Category Archive: Grief

Meeting God–in Grief

I’m enjoying reading (again) “Meeting God at Every Turn” by Catherine Marshall. Marshall was the wife of Peter Marshall, Chaplain of the United States Senate from 1947 until his unexpected death in January 1949.

Catherine relates her own two-year battle with tuberculosis, during which God taught her four significant lessons in her spiritual journey. When Peter died suddenly at the age of 46, leaving her with a nine-year old son, she relied on those lessons she had learned during her own extended illness.

Marshall shares that as she walked into her husband’s hospital room after his death, she felt both his, and another “Presence of transcendent glory, the Lord he had served through long years …” and she knew that “human life does not end in six feet of earth.”

That feeling of splendor didn’t last. At a certain point the two vivid presences left the room and Catherine saw death in all its ugliness. And death IS our enemy. I recall the moment my first husband passed from death to Life, and I knew he had left the room.

Catherine was given a message as she walked to the hospital room door–a message “with that peculiar authority I had come to recognize as the Lord’s own voice:‘ Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life’.

The message I received after Jerry’s death, not audibly, but with great clarity, was Jeremiah 29:11: 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.

About eight days after Peter’s passing, Catherine was once again in the “valley where salt tears and loneliness and the fear of coping alone with the problems of everyday life are all too real.”

My crash came about three weeks after Jerry’s passing, when questions and doubts assailed my mind and spirit. What if everything I believe is a lie and I’ll never see him again? What if death is the end and there is no eternal hope with Christ?

I’m not comparing my spiritual walk with Catherine Marshall’s. She has gone far deeper with God than I have. But I was reminded of some truths as I read this chapter.

1) Grief is a universal, but God has promised that in all, He will never leave nor forsake His children.

2) Death is ugly. It is our enemy and it is ok to be angry about death (as long as we move past that at some point). But death is also the window through which we must walk to reach the other side, where glory and peace and joy and worship and the physical Presence of our God await His children.

3) God encourages and comforts us through His people. While our natural inclination may be to hibernate, to be unwilling to cry or allow friends in during a time of grief, God has given us those individuals to rally ’round and help us in times of need.

I had friends and family who listened and wept with me, who didn’t try to fix me, and who helped bring our yard back to a semblance of order after I had been away from home for the nine months of our hospital stay in another state. Others sold items for me, prayed for me and for our families, welcomed me despite my being a wilted lump of clay as I groped my way through days and nights of agony, loneliness, numbness. As they allowed me to be only partially present with them, I needed to invite them into my grief.

4) We cannot sidestep the work of grieving the loss of those we have loved and held close in life. And yet, inconceivably, grief and joy can at times co-exist. Knowing my husband was with the Lord he had loved and served in a place of indescribable glory, I knew he would not want to return, not even because of his love for me. Why would anyone leave heaven to return to this world with its joys and sorrows, its beauty and its pain?

5) When we grieve, we experience a oneness with the rest of humanity, and we can encourage others as we ourselves experience healing.

Are you grieving? Look for someone else who has gone through loss, someone you can unburden yourself to honestly. It may be a minister, a priest, a counselor, a good friend, or a grief recovery group. (Check out www.griefshare.org for grief recovery groups across the country and possibly in your area).

And if you have experienced even some level of healing, I encourage you to reach out to someone else to share the help and love you have received.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.

II Corinthians 1:3-5, NIV

Marshall says “Part of the process of setting us free (‘…He might deliver and completely set free all those who through the (haunting) fear of death were held in bondage throughout the whole course of their lives’) is reassurance piled upon reassurance in Scripture that at the death of the physical body, the real person inside lives on without interruption.” (p. 111)

When I questioned the truth of God’s promises, the resolution came as God brought to my mind the words of Peter, when Jesus asked if His disciples would leave Him.

Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life.

John 6:68, NLT

And with those words, my doubts settled, my biggest questions answered.

At some point we will all experience grief, if we have not yet. Ask your questions–but find people you trust to listen and love you, rather than looking for those who would encourage your doubts. Our God is sufficient to handle our honest questions and fears.

Casting all your cares (all your anxieties, all your worries, and all your concerns, once and for all) on Him, for He cares for you (with deepest affection, and watches over you very carefully).

I Peter 5:7 AMP

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?