Holidays: I Need Grace From Friends and Family

I think the most helpful post I’ve ever shared is this one.

So as a follow-up to yesterday’s thoughts about the holidays I’m sharing it again.

I hope that you feel confident sharing it with your family and friends as an invitation to conversation and as a bulwark against unrealistic expectations.

Holidays are hard no matter how long it’s been.

❤ Melanie

I know it is hard.  I know you don’t truly understand how I feel.  You can’t.  It wasn’t your child.

I know I may look and act like I’m “better”.  I know that you would love for things to be like they were:  BEFORE.  But they aren’t.

I know my grief interferes with your plans.  I know it is uncomfortable to make changes in traditions we have observed for years.  But I can’t help it I didn’t ask for this to be my life.

Read the rest here: Grief and Holidays: What the Bereaved Need From Friends and Family

So…Yeah, The Holidays.

I will confess: I’m no better at this than the first set of holidays after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.

Every. Single. Year. has brought changes and challenges on top of the empty chair round the family table.

Since Dominic left us we’ve had additions (a grandchild and various significant others) and sadly, more subtractions (my mother joined Dom in 2019). We’ve dealt with distance, deployment, healthcare and retail work schedules, a pandemic and lots of other, less easily defined tensions and difficulties.

When I ran across this quote awhile back my heart screamed, “YES!!!”

Gathering an entire family (which may include teens and young adults) for any extended length of time is a feat of scheduling, negotiation, and preference management. International treaties have been worked out in fewer steps. The sheer number of details that have to line up is mind-boggling.

Elizabeth Spencer

There are the absolute parameters forced upon any family by distance and availability. Negotiating THOSE is truly a feat.

But when your family story includes profound loss, a mama often has additional hoops to jump through. Surviving siblings bring their own grief to the table and what that looks like can change over time. So something that worked one year might be rejected this season.

I wish I had some magical insight that could guide every wounded heart through these next, treacherous months.

I don’t.

What I can tell you is that it’s better to start earlier rather than later. Nothing falls into place without some planning. Old habits are hard to break and traditions are well-worn habits so don’t expect anyone to give them up easily.

No one can read your mind (are YOU telepathic?). Tell your friends and family what you need (even if it is that you have NO idea what you need!).

And then make space in your celebrations for times when you can grieve the absence of your child. It may be a shared moment or it may be you remember in solitude.

If you have surviving children, remember they are grieving too. They have lost a sibling, their innocence regarding death’s ability to steal even the young and the family they once knew.

Extend grace to others when you can.

Extend grace to yourself when you must.

Be honest and do the best you can.

Then remember that even these days are only twenty-four hours long. They will pass.

The sun will rise and you will, undoubtedly find out you survived.

Empty Hearts Can Be Filled

I don’t know about you but I’ve never thought of hopelessness as something I wanted on my resume.

Hopelessness is typically tossed into the pile of “negative” feelings we all acknowledge but don’t want to experience and if we do, we try to minimize, rationalize or disguise them.

If I admit to it at all, I tend to look downward, whisper quickly and pray that no one takes much notice because it feels shameful.

But maybe hopelessness is the first step to truly celebrating Christmas.

Read the rest here: Qualified by Hopelessness: An Empty Heart Can Be Filled

Advent: Right On Time

I admit it-patience is not my strong suit.

I’m a person of action rather than deliberation.

Sometimes that gets me into trouble. Almost always it makes me intolerant of delays.

So I have to be very, very careful not to apply my impatience to God’s timing.

I’m pretty sure Israel was getting tired of looking here, there and everywhere for Messiah. I’m almost certain some folks felt abandoned and forgotten. It had been centuries since the last prophet spoke truth to God’s people. And another despot now ruled over the Jews.

Yet God was not late in fulfilling His promise, He was right on time.

But when that era came to an end and the time of fulfillment had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman,[a] born under the written law.[b] Yet all of this was so that he would redeem and set free all those held hostage to the written law so that we would receive our freedom and a full legal adoption as his children.

And so that we would know for sure that we are his true children, God released the Spirit of Sonship into our hearts—moving us to cry out intimately, “My Father![c] You’re our true Father!”

Now we’re no longer living like slaves under the law, but we enjoy being God’s very own sons and daughters! And because we’re his, we can access everything our Father has—for we are heirs of God through Jesus, the Messiah!

Galatians 4: 4-7 TPT

Of course, for those trapped in time, it was hard to wait for and maybe hard to understand how perfectly every little detail came together surrounding the birth, ministry and sacrifice of Jesus.

I’ve touched before on how the census brought Mary, Joseph and Jesus to Bethlehem.

Local synagogues, teachers of the Law and a well-organized system of worship and education guaranteed Jewish males knew what God required and (if at all desirous of pleasing Him) recognized the chasm between personal holiness and that of the Lord. The whole Sermon on the Mount was about pointing out the impossibility of meeting the Law’s requirements.

It’s hard to appreciate freedom if you’ve never known bondage.

Jesus preached freedom from the Law through His perfect and final sacrifice.

That was welcome news to hurting hearts.

Galatians 5:1 — Verse of the Day for 07/04/2017

I can tell you that I was never more thankful for the truth of the Gospel than when I learned Dominic left this physical plane and entered Heaven.

I was desperate for my Abba Father to assure my heart of His love, His Presence and His provision.

I’m so, so grateful that I don’t have to wonder if Dominic “measured up” because God wasn’t measuring my son. When Dom trusted in the finished work of Jesus Christ, he was no longer a slave to the Law. He was free from the penalty of sin and the sting of death.

The Father looks at Dominic and sees the righteousness of Jesus.

My son is clothed with His Son.

Now it’s still hard for me to wait for the final unveiling of what God is crafting from my sorrow.

But I’m absolutely, positively certain it will be glorious.

And I can rest assured that the revelation won’t be early or late-it will be right on time.

QUESTIONS:

  • Have you ever considered the historical context of Jesus’ birth? It was a unique point in human civilization. Roman rule meant that there was a (nearly) universal language. The empire built and maintained roads that connected most of the then-known world. Even Roman persecution of Christians aided the spread of the Gospel. Can you think of other ways this was the “right time” politically?
  • The Babylonian captivity spurred Jewish religious leaders to codify and expand details of the Law. By the time of Jesus’ birth, the Pharisees and Sadducees had, in many ways, made a “god” of the Law itself. Jesus rebuked them over and over during His public ministry. His death, burial and resurrection satisfied the Law’s requirements and opened Heaven’s doors. Have you received the free gift of eternal salvation through Jesus? Has someone or some experience made you doubt that you are clothed in His righteousness?
  • Not all of us have (or had) a good relationship with our earthly father. But most of us have an ideal in mind of what a daddy should be. When Paul said we have the right to call God “Abba” it was a radical idea for the time. Jews tended to think of God as distant, separate, unreachable and definitely NOT “daddy”. How does it make you feel to know God IS your Father? Can you (do you) come to Him with outstretched arms? What do you expect if/when you do?
  • Are you ever impatient waiting for God to answer? Does the Christmas story, with all the perfectly timed and perfectly positioned events encourage patience?

PRAYER:

Father God,

Thank You for sending Jesus at just the right time. Thank You for preparing a people, a world and hearts for the Good News. Thank You that because I’ve trusted in Christ, I CAN call You “Daddy”.

I admit that even though my heart rests in Yours I can be awfully impatient. It’s hard to wait.

Help me recount and recite Your past faithfulness so that I’ll be more inclined toward patient waiting.

The Christmas story is a perfect example of how You work all things together to accomplish your purpose and to bring You glory.

Grant grace and courage as I count the days until every promise is fulfilled and my faith is made sight.

Amen

The Christmas Story is Messy and So Is Mine

It’s tempting to line up our friends and acquaintances in columns under headings of “perfect family”, “good christian”, “struggling addict” or “hopeless case”.  

When I label someone I justify my response-good or bad-and let myself off the hook for sharing the extravagant, unrestrained love God has shown to me.

The longer I live, the more people I meet, the more certain I am that the neat little categories we like to use are not very helpful.

If I decide they are “doing well” then they don’t need my help.

And if I decide they are “beyond hope” then why waste my time or effort?

Either way, I’m wrong.

Christmas is the story of God come down-Emmanuel-of Love reaching down into a dark and lonely world. It was hardly tidy, it was a Messy Christmas

Christmas 2020: 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.

Read the rest here: Why I Still Put Up a Christmas Tree

Advent: Extravagant Worship

I don’t know what the wise men expected to see.

It seems natural to us who know the story–who know the REST of the story–that they ended up finding Jesus-The King of the Jews-the One whose birth was announced by a star in a humble abode.

But I think it might have surprised those rich rulers traveling so far to worship Him.

They were asking around to find a king and found out no one else (even the current king!) seemed to know anything about it.

 1-2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem village, Judah territory— this was during Herod’s kingship—a band of scholars arrived in Jerusalem from the East. They asked around, “Where can we find and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern sky that signaled his birth. We’re on pilgrimage to worship him.”

3-4 When word of their inquiry got to Herod, he was terrified—and not Herod alone, but most of Jerusalem as well. Herod lost no time. He gathered all the high priests and religion scholars in the city together and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

5-6 They told him, “Bethlehem, Judah territory. The prophet Micah wrote it plainly:

It’s you, Bethlehem, in Judah’s land,
    no longer bringing up the rear.
From you will come the leader
    who will shepherd-rule my people, my Israel.”

7-8 Herod then arranged a secret meeting with the scholars from the East. Pretending to be as devout as they were, he got them to tell him exactly when the birth-announcement star appeared. Then he told them the prophecy about Bethlehem, and said, “Go find this child. Leave no stone unturned. As soon as you find him, send word and I’ll join you at once in your worship.”

9-10 Instructed by the king, they set off. Then the star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies. It led them on until it hovered over the place of the child. They could hardly contain themselves: They were in the right place! They had arrived at the right time!

11 They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary, his mother. Overcome, they kneeled and worshiped him. Then they opened their luggage and presented gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh.

12 In a dream, they were warned not to report back to Herod. So they worked out another route, left the territory without being seen, and returned to their own country.

Matthew 2:1-12 MSG

In their experience, future kings were born in palaces, surrounded by servants. Such births were announced and trumpeted loud and long.

So when they found this little child with poor parents in a poor house, perhaps they thought they were mistaken.

We don’t know because Scripture is silent on this point.

What we do know is that they offered the gifts they brought, they worshiped the One they had traveled long to see.

They undertook a treacherous and costly journey for the purpose of worship.

True worship is expensive.

To raise my voice and my hands after losing Dominic is hard. It requires that I trust God regardless of my circumstances.

It means I lay my treasure at His feet even when I don’t understand why or how He intends to use it.

But worship inclines my heart to the God Who made it.

Just like the star led the wise men, worship leads me to the feet of Jesus.

And there is where I can safely leave my treasure.

QUESTIONS:

  • Many scholars think that the wise men were from Persia-the same area Daniel and his friends were taken. It’s believed that Hebrew Scripture and knowledge were added to the amazing library kept there. So while the wise men most probably weren’t “believers” they were most definitely “seekers”. This story encourages my heart on many levels. Are you encouraged by God’s redemption of Daniel’s hardship and heartache? Why or why not?
  • It’s difficult for us to understand how expensive and dangerous the trip was for these men. Obviously their desire to find this newborn King was compelling. Do you think you would/could risk as much to worship Jesus?
  • Herod was a very wicked and ruthless man. He wasn’t interested in worshiping the Christ, he wanted to eliminate the competition (that’s why he had all the male children under 2 years of age murdered). Do you ever despair over injustice in the world? Do you ever wonder why it seems God intervenes sometimes and not other times (I do!)?
  • It’s folklore to say there were three wise men but we have no idea. There were three named gifts, though. Gold-traditional gift for a King; Frankincense-offered by priests in worship; and Myrhh-used as a healing poultice and also to embalm bodies. Consider how these gifts from pagan travelers emphasize the offices Jesus came to fulfill. Can you personalize His role of King, High Priest and Healer/Sacrificial Lamb?
  • I have to choose daily to offer up the sacrifice of praise. Some days it’s easier than others. How do you help your heart turn toward the Lord in spite of disappointment, pain and sorrow?

PRAYER:

Father God,

You gave everything so that true worship is possible. You have made a way where there was no way. The veil is torn. I can come boldly before the Throne of Grace without fear. Thank You.

Sometimes I don’t want to bring my offering to You. I’m hurt, confused, angry even. I want answers to questions and it seems the cost is too great.

Forgive me for holding back.

Help me be as fearless as the wise men who risked a dangerous and expensive journey to worship Jesus. Give me strength to bring all I am and all I have to lay at the feet of Christ.

Only You are worthy of worship. Only You are worthy of praise. May my words and my life always point others to You.

Amen

Christmas 2020: What The Bereaved Need From Friends & Family

Dominic left us in April, 2014.

At the time all I could manage (barely!) was the twenty-four hours of each long, lonely and pain-wracked day.

After six-plus years I’ve learned to look ahead, plan ahead and forge ahead to birthdays, holidays, special days and not-so-special days.

But it takes a great deal of effort and often uncomfortable conversations because no matter how long it’s been, I’m still dragging loss and its after affects behind me.

I wrote this in 2016 when I was desperate to communicate how hard it is to try to marry joy and sorrow, celebration and commemoration, light, love, life and darkness, grief and death.

It remains (I think) my most useful post: Grief and Holidays: What the Bereaved Need From Friends and Family

Advent: Ponder and Praise

The nativity story is full of contrasts.

Old Elizabeth, young Mary-both bearing sons. Zechariah’s doubts, a young maid’s submission-he was supposed to understand God through study and practice, she was the ignorant one yet trusted.

Priests within a Sabbath walk from the manger slept on unaware that God had broken forth into their world while outcast shepherds got a personalized and most glorious birth announcement writ large across the sky.

Perhaps the most poignant contrast of all is a tired young mother pondering quietly what this might mean for her and her newborn Son and shepherds telling everyone they meet what they saw and praising God for giving them the privilege.

Mary, too, pondered all of these events, treasuring each memory in her heart.

20 The shepherds returned to their flocks, praising God for all they had seen and heard, and they glorified God for the way the experience had unfolded just as the heavenly messenger had predicted.

Luke 2:19-20 VOICE

My heart beats with Mary’s. She knew and understood part of what was going on but had no way to anticipate or comprehend precisely what it meant to be the mother of Messiah.

She pondered the shepherds’ visit and their story.

I’ve pondered too.

“Ponder” means “think about (something) carefully, especially before making a decision or reaching a conclusion.” (Oxford Dictionary, online).

What we don't know about Mary and Joseph - Under His Wings

When Dominic was killed I dragged everything I thought I knew about God and how He worked in the world into the glaring light of child loss. I examined and turned it over. I compared my notions with Scripture and with my ongoing experience.

I was forced to make a decision.

I had to reach a conclusion: Was God who He said He was or was this all a made up, feel good story I told myself? Is the Bible true? Is Jesus real? Was His sacrifice sufficient and does it guarantee eternal life?

After long and careful thought I decided that my Heavenly Father was faithful, His character is trustworthy, every promise He made is “yes” and “amen” in Christ.

I imagine Mary had many moments when she wondered what God was doing in and through her. I suspect she had her doubts.

I think often of the ultimate pain and horror she endured at the crucifixion.

But she held on.

She believed.

And the Lord called her blessed.

I am holding on to truth and hope with both hands.

Sometimes my faith wears thin.

But I know, know, know that my Father is trustworthy.

QUESTIONS:

  • We really don’t know how much Mary understood about what was happening in and through her. Gabriel visited her, yes, but even his message wasn’t comprehensive. Have you ever thought about what or how much Mary knew? Does it give you courage to trust God as things unfold in your own life?
  • How has child loss impacted your faith?
  • The shepherds praised the Lord because everything the angel told them was accurate. Has your personal experience affirmed the truth of Scripture?
  • Can you find reasons to praise the Lord even here, even now?

PRAYER:

Father God,

You are the Almighty God, the King of the Universe, Creator and Sustainer of life. You know the end from the beginning. You are working all things for my ultimate good and for Your glory.

But it’s hard to walk along a path when I can’t see far ahead. Sometimes it’s a struggle to trust and not be afraid. I do ponder things in my heart. I want to make sense of what You are doing (at least what I think You are doing) and what I’m feeling.

Help me lean into your truth, to trust your heart even when I can’t trace your hand. I believe, help my unbelief!

Thank You for every evidence that points my heart in the right direction. Thank You for showing me more of yourself. Teach me to praise You for all You are and not only all You do.

Amen

Another Christmas: 25 Practical Ways to Give Holiday Hope to the Grieving


This is the seventh Christmas without Dominic. There really are no words to describe the intersection of holiday cheer and another milestone in this journey of child loss.

I’m not sad all the time-far from it. Often I am very, very happy.

But I will never stop missing him, missing the family we used to be and missing our blissful ignorance of how quickly and utterly life can change in an instant.

And I will never outgrow the need to have others remember him as well, to encourage my heart and the hearts of my family members and to help us make it through another year, another Christmas.

Here are some great ways to do it:  25 Ways to Give Holiday Hope to the Grieving