The promise of Easter

“Jesus raising from the dead is the basis of our hope.”

I can still hear my son David waking up his younger brother, “Come on Daniel, the Easter bunny came! Did you get peanut butter eggs too?!” These memories make me smile.

Easter 2017, our seventh without David. It still doesn’t seem possible. Our routine hasn’t changed much; Easter candy, church, a family dinner, then a trip to the cemetery. There we find the encouraging words of John 11:25-26 etched in David’s beautiful granite memorial stone; a scripture that reflects what he believed, what our family believes. 

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

Our family’s sorrow and the promises of Easter intersect with each trip to the cemetery because Easter glues together the promises of our eternal home in heaven with Jesus. Each day that goes by is one day closer to being reunited with our David. These verses serve as a reminder, and I need this reminder today. I’m missing him today. 

You may celebrate today with overflowing baskets of jelly beans, chocolate eggs and stuffed bunnies, but I hope you will stop and take time to remember what this day really signifies. Jesus raising from the dead is the basis of our hope. It means that while we may grieve today over people we wish were joining us at the dining room table, we still have confidence that God’s power isn’t bound by anything.

Dear Friend,

As you remember your loved ones today I hope you’ll be able to celebrate the hope and assurance that the Easter message brings, where the pain of our loss and hope for our future home is reconciled. I’m praying you reach for God and feel His comfort. God bless you.

Promises

John 11:25,26

 

 

 

 

Accepting help

“It’s hard to imagine anyone could help lift our burdens when we’re struggling with the pain of losing someone we loved deeply, but…”

I let the answering machine take the calls from my friends. Their messages were the same, “We would like to get together for lunch, spend time praying for you, and help you in any way we can.” I admit, I ignored them by quietly pressing delete on the answering machine, content to be alone in my grief fog.

More messages followed. I knew I had to tell them I didn’t feel like getting together. I’m sure they would understand, right?  David had just died. I was in pain. I didn’t want to see the pity in their eyes, or the sadness they felt.

But they didn’t stop calling. They loved David too.

Eventually my husband Mike discovered I’d blown off my friends numerous times. Yep, I’d been found out.  I couldn’t avoid it any longer, at least not where Mike was concerned. I had to come clean.

I told him I didn’t want anyone to see me.  I didn’t want to eat, talk or listen to their in-depth prayers for me or for our family.  I didn’t want to hear some of my own groaning come to life through theirs. Does that even make sense? It made sense to me. Bottom line; It would just stir up the hurt I was already struggling with. I didn’t want to hurt any more than I already was.

I expected Mike would not let this go, and he didn’t. He said, “Let them love, encourage and pray for you Jan.  This is time just for you and you need it.” He was right. I probably did need this. I reluctantly reached back to them.

I told my friend whose home we were meeting at that I would come over for a morning visit. I didn’t want to meet over lunch because I was prone to nausea with no warning. I wasn’t able to eat much anyway. She was happy I’d changed my mind and assured me she would keep it simple; coffee and homemade rolls. No pressure for me to eat, and that was freeing for me.

I nervously walked through the front door of the house, saw four women who loved me sitting at the kitchen table, waiting for me. They asked how they could pray for me.  I couldn’t even explain to myself what I needed. How could I possibly explain it to them? I just wanted David back and it was hard to put into words what only came out as audible moans. I just asked them to pray for our healing, knowing it encompassed much more than that.

I could feel the floodgate of emotions coming, and then the tears. “Why did this happen?  How can I live without David? I miss him so much! Mike and Daniel are hurting. Why did God allow this? Can we survive this as a family? Will my marriage survive? I don’t care about cooking, laundry or cleaning. I’m not sure I’ll be able to eat again. I have no energy to do anything. I don’t care if I wash my hair or paint my nails. Nothing matters right now…how can I suddenly stop mothering him?”

By this time we were all crying. Their hearts broke for mine as they listened.

Then it came time for them to pray for me. My heart was overwhelmed and humbled. I sat with my eyes closed, allowing their loving words to wash over me. It was draining but it was good.

In the weeks that followed, these beautiful women organized a meal delivery plan with our church so I wouldn’t have to cook. They had listened to my heart’s cry and my physical struggle, and they immediately focused on what they could do to help.

Honestly, it felt more than awkward. I had always been on the giving side of this; taking meals to others, etc. but when I put my sorrow and pride aside, and allowed my friends the opportunity to serve, I was so thankful. It was such a blessing during a numb time in my life. Each meal made us feel cared for; prepared by loving hands for someone whose hands weren’t able to. I’m so thankful my friends didn’t give up on reaching out to me! I’m thankful I reached back to them!

Seven years have gone by, and we still get together on a regular basis. We love and encourage each other through whatever this big bad world throws at us. I’m thankful for the support and thankful to reciprocate.

 

Dear Friend,

It’s hard to imagine anyone could help lift our burdens when we’re struggling with the pain of losing someone we loved deeply, but I hope you will allow me to gently encourage and challenge you, just as my husband did with me; ” Let your friends love, encourage and pray for you. This time is just for you and you need it.”

When people ask how they can help, let them. Cleaning toilets, delivering a meal, picking up prescriptions, mowing the lawn or helping with laundry. Beyond that, pick up the phone and tell them when you need to talk. Your not a burden to them. They love you and want to offer you an encouraging shoulder to cry on. Let them. It’ll get easier each time.

Promises

afriendlovesatalltimes

In what ways have your friends helped you through your journey? I’d love to hear about it.

New Year. New Perspective..?

“…I have come to realize that I very much have a role in what my ‘better’ will look like.”

Technically it is a new year, but I think most would agree our disappointments, heartaches and struggles from 2016 have followed us into 2017. It’s supposed to be a celebration but it doesn’t necessarily feel that way, especially if you’ve lost a loved one(s). Our anticipation becomes an introspection of how we’ll cope this year compared to last, the year before that, and so on. It’s a heavy weight.

New Year’s 2011 rolled around seven months after David died. I knew he was gone but I couldn’t talk my heart into believing the harsh reality of it. The grief fog had lifted a little bit, however I knew I needed to begin the hard task of contemplating how I would get through it all.

My shallow New Year’s resolutions from previous years weren’t as important as they once were. I knew I had choices to make that would impact every aspect of my life and my response would set the standard for how I would live out the rest of my days. Would I become bitter, or would I become better?

I’m no Shakespeare but I believe that is the question.

As I choose to face losing my son I have come to realize that I very much have a role in what my “better” will look like. It won’t be a cake walk. It would have been so much easier not to lean into God for help and healing, but during this journey I’ve discovered there is only One source who can fill me up with whatever I need, whenever I need it. Nothing can take God’s place and I have been reminded of this repeatedly over the past six and a half years.

There are a million of temporary ways we can fill the void in our loss. Alcohol can numb us for a while but it only intensifies the pain. Then we risk potential addiction to the mix. The new clothes and shoes are great, but if you don’t have a great desire to leave the house they don’t do you much good. Some believe busyness will help, but that really just acts as a mask to hide our pain from others while fooling ourselves into thinking it helps with our healing process.

I was tempted with all of that. I tried numbing my pain with wine for a while. It served no lasting purpose. It made it worse. I tried retail therapy. Why not give it try right? Hey, it’s worked in the past. Who doesn’t love a good shoe deal at Von Maur? I even tried to stifle the pain and lose myself in the busyness of life, but I was hurting too much to wear a mask. I didn’t have the energy to keep up with that. My grief far outweighed the voids I reached for. That may be true for you as well.

So the concept of ‘bitter’ or ‘better’ took on a much deeper meaning. For me, everything comes back to losing David, but I can also tell you that everything comes back to God as well. We are to believe in the One we cannot see. It’s hard to explain and even harder to live out, but every time I think I can’t, I’m reminded God can. He has; True in my grief, true in all other aspects of my life.

In those early months I found several verses in 2 Samuel 22 that helped me tremendously. It revolves around how God repeatedly delivered King David from his enemies. This resonated with me because I knew I was in a battle myself and I was feeling defeated.

2 Samuel 22:7, 31b “In my distress I called out to the Lord. I called out to my God. From His temple he heard my voice; my cry reached his ears. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him.”

I’ve read these verses through tears of deep pain as well as through tears of joy as I’ve experienced God’s loving sustainment along the journey. There’s absolutely nothing like it.

There’s more! See the link below. I hope it will encourage you.

Dear Friend,

When we choose to live in bitterness it prolongs our healing and infiltrates every aspect of our lives. It will affect our friends, families and future generations. In essence it then becomes a role model for how not to cope, not only with loss, but overall life in general.

You have a role in what you’re “better” will look like. It’s as challenging as the grief we experience, but unlike the temporary fixes which serve no lasting purpose, the love and grace God has for us doesn’t have a shelf life. It’s both constant and unchanging. I pray you will continue to persevere in your faith. Stand firm and grow stronger in it. I’m still praying for you.

Promises

2 Samuel 22:1-7, 17-20, 31-37

✅ Christmas 2016

“…Christmas may have seemed impossible to get through, and yet, here you are.”

A dear friend of mine used to encourage me as I guided my heart to do things that; A) I didn’t want to do, B) things I didn’t think I was capable of doing after we lost David, or C) taking actions that would challenge me to be strong, whether in public or private.

My first trip to the grocery store, “Checkmark.” Attempting to focus on reading a book, “Checkmark.” Going in to get my hair cut and colored, “Checkmark.” That first Christmas, “Checkmark.” The first birthday, death anniversary, the list is long.

That was always her response. She didn’t say much else. She didn’t have to. She knew with each new thing I did, or with each old thing I struggled with but muddled through, was an accomplishment for my hurting heart. She knew it was a big deal for me.

Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s incredibly difficult and no matter how recent your loss, getting through this Christmas may have seemed impossible to get through, and yet, here you are.

Maybe it went better than you thought it would. Maybe it was harder than you thought it would be. I know it looks different for each of you, but may I just tell you this, “Checkmark.” You got through it! I know it was a huge challenge for you. I know it was hard.

The dinner dishes are done. The presents have been opened. The house is quiet. So now what?

For me I will thank God for getting me through another day, another Christmas. Our seventh without David. This is a checkmark day for me too.

Dear friend,

Christmas 2016, ✅  This is just one of many checkmarks for you as you strive to live out your new normal. I would say that they are absolutely necessary for our healing and moving forward.

I know you can do it! I want to cheer you on, just like my friend Dawn did for me, and still does. Don’t stop laughing. Don’t stop loving. Don’t stop crying out to God.  Continue to guide your heart through your loss. Until next time.

Promises

Psalm 71:20-23         1 Peter 5:6-7, 10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surviving Christmas as you grieve

“I just wanted the tug-a-war in my heart to stop.”

Christmas 2010. Our first without David. I’ll never forget it.  Christmas is supposed to be a joyful, happy time, but tell that to my heart. The only thing I wanted I couldn’t have.

Everything that I had done in previous years to prepare for Christmas was something I began to dread.  None of it felt right.  I had no idea how I would get through it all.  It felt like I was being torn between feeling such sadness and yet, knowing I should be focusing on the birth of Jesus, which is why we celebrate Christmas to begin with.  How would I be able to celebrate when I felt so sad? I just wanted the tug-a-war in my heart to stop.

If you’ve experienced loss you may be feeling the same way about Christmas. It can be a sinking feeling of hopelessness, dread, and anger . You try not to let your defenses down because if you do, you fear you could fall into an endless pit of sadness. That’s how I felt back then anyway. I’d been in that pit far too many times, so I avoided thinking about all of it, but in reality there was no way to avoid it. Christmas would come whether David was here or not.

My anticipation of our first Christmas without David brought with it one of the most loving whispers from God I have ever encountered, and I will never forget it; “You can mourn the loss of your son and still celebrate the birth of mine.”… “You can mourn the loss of your son and STILL celebrate the birth of mine.”…  it was okay for me to experience all of these conflicting emotions.

During a time when I was paralyzed with sadness God gave me this promise, an eternal perspective that I desperately needed to claim through John 3:16-17…

“For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.  God sent His Son into the world, not to judge the world, but to save the world through Him.”

I believe God was simply reminding me that through the pain and sadness I feel because my son is not here, I need to focus on His Son now more than ever… because it is Jesus’ life, His death on the cross and His resurrection that give me the assurance of where David is right now.

I’ve heard this verse so many times before, but here’s the reality of it as I read it now; David is living out this promise from God. I know that his last breath on earth was his first breath in Heaven. I also know that when I die Jesus will be there to greet me…and David will be right behind Him. I-will-see-David-again.

What’s even more amazing? The same Jesus that walks with David right now in Heaven, is the same Jesus I placed my trust in when I was 17. We both share whom we celebrate on Christmas! This has given me tremendous comfort.

Christmas 2010 was spent with family in Wisconsin. We attended Christmas Eve service at a small church in the north woods. It was hard, but as the Pastor shared the Christmas story I listened much more intently. I needed to be reminded, even though I’d heard it many times over the years. While the tears shed that night were tears of anguish, missing my David, they were also tears of joy, celebrating the birth of the One Who was born for me, died for me, and who lives in me.

I know this won’t be easy. It still hurts. Take it minute by minute. Pray and ask God to help you.

If you would like help as you grieve, GriefShare is a wonderful resource. We can’t control when our emotions will take us over during the holidays.  If this happens, excuse yourself and just take time to cry. If possible, drive separately to your family gatherings. This way you can leave early if you need to. Check out their website for more helpful suggestions.

Dear Friend,

This is sad time for a lot of people, but in the midst of your loss there is joy to be found as we celebrate the birth of Christ. It’s okay to experience anguish as you guide your heart to find joy in the Savior’s birth. I found that anguish and joy are intertwined quite often as we search for peace through our loss. I pray you will cling to the hope of Christmas as you grieve. His name is Jesus. I’m still praying for you.  See you next time.

Promises

John 3:16-17       Romans 10:9

I love the simplicity of  Luke 2:9-14 as told by Linus in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

Be Thankful. Reclaim lost joy. Repeat.

Intentionally giving thanks guides our hurting hearts forward.

The holiday season trifecta kicks off today with Thanksgiving. It’s a happy time filled with family, food and being thankful, right?  Let’s be honest, this may not be true for you. In fact, if you’ve lost someone, no matter how recent the holidays can be hard.

You may not feel like socializing with family because someone is missing and it’s hard to pretend otherwise. The elephant in the room tip toes around this fact, but elephants don’t tip toe. Just sayin. It’s hard on us and everyone else around us. They’re hurting too.

They know you’re in pain as you pass the potatoes, try to engage in conversations you’ve zoned out of, or as you grab another adult beverage. There’s nowhere to hide. You just want the day to be done, and as you drive back home, the smile you managed for the duration of the gathering slowly fades away.

Do the words “thankfulness” and “grieving” even go together? I’d say they’re opposites, but I believe these two emotions can be weaved together in a way that can help us in our suffering.

Intentionally giving thanks guides our hurting hearts forward. I know if I avoid this for long periods of time, my heart will become stagnant, preventing me from moving forward while also prolonging my healing.

I knew there were things to be thankful for after we lost David, I just didn’t want to think about them. The weight of the scale didn’t tip toward thankfulness. It tipped toward loss. How could I muster up a spirit of thankfulness, not just on this day but the remaining 364?

As I was preparing for this post, something struck me. I think it’s incredible really. The first time my husband Mike and I acknowledged thankfulness after losing David was the second night after he died. Mike held me tight that night and thanked God for “getting us through the day.” Consequent prayers were the same, “God, Thank-you for getting us through another day.”

This went on for months, and I’m so thankful (there’s that word again) that Mike was even able to do this!  Wow! We were pleading for God to help us through this nightmare while at the same time thanking Him for sustaining us while we were smack dab in the middle of it all. Weird huh?… Could God have been hearing us and answering our prayers simultaneously? It would certainly seem so. To this day, Mike still prays these words each night.

My list has slowly grown, but instead of focusing on what I don’t have, I discovered I could be thankful for what I’d been given and what I currently had to be thankful for.

I have family and friends who love me and depend on me. I smile more now. I laugh more. There was a time when I couldn’t even tap my foot to music. I can do that now. I can get lost in beautiful sunsets. It took me a while to smile and laugh every time we passed a farmer’s field with cows standing in farm ponds, but I can now. More importantly, I also need to thank to God for the 18 years we had with David, 18 precious years I will always treasure.

Look, I know this doesn’t bring our loved ones back, but little by little it does bring much-needed relief to our souls. I’ll be praying for you. Let’s do this together; Be Thankful, Reclaim lost joy. Repeat.

Check out the GriefShare website for helpful ways to cope during the holidays. https://www.griefshare.org/

 

Dear friend,

I pray you will search for things to be thankful for today and every day, even if it’s a short list. No matter. It’s a start. Thankfulness turns our pain into hope for our future. It takes our focus off what we don’t have and replaces it with what we do. It brings back the joy we thought we’d lost the day our loved one died.

Though our lives have been devastated by our loss, we can know that we know that with each day that passes we are reminded that it’s one more day God has gotten us through. Hey, this could go at the top of your list. Grab a pen. Let’s get started…

Promises

Psalm 118:24     Psalm 118:28-29

 

 

Cling to God, or run from Him?

…“Pick it up, even if you think it’s too small to make a difference right now. Open your heart and allow me to help you un-shatter your life. You are NOT alone!

I really didn’t think the latter would be an option for me, but if I’m honest I’ll admit, I contemplated it. I absolutely struggled with my faith after we lost our son, and as I desperately attempted to cope, I found myself staring at a fork in the road that would not go away. Maybe you’ve been on that road too.

We have two options here. Will we pick up our tiny mustard seed of faith and trust God with our lack thereof, or will we run in the opposite direction? I lovingly ask you this because I thought about it as I came face to face with my fork in the road.

My son was gone. I felt my faith freeze over like a Wisconsin lake in wintertime. It was just lurking there under the surface of my heart, but somehow my emotions were preventing me from chipping away at the ice to retrieve it.

My mind swarmed with raw fear. I doubted how God would be able to sustain me through this dense fog, and yet, I knew He was the only One who could help me through it.  I couldn’t prove it. I couldn’t imagine how He would do it. I just knew.

Does that even make sense? Can you relate? This is all so confusing, but ultimately this decision will change the course of our lives, not just now but when future trials come our way. We will see this familiar road many times during our lifetime.

Then it hit me…

God is there to help us pick up the pieces- if we let Him. We must have faith. God is there to feed our broken hearts with His Word-if we let Him. We must have faith. God is there to fill us with His Holy Spirit- if we would only let Him. We must have faith. He is there to love us and guide us- if only we would listen. We must have faith. 

Mark 4:30-32

“What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it?  It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”

Mustard seeds and weak faith. Who would’ve thunk it? Both would seem impossible to grow, but that’s the beauty of it; A tiny mustard seed will grow into a huge tree, and in the same way, God can take our tiny, weak faith, and grow it and strengthen it. Wow! I want this! I need this!

Mustard seeds can be found in the rubble left from a tornado’s path, a broken friendship, an addiction that seems to have taken us over and has no end, a diagnosis that came out of left field, a marriage that we fear cannot be restored, the death of a child, or fill in the blank.  Here’s the truth; If you have weak faith, keyword,weak;  you my friend have a mustard seed in your hand. What will you do with it?

I’ve been where you may find yourself today. I’ve been there more than once, and I know I’ll struggle with it in the future. But each time I read this scripture it’s as if God is whispering, “Pick it up, even if you think it’s too small to make a difference right now. Open your heart and let me help you un-shatter your life. You are NOT alone!  Have faith, have faith, have faith…”

Dear Friend

I pray you will shake off the excess dust of doubt, fear, anger, guilt, self-loathing, pride, selfishness or anything else that separates you from growing in your relationship with God, and remember the faith that brought you to the Lord to begin with. He hasn’t gone anywhere. He hasn’t changed.  I pray your faith will grow stronger, overflowing with God’s loving truths through His Word and Spirit which resides in all of us who trust Him as Savior.

See there? Yeah, over there… You may have forgotten you had any left, but you do!  Pick it up. Just pick it up…

God’s Promises

Matthew 17:20       Mark 4:30-32