Category Archive: Grief

Forged in the Fire

“Lord, be gracious to us;
we long for you.
Be our strength every morning,
our salvation in time of distress.”

Isaiah 33:2 NIV

I was 3000 miles from home, waiting for my husband to receive a transplant, then hoping and praying for his recovery.

Friends I’d never met before and I sat in hospital waiting rooms together. We asked about our respective loved ones, wept and prayed together, laughed over silly memories, held each other as one by one our loved ones passed into eternity. Friendships that have lasted were forged in the fires of adversity, pain, loss.

One of the few times my late husband was moved from Intensive to Transitional Care, he had a roommate. I pulled the curtain between the beds for some privacy.

I saw beautiful, tall Bonnie, whom I’d met in Intensive Care, walk around the unit, looking at room numbers. She opened the door to our room and walked to the next bed. Of all “coincidences” (right!) George, her husband, was Jerry’s roommate.

Bonnie and I greeted each other and sat with our respective husbands. At one point I softly began to sing. “Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father. There is no shadow of turning with thee. Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not, great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.”

Chills ran up my arms as an alto voice chimed in from the other side of the curtain. “Great is thy faithfulness, great is thy faithfulness, morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed thy hand hath provided, great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.”

And I knew I’d met a sister in Christ. Bonnie and I both lost our husbands that Fall, but our friendship has endured.

***

I met beautiful redhead Kathy and her husband Wally, lovely blond Lisa and her Bob, gracious Wayne, and their sweet mother Willene. Willene’s husband, their father, was dying. We too wept and prayed and laughed and held each other through those difficult months. And we’ve shared life since, with visits before Don and I married ten years ago, over facebook, emails and phone calls.

***

Fritz and Frank, dear friends for many years, moved to the East Coast two years ago. Fritz, a nurse, spent time in the hospital with Jerry and me, patiently teaching me how to read the monitors to assess his stats before I left the hospital each night.

***

Don and I saw these friends on the East Coast this week. It’s been a rich and renewing time. These friendships were forged in the fire of suffering. I’m thrilled…

  • to be together again;
  • that our friendships have endured over these fourteen years (and more with Fritz and Frank); and
  • grateful that in the darkest of times, God surrounded me with precious friends who walked through the valley of the shadow of death with me, and I with them.

Just this morning, Don and I prayed together before enjoying breakfast in our hotel. A lovely black woman sat at the table next to us. I noticed she was crying, quietly leaned over and asked, “Excuse me. Can I help?”

Julia swiped at her eyes and looked up at me. “No,” she replied. “You just prayed, and you said ‘Father’. We have the same Father.” And she proceeded to tell us of God’s good work in her life and that of her adult daughter over the past five months.

I’m blessed by God’s faithfulness, not only to me, but to friends we meet in these divine appointments. Friends who encourage me in my own relationship with God and with others.

“By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean …

Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.

Hebrews 10:20-23, NLT

What divine appointments will God bring into your life and mine today as we become intentional about encouraging others to acts of love and good works? I’d love to hear how He is doing this in your life.

Agents of Peace

The harmonies of the old hymn filled the chapel with full, rich tones. Tears filled my eyes as I realized that I, and those with whom I grew up, learned to sing, to harmonize, to make beautiful music as we raised our voices and hearts in praise to God. It was a part of our culture, our worldview, our worship. Now we raised our voices together in harmony at the memorial service of a dear friend.

I’ve often thought that, while sermons and words reach my mind, music touches my soul.

And how we need something to touch our souls in these uncertain days, when mass shootings have killed 32 in the past week and a half. Many here in California, in Texas and Ohio are traumatized and fearful as they deal with the senseless loss of loved ones and the trauma of being in the line of fire.

Others have written about the solutions, and I don’t intend to take on that subject here.

But we as believers need to be salt and light in the midst of this carnage. How can we help? Can we reach out to someone who has been hurt, by these shootings or by something else, and minister peace and love to them?

Our pastor said Sunday that Christianity is not a subculture but a counterculture. We are priests who are desperately needed in a culture of hate.

One of the songs that ministered to me in a significant way when I went through a turbulent time personally says,

In the dark of the midnight have I oft hid my face
While the storm howls above me, and there’s no hiding place
‘Mid the crash of the thunder, Precious Lord, hear my cry

Keep me safe till the storm passes by
Till the storm passes over, till the thunder sounds no more
Till the clouds roll forever from the sky
Hold me fast, let me stand in the hollow of Thy hand
Keep me safe till the storm passes by

Many times Satan whispered, “There is no need to try
For there’s no end of sorrow, there’s no hope by and by”
But I know Thou art with me, and tomorrow I’ll rise
Where the storms never darken the skies

Till the storm passes over, till the thunder sounds no more
Till the clouds roll forever from the sky
Hold me fast, let me stand in the hollow of Thy hand
Keep me…

-Written by Thomas Mosie Lister

How can we be priests and agents of peace in a hate-filled world?

We can pray. Jesus turned to the Father in every circumstance, praising him, asking his help, and acting in obedience to the Father’s direction. Sometimes we think prayer is the least we can do. If we are praying along with the Father’s heart, it may be the most important thing we do.

We can be agents of peace in our own neighborhoods, seeking healthy, building relationships and encouraging others, whether they are children, younger adults, or seniors whom God brings into our lives. When there are disagreements we can look for positive resolutions that build bridges with our neighbors. When our neighbor didn’t like the solar equipment on the side of our house that she sees regularly, Don said “I think we can come up with a good solution,” and built a lovely latticed box to surround the equipment. My Don was an agent of peace and our neighbor, and the homeowners’ association, are delighted with the outcome.

What other ways have you found to be an agent of God’s peace and love in your world? I’d love to hear what solutions you’ve found.

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think on these things.…”

Philippians 4:6-8, Berean Study Bible

When Tragedy Strikes

Like many of us, I’ve had a heavy heart this week. Another shooting in Southern California left twelve dead, others with horrific memories and their aftermath. And fires, in both Northern and Southern California. The town of Paradise decimated, 23 reported dead as of Saturday evening.

Amazingly, the Paradise home of dear friends of ours is still standing, as is their church. But for several days they didn’t know whether or not they still had a home. Others I know have lost everything, except in most cases, their loved ones. Homes are gone. Lives are lost. And even if you still have a home, there is currently no water in Paradise, no power. So as of yet there is no possibility of returning to the homes that remain.

Our friends who still have their home are in the minority. We’ve heard that 80% of Paradise is simply gone. Destroyed. Decimated How do you even begin the overwhelming task of starting over? And how do you move back into a home that is still standing when all around you is destruction, ash, rubble?

Others have certainly gone through that. In countries where persecution abounds because of ethnicity, or faith, or religious differences, many have fled their homes with nothing more than they could carry. Here in California, many escaped the Camp Fire, or the Malibu fire, or another, with only the clothes on their backs. Plans for family gatherings at Thanksgiving and/or Christmas or Hanukkah must change because people are now homeless.

So how do we help?

  • Tell people we’ll pray for them – and then DO IT! If the words are simply the “thing to say” in a tragedy, they are meaningless. Perhaps instead of just saying we’ll pray, we can stop and say “Let me pray for you now” and do it immediately, and then continuously.
  • Pray for the firefighters and emergency responders who so faithfully serve in these difficult times.
  • Ask what help they need. Someone commented that they went into Target to buy necessities only to see the store full of people walking around, dazed, not knowing where to begin. If you’ve lost everything, do you start with food or with medicines? With blankets or underwear?
  • Find ways to give where funds will be allocated in appropriate ways. The worship pastor at our Aptos church is from Paradise. He is there this weekend, meeting with the church from which he came to determine how we can help. Twin Lakes Church will give us opportunities to give in meaningful ways that are based on a real assessment of critical issues.

In the tragedy of these days we have an opportunity to come alongside those in desperate need, and love them in the name of Jesus.

My friend Shirley Fransen Holm posted this article on Facebook Saturday. What a beautiful picture of what it means to come alongside those in need.

At my synagogue, I’ll take 20 Mennonites over one armed guard

After telling the disciples he would soon leave them, their hearts were also heavy, Then Jesus said “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Our hope is in the God who is present, the God who has promised never to leave or forsake us, and who calls us to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those in need.

Grief Survival Tools

“What are some of the tools in your grief survival kit?” This question was posed on Quora, a site I sometimes respond to. I thought it was worth mentioning some of the items that helped me survive after the devastating loss of my first husband. They included the following:

  • Family/friends who allowed me to be exactly where I was–numb, inattentive, distant, glazed, aching–and didn’t try to “fix” me.
  • Faith in the God who has promised never to leave me nor forsake me. (Hebrews 13:5)
  • Participation in a grief recovery program along with other new widows and widowers. At www.griefshare.org you can enter your zip code and find a group, as well as resources in your area. Processing loss with a trained facilitator and with others in the same life crisis was very helpful to me in understanding some of the impacts, and the timeline, of grief.
  • Prayer – my own and those of others for me.
  • God’s promises through scripture, such as the one at right which He gave me following Jerry’s death.

    God’s promises encouraged my heart

  • Reading some excellent books on grief, its impact, process, recovery. I didn’t read these immediately after Jerry’s death. I needed a bit of time to get through the initial shock before absorbing others’ ideas about grief.
  • A body pillow I purchased to hug at night.
  • A heating pad for those times when my body, in shock, couldn’t get warmed through. A great tip from my nurse friend, Fritz.
  • Sleep.
  • Work, or projects (like cleaning out the garage!) that kept my mind from focusing only on my loss.
  • Writing … whether a journal, notes to others, or blogposts … was another way of releasing the feelings tumbling about in my brain and heart.
  • More sleep.

These were some of my tools. What has helped you deal with grief?

 

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!