[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 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 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
“I’ll be back in a few days to collect the equipment. Try to run the fans and dehumidifiers as long as you can stand it,” he said as he nodded reassuringly and left my house.
Seven air movers, two dehumidifiers, two walls, two ceilings, one floor, two bathrooms, and two vanities later, we are drying out a freak flooding incident that greeted us when we returned from church a week ago.
And his parting shot was:
“We’ll be back to get our equipment.”
You know what? The equipment, while loud enough to have to shout to be heard over it, is not bothering me. Sure, I have to move the air movers to get to my cabinets. Yes, two bathrooms are currently unusable. Accessing the laundry machines is a challenge.
But I actually like the equipment. It makes me feel safe, in-process, moving forward, working toward a remedy. I dread its removal, to be honest.
Pro-vaccine or not, my whole family volunteered for flu shots this past autumn so we would be healthy and ready to see Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: addiction, Body of Christ, building up the body of Christ, equip the saints, equip you with everything good, equipment, equipped, equipped for every good work, fullness of Christ, God equips, Hebrews 13, loss, may be complete, messy marriage, mismanaged finances, scripture, Throne of Christ, Throne of Grace, training in righteousness, wayward child, work of ministry
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
This article was first published at Your Tewksbury Today, where I wrote in real time as I processed the loss of my father during Advent 2015. While this was two months ago, to the day, I feel it is important to revisit it; it is part of an ongoing series I am writing on grief. Sometimes it is a stuck place, and we need a little help to get unstuck, but it’s not just grief that leaves us feeling this way. We can land with legs up in the air, unable to find our ground during any kind of loss: relationship disappointment, abandonment, betrayal, a crushed dream, etc.
I hope you find something in it to bring you or someone you know peace and comfort as you/he/she experience/s the inevitable: mourning what was and adjusting to the new normal.
I was stuck—a stuck mouse to a glue trap in my grief. Arms and legs flailing in perpetual motion but no ability to move forward. My sweet father lingered in a place where peace was promised ahead, but he had to cross the precipice by himself, and there was nothing I could do about it. The push-pull of those last days brought such conflicting feelings that penetrated my very marrow. Waking or sleeping, all I could do was picture the glory ahead and a sweet man with fingers gently reaching up to wait for the hand of Christ.
When I look at my youngest son’s limbs, hands, and feet, freckled and long, I see my father. The auburn wisps around his face? Another genetic transfer. For years, when we lived in the Marshall Islands, we would send his hair clippings to Dad to show him that beautiful autumn fire that successfully lived on in the gene pool.
Last week I found myself holding my breath just looking at my son. I was grateful my father was so evident in his appearance. I walked around half-completing tasks, afraid to be in public when the phone would ring, immobilized in my favorite IKEA chair with both dogs on my lap, and unable to fully clear a table, finish a load of laundry, or make a meal. Time. Stood. Still. I was waiting for the crossover with a grief that engulfed me for what would be—a fearful anticipation of life without Dad. I could not move on.
What about you? Have you found yourself stuck in grief, fear, disappointment, shame, or disillusionment? Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: be their shepherd, broken heart, burden, comfort in grief, complicated grief, cry out to God, death, deepest need, disillusionment, down to the pit, dying, fear, God provides, grief, holy sanctuary, hospice, inheritance of David, Lord my rock, loss, loss of father, Marshall Islands, mourning, need for God, peace, prayer, Psalm 28, quiet you by his love, relationship with God, strength and shield, strength of his people, stuck grief, zephaniah 3:17
My father recently passed away, and while I knew it was heading in that direction and he certainly had fought a good fight against what turned out to be seven cancers over 30-some-odd years, there was more to grieve than just his death. Death has a way of putting what is unhealthy under a microscope and forcing it up to our eyeballs to view it whether we wish to take a close look at it—or not.
If you are grieving a person, a relationship loss, or even a shift in the plans you had for your life, some of these may work for you. I am not an expert on grief. I share this as a layperson going through the motions in real time.
Say what? Huh? My therapist handed me an adult coloring book. If you need one, here are some examples at my friend Mary’s site (which is fun to check out anyway): inspiredbooksguide.com. Some similar books can be found at Walmart for $5. I spent the holidays coloring through visits with family, a funeral trip, and some relationship dynamics.
I almost laughed out loud when my therapist recommended coloring, but I gave it a try, and I have to admit: It is so grounding. I often pray as I color. It causes me to be still, so I can hear and not just talk when I pray. I use twistable colored pencils so I don’t have to keep sharpening.
I even color through my children arguing! We all have to usher the peace in any way that we can, right?
9. Rest, Be
As Dad was passing and even afterward, I found it difficult to focus. Everything moved in slow motion. The rest of the world seemed to be moving at a swift pace while meanwhile I floundered between stunned and weary. I gave myself permission to go to bed earlier, whenever possible, and to catch a catnap here and there.
I also expected less out of myself for a while. I didn’t want my days to be spent escaping between the covers, which can be its own red flag after a while, but I also didn’t try to take on the world. I lowered my expectations for each day and focused on the few things that had to be accomplished, like feeding and driving family members to activities. I didn’t write a lot or even keep my blog marketing schedule going.
One of my favorite songs is “Be Still” by Selah. I needed someone to record this concept for me because I am usually resistant to Be Still. I have been attempting to get to know Be Still for a while now. Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: adult coloring book, be still, counseling, cycles of grief, death, grief, grieving, inner circle, loss, loss of father, loss of loved one, mourning, prayer, prayers of grief, psalms, selah, support group
I am so thrilled to be able to once again feature my sweet friend Tammie here at Espressos of Faith. Tammie’s life first touched mine when we both resided on the tiny island of Kwajalein in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. During that time, Tammie and her husband Rick experienced unfathomable loss, and ever since, their lives have been on an amazing trajectory to healing, hope, and even joy again! Life will never be the same, and Tammie is extremely honest about their painful journey; she readily admits that some days are extremely difficult. But she has found purpose again, and her heart beats to bring healing to other grieving parents. She wants to share how she and her husband are finding their way again. In the process, Tammie and Rick made a choice to forfeit regular income and steady jobs to travel around the country volunteering, giving back to others in celebration of the life of their son. As passionate as they are about suicide prevention, they are equally driven to love those left behind as they open up their lives to us, sharing their source of love, comfort, hope, and promise.
Without further introduction, here’s Tammie…
For those who are asking if that is really my tattoo: Yes, it’s true.
“What are you thinking? You are not the kind of person who would get a tattoo.”
“You have to be kidding! That is not your style.”
“You know what people think about tattoos? You will be judged as soon as they see it.”
“Well, if it will make you happy, then do it—but I would never do it.”
These are some of the responses I received when I shared my desire to get a tattoo as a tribute to my son Joshua. They were all very kind in the way that they said it, and I truly knew that they were trying to comprehend something that was just outside all of our comfort zones.
Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: all to the glory of God, body is a temple, child loss, espressos of faith, families of suicide loss, glorify God in your body, grief, hope, hope in Christ, hope of Christ, joy, kwajalein, loss, loss of child, Marshall Islands, mourning, parent grief, suicide, suicide loss, tattoo