[This was originally written before Easter 2017 as I faced down my fears about April.]
April is wrought with good and bad memories for me, especially in recent years. My father’s birthday is in early April; his burial was toward the end of April. The events kick off memories around his death and burial that I’d rather forget. I had been doing so well, but as we turned a corner toward the end of March, I felt the need to “close my curtains” and only let safe people hold me close. “I will reemerge,” I told myself. “I’ll get past this. It will be okay.”
And while I was lamenting to a close friend, she told me she wants this April to be different for me, perhaps from this point forward. She recommended I “redeem” the pain.
So I am.
I bought two plants, and call me eccentric, but I gave them names and placed them in the window of the common room where I look outside all the time. I need to see something grow.
I restocked the bird feeder for the first time all winter. They haven’t found their way to it yet, but it’s ready for chickadees and cardinals to land in front of my window.
A friend of mine brought me a set of pansies, completely unaware of my resolve to make April great. They are bright yellow, the color of the sun, of life, of hope.
I bought a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle of happy dogs to put together with my daughter on weekends.
And on my father’s birthday, I will Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: abundant life, blessing, broken places, brokenness, extravagant giving, God's altar, grief, Holy Spirit, Isaiah 44:3, It is finished, Jesus, john 10:10, Living Water, loss, making all things new, mourning, redeem, redeem the pain, redemption, renew, replenish, restore, revelation 21:5, ruins, ruins come to life, that they may have life, water on thirsty land
I took my dogs out a few days ago and noticed some flowers scattered at the foot of the homemade cross in my flower bed. They were sprinkled so carefully: a layer of white petals creating a bigger ring with a smaller circle of pink petals inside, almost hugging the cross.
I was so touched by that, wondering which child put that there, or, did a stranger happen by? That would be unlikely, but it still intrigued me. I guessed the wrong child. My daughter had “prettied up” my little memorial,
Something about it called her in, and she adorned the holy ground there. To me, it was pure worship, adoration of what the cross means to us.
It’s a curious story how the cross ended up there. It all started in my therapist’s office. Yes, I have a therapist. [Feel free to reference some family therapy sessions if you like. If you find them as intimidating as I do to all be in the same room together with the eagle eye of a professional, this might bring you some relief.]
We were processing some events in my life since my father’s passing, and she suggested, in order to move on from some of the wreckage around it, I have some kind of ceremony or visual display of truly giving those ongoing concerns to Christ. That’s when I thought of Good Friday, when my husband and I went up with almost everyone else in the church service to hammer our own particular burdens to the cross. I’ll never forget feeling his muscles exert force along with mine to give those things to Christ. It was so beautiful and worshipful to do this corporately.
But what about in my own backyard?
I decided to nail two twigs together, place them firmly in our flower bed by the back door, and write a note to Jesus.
My note was simple: Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: backyard memorial, bearing burdens, burdens, direct thy paths, foot of the cross, grief, healer, heart cry, heartache, holy ground, inheritance in Christ, It is finished, Jesus, John 19:40, makes righteous, peace of Christ, prayer, Proverbs 3:6, Redeemer, redemption, relationship wreckage, restorative power, Savior, surrender, true peace
I kicked, slammed my body onto, and punched the dishwasher. It had spent the past six months vacillating between functional and dysfunctional. We would get about 15 good cycles out of it, and then it would suddenly start turning off after loading the first water cycle. No cleaning—only wasted water. Some days I would restart it 10 times. We were not friends. On those days I would hand-wash the build-up on the almost-nonexistent countertop while trash-talking my limping, lame appliance for deceiving me once again into thinking it was revived, healed, restored, capable. Nothing I could do in my own strength could make that confounded piece of plastic do my bidding.
Then, for two weeks, my husband and I taught our Junior High Sunday School class, focusing on the content-rich and highly symbolic account of Jesus raising His friend Lazarus from the dead.
John 11:32-37, ESV, Apostle John speaking
Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.
And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”
So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”
There are a few key points to mention before we make a crazy connection between the dying dishwasher and Lazarus—and our lives in general. Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: before the miracle, brokenness, decay, glory of God, grief, John 11, Lazarus, Lazarus moment, new life, new life in Christ, raising the dead, resurrection and the life, revival, set you free, sets you free, state of decay, Unbind him and let him go
I could feel his presence as I entered each room. He had only been gone one year; past conversations and memories bopped around in my mind—random flashes of the past with no clear timeline. Dad making himself known in my heart and thoughts. His love was tangible. The house was pregnant with his solid faith and unconditional love. We missed him terribly, but we walked the legacy he set in place before us. With each step of remembrance, I felt his nod of approval, his pleasure.
It was the first time in his home since he had passed. I was so relieved his blue recliner chair was there, the leather worn in places where his hands used to push forward to fold out for a nap. The seat of it revealed the wear of a consistent presence like the dent in a blanket left by a warm dog after it gets up and stretches.
During some of our last visits, an external bladder pouch sat next to him on the floor, taking the role his cancer-ridden organ used to play. Sweet as he was, he used to ask if it would upset my children to see it. I was honestly glad they did. They remember the battle he fought so courageously and the toll it took. His robe would hang slightly open where the tube delivered its contents to the pouch on the floor. None of us minded. At the time, we were so grateful he was still with us.
I can’t look at that chair without seeing the red-white tufts of hair poking out over its high back or the freckled, hairy, lanky arms sitting on the armrests. Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: 1 John 4:16, abides in love, abiding in God, death, Deuteronomy 31:8, Dwelling place of God, exodus 33:14, Fullness of joy, God is love, God is near, God with us, God's presence, grief, i will give you rest, immanuel, Lord goes before you, loss, mourning, presence of God, Psalme 23:4, relationship with God, Revelation 21:3, valley of the shadow of death
Last week, I listed five very basic, non-festive ways to find more peace and joy during the upcoming holidays if you’re dealing with loss or a difficult season of life. This time I want to focus on how to get through the celebrations, parties, gifting, and busy schedule on the low energy you may be feeling.
1. Simplify your calendar.
Another way of saying this is: Choose your events wisely.
Do not overload your schedule. While this may be great advice during any holiday season, it is especially important when you are feeling depleted, sad, or stressed. You do not have to see The Nutcracker, attend your neighbor’s open house, or participate in five Secret Santas or white elephant gift exchanges just because you have in past years.
You also do not need to focus on anyone else’s expectations or worry about letting people down. If they are true relationships, they will have grace for your “free pass” year. Introvert or extrovert, you only have so much energy to go around when your strength is spent right now getting through the day to day.
While some people may not understand because their expectation levels do not match your reality at the moment, this is a good way for them to learn to respond with grace to those who are hurting. Or maybe you need space from people with inflexible demands right now. Either way, do not carry the extra weight around of pleasing other people.
Because I’m introverted, I limited my holidays outings to two occasions last year between Thanksgiving and Christmas: an open house at a friend’s house and a women’s Christmas tea. I also cancelled my involvement in Small Business Saturday at my church and a meal at someone else’s home. It was the best thing I could have done for myself. I had the enthusiasm for a few events, even though they were difficult because my father’s passing was still fresh.
I remember wanting to return home after the first five minutes at the open house because I met some very outgoing people who wanted to engage at a high intellectual level when I really just wanted to sit in the comforting presence of a few people I knew and sip something warm. I am very glad I made myself go, but I am also thankful I graciously stopped the conversation to be with low-engaging folks in the other room. I just needed to be with people, so I didn’t isolate, but I had no ability to fake holiday cheer.
Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV
And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some [is]; but exhorting [one another]: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
2. Be a minimalist in décor.
I have teens and a tween at home. Skipping all holiday décor was not a Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: be still and know that I am God, coping with holidays, faking holiday cheer, festivities when sad, finding joy after loss, grief, healthy mourning, holiday expectations, holiday remembrance, holiday schedule, holidays after loss, house of mourning, Jesus, joy after loss, Mary chose what was best, mourning, not forsaking the assembling, painful holidays, psalm 46:10, relationship with Christ
Last week, I dove straight into some of the reasons my own holidays can be painful. Since I know many people struggle this time of year, I thought it might be nice to turn the pain around and find ways to make this season better.
Next week I will address holiday celebration more directly, but for now, here are some basic non-festive suggestions to ease the pain.
1. If you can be around a pet of any kind, do it.
Seriously, pet therapy is so healing. If you have resident furballs already, you know what I’m talking about. I have two Shih Tzus who love to hang out on our laps, but during my darkest hours last winter, I enjoyed my friend’s Golden Retriever and Yellow Lab. They sensed my sadness and immediately came to me. The Golden maintained a protective stance and leaned into me the entire time. The mere weight of that was comforting and ministered to me.
Is it any wonder that animals are so good for the soul? They were created by God, and He “knows” them.
Psalm 50:10-11, ESV
For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine.
God uses animals to describe the coming peace that Christ (root of Jesse) will bring. Isn’t that beautiful?
Isaiah 11:6-10, ESV
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.
They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples–of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.
If you are allergic to pets, try cultivating a houseplant. I was given one when my father passed, and I’ve really enjoyed taking care of it and watching it grow. My younger son and I also grow a sunflower every summer. Working the ground is always good, so planting bulbs is possible this time of year—but hurry, Baby, it’s cold outside!
2. Nature watch.
Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: 1 Thessalonians 5:16, creation, finding joy after loss, generous to the poor, give thanks, give thanks in all circumstances, giving back, gloom as the noonday, goodness of God, grief, holiday loss, Isaiah 58:10, loss, mourning, nature, painful holidays, pets, pray without ceasing, prayer, Proverbs 19:17, psalm 27:13, Rejoice always, remembrance, serving others
It was a dreary, overcast day when I pulled into the parking lot at the counseling center in New Hampshire. I had made the 40-minute trip so many times before, almost on autopilot, but this time it had been about eight weeks since my last visit. I knew we were approaching November, the month that shook me down—several times in my life, actually. Around this time last year, I thought I’d be spending the rest of my life in fetal position crying out to God from under the covers; the devastation of loss and grieving without a funeral where family could gather to comfort one another almost did me in.
So I walked into the nurse’s office, sat down, and must have looked very tired. She asked me how I was and kept staring intently as if she didn’t believe me when I said I was doing well.
“It’s closing in on the first anniversary of your father’s death, you know. How are you preparing for that?”
Um, yeah, so I’m not, really. I’ve done everything I can to push it out of my head. As Thanksgiving approaches and I remember how shut out I felt this time last year from holding his hand one last time as he lost consciousness, I just want to skip past all holidays and land on January 1, 2017. (I wouldn’t mind skipping Election Day either. Let’s just try again this time next year, shall we? Restart?)
You see, November and I go way back.
We got off to a good start when I started dating my husband (now of 23 years) on November 18, 1990.
Almost two decades later, circumstances derailed me. In the midst of significant depression Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: brokenhearted, comfort, comforted by God, crushed in spirit, depression, finding joy, God of comfort, grief, grief at Christmas, grief in the holidays, heals the brokenhearted, holiday blues, holidays, holidays after loss, joy after loss, pain during the holidays, Philippians 4:19, psalm 34:18, sadness, supply all my needs
Sometimes we think if our pain isn’t instantly taken away, God has somehow left us. God doesn’t abandon people. People abandon people.
And people walk away from God.
Despite my heart’s desire, I wasn’t able to see my father as he lay dying for about 10 days between Thanksgiving and the beginning of December. The choice was made for me.
The wreckage that has left in my heart and mind in the days since, just three and a half short months ago, cannot even be adequately described. Pain like this does not even have a name or definition. Grief doesn’t quite describe it. Trauma comes close. It’s like three elephants sit on my chest every day. Sometimes they get off to go get something to eat, but they usually wander back without warning and sit back on top of me again. It’s paralyzing.
Maybe you have made it through or are currently facing something similar.
I don’t know much right now, but I do claim this: I know more than I ever have how near God is to the brokenhearted because when the elephant sits on me, the panic that ensues only calms down when I remember Christ is holding my hand.
Please understand: I don’t stop hurting. It’s not a rescue.
It’s a presence, and it’s one I can fully trust.
Why? Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: adult coloring book, clothed me with gladness, cover you with his pinions, crushed in spirit, Deuteronomy 31:6, exodus 17:12, God's presence, grief, He will not leave you or forsake you, loss, mourning, mourning clothes, names of God, near the brokenhearted, near to the brokenhearted, phases of grief, Psalm 30:11, psalm 34:18, Psalm 91:4, quiet me by his love, relationship with God, sackcloth, saves the crushed in spirit, suffering servant, under his wings
It was December when I received this text: “Hey, Bonnie: Did you happen to get any mail from me this week?”
Oh, wow, mail. I hadn’t gone to my mailbox in days. I usually love Christmas cards, but I had just lost my father, and I knew the mailbox was either filled with Christmas cheer or sympathy cards. I treasured both, but some days I simply couldn’t read any.
I sent my daughter to the mailbox, and she brought back a few advertisements, some bills, five cards, and a small package.
Great. Mission accomplished. I tossed everything else in a pile on the floor and eagerly opened the package.
Oh my goodness!
Inside was a necklace with four charms: The Lord’s Prayer, a heart, a cross, and an angel.
The note read something along the lines of: “I thought you could wear it to remember your Dad.”
My heart caught in my throat. I had not told my sweet cousin about my wish, my regret. I had not shared with her that just that week I had told my husband to get our daughter some jewelry because I wished my father had bought me just one piece that I could wear to remember him by. It just wasn’t Dad’s thing. And yet, my heart ached to Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: call to me, calling out to God, cry out, father of lights, God answers, God calls, God hears, good and perfect gift, grief, heart's cry, heavenly father, Hebrews 4:16, intimacy of God, intimacy with God, James 1:17, Jeremiah 33:3, Jesus, loss, matthew 6, prayer, remembrance, revelation, talking to God, Throne of Grace, time of need, unspoken prayers, when you pray
We drove to the Deep South for post-Christmas fun with my husband’s sisters, their families, and his Dad. As I looked out over the Alabama fields, I told God:
“My heart hurts. What healing do You have for me here?”
I believe He always wants to heal our wounds. It’s part of what He went to the cross for.
You know what? I found His hugs, warmth, and love in watching young cousins have light-saber battles and in playing rowdy games of “Nuts” with my nephew and nieces. I watched each God-given personality interact and shine. I saw their faces as once-babies now in mostly/almost adult form.
And I thought of this verse:
Psalm 27:13, KJV, King David speaking
I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.
We must see God’s goodness in everything He gives us because death, disease, addictions, injuries, and sin are thieves we can become embittered hating if we don’t focus on the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. At times, it’s a minute-by-minute choice, or else we’d lose our minds and hearts to deep grief, shame, or disillusionment.
Sometimes, seeing His goodness is so hard for us because of our incredible pain. He knows this, so we can ask Him to help us. We absolutely should.
John 15:7, ESV, Jesus speaking
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
Our family of five, along with two rather compliant Shih Tzus, began our road trip back from Alabama and traveled as far as Knoxville, Tennessee, when the text came in that my 26 year old cousin Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: abide in me, addiction, Alabama, comfort, compartmentalized, disillusionment, faith walk, God's purposes, goodness of the Lord, grief, heal our wounds, healer, hope, I had fainted, Isaiah 53:5, John 15:7, loss, mourning, pierced for our transgressions, psalm 27:13, shame, with his wounds we are healed