Category Archive: Authenticity

Grief at Christmas

At a memorial for our dear friend this week, close friends celebrated Steve Stybor’s life and faith through sixteen years’ struggle with cancer. The pastor spoke of Steve’s love for Jesus Christ. Friends spoke of this man’s care for them, always wanting to know how THEY were doing in the midst of his own struggles. I experienced this too.

“How’re you doing Steve?”

“Not great. But how’s your shoulder healing?”

Steve made friends everywhere he went, from the Safeway clerks he knew by name, to the orderlies, nurses and doctors in the oncology ward and chemo unit, to friends at Bible Study Fellowship and at church.

We miss Steve. Conversations, shared memories, and his humor. He had two memorable caps he wore often: one embroidered with “Chemosabe;” the other with a fringe of fake red hair sticking out the top. Steve could laugh at himself as well as at, and with, others.

I expect some of you are either experiencing your own grief over the loss of a loved one, or know someone who is grieving this Christmas season. Somehow all the “firsts” hit especially hard as the loved one’s absence leaves a gaping hole as we go through the motions, hearts numb, minds unfocused, eyes either wet from unstoppable tears or dried out from the sobs that have already wracked our bodies.

So I thought I would repeat a blog I wrote two years ago.

It was Christmas, 2005. Eighteen days after my husband had moved from my arms into the waiting arms of Jesus.

All I wanted to do was crawl under a warm blanket for about three years, until the aching void in my heart had eased, the elephant on my chest been removed. But you can’t sidestep grief. I slept about eleven hours a night, often with a two or three-hour nap in the afternoon. The ache felt so HEAVY.  It weighed me down. In a daze, I moved from one thing to another, planning and communicating with friends about his memorial, filing for insurance and social security benefits, and taking care of immediate needs.

I thought my life was over. “How do you go on when half of you has been ripped away?” I sobbed. And yet, the very day of Jerry’s death God gave me Jeremiah 29:11 to claim as my own: “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for good and not for evil, to give you hope and a future.” I knew that withdrawing into myself would not honor either my Jerry or my God. I stumbled on, with a deep void I thought would never leave my heart, tears accompanying me to bed and again on waking, the body pillow I hugged a very poor substitute for that living, breathing man beside me. And yet, the God who is FAITHFUL and TRUE promised never to leave nor forsake me.

I felt His care through family and friends who loved on me, who didn’t try to “fix” me, who let me cry or talk or be silent or a distant guest, lost in my own thoughts as others laughed and talked around me. My brothers supported me in a myriad of ways during and after Jerry’s death. My nephew and niece, who rented an apartment from me, came to my back door every night for weeks, to check in and hug me. My sister-in-law and niece prepared and froze quite a few individual meals for me. On each Tupperware container was a scripture or note of encouragement. And, having been widowed three years earlier herself, Mom listened and prayed and grieved along with me.

A very loving note from my then five-year old niece

A very loving note from my then five-year old niece

As we celebrated Jerry’s life a few weeks after his death, I knew my family and many friends who also loved Jerry, grieved with me. But two days later, during our family Christmas, I felt like I was in a bottomless hole. With hollow, red-rimmed eyes, I watched others open gifts. Their muted affirmations of thanks swirled around me. I wasn’t quite “there.” This was my first Christmas in 24 years without his love, laughter and teasing, his presence, his gifts, and gifts for him. It seemed surreal that life could continue when mine had been so radically altered.

It must have been hard for my loving family to watch me, as they reached out to me with hugs and tears throughout the day. They were dealing with their own loss, of a son-in-law, brother-in-law, and uncle.

Friends expressed love in a variety of ways. The day after Christmas, a dear friend sat on the floor in front of me and listened. The first person to whom I told the whole story of Jerry’s last day on earth, she loved me by squeezing my hand and murmuring words of compassion as I spoke.

How about you? Are you lonely this Christmas? Can you reach out for help, to a friend, a local church, a counselor? Be with people who will allow you to grieve at your own pace and in your own way?

Conversely, if you know someone who is having a hard time this Christmas, look for ways to encourage them.

  • Don’t try to “fix” your friend. Listen meaningfully and hug appropriately.
  • And oh, avoid giving advice (unless asked) or telling the person “this must have been God’s plan.” A woman approached me very soon after Jerry’s death, asking “What is the Lord teaching you through this time?” She must have caught my look, which said “Teaching me? Friend, I’m just barely hanging on by my fingernails.” “Spiritualizing” is NOT helpful. Listening IS.
  • Prepare a meal, or invite them to attend something with you. (And if they say no, ask again later–they may not have been ready yet to do anything public.)
  • Send a card or note telling them you’re thinking of them.
  • Offer practical help, such as grocery shopping, a ride to an appointment, or help finding resources such as grief recovery groups.
  • Allow your friend the freedom to express anger, pain, disillusionment, whatever he or she feels, without judging or trying to challenge those feelings. They need to be expressed in a safe place. LISTEN!
  • If many others are asking how they can help, offer to be the point person to coordinate so the grief-stricken individual doesn’t have to handle logistics at this difficult time.
  • Pray for them.
    • Now.
    • On the phone.
    • In person.
    • Privately.
    • However the Holy Spirit suggests.

Click on the link below for more ways to help a grieving friend.

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/megan-devSupporting a Grieving Personine/death-and-dying_b_4329830.html

May you experience the love and comfort of our God, through Jesus Christ, no matter your circumstances, this Christmas season. “Immanuel” — God with us!

 

 

 

Keep me Safe ‘Til the Storm Passes By*

Generosity – largeness of spirit. So often we think of generosity relative to finances, to money. Earning it, keeping it, spending it, sharing it. But scripture speaks about much more than money in relation to generosity. Pastor Rene is teaching on this and talked of how generosity is the “overflow of a heart filled with gratitude.”

In studies compiled in GRATITUDE WORKS, Dr. Robert Emmons says grateful people sleep better, have lower blood pressure and increased alertness and energy, better stress coping mechanisms, and improved cardiac health, among other physical and emotional benefits.

When we realize how much God has done for us, our gratitude leads to a response of generosity. It may be expressed through time given to listen or help others; through welcoming others into family times; or through personal sacrifice that allows another to thrive.

Learning to sleep after surgery, while protecting my right shoulder, has been a process — several nights I’ve been unable to sleep. Don has gotten up with me, tucked me in for comfort and security, and done extra to cover what I can’t do right now. The other night I got comfortable and was able to doze off in Don’s arms, with our Cavalier Paige at the foot of the bed.

Paigey often wanders awhile before settling into sleep. She leans against Don’s body, then mine, checks to be sure she has her chew bone, then wiggles around a bit more. As I started to roll over onto my own pillow later that night, I found I couldn’t. Paige had rolled up against me, moving from my shoulders to my knees, securely tucking my blanket around me.

I had to laugh in thanks. I have a loving provider in my husband, who cares for me in little and big ways. Friends and family express love through calls, meals, visits, notes. And I even get tucked in by my little canine.

There are many who are finding it difficult to feel any gratitude right now: between mass shootings, earthquakes, hurricanes and fires, our country is in a world of hurt. I can’t imagine the horror country fans in Vegas felt as they began to realize what they thought were firecrackers were really bullets. Or the agony of watching your home and belongings burn before your eyes in Sonoma, surrounding counties, and in Southern California. And my heart breaks for these.

There was a time in my own life when I experienced severe depression. I wasn’t able to push past the pain to find any gratitude, I asked God to hold me, confessing I had nothing with which to hold onto Him. And He did. Because He is faithful.

As I pray for the many who are in emotional, physical and spiritual pain right now, I also pray for the firefighters and police personnel who are trying to bring stability and order out of chaos. And I pray that we as a nation might lean into Jesus for hope, comfort, restoration, peace, for repentance as we turn our hearts back to Him.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.

They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.

I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”   Lamentations 3:22-24 NIV

*From a hymn written by Mosie Lister.

Search me O God

I can see it (all)!

Dusty. Sweaty. Tired. Sore. Yup, I just cleaned and reorganized the pantry. And I can see everything I need at a glance. Wow!  I’ve actually left the pantry door open because it looks so neat! Salad and mixing bowls are on a lower shelf where Don and I can easily reach them. It’s several years since I’ve done a full-on job on this. I’ve stretched my sore shoulder to reach for bowls I needed. I’ve forgotten what I had, so bought more of the same. I’ve stored foods I’ll never use. It was time!

And then I think how my walk with Jesus is a little like this pantry. I get cleansed with confession, adoration, and praise; and then life butts in and I allow things back into my heart that I should reject–anger, worry, self-centeredness … I forget to confess something and carry it with me. And then my life feels chaotic, my mind cluttered, my heart not free.

And I forget God’s marvelous, unchanging grace! And yet, Jesus is always there ready to forgive and to cleanse me.

I’m going to try to keep my pantry clean and organized; but I know disorganization will creep in. I hope to use it as a reminder of any cleanup I need to do between my Father and me, or between myself and others.

But if we confess our sins to him, he can be depended on to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong. And it is perfectly proper for God to do this for us because Christ died to wash away our sins. (I John 1:9/TLB)

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test my thoughts. Point out anything you find in me that makes you sad, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. (Psalm 139:23-24/TLB)

I’m so thankful for GRACE!

 What reminds you of your need for ongoing grace?

Making Room for Love–a Second Time Around

Falling in love and committing to a new marriage after losing a spouse took time. Was I willing to join my life with another after having been widowed? Did loving someone new mean I loved my first husband less? Was it in any way a betrayal of our love?

I wasn’t the only one who had the question. My friends also wondered how, when Jerry and I loved each other deeply, I could make room for another man in my life.

When I emailed a photo of Don to two of my close girlfriends, one wrote back a very short response. “Wow. Didn’t expect that. Wow.” I asked what she meant. She thought Don looked very much like an older Jerry. I didn’t see that resemblance myself, but I think my friend wondered if I was trying to replace Jerry.

Later she and I had another conversation where I tried to explain what it was like to love again. “It’s like I have two windows in my heart; Jerry is in one and now Don is in the other; it’s not a replacement, but rather an addition.” And what an addition, a gift from our good Father, he is!

On a recent trip to Israel together

Since Don is significantly older than I am (‘tho young in mind and body!) my friends also feared watching me go through go through widowhood again. It wasn’t easy the first time, for any of us. Not only did they love me; they loved my husband. And they watched me grieve, wept with me, let me go through the steps I needed to in order to heal. They didn’t want to see me in that kind of pain again.

But for me, the choice was to enjoy this second love for whatever time God gives us–or to walk away from it in order to protect my heart. I had asked God that if He had someone else for me, to bring that man to me. I didn’t want to be part of the dating game. While that works and is probably fun for some, it’s not where I wanted to spend my energy.

So God brought this gracious, loving man to me (and me to him) when Don and I met in a widow/ widower grief recovery group about two years after Jerry’s death. Neither of us attended the church where the group met; we came from homes twenty-seven miles apart…not in the same geographic location at all. While it took me awhile to commit, once I met Don there simply wasn’t anyone else for me. A God-thing, no doubt!

Seeking God’s guidance

God has blessed many wonderful women (and men) with the gift of being single after death or divorce. Their lives are full and complete as they follow Him in that new life, unless or until God brings someone else to them. But as more of my friends are widowed, I remember the adjustments needed both by my friends and myself in entering a new marriage. God may bring another special person along: making room for that someone is not only a process for the single person, but also for her family and friends. Honor that. Talk to them about your feelings, needs, desires; help them to know your new love so they can accept and begin to appreciate and love him (or her) too, as my friends have done.

And when feelings are hurt, as mine were when my friends didn’t understand, trust God. Talk about it, to God first. Ask Him for direction for yourself, and also for their openness. I realized that I’d rather have five good years with Don than none! (And we’re now in year eight, for which we both thank God.) And I needed to trust God and my friends with the rest.

“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” Helen Keller

If you’ve lost a partner to death or divorce, how is God meeting your needs for comfort and companionship?

Freedom, Used for Good

“The essence of America–that which really unites us–is not ethnicity, or nationality, or religion. It is an idea–and what an idea it is: that you can come from humble circumstances and do great things. That it doesn’t matter where you came from, but where you are going.” Condoleezza Rice

Marian Anderson was the first African American woman to sing at the White House, and the first black Metropolitan Opera Star. My mother, a soloist and voice teacher, learned that Anderson was going to perform in Winnipeg, Canada, where I grew up.  Although I was just a child, probably 6 or 7, I remember the event clearly when our entire family went to hear Anderson’s marvelous contralto voice. Despite having been rejected for music school because of her color; despite the racial barriers that initially limited her opportunities, Anderson continued to follow her passion, and was later received at Carnegie Hall and the Metropolitan Opera, in addition to the White House.  And, at her death at age 96, over 2000 admirers attended a memorial service held at Carnegie Hall.

As we celebrated Independence Day this week, we were reminded once again that freedom is not free. Whether the battle is for freedom of thought and worship, for racial equality, or for justice, it has cost the lives of many good men and women; others have suffered loss of family, of limbs, sometimes of emotional or mental stability. And still more have prayed for those in battle. The question is, what will we do with this hard-won freedom? That question is relevant for us as a nation, and even more so as Christ-followers. The Apostle Paul said, “For you have been called to live in freedom. Use your freedom to serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5:13)

Nellie Cashman’s purpose, borne out of Ireland’s potato famine, was to make money in order to serve others. This was what her faith dictated. Leaving County Cork, Ireland, where her father had died and many were starving, Nellie’s mother took her and her sister Fannie to the United States in about 1850. After growing up in Boston, Nellie, Fannie and their mother migrated to San Francisco in 1865.

Cashman loved the outdoors and became involved in prospecting for gold in California. Petite, she set up shop and learned mining in camps where she was the only woman. Never was she treated with anything less than the respect she demanded, and gave, in her dealings. She moved with new prospecting fields, and was noted across the American and Canadian west as a gold prospector, restaurateur and boarding house owner, nurse, and philanthropist.  She led a rescue of miners in the Cassiar Mountains–they were “my boys”.

E.A. Hegg / Library and Archives Canada C-005142

In her fifties Nellie climbed the Chilkoot steps out of Skagway, Alaska with a dogsled and provisions. With 900 pounds of food and supplies, 1100 short of the 2000-pounds required by the Mounties to pass through to the prospecting fields. She talked her way past the officers by comparing her weight (90 pounds) with that of the Mountie (200 pounds), stating why she wouldn’t need as much food and supplies as he would.

Throughout her life, Cashman used the money she earned in her many roles to build hospitals, churches, and to help those who were less fortunate. She used her freedom for good and, in 2006, was inducted into the Alaska Mining Hall of Fame.

For a fascinating novelized biography, read TOUGHNUT ANGEL, by my friend Jane Carlisle Baker (available @ https://www.amazon.com/Toughnut-Angel-Tale-Real-Life-Adventuress/dp/1522980571/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1498955102&sr=8-1&keywords=toughnut+angel).

“May we think of freedom not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right.” Peter Marshall

Who has exemplified using their freedom for good in your life?