I look at my French bulletin board hanging over my kitchen table, filled with Christmas card photos from many years and places we have lived. Along with graduations, births, weddings, and celebrations, I see broken hearts, unraveled marriages, cancer, loss, abandonment, children with developmental struggles, addiction, etc.
But you know what else I see?
Jesus. The grace of Christ in so many lives. The calling out to Him from the depths of messy life—and the answering.
It was about nine years ago that I sat on a cement bench on a small island beach in the South Pacific. It was night, and I was squeaking out a desperate prayer in a tiny voice. The weight inside my heart was holding down so much pain that if it had bubbled up full force, it would surely have broken the sound barrier. Instead, like the slow leak of a balloon, only low-energy pleas came out. Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: anxiety, as the deer pants, broken hearts, communion with God, cry out to God, deep calls to deep, depression, desperate cry, devastation, grace of Christ, heart's cry, hope in God, in the deep, mourning, presence of God, psalm 42, Psalm 42:7, relationship with God, sons of Korah, steadfast love, suicidal thoughts, tears have been my food, where is God, why are you downcast
[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 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
Once again, it is my great delight to share a piece from Tammie Wommack’s beautiful heart here at Espressos of Faith. Tammie lost her son Joshua in 2008 to suicide. Ever since, she and her husband Rick have been slowly healing and are passionate about sharing their journey, hope, and paths to finding peace and joy again with other grieving families. They are also fiercely committed to suicide prevention. Their story is an amazingly redemptive one. I hope your heart is encouraged and loved on by her sincere words.
Tammie and I first crossed paths in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, where we were both living at the time, rocked by different circumstances in each of our lives. God has reconnected us, and I’m so thankful for her courage, vulnerability, and willingness to be used by God to help others. May God continue to bless you, Tammie (and Rick)!
As Rick and I travel around this beautiful country, moving from one destination to the next, we eventually find ourselves heading back to Clarksville, Tennessee, for many reasons: our precious grandchildren who keep us young, our friends who have been a lifeline and anchor for us on this grief journey, business matters that must be taken care of so we can stay on the road, doctor appointments, etc.
Our arrival to Clarksville is always mixed with so many different emotions. My heart, mind, body, and soul begin to prepare days before we get to what I call the “Joshua Zone.” I brace myself for the overwhelming rush of emotions that I know I will experience.
Grief is truly a very rough and long roller coaster ride. For me, the emotions are always followed by the temptation to drink alcohol so that I cannot feel that rush of emotions I know await me as I enter the city limits. I feel like I have to be constantly on guard.
The length of time we stay and the number of our visits has varied over the years, but the feelings are still just as strong now as they were the first time we had to travel back there after Joshua died. It seems I am never really able to let my guard down until we are heading out of the city of Clarksville, Tennessee.
While I write about my grief often, I don’t always talk about my temptation to Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: addiction and grief, after loss, alcohol and grief, child death, child loss, finding joy again after loss, God's plans, God's purposes, Good Samaritan, grieving, grieving parents, healing from loss, hope after loss, mourning, parent grief, purpose in grief, redemptive story, suicide, suicide loss, suicide prevention, surrender to God, temptation, where is God
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
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
I opened the door to find her standing there in thepouring-down rain, hand outstretched toward me with a Peppermint Mocha and Salted Caramel Square just waiting to delight me inside a paper bag. I greeted her with bedhead, three-days-worn pajamas, and a defeated face. Not sure when I had last showered. She doesn’t even drink coffee from my café of choice, but she had the barista handcraft a beverage just for me. She didn’t come in. She took her soaked self back to the van, having delivered friendship in a cup. And it was the real deal in every way:
Before that knock came, I got an email:
“You home right now?”
Me: “Yes, upstairs resting.”
Nothing mattered to me right then. I had tried to drag myself out all day to get a coffee just to be somewhere and exist outside my own grief, but I couldn’t. I listlessly made three breakfasts, packed three lunches, sent three kids out the door to three different buses, and went back to bed. All I knew was that Dad was dying several states away, and that phone call was coming in any minute. I was in some kind of nightmarish limbo—stuck and free-falling.
Then, that knock!
I wanted to but could not in any way will myself to answer it. I simply couldn’t leave my bed. I didn’t know it was raining. I wasn’t even sure who it was. But the knuckles rapped a bit stronger and then my phone burped. Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: Christmas, coffee, eternity, friendship, God's gift, God's plans, God's presence, grief, Holy Spirit, hope of Christ, Jesus knocks, John 14:6, love knocked, manger, mourning, no man comes to the Father, peppermint mocha, relationship with God, rescue, resurrection and the life, Revelation 3:20, stand at the door and knock, Starbucks
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