Category Archive: Compassion

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.

God … in the Storm

Hurricane winds, floods and storms are blighting our land. Irma closely follows Harvey, with Jose and others coming behind. People are dying, losing homes and worldly goods, and face a long reality of rebuilding their lives. On top of that, there are the personal storms of people we love … broken families, heartbreak, insecurity, fear, anger, loss, homelessness, and more.

Is someone you love going through their own personal hurricane? Troubled seas, high waters, loss of innocence. My heart is heavy for someone in my life who is carrying an overwhelming load. And I feel helpless. All I can do is pray.

And yet, isn’t that the very thing to which God calls me FIRST? When there are practical ways to help – food, shelter, rescue, emotional and physical support–all of which are happening in a major way in Texas, and now in Florida and along the East Coast–we do those. But sometimes there just isn’t anything our “boots on the ground” can do. So we pray: for wisdom, for others to come alongside, for courage, perseverance, long-suffering love, and healing. For protection of body, mind and spirit in the fight against the darts of the evil one.

So often I think “I can handle this …” And yet, there are times when everything needed is beyond any human control. And God tells us to call on His name for help. Lamentations 3:54-56 states this so clearly:

In the eye of the storm

“…the waters closed over my head,
    and I thought I was about to perish.

I called on your name, Lord,
    from the depths of the pit.
You heard my plea: ‘Do not close your ears
    to my cry for relief.’”

These are difficult times in the life of our nation. But God is able to bring good out of the storm. He is able to take the darts of the enemy and bring beauty out of ashes. He is able to impart His strength to the weak, His rest to the weary. My prayer for all going through turmoil, whether physical, spiritual or emotional, is Psalm 73:26:  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” May these be moments where God shows up in such distinct ways that we stand by, watching in awe.

 

So let’s discuss: what do you do when you can’t do anything?  

WHEN THE STORM OVERWHELMS

Harvey’s impact continues. This morning I saw a video of people and animals being rescued–beautiful horses who were caught in the underwater trees and couldn’t get free. The need is still overwhelming.

President Trump has declared Sunday, tomorrow, to be a NATIONAL DAY OF PRAYER.

“NOW, THEREFORE, I, DONALD J. TRUMP, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim September 3, 2017, as a National Day of Prayer for the Victims of Hurricane Harvey and for our National Response and Recovery Efforts. We give thanks for the generosity and goodness of all those who have responded to the needs of their fellow Americans.”

And oh, how we need to gather together before the Father, corporately and individually, confessing our sin, our need, and crying out “Jesus, help us. Help our unbelief.”

I’ve wrestled with some tough questions in my own devastating times: Why is this happening to us? What is God’s purpose in suffering? And when friends asked me these questions, I was able to share that as believers we are not exempt from suffering in the world, from the effects of sin and illness. God has not promised to spare us, but He has promised “never will I leave you, never will I forsake you” (Heb 13:5, NIV), and to walk with us in all the paths of our lives, especially in the “valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4, NIV).

Friends are dealing with critical illness, with crushing despair leading to harmful choices, with trying to access medical treatment with limited staff and facilities. How do we respond when the storm overwhelms, when it doesn’t seem to lessen? W. David O. Taylor wrote about this from within the storm. I am attaching a link to his article here.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2017/august-web-only/when-jesus-doesnt-calm-storm-hurricane-harvey-houston-flood.html?share=

Let’s join together Sunday in corporate prayer for those in need, and for all who are serving others selflessly in Houston and other impacted areas. Let’s pray, too, for God’s intervention in the lives of those we care for who are hurting and need the loving touch of the Father’s heart.

I wish you His peace.

In the Midst of the Storm

Our area had 84 inches of rain last year, destroying and closing roads, limiting access to certain areas, keeping us indoors much more than usual. We were deluged.

But by the end of this week some Texas coastal areas could reach 50 inches of rain, which is the average rainfall for an entire year, according to a Reuters article (https://www.yahoo.com/news/houston-devastated-flooding-harvey-residents-gird-days-rain-005542738–finance.html). More than 30,000 people are expected to need temporary housing. Many have lost homes, household goods, clothing, food–everything material–following Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey. At least two people have already died.

My sister-in-law, on the outskirts of Houston, writes, “Hi.  So far we are fine.  Left my garbage can out to measure water and it just keeps overflowing. IT JUST KEEPS RAINING……..Am praying that there are no high winds because I have big trees front and back. The bayou is a raging river.” Her daughter is scheduled for critical medical procedures Thursday and Friday, but the hospital is closed!

Many of us have family in or near Houston, some of whom have been evacuated to other areas. Our hearts are heavy with concern. Emergency services are overloaded.

But we also hear stories of the community pulling together, like the man who took his pickup and invited families to attach their boats to his truck, then pulled out five or six boats (and people) at once.

I’ve been through tough times – loss, death threats, fear, illness – but I have a hard time imagining what it would be like to lose my home, car, everything that’s involved in daily living, and have to start totally from scratch. Yet that is what many will have to do.

Jesus said it is by our love for each other that the world will know we are His disciples. We have another opportunity to express and live that love with this crisis. Two ways we can help:

PRAY … 

… for those in need, for those reaching out, for emergency responders, police, firepersons, pastors, mayors, Governor Gregg Abbott, President Trump.

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” James 5:16.

GIVE …

James 2:15-17 speaks to me: “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” 

Here are two of many reputable organizations that are working to provide help to Texas.

World Vision is stepping in to help. Check their information and donation site at https://www.worldvision.org/disaster-response-news-stories/hurricane-harvey

The Billy Graham organization is sending crisis-trained chaplains into areas affected by Harvey to provide emotional and spiritual support. See https://lp.billygraham.org/rrt-hurricane/?utm_source=hurricane+harvey+alert+email+all+08.28.17&utm_medium=bgemail&utm_campaign=bg

I pray that in the current crisis the watching world will see the love of Christ through us, His hands and feet in the world.