Helping Hearts Hold Onto Hope

I’ve always been a bit of a cheerleader.

cheerleadere

Not THAT kind of cheerleader!

But the kind that stands alongside the road handing cups of water to the struggling stragglers in the far back of a marathon.

handing water

Because I believe in doing your best and finishing the race, even if it’s hard and even if it’s not pretty.

hobbling-runner

I also think that often the difference between giving up and giving in or going on and getting done is courage.

Not the “in your face I’m gonna fight you” courage of action movies but the quiet, everyday courage of simply carrying on when you’re tired, worn down and empty of hope.

And the thing about courage is this:  I can lend you some of mine.

That’s really what cheer leading is all about-calling courage to another heart, lending courage from the sidelines.

So many wounded hearts are walking around, barely holding onto hope, and all it takes is a few minutes, a few words, an outstretched hand, a smile, an open door or a pat on the back to strengthen their grip.

So when you see that downcast face, that defeated stooping shoulder, that exasperated mama toting three kids into the grocery store-don’t turn away.

Reach out. 

Hand a cup of kind words in the name of Jesus.

Help a heart hold onto hope.

word of encouragement is the fuel for hope

Bereaved Parents Month Post: Why Do Friends Abandon Grievers?

I wrote this a few months ago because it is an issue every grieving parent faces:  Why do friends abandon us?

Truth be told, many of us abandoned others prior to our own bereavement for some of the same reasons.

It is really hard to hang in and hang on when a friend is going through such a hard time.  Understanding why my friends might pull away helps me extend grace.  ❤

It happens in all kinds of ways.  One friend just slowly backs off from liking posts on Facebook, waves at a distance from across the sanctuary, stops texting to check up on me.

Another observes complete radio silence as soon as she walks away from the graveside. 

Still another hangs in for a few weeks-calls, texts, even invites me to lunch until I can see in her eyes that my lack of “progress” is making her uneasy.  Then she, too, falls off the grid.

Why do people do that? 

Read the rest here:  Why Friends Abandon Grievers

What Does it Mean to “Support” Someone?

Thank God for ADA requirements!

It wasn’t that many years ago when automatic doors were hard to find in places where they most certainly would have been helpful.

I remember approaching doors, arms full of bags and each hand grasping a child, hoping, hoping, hoping some nice person would be there to open it for me.

Many times there was.

Sometimes all I got was a glare and a sidestep from an empty-armed, able-bodied person.

I would manage to push the door open with my elbow but inside I was seething.

“Really?  Really!!  What makes you think getting out of the way is the same as opening the door?” 

(Thank goodness my thoughts are not displayed on an overhead sign! 🙂 )

In this Valley, I’ve discovered there is an emotional counterpart to the woman or fellow who refuses to actively help an overwhelmed mama.

There are those who see the burden I’m carrying and simply step aside.

I guess their rationale is that by not adding to the weight of my load, they somehow make it lighter. 

But it doesn’t work that way.  

As a matter of fact, knowing that my pain is seen but ignored is so much harder than thinking I’m just invisible.

Support means:

1. bear all or part of the weight of; hold up. 

2.  give assistance to; enable to function or act.

Support is going to cost you something.  It’s going to require action, time, energy, effort, commitment and resources. 

when the world whispers give up

I know it’s hard. 

Life is hard.  

But active, compassionate companionship is what knits hearts together no matter what struggle they are facing.  

And hearts that are bound by shared struggle and love are the strongest of all.  

friends uplift the soul little girl

 

 

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

What Can I DO? Start by Showing Up.

This weekend another family joined the ranks of the bereaved. 

A beloved son left for heaven in a car accident.

The mama’s best friend messaged to ask what she could do to help this newly broken heart.

It made me dig deep in my memories for who did what in those first hours, first days and how it made a difference in our family’s ability to hold onto hope and to stumble forward in the heavy fog of grief, pain and sorrow that enveloped our hearts.

My friend was already committed to showing up and sitting silently and  lovingly with this child’s mother. I didn’t have to remind her of the power of compassionate companionship.

She was going. 

She was staying as long as it was helpful and necessary.

She was coming back as many times as needed.

And that is a gift!

love is courage

I remember the morning I got the news and as the sun was coming up, a truck pulled down our lane.  It was Robbie-our “adopted” son.  As soon as my oldest son (who was in WV at the time) got the call, he called Robbie.  Because he knew I would be able to bear Robbie’s presence and accept Robbie’s help.  I cannot describe the relief I felt when he came to the door-another shoulder to help carry this burden until we could gather all our family together to lift it in unison.

And after him came a couple we had known since the kids were little. 

Both rushed to our doorstep to offer companionship, practical aid, listening ears and simple reassurance that though this was NOT a dream-oh, how I wanted it to be a dream!I was not going to walk this Valley alone.  They stayed until my husband, son and parents had made it here.  I will never, ever, ever forget that gift of unconditional love and time offered just when I needed it most.

Others came.  Some did practical things, brought necessary items, helped me begin to think through next steps.  But many just sat with me and my children as we waited for my husband to fly in and my parents to drive up.

I cannot overstate how important SIMPLY BEING THERE was!

Thinking back on that time, I dug up some other very practical “first few days” things friends and family can do:

  • Bring disposable plates, cutlery and plenty of paper goods (toilet paper, kleenex, napkins) along with extra trash bags.
  • Place a notebook and pens near the spot folks might drop off meals or other things and ask that they write their names and what they brought inside.  My daughter did this for me and while I was often unable to acknowledge it at the time (or unaware of the blessing) I had a record that is dear to me still.
  • Set up an online meal planning/scheduling group. Make sure to note allergies or special food needs because while it’s wonderful to have food provided, it’s not helpful if the family can’t eat it because of dietary restrictions.
  • If there are unwashed clothes belonging to the childDO NOTwash them in an attempt to help out.  It may sound awful to anyone who has not buried a child, but nearly every mom I know wanted something with her child’s scent still on it.  I have a few things of Dom’s that are in a sealed plastic bag.  Every so often I open it and inhale what’s left of his fragrance.  Smell is such a powerful memory stimulant.
  • Begin to collect photographs from online sources, friends and family so that there will be many to choose from if the family wants to make a video for services.
  • Bring disposable Lysol wipes or something similar for quick clean ups in bathrooms and the kitchen.  Discreetly tidy up whenever possible or necessary.
  • Do NOT move papers, piles of mail, etc. without the family’s permission.  It may seem like a good idea at the time to make things neat for visitors, but it will be a nightmare later!  My brain is nearly empty of details for most of the first month after Dominic left us.  I depended on routine and familiar spots to remember where important items might be for the first year.  If something had been moved, I could not locate it, no matter how hard I tried.  If somethingHAS to be moved, place it in a box-clearly labeled-and attach a prominent note on the refrigerator or someplace like that indicating where it is.
  • Just sit and listen.  Or just sit in silence.  Whatever is most helpful to the bereaved parents and their family. Loving presence kept me anchored to this world when all I wanted to do was float away somewhere the pain couldn’t find me.

Compassionate companionship makes the difference between a heart holding onto hope or letting go and falling into the abyss.

Trust me.

I know.

love is not what you say it is what you do pooh

Why Friends Abandon Grievers

It happens in all kinds of ways.  One friend just slowly backs off from liking posts on Facebook, waves at a distance from across the sanctuary, stops texting to check up on me.

Another observes complete radio silence as soon as she walks away from the graveside. 

Still another hangs in for a few weeks-calls, texts, even invites me to lunch until I can see in her eyes that my lack of “progress” is making her uneasy.  Then she, too, falls off the grid.

Why do people do that? 

Why is it, when we need them most, many friends-and I mean really, truly FRIENDSjust can’t hang in and hold on?

I admit in the early days I didn’t care WHY they did it. 

It broke my heart and enraged me all at the same time.  I felt abandoned, judged, forgotten, pressured to conform to some unwritten standard of how I was “supposed” to do grief and utterly, completely forsaken.

It took me months to begin to even consider their perspective and years to come to a place where I could forgive them.

butterfly away from hand

Here’s what I’ve figured out this side of devastating, overwhelming, heart-shattering pain about why some friends run away:

  • I represent their greatest fear.  I am a billboard for loss.  My life screams, “We are NOT in control!” And that is scary.  Most folks run away from scary if they can.
  • I remind them that faith is a living thing, tender and vulnerable to trials and testing.  We love to tout Sunday School answers that follow like the tag lines on Aesop’s fables when asked about anything to do with Jesus or how God works in the world.  But it’s just not that simple.  The Bible is full (FULL!) of untidy stories where even the giants of faith got it wrong for a season.  I think people are afraid that if they follow me down the rabbit hole of questions they might never come back out.  Better to stand outside and hope I emerge safe and sound without risking themselves.
  • My situation is messy and they don’t want to get involved.  I will need ongoing, intense investments of emotional energy and time. Who knows where it might lead?  Who knows how many hours might have to be given to come alongside and support someone whose journey looks more like slogging through a swamp than a walk in the park?  These folks are just not going to risk entanglement.
  • Some friends and family are genuinely afraid of doing harm.  They feel my pain so deeply that they are frozen, unable to do or say anything because they fear they will make things worse.  These are the hearts most easy to forgive and the ones most likely to jump back in when I assure them they cannot make it worse but their support can make it better.
  • Some people were going to disappear anyway.  We don’t like to admit it but many friendships are only for a season-we go to the same church, live in the same neighborhood, our kids go to the same school-and as soon as circumstances change these people fade away.  Well, circumstances certainly changed!  They leave because our differences outweigh our similarities and it requires too much effort to maintain the friendship.

Understanding why people run away has helped my heart. 

It doesn’t undo the pain inflicted by abandonment of those I felt sure would stay close by my side, but it puts it in perspective.

Truth is, I’m not sure how many people I would have stalwartly supported for the long haul either before Dominic ran ahead to heaven.  

None of us possess infinite emotional, mental, physical and relational resources.  It’s only natural that we portion them out according to our own priorities-even when that means abandoning friends who really need us.

Rehearsing offense only ties me in knots. 

It changes nothing.

I have limits as well. 

Forgiving those that chose to walk away frees me to use my resources in more fruitful ways that help me heal.  

forgiveness_is_the_fragrance_that_the_violet_sheds_on_the_heel_that_has_crushed_it-385646

Different is Just Different

We all have at least one.

That friend or family member who knows the “right” way to do EVERYTHING.

And they cannot tolerate any one else’s method or opinion or idea if it doesn’t mesh with theirs.

He or she is often very good at what they do.  But the problem arises when being good at SOME things is interpreted as being good at EVERYTHING.

No one is good at everything.

Including me.

It has been a steep learning curve (and 54 years!) for this “A” student to figure out that my way is not always the best way.  My viewpoint is not always the right one.

I have a log in my eye as big as the log in the next person’s and I am just as incapable of pulling it out on my own as they are.

Truth is, different is just different.  It’s not better or worse.

You may be a night owl.  I am an early bird.

You may need to dirty every dish in the kitchen to make that favorite recipe.  I like to minimize mess and clean as I go.

Are you a social butterfly?  I’m almost a hermit.

I’m often judgmental about other people’s methods and choices when they are not the ones I would use or make. 

I need to stop doing that.

God made each one of us for His purpose in the world and for His purpose in the Body.

How very boring and awful if we were all made alike!

When I’m tempted to forget, I remind my heart with this verse:

For we are His workmanship [His own master work, a work of art], created in Christ Jesus [reborn from above—spiritually transformed, renewed, ready to be used] for good works, which God prepared [for us] beforehand [taking paths which He set], so that we would walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us].

Ephesians 2:10 AMP

God has work that He planned JUST FOR ME.  And He has work that He planned JUST FOR YOU. 

You can’t do mine and I can’t do yours.

So let’s appreciate our differences and make room for one another to walk the path God has made for each of us.