Wednesday, December 31, 2014

December 2014 Gilmore Gazette: Looking to a New Year with hopeful hearts

Dear Family & Friends,

On this final day of 2014, this New Year’s Eve, I feel compelled to write you. After Ericlee’s graduation to heaven on September 9, 2014, there were many days when I could not bear to sit down and write. To write is to remember, and that felt hard. To write was also a reminder that my greatest coach and cheerleader was no longer there. Now I believe that writing - in a lot of different avenues - may just be my path to healing. At this close of 2014, I stand on the mountaintop with such a different vantage point on all this year meant for us.
Last Sunday we attended Mosaic Church in Hollywood. I’ve always wanted to visit the church, and I was particularly struck by the worship and message that felt like they were designed just for me. The pastor, Hank, was sharing about a debilitating head injury he endured this year. He described how this humbling season was a reminder to him about how important it is to build a strong foundation.

In Luke 6:47, Jesus said, “It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against the house, it stands firm because it is well built.”

As Hank was unfolding his story, I was reminded of mine. There were so many days after Ericlee’s cancer diagnosis on May 30 that I felt like I was standing before a giant pit. Every day I felt like God was urging me to walk straight into that pit. I argued and cried and questioned. How could this be? Why would I want to face cancer and sickness and losing my love and all my worst fears? Why would I willingly go there? I kept hearing God’s voice reminding me He had a plan and a purpose even in this for His glory. And when I started to step forward into that seeming abyss, I discovered that God had lined this pit with people who He would use to lift me. I never really had to touch bottom. I never really tasted despair because of all of you, and Christ in me. This was the foundation, the “community life insurance,” Ericlee invested in. I am beyond grateful.

Pastor Hank urged us all to pause on Sunday, to think back over 2014 and all we had experienced. He asked us to think about writing a letter to ourselves on December 31, 2013. What would we say then to prepare ourselves for all that was to come? What encouragement would we send? What would we urge ourselves to do differently? I sat quiet in my seat just pondering that. I came to a quick conclusion: I would not tell myself one single thing. I wouldn’t want to know of a cancer diagnosis. I wouldn’t want to know of a graveside service. I never could have handled those sobering details then.

On January 1, 2014, I was filled with HOPE. Ericlee and I had decided not to buy the kids a bunch of Christmas presents, and instead to head down to San Diego for a family trip to make memories. We surprised the girls and enjoyed a few days exploring Legoland and playing on the beach. We spent New Year’s Eve at our friends’ home, playing games and just dreaming about the year to come. Ericlee shared with me all his goals for his 40th year of life. We penned ideas for the ministry in Haiti, made a list of family and spiritual goals. The quality time was glorious. We did not know what was to come but we TRUSTED our Maker to unfold all things in His time.

I am grateful for the time we had together this year. In January, we vacationed in San Diego and then sent Ericlee off with a team to Haiti. When he returned, he cheered on his two oldest girls in their first season playing basketball. In February, we attended the Justice Conference in Los Angeles and our hearts were stirred for the justice work God is calling His people to around the world. In March, we traveled to the Central Coast and enjoyed a final weekend staying in the family beach house in Arroyo Grande before it was put up for sale. Ericlee also ran in a half marathon with his buddy Steve Ganzenhuber and competed in the CrossFit Open.
In April, we celebrated Ericlee’s 40th birthday with a party - a living memorial of sorts – including dinner and a time of sharing about his life. That month we also went on a wonderful weekend anniversary trip to Sacramento sans kids. Ericlee traveled to Haiti again with a group of guy friends while I took the girls to Seattle/Olympia for Spring break with my sister. In May, Ericlee competed in the Wildflower Triathlon and we cheered him on with my mother-in-law, Christene. In June, we took a week for retreat near Bass Lake with our missionary friends, the Puseys, who were home from Germany. I am grateful to have made these memories without knowledge of the suffering and sorrow and grief that was to come. These were treasured times, great gifts. These were a profound example to me of God’s grace.
We also tasted God's grace in the hard gifts. The Celebration of Life on September 13 proved to be not just a sad day for us, but a day full of stories, connecting and truly celebrating Ericlee's very full life. We found inspiration and encouragement in that time too. That day was a reminder that God does not promise to spare us from trials, but He promises to walk us through them and reveal His glory along the way.
People ask me all the time, “How are you doing?” I’m never sure how to answer that question except to say I’m doing well by God’s grace. This fall I have stepped away from a lot of dreams and rhythms and a life that I have built over the last decade with Ericlee. There certainly has been deep loss and grieving in that separation, but I have found surprising joy at every turn. I have intentionally taken time to care for myself, to feed myself, to exercise, to read, to snuggle in my big bed with my girls and to cry.
I have also stepped into a place where God is “making all things new.” He has set before me new opportunities, new relationships, and new purpose. Clinging to these words in Revelation: “He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’” As I feel God calling me into a new space, I’m eager to write again. I’ve taken on some new, exciting writing projects with a goal of publishing. I have also invested time in a group for young widows who have young children like me. My girls have attended a play therapy group through Hinds Hospice. We have traveled throughout California, forging new memories with family and our tribe. I believe all of this is a path God has laid before us for healing. He has scattered us in a new direction.

On this New Year’s Eve, I am surprisingly filled with HOPE. After the year I have had, I hold heaven and eternity so close to my heart. I know that I am not promised tomorrow. I know that anything and everything could change in a moment. I have experienced the beauty and horror and glory of that in this past year. The girls and I talk about heaven every day. We have a true confidence in our hearts that we will see Daddy again one day. We have the HOPE of Glory, and hold tightly to that. We step into 2015 without fear because we have faith in a God who sees us, who provides for us, who comes near to us in our time of need. We believe God is in the process of REDEEMING our story and your story too! We wish you all a blessed New Year! Thank you for being such a vital part of our journey and our healing.

For His Glory,

Dorina with Meilani, Giada & Zayla

“After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.” ~1 Peter 5:10-11

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Community Life Insurance: The Greatest Investment You'll Ever Make

This year my family has faced the most beautiful and painful season of our lives. My husband was diagnosed with stage four melanoma cancer in May. The news came like a sucker-punch to the gut, but it was no surprise to God. In the weeks that followed, we experienced God’s presence and provision in the most profound way and I began to understand how critical community is to our lives.

Ericlee invested in what I call “community life insurance.” He was passionate about investing in people and reaching out to others in need. When we were first married, he was a high school teacher and coach and I joined him in that mission. He modeled for me what it means to pour your life into others. Week after week, day after day, he took time to share his passion for God and life with his students and athletes. He listened to students’ problems on the bus, encouraged them on the basketball court, challenged them to work hard in the classroom and cheered them on, whether they were losing or winning a race. We invited those young people into our home for home-cooked dinners and pool parties. Sometimes we were family to them when they struggled to connect with their own families.

Sometimes we were family to them when they struggled to connect with their own families.

My husband was also the kind of guy who befriended strangers. In the grocery store or airport or post office, he loved to read nametags and greet people by name as if they were old friends. In our fast-paced culture buzzing with ATMs, smart phones and high-speed Internet, he would catch people off guard. He would ask them about their day and expect to engage in conversation. He invested the time and often amazing connections resulted.

He also had a passion for reaching out to invisibles. I remember one Saturday he insisted we take a trip downtown with our kids to hand out our surplus of winter clothes to some of the homeless who lived in tents. Admittedly, I was nervous in my heart about taking my young girls into that unknown environment. My husband boldly led us into the streets and offered people a hearty handshake and a sweatshirt. I witnessed how he looked people in the eyes and gifted them with a sense of dignity. I saw the same kind of investment as we traveled countless times to the country of Haiti and he spent time listening to the stories and dreams of people there. He had a heart for community development – not merely giving handouts, but empowering people as leaders and image bearers of God.

In the weeks that followed his cancer diagnosis, I began to understand this investment in community was something God intended to use to show me His daily presence. He already had an amazing provision marked just for us that would come through our community. After all, God’s heart beats 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 community. We are to bear each other’s burdens as it says in Galatians and lighten each other’s load (Galatians 6:2). We can try to live alone – islands struggling on our own in a stormy ocean – or we can choose to risk and invest in others.

He has designed us to live in relationship, to work out our insecurities and use our gifts in the context of community.

This summer as I watched my husband’s athletic body deteriorate before my eyes, I cried out to God. I stood at the kitchen sink every morning and wept. As his primary caregiver, I slept maybe two hours at a time for weeks and spent the rest of the time serving him juices and encouraging him through the debilitating and excruciating pain. I was physically and emotionally bankrupt but God showed up at just the right times again and again through our community.

One of my amazing friends became our “help administrator,” putting together a Facebook group for the purpose of helping our family. She organized people to provide meals, clean dishes, wash our clothes, deliver groceries and taxi my kids to school and activities. Friends from around the globe sent gifts cards and money for our medical expenses. Our mailbox and inboxes overflowed with messages of encouragement and stories of how my husband had influenced lives. Former students, athletes and friends flocked to our home to pray, sing and read to my husband. In all this, I was lifted, energized, comforted when I needed it most. I knew I was not alone on the journey.

My husband finished his glorious race on earth on September 9, 2014, and nearly three months later, my daughters and I are still reaping the benefits of his investment in community life insurance today. I recognized it when I randomly chose an eye doctor from an insurance list and it turned out to be the father of one of my husband’s former students. That generous eye doctor covered my contact lenses for the year. I recognized it when a woman and her family stopped me in the grocery store and insisted on paying for my groceries. She was a former colleague and longed to help my family. I recognized it when our UPS gal delivered a package one day and couldn’t stop talking about how she knew my husband from the gym, and how inspired she was by his influence.

He made His presence known to me in a very tangible way through the people in our community.

As I continue to bear witness to Ericlee’s incredible investment in people, I can’t help but challenge you (and myself) with these questions: Who are you investing in today? Who is your community? How can you embody God’s presence by reaching out to someone in their place of need?

On the morning before my husband graduated to heaven, I was able to tell him with confidence that the girls and I would be ok. I looked into his hazel eyes and told him God would care for us through our community, and I meant it. You see, I had already experienced the God of Christmas – the baby called Emmanuel, meaning “God with us.” He made His presence known to me in a very tangible way through the people in our community.

Don’t miss out this Christmas season. Be present and intentional with the people around you. This is an investment with amazing long-term returns.

*This article was originally posted on Self Talk the Gospel. Check out the original post here: