The Healing Power of Fellowship

I spent last weekend with eleven other bereaved moms.

And lest you think, “How sad!”, let me just tell you we had a beautiful time together.

Sure there were tears-how can there not be when talking about the precious children we miss-but there was fun too.

Of course we had somber moments. 

Especially as we lit candles in honor of each child whose light lives on even as their physical presence is denied us.

anchor retreat lit candle

In between Bible study sessions we ate, talked, walked outside and got to know one another.

A game of “Two Truths and a Lie” revealed all kinds of surprises that had us practically falling off our chairs with uproarious laughter.

Even though most of us had never met before, knowing we shared the heartache of child loss drew us together and opened the door to meaningful conversation.

anchor retreat hope

For 72 hours we didn’t have to put our masks on or walk with one foot in the world of the spared and one foot in the world of the deeply wounded. 

We were free-gloriously free-to be real and unguarded.

One of the fun things we did was have a Mary Kay consultant come and do facials and makeup.  I think we kind of shocked her when she went around the circle asking, “So what are you primary make up concerns?” and over half of us said, “I don’t wear make up.”

Poor woman.

anchor retreat mary kay lady (2)

She had no idea that we had long passed the point of faking feelings or saying what someone expects just because they expect it.

I know it was a stretch for some of the moms to make their way to this place they’d never been to and walk into a room full of women they’d never met.

It was a stretch for me to facilitate discussions when I felt I had reached my limit for anything besides staying home for the rest of this year.

But it was worth it.

There is nothing as beautiful as broken hearts gathering together to love, uplift, encourage and listen to one another.

If you have the opportunity and are afraid, please step out. 

Take a chance and link arms with fellow grievers.

I promise you will be glad you did.

circle-of-women

 

Life Is Hard: Speak Courage To Struggling Hearts

We all know those folks-the ones who have a kind word, quick smile and warm hug for everyone they meet.

And we all know the other type-the ones that suck the oxygen out of the room when they walk in and effectively dim any spark of hope a heart might be trying to fan into flame.

I want to be the former, not the latter.  

I want to be a light bearer, not a candle snuffer.  

In fact,  this has become my anthem since Dominic left for Heaven. I cannot bear to think I’m heaping weight onto an already burdened soul.

A smile, a kind word, an outstretched hand may be exactly what a hurting heart needs that minute to keep holding onto hope.

And how many of us are just about to let go at any given minute?

So much of the New Testament is about perseverance. Who needs to persevere if life is full of rainbows and unicorns?

No.

Perseverance is needed for trial and hardship.   

My guess is that if you’re reading this, you know about both. 

So I pray that the Lord will send someone each day to encourage YOUR heart.  

And, being strengthened yourself, you will pass it on.  

Life is hard. Most of the time I wanted a participation ribbon just for living through another day. We don’t give each other enough credit for hanging in there during tough times, and we often criticize more than we comfort. Can you imagine what our world would look like if we spent more time encouraging people who are making it against all odds instead of criticizing them?

Paul told us to ‘encourage one another and build each other up’ (1 Thessalonians 5:11). … While God in His infinite wisdom and timing does choose to deliver some of us quickly, many of us spend years persevering before we find freedom and healing for our wounds.

~Esther Fleece, No More Faking Fine

If You Can’t Say Anything Nice….

There may be some mamas that don’t drill this into their children but if there are, they don’t live south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Every time there was back and forth in the back seat or on the front porch and Mama overheard, we were told, “If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.”

Parents weren’t interested in policing every errant word out of the under 18 crowd’s mouth back in the day.

It was a simple (and effective!) rule:  If what you want to say does not meet the criteria of T.H.I.N. K. (true, helpful, inspiring, necessary, kind) then

just.

don’t.

say.

it.

THINK ACRONYM

I wish grown-ups would follow the same advice. 

Especially when it comes to offering up “helpful hints” to broken hearts.

In that instance it is rarely a case of another person aiming to be ugly or to hurt someone, but words are not neutral and they do hurt when tossed out carelessly by people who really just don’t understand another person’s pain.

So, for those who are tempted to fill empty spaces with empty words, may I help you apply the T.H.I.N.K acronym to the kinds of situations more likely to face us as adults?

T-Is it true?  You may think that giving out a Bible verse would automatically mean you were safe on this count.  Yes.  God’s Word is truth.  But how we use it and whether or not we understand the context can make a particular application of God’s Word UNTRUE.  And even if we get the context right, hammering a heart with a Bible verse may not be helpful.  You are not the Holy Spirit.  Let Him breathe truth gently into a wounded heart.

H-Is it helpful? This is tricky because sometimes what is helpful for one person is unhelpful for another.  I try to use this as my litmus test:  When have I ever been distraught and helped by someone pointing out the obvious? Or laying out a plan of action (when they don’t have access to the full picture)? Or reminding me that “all things work together for good” when right now all things really stink?  If there is any doubt about whether or not what I say will be helpful, I swallow my words.

I-Is it inspirational?  The word, “inspire” has roots in the the idea of breathing into someone or something.  Will my comment put wind in a person’s sails?  Will it breathe courage into his or her heart?  Will it lift them up and help them hold onto hope?  Is it the equivalent of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation or am I instead sucking what little breath they have left out of their body?

N-Is it necessary?  This single criteria helps me hold my tongue so many times.  I might think of lots of things but is is necessary for me to speak them?  Am I warning someone of impending danger or am I just trying to make myself sound wise or insisting on making a point?  To be honest, very few things I have to say are necessary. Most of the time a hand on the shoulder, a hug, a smile, a friendly nod are the only thing someone really needs.

K-Is it kind?  The word kind comes from the same root as “kin”-which means family.  Is what I’m going to say something I’d want someone to say to me or my close family?  Am I treating (with my words) this person they way I want to be treated?  The Golden Rule, rules.

I can’t claim to always follow my own good advice.

But when I do, I find that I am building people up, not tearing them down.

There’s enough tearing down in the world.

I want to speak light and life.

a candle loses nothing by lighting another candle

Defiant Faith

Defiant faith scorns circumstances, obstacles, and impossibilities. This brand of faith challenges the fiends of hell to hurl their fiery darts, and when diabolical schemes seem to triumph, faith exclaims to God, ‘My times are in your hands’ (Psalm 31:15). It is that tenacious, unyielding trust in God that leads troubled hearts into immortal hopes. One’s sorrowful condition becomes the platform upon which the strength, wisdom, and beauty of God is revealed to a darkened world. Therein lies the consolation and power of the Almighty God.

~James Means, A Tearful Celebration

Just think-when our hearts hang onto hope in this Valley of the Shadow of Death, we are taking back territory from the enemy of our souls.

We are shedding light and spreading salt.

What a powerful testimony to the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. 

For every child of God defeats this evil world by trusting Christ to give the victory. And the ones who win this battle against the world are the ones who believe that Jesus is the Son Of God.
~1 John 5:4-5

learned to kiss the waves

 

When You Think You Can’t Hold On

So many ways to be reminded of how hard it is to hold on in these days and weeks around Christmas.

If your heart is barely able to beat, the pressure to be “hap-hap-happy” can send you over the edge.

If your home is empty of cheerful voices, the constant barrage of commercials touting family togetherness can leave you feeling oh, so lonely.

Early sunsets and darker nights send feel-good hormones flying and leave a body aching for just a little relief from anxious and depressing thoughts.

SadGirlBeach

When you think you can’t hold on, let go.  

Let go of expectations-yours and other people’s.

Let go of traditions that no longer serve your heart or draw you closer to the Babe in the manger.

Let go of tons of baking or cooking or entertaining with perfect centerpieces and fragile china.

Let go of blasting Christmas music through the house.

Let go of shopping for the perfect gift or mailing all those cards.

candle and hand

Be still.

Light a candle in the darkness.

Sit quietly and see how even the faintest light can chase away the black of night.

And then hold your empty hands out to the God Who made you, the God Who loves you, the God Who longs to draw you to His heart and let Him fill you with hope.  

jesus-the-heart-of-christmas

There IS hope.

He came in the form of a Baby-weak and vulnerable just like us.

He KNOWS our pain.

He is not impressed with our busyness or our decorations or our presents piled high beneath the tree.  

He sees the heart.  He looks with mercy on a broken heart.  He is the Healer of hearts. 

He longs to heal yours.  

heals the broken hearted

 

 

Why I Still Put Up a Christmas Tree

It’s a question every hurting heart has to answer if you celebrate a traditional western Christmas:  Will I put up a tree this year?

christmas-tree-melanie-edited

I had a few months of lonely travel through the Valley of the Shadow of Death before I had to answer that one.

Dominic left us at Easter, so by December I had learned that wishing didn’t make anything better nor did it make decisions disappear.

As Christmas drew near, I just could not bring down the usual decorations from the attic.

So I didn’t.

Instead of trying to work up the courage to dig through boxes and decide what I could or could not bear to see that first year, I bought a new, small tree and put it atop the table in the living room.

How do you arrange pieces of happy memories in a world where everything has changed? How do you touch bits of who you used to be when you have no idea who you are right now?

I decided that even if I didn’t put one other decoration on it, I would have the company of sparkling lights in the darkness of winter evenings.

The lights remind me that the night has limits.

Their tiny twinkling helps me remember that even a small bit of hope is enough to hold on to.

merry-christmas-tree

This is the fourth Christmas since Dominic ran ahead to heaven and it is just as hard as the first one. 

Each year there are additional challenges and additional heartaches on top of the giant one I carry every day.  I’ve found that these years since he left I don’t do well with a lot of the trappings surrounding Christmas.

But what my heart holds onto is the promise of Christmas:

That the Baby became the Man and the Man was Messiah.

I light the lights because they remind me that darkness has limits.

I declare by my defiant act of celebration in the midst of heartache that one day every hard thing, every sad thing and every broken thing will be redeemed and restored.

My prayer for all the hurting hearts this year is that God will make His love real to you in ways you neither expect nor could imagine.

May you find some symbol this season that speaks courage and gives you strength to endure. 

And may the promise of Christmas give you hope, even in the darkest night.  

jesus-christmas

 

 

 

Choosing to Be a Lighthouse

There are two ways to deal with the scars pain leaves behind: try to cover them up or display them boldly.

Hiding seems the easier way so many times-because the scars are tender and the last thing I want is to invite more pain.  But it takes great effort and is rarely successful.

The edges peek out here and there and then I’m left awkwardly trying to explain how I got them and what they mean.

If I refuse to hide my scars and instead lay them open to the world, I am vulnerable, true. But I am also in a position to help others who are suffering the same pain that etched those scars in my heart.

business-authenticity

 

 

So I choose not to hide.  

I choose to be a lighthouse.  

 

 

Not because I think I can steer others clear of the rocks of loss and sorrow, but because I want them to know they are not alone.

the scars you share become lighthouses