that each person reading this message will be inspired to seek help for themselves and those they love. It is my courageous conviction that we can change the course of history for our children, starting with protecting our homes and preparing their younger hearts.

Let's begin today.

Forest Benedict is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist who specializes in sexual addiction treatment. He is a husband and father who strives to change the world his children are growing up in. His personal mission is to educate and equip adults to protect all children from pornography. Read more of his writing on this topic at Lifestar and other topics on his personal blog.



Forest Benedict, MA, Sexual Addiction Treatment Provider, LMFT

Author of Protecting Children from the Path of Pornography”

Clinical Director of YouthSTAR Treatment Program (for teens) and LifeSTAR (for adults)

(559) 715-4478


Resources for Parents:

       “When Your Child is Looking at Porn: A Step-By-Step Guide for Christian Parents”
       “The Guideline: A Parent’s Guide to Addressing Pornography with Children”

       Porn-Proof Kids: Tips & Tools to Protect Young Minds -

       Educate Empower Kids -

       Internet Safety 101 -


       “The Moment Your Child Sees Porn: How to Prepare”

       How We Love Our Kids (2011), Yerkovich (connecting with kids)

Resources for Children & Teens:

       Good Pictures, Bad Pictures (Jenson) - (Kids)

       Fortify: A Step Toward Recovery (2013) – Fight The New Drug (Teens)

       Fight the New Drug:

       What’s the Big Deal About Pornography: A Guide for the Internet Generation, For Teens & Parents - Dr. Jill Manning,

Addiction Resources:

       YouthSTAR of the Central Valley: Treatment Program for teenagers  (559) 323-8484

       Fortify Online Recovery Program:  FREE for ages 20 & under: 

Pornography Protection Tools:

       Filter & Accountability Software (computer, iPad, phone, etc): (free 30-day trial, can use promo code: safepath)

       Open DNS:  Blocks adult website access on every device in the home (free)

       Movies/Videos/Music/TV/Games Reviews:

       A Proactive Approach to Porn-Proofing Your Devices

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Tears Over Toes

I was completely out of my comfort zone.
I had even researched the difference between acrylic, gel, and shellac; between gel polish and nail polish, only to decide that it was all too much for me. I stood near the entrance to the salon searching for the most innocuous, fade-into-the-background shade of regular old polish-that-lasts-3-days. I have had a manicure twice – now three times –  in my life. Once for a prom, and once – now twice – for a friend’s wedding. My nails are stubby because they are not allowed to extend beyond the pressed down tip of my nail since I play violin. My toe nails… Well, I run – at least that seems like a useful excuse these days.
I think this is how many people feel going to the gym for the first time. Totally laser focused on what I perceived to be a great flaw and then made even more insecure as I see the way my behavior is highlighting that I don’t really fit in here – a strange feedback loop of insecurity.
After staring at far too many shades for far too long, I settled on a plain mauve and a translucent glitter. I solicited somewhat muted affirmation from at least two other people for moral support and made my way to a massage chair where I was finally able to relax a little. I mean, really. This is a mani/pedi with friends date. Isn’t this what I’m supposed to do to relax?    
After all was said and done and I had apologized to my nail technician half a dozen times for my ragged nails, I was quite happy with my much-improved nails and was able to forget about myself and enjoy lunch with some of my favorite people on the planet. It’s like that, isn’t it. Our self-discontent keeps our focus on ourselves. I found myself reflecting on how important it is to remember that a little bit of intentional self-focus can help me to be less self-centered generally.
The following day, I sat with a dear friend who had been at the salon that day and she went out of her way to encourage me specifically in the insecurity she had seen on display.
She said to me, “I know that you were feeling self-conscious about your toes back there. But I just want you to remember that your toes are not ugly. They are crowns on your feet. Feet that have run endless miles, traveled around the world, born the weight of pregnancy and now toddlers. They are nothing to be ashamed of. And they deserve a little pampering from time to time.”
Wow. Who would have thought the tears would flow over my toes?
Self-neglect and self-condemnation are not selfless. But when we are caught in that sort of thinking, sometimes we just need someone else to pull us out.
Where in your life do you struggle with self-neglect or self-condemnation?
How might you intentionally take care of yourself in this area?
Who in your life encourages you when you are caught in the trap of self-centeredness?
Who can you speak life into this week?

Heather Fenton is a Christ-follower, devoted wife, and mama to four littles who give her plenty to write about, but little time to sit down and write.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

A Way Called Hope

Painted storefronts proclaim joy, peace, and goodwill. Christmas cards from family and friends wish us blessings, prosperity, and good cheer. Glittering fireplace mantels seek to inspire a festive atmosphere with softly lit lettering spelling, “holy night,” “Hallelujah,” and “hope.” When these words and expressions are made seasonal it is all too easy to gloss over the enormity behind the letters. Even Christians who give these words full attention eleven months of the year find their flavor diluted in the commercialism and the busyness of the Christmas season.
And of course in the face of that commercialism and busyness, we mamas ironically find ourselves taking great pains to slow down for the sake of our sanity and our littles. One of the many things I counterintuitively add to my calendar in December in order to slow down is the women’s ministry Christmas dessert at The Bridge. At this event last week, I was particularly struck afresh by the word, “hope,” displayed in sparkling red letters with an enormous wreath standing in for the “o.”
Why hope? And how? My mind first wanders to our weary hearts already bracing for the next devastation: Refugees fleeing unspeakable atrocities only to find resentment and closed doors. The legacy of slavery and institutionalized racism wreaking havoc on yet another generation. Another mass shooting. We certainly can’t hold fast to hope by trusting in our fellow man to hold love over self-interest.
What about the daily of the Christmas season? Do you find yourself as I do, hoping for good attitudes and clothes kept clean for pictures? Hoping that I won’t cave too often in the face of too many delectable confections? Hoping that the Amazon shipments will come in time for Christmas morning and the kids won’t notice how few things are under the tree?Hoping that somehow ends will meet? Hoping that we will fit in more than the 8 Advent devotionals we managed last year? Hoping for the energy to spend and treasure time with the people we love dearly, but who often leave us drained?
This hoping in circumstances that so often go awry can’t possibly be the hope that we are summoned to celebrate at Christmas, can it?
A good family picture is often a fluke rather than a result of our good planning (or attempts at controlling). A winter snowstorm or inventory management issue could delay shipments well beyond Christmas morning. Ends don’t meet because we hope they will when we are spending money. Hoping the kids will stick around for the entire devotional is a surefire way to leave at least a few people in tears (Mama included!).
One of the readings from the women’s desert last week included this tidbit that forced my reflection on the depth and breadth of the hope we do have: “Christmas is evidence that God keeps His promises.” In the midst of our brokenness and pain, God has a plan for redemption that is moving in and around us. And that is where Christmas call us to celebrate hope.
At Christmas, we celebrate God’s extravagant, humble, and much foretold collision with the fullness of humanity through the birth of His son, Jesus Christ. Fully God and fully human. Emmanuel. God with us. Born fully man, Jesus experienced creation as we do. In the face of the very temptations we face in life (Matt 4; Luke 4), His holiness – His fully God-ness qualified His life as payment for the sins of the world over. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus our Lord.” And so, for all who fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), our human hopelessness is met with the only hope that we can hold fast to. The only hope not dependent on our never-quite-right circumstances. The fragile baby in the feeding trough who would make a way for us to be reconciled forever with our God. A way in a manger. A way called hope.
Heather Fenton is a Christ-follower, devoted wife, and mama to four littles who give her plenty to write about, but little time to sit down and write.