25 Ways to Give Holiday Hope to the Grieving

This will be the fourth Christmas without Dominic.

I’m certain that for some of my family and many of my friends, they are less and less aware of his absence.  That’s completely natural and understandable.  

But for me, his absence looms just as large THIS Christmas as it did that FIRST Christmas.

Even if you do realize how hard it is for grievers during the holidays, you might not have any idea how to show you care.

I came across this list originally published Family Life Today that gives 25 ideas to give holiday hope to the grieving and wanted to share it because I think it is wonderful.

I can promise you that any hurting heart would be delighted to have a friend or family member reach out in one or more of these ways. 

25 Christmas Gifts or Remembrances for the Brokenhearted

1.  A tree that can be planted in the family’s yard in memory of the loved one (or a gift certificate to a nursery that can be used to purchase a tree in the spring)

2.  Bibles, Christmas Poinsettias, or library books given as memorials

3.  Memorials to the local church or charities

4.  Home videos of the loved one (especially ones of activities that the family may not have)

5.  A scrapbook filled with pictures of the loved one

6.  Special Christmas ornaments (for example, if the child played the piano, see if you can find an ornament in the shape of a piano)

7. Books such as Streams in the Dessert and When Life is Changed Forever

8.  A personal item that would become a memento about the loved one’s personality or gifting

9.  Gift certificates to a cabin or lodge, or to a place that the loved one once enjoyed

10. An original poem about the deceased

11. A journal from friends and family with written memories about the deceased

12. A written tribute to the deceased (The Best Gift You Can Ever Give Your Parents by Dennis Rainey and David Boehi, explains how you can do this.)

13. Addressing their Christmas cards or notes

14. Joining them in holiday shopping or doing the shopping for them

15. Asking if you can help decorate their home for Christmas

16. Sharing homemade Christmas cookies

17. Arranging family photographs in albums

18. Inviting them to decorate a gingerbread house

19. Picking them up for Christmas services at church and holiday get-togethers

20. Helping them shop for that “perfect gift” that they can give to others in memory of their loved one

21. Decorating a small tree with ornaments that have special memories of the loved one

22. Helping them write holiday memories

23. Organizing a candle-light memorial for close friends and family

24. Having a family-time of singing some of the deceased’s favorite Christmas carols and hymns

25. Giving the brokenhearted blank journals to write Bible verses that remind them of God’s presence, such as 2 Corinthians 1:3-4a and Jeremiah 29:11

Advent for the Brokenhearted: Preceded by John

The story of Zechariah, Elizabeth and John the Baptist is one of my favorites for so many reasons.  

It speaks hope to my heart: these two old folks had given up on the idea that they might yet have a child, yet God brought forth life where human thinking said it was impossible.  

It wasn’t just ANY life, it was a promised life, a planned life, a purposeful life.  John came in the spirit and power of Elijah to make hearts ready for Messiah.

And then there is the oh, so understandable reaction of Zechariah when he was told he’d be a father:  “Really?  How can I be sure?”

zechariah

I imagine any one of us would feel the same way, even if we didn’t open our mouths and let the thought escape.

On the other side of fifty, my life feels kind of dried up and worn out. 

Burying my son has drained  much of the giddiness I once felt that things could only get better and better.  My heart tends to look on the less-than-bright side most days.  

waiting with hope water

But just like Elizabeth and Zechariah, God still has a plan for me. 

He has not forgotten who or where I am.

I am not beyond His touch.  

So I wait-hopefully with a little more faith than Zechariah-for God to bring forth the life He desires from my inward parts.

He can do it.

When Herod was king of Judea, there was a priest by the name of Zechariah from the priestly group of Abijah. His wife Elizabeth was from the family of Aaron.[a] Both of them were good people and pleased the Lord God by obeying all that he had commanded. But they did not have children. Elizabeth could not have any, and both Zechariah and Elizabeth were already old.

One day Zechariah’s group of priests were on duty, and he was serving God as a priest. According to the custom of the priests, he had been chosen to go into the Lord’s temple that day and to burn incense,[b]10 while the people stood outside praying.

11 All at once an angel from the Lord appeared to Zechariah at the right side of the altar. 12 Zechariah was confused and afraid when he saw the angel. 13 But the angel told him:

Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayers. Your wife Elizabeth will have a son, and you must name him John. 14 His birth will make you very happy, and many people will be glad. 15 Your son will be a great servant of the Lord. He must never drink wine or beer, and the power of the Holy Spirit will be with him from the time he is born.

16 John will lead many people in Israel to turn back to the Lord their God. 17 He will go ahead of the Lord with the same power and spirit that Elijah[c] had. And because of John, parents will be more thoughtful of their children. And people who now disobey God will begin to think as they ought to. That is how John will get people ready for the Lord.

Luke 1:5-17 CEV

Advent for the Brokenhearted: By the Holy Spirit

The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced.

While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. God’s angel spoke in the dream: “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus—‘God saves’—because he will save his people from their sins.” This would bring the prophet’s embryonic sermon to full term:

Watch for this—a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son;
They will name him Immanuel (Hebrew for “God is with us”).

 

Then Joseph woke up. He did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream: He married Mary. But he did not consummate the marriage until she had the baby. He named the baby Jesus.

Matthew 1:18-25 MSG

I’m not the first person on the planet God has asked to walk into the future without understanding exactly what the plan is. 

When Joseph found out his bride-to-be was pregnant, of course he suspected that she had cheated on him.  That’s how babies are made, isn’t it???

Yet he was noble and kind and hesitated to expose her to public ridicule, or worse (the Old Testament penalty was death) so he waited a bit, deciding what to do.

As he waited, God spoke to Joseph’s heart, assuring him that this was no natural conception and that Mary had done nothing wrong.

God also gave Joseph a commission:  to raise His son as his own.  

Joseph received this word and did as God commanded.   

Now God hasn’t spoken to me in a dream, or in clouds across the sky or from the mouth of a donkey or any other supernatural phenomena.

BUT He has spoken to me by His written Word.  

It is plain to anyone with eyes to see that at the present time all created life groans in a sort of universal travail. And it is plain, too, that we who have a foretaste of the Spirit are in a state of painful tension, while we wait for that redemption of our bodies which will mean that at last we have realised our full sonship in him. We were saved by this hope, but in our moments of impatience let us remember that hope always means waiting for something that we haven’t yet got. But if we hope for something we cannot see, then we must settle down to wait for it in patience.

Romans 8:24-27 PHILLIPS

It’s hard when life seems to be going terribly, terribly wrong to trust.  

It’s understandable to look at what I can see and assume that is all there is. 

But I don’t want to do that. 

I can choose, like Joseph, to embrace the command to wait, to be patient, to step confidently in the direction of tomorrow because He is already there.

I want to stretch my faith-receiving God’s promises, holding onto them, and walking boldly into the future trusting they will be fulfilled.  

he is faithful who has promised

 

 

Advent for the Brokenhearted: Peace Foretold

Peace is elusive in the best of times. 

Even in the absence of all out war (emotional, physical or spiritual) most of us dwell in a kind of no-man’s-land where we might not fear for our lives, but we are not exactly content and satisfied.

And in the world of afterloss, peace seems like a fairy tale promise best relegated to children’s stories and Hallmark movies.

But God knows my heart.  He knows my pain.  He has made a way for me to experience peace even here, even now.

It’s not the “and they lived happily ever after” peace where every little thing is tied up in a neat package with a perfect bow.

Instead it is the firm assurance that no matter how messy and untidy our lives are, He is in control.

It is a promise that regardless of circumstances, we can rely on Him.

God gave Isaiah frightening visions of the destruction Israel would face.  But He also gave Isaiah precious promises of the restoration and redemption that He would bring to His people.

It speaks hope to my heart that this passage begins with “a green shoot will sprout from Jesse’s stump”. Most days,  I feel like my life has been cut off to the ground.

I feel like there is not much left for even God to work with. 

JESSES-TREE-GREEN-SHOOT

But Jehovah is the God of Hope. 

He is the God Who breathes life into dry bones and brings forth new growth from old stumps.

I may feel like it’s over, but it’s not. 

I may feel like peace has fled, never to return, but that is a lie.

“But on this humbled ground, a tiny shoot, hopeful and promising,
    will sprout from Jesse’s stump;
A branch will emerge from his roots to bear fruit.
And on this child from David’s line, the Spirit of the Eternal One will alight and rest.
By the Spirit of wisdom and discernment
    He will shine like the dew.
By the Spirit of counsel and strength
    He will judge fairly and act courageously.
By the Spirit of knowledge and reverence of the Eternal One,
    He will take pleasure in honoring the Eternal.
He will determine fairness and equity;
    He will consider more than what meets the eye,
And weigh in more than what he’s told.

So that even those who can’t afford a good defense
    will nevertheless get a fair and equitable judgment.
With just a word, He will end wickedness and abolish oppression.
    With nothing more than the breath of His mouth, He will destroy evil.
He will clothe himself with righteousness and truth;
    the impulse to right wrongs will be in his blood.

With unwavering steps and integrity uncompromised, He will establish peace.

A day will come when the wolf will live peacefully beside thewobbly-kneed lamb,
    and the leopard will lie down with the young goat;
The calf and yearling, newborn and slow, will rest secure with the lion;
    and a little child will tend them all.
Bears will graze with the cows they used to attack;
    even their young will rest together,
    and the lion will eat hay, like gentle oxen.
8-9 Neither will a baby who plays next to a cobra’s hole
    nor a toddler who sticks his hand into a nest of vipers suffer harm.
All my holy mountain will be free of anything hurtful or destructive,
    for as the waters fill the sea,
The entire earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Eternal.

10 Then on that day, that root from Jesse’s line
    will stand as a signal for the peoples of the world
Who will come to Him seeking guidance and direction;
    and glory will be restored to the land where He resides.

Isaiah 11: 1-10 VOICE

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

 

 

 

Waiting With Hope: Advent for the Brokenhearted

I  wrote this in 2013-the last Christmas my family circle would be unbroken. Now the longing hope Israel felt is so much stronger in my own heart.

Hope is what I hold onto.

It’s my lifeline.

Twenty-five days to ponder the coming of God’s great Gift. We know the end of the story which can make us jaded and impatient. If for a moment we can recapture the desperate hope that was in the heart of Israel longing for Messiah and then in the next remember that He has come, we will be forever changed.

For the next twenty-five days I will be publishing two posts-a regular post like always AND an advent post for those who would like to follow along.  If your heart is too tender to join in, feel free to skip this second post. 

But if you think you can bear to hear just a little truth, to swallow just a tiny morsel of the Bread of Life, then stick around.

I hope this helps at least one heart to hold on.  ❤

Jesus was promised from the beginning.

He is the “Lamb slain before the foundation of the world.”  

I don’t understand it.

But I believe it.

prince of peace image

His Birth Foretold

Isaiah 9: 2-7

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light.
For those who lived in a land of deep shadows—
    light! sunbursts of light!
You repopulated the nation,
    you expanded its joy.
Oh, they’re so glad in your presence!
    Festival joy!
The joy of a great celebration,
    sharing rich gifts and warm greetings.
The abuse of oppressors and cruelty of tyrants—
    all their whips and cudgels and curses—
Is gone, done away with, a deliverance
    as surprising and sudden as Gideon’s old victory over Midian.
The boots of all those invading troops,
    along with their shirts soaked with innocent blood,
Will be piled in a heap and burned,
    a fire that will burn for days!
For a child has been born—for us!
    the gift of a son—for us!
He’ll take over
    the running of the world.
His names will be: Amazing Counselor,
    Strong God,
Eternal Father,
    Prince of Wholeness.
His ruling authority will grow,
    and there’ll be no limits to the wholeness he brings.
He’ll rule from the historic David throne
    over that promised kingdom.
He’ll put that kingdom on a firm footing
    and keep it going
With fair dealing and right living,
    beginning now and lasting always.
The zeal of God-of-the-Angel-Armies
    will do all this.