It’s Never Too Late to be a Friend!

We’ve all been there-something traumatic or earth-shattering happens to someone we know and we mean to get in touch.  

I put “write a note” or “call” on my list and then don’t do it.

Days, weeks months pass by.  Now I feel awkward.

And the need to let her know I care is overshadowed by my sense of shame at not doing it sooner.

But it is NEVER too late to be a friend!

friends hugging

I won’t let pride stand between me and someone I love.  I won’t allow fear to keep me away from a heart that needs help.

nothing on earth to be more prized than friendship

Who knows?

Maybe my outstretched hand will be exactly the hope someone needs to hold on to?

no act of kindness kitten

 

 

 

 

Living Gentle Lives

One of the things grief is teaching me is that I too often walk through the world like an angry giant, stomping around without any care as to where my large footprints land and what they crush underneath.  I am intent on pursuing MY agenda, MY “to do” list, getting to My appointment or paying for MY groceries and heaven help the one who gets in my way.

I don’t want to be like that.

I want to be like Jesus.

I want to be gentle.

A broken reed He will not break [off] And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish [He will not harm those who are weak and suffering]; He will faithfully bring forth justice.

Isaiah 42:3  AMP

Jesus rested securely in the truth that His Father was near, that His Father had things under control and that His Father would redeem and was redeeming every little thing.

He was not anxious about outcomes.  He didn’t have to prove anything or fight for status or control.  He was completely free.  

When I lean into the truth that God is My Abba Father and that He will and is redeeming every little thing in my life as well, I am equally free.  

I don’t have to step on someone else to step up.  I don’t have to put out someone else’s light so mine shines brighter.

My position is secured by the blood of Jesus.  My light is the love of Christ shed abroad in my heart.

It’s ALL a gift.

It’s all GRACE.

It’s my privilege to live gently, be kind and give freely what has been given to me.  

a candle loses nothing by lighting another candle

 

 

Not-So-Random Acts of Kindness

I love the idea of Random Acts of Kindness-it’s a beautiful way to spread love and joy in our broken world.

With a few dollars or a few minutes, I have the opportunity to make someone’s day brighter, their burden lighter and remind them that not everyone is “out to get them”.

BUT-as I’ve written before here:  Relational Acts of Kindness, it’s relatively easy to do my good deed and walk away.

When I bless a stranger, my work is done.

I feel good, they feel good-it’s all good.

I find it much harder to purpose to be kind every day to the people I actually KNOW-the one who may have said cutting things in the past, the one who consistently rubs me the wrong way, the one I feel is lazy or subversive or just holds opinions with which I disagree.

How about the one I thought would show up to help but didn’t?  Or the one who has told tales about me or my family?  The one who lets her children run wild at church? The one who makes others uncomfortable with her dress, or language, or lack of social skill?

Being kind to THAT person is hard.

I want to turn the other way.  I want to make excuses.  I want to pretend that my kindness toward strangers balances my lack of kindness to those with whom I walk daily.

It doesn’t.

I am called to be kind at precisely that place where it is most difficult.  I am called to act in love toward just that person who is most unloveable.  I am called to lay down my life where it looks most likely to be unappreciated.

ephesians-4-31-32

Denying myself is the very method by which Christ builds His kingdom.

Offering my body as a living sacrifice is the pressure He applies to mold my flesh into His likeness

washing-feet-beauty

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the heathen lord it over them and that their great ones have absolute power? But it must not be so among you. No, whoever among you wants to be great must become the servant of you all, and if he wants to be first among you he must be your slave—just as the Son of Man has not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life to set many others free.”

Matthew 20:27-29 PHILLIPS

 

 

Choosing to See Wounded Hearts

I can see her all the way down the aisle-even if she doesn’t say a word,  I know.

I know.

widow

She‘s carrying a burden wrapped in love and buried deep inside.  Someone she poured life into is no longer here.  The missing and the daily sorrow is etched on her face even as she smiles.

What to do?  What to do?  

Making a decision without her better half to help her is overwhelming.  She wants to cry but holds back the tears because, “What would people think?”

So I go up to her and tell her what I think:  “Would you like some help?”

That opens the floodgates.

“I’m looking for hairbands-something to match my white hair.  I have so little left-losing it because of stress, you know. “

Silence while I help her look.

“My husband passed three months ago.  We were married 60 years.  I just can’t believe he’s gone.”

I tell her about Dominic-brief version-so she knows that I understand.

“He’s not suffering anymore and I guess I should be better.  But I just miss him!”

I take her hand and look into her beautiful eyes-eyes that are full of love and compassion and sorrow-and tell her that she will miss him as long as she lives.  That’s how we’re made.

Great love means great grief.  A shared lifetime can’t be severed by death.  We carry that sorrow because our hearts still carry the love.

ann voskamp love will always cost you grief

And I tell her that no one has the right to rush her along. Her wounded heart is a witness to love.  It’s a tribute to her husband and the life they shared.  It’s testimony to the power of God in her that she can bear the wound and still remain.

We prayed, and hugged and both went away refreshed.

Walking wounded has made me much more aware that God places people in my path who are wounded too.  

I want to be the person that stops, no matter what.  I want to be who God created me in Christ Jesus to be.  I want to walk in the good works He has laid out for me ahead of time.

It’s a way of redeeming this sorrow and weaving something beautiful from  my tears.

God has made us what we are. In Christ Jesus, God made us new people so that we would do good works. God had planned in advance those good works for us. He had planned for us to live our lives doing them.

Ephesians 2:10 ICV

ephesians2_10

Burning Bridges and Other Impulsive Acts

If you’ve followed the blog for awhile you’ve noticed that I rarely use this space to comment on current events unless they intersect with my experience of child loss.

So I have pretty much stayed away from our crazy political scene during this presidential election cycle because why add another voice to the screaming chorus when no one is listening anyway?

But as we make our way to the inauguration and I see heightened animosity, ugly speech and cruel separation of previous friendships, I realize that my experience is relevant right here, right now.

Until you wake up one morning to find out that your child whom you love, whom you raised and whom you were absolutely certain would bury YOU is gone, you have the luxury of assuming whatever bridges you burn can be rebuilt someday.

You may feel pretty confident that in a few days or months or years you will have the opportunity to pick up the pieces and reinvest in the relationship. You might justify your arrogance and impudence and violent speech that pushes others away by standing on principles, waving the banner of your just cause or simply being adament that YOUR viewpoint is the absolutely only correct one.

angry-man-pointing-finger

 

I’m a firm believer in social justice, political action, correct theology, and strong opinions.

If you’ve been around me for more than five minutes, you know this.

But I believe even more firmly that nothing gives me the right to be hateful, to be dismissive, to act superior or to cruelly treat another human being.

I am also a believer that whatever happens in Washington is only part of what makes the world.

Laws have consequences.

Policies have impact.  

Politicians make decisions that make life better or worse for millions of people.  BUT-how I treat the people I come in contact with every day also matters.

You can call me a coward or tell me I’m “selling out” but I am convinced that I can champion a cause without condemning a friend. I know I can disagree without being disagreeable.  

If my goal is to sway opinion, what hope do I have of that if I am blasting holes in the fabric of relationship?

Each one of us is making the world-day by day, decision by decision, interaction by interaction.

We are burning bridges or building relationships.

Todayjust for a single daylet’s all be kind.

be kind2

Let’s not bash others with our team banner, our polical banner or the banner of our favorite cause.

Let’s just love one another and offer a smile instead of a smirk- a hand up instead of a put down.

We might find we like that world a whole lot better than the one we are currently making.

coke-teach-the-world-to-sing

 

Practical Ideas for Dealing with the Holidays after Child Loss

This is the fourth in a series on making plans for the holidays after loss.

Yes, it’s early and no, you might not want to think about them-it’s really hard to imagine Thanksgiving and Christmas without the child you love.  BUT, the days will come whether we want them to or not. Here’s some help to navigate them.

If you missed the first three posts you can find them here:

Grief and Holiday Plans: Working Out the Details

Grief, Holidays and Hard Conversations

Grief and Holidays:What the Bereaved Need From Friends and Family.

It cannot be overstated:  holidays are extremely hard after loss.  Every family gathering highlights the hole where my son SHOULD be, but ISN’T.

There is no “right way” or “wrong way” to handle the holidays after losing a child.

For many, there is only survival-especially the very first year.

These days also stir great internal conflict:  I want to enjoy and celebrate my living children and my family still here while missing my son that isn’t. Emotions run high and are, oh so difficult to manage.

So I’m including some ideas from other bereaved parents on how they’ve handled the holidays.  Many of these suggestions could be adapted for any “special” day of the year.

Not all will appeal to everyone nor will they be appropriate for every family.  But they are a place to start.

If you have decided to make a Holiday Journal,  consider printing these ideas to put inside or copying out the ones that might be helpful for you.

Skip it.  

  • Sounds drastic and it is.  But for some families (especially if there are no small children involved) it is absolutely possible (and sometimes healing) to ignore all traditions and trappings associated with Thanksgiving and Christmas.
  • You might choose to serve others on these days by volunteering with a local organization offering meals to the homeless or disadvantaged in your community.
  • Take a holiday meal to hospital workers, police officers or firemen in your area.  You can do it anonymously or in the name of your child.

Consider traveling for the holidays.

  • On the first Thanksgiving after my son left us, we shared the weekend with our newly married son and his wife in another state.  It was the first time in my life I hadn’t spent the holiday with my parents.  It was still very hard, but helpful in a way.
  • Other families have chosen to rent a cabin or condo and have the same people involved but experience the season in another location.  Most try to choose a place with a natural focus for activity that isn’t all about the holiday-like skiing in the mountains or near a lake or beach.

Change how you do meals.

  • If your family traditions always include the same foods in the same house, you might want to eat the holiday meal in a restaurant instead.
  • You could swap up the timing of a meal-evening instead of noon or vice-versa.
  • Change up the guest list-include a few close friends along with family members (friends that understand your grief).  Sometimes it helps to have others not so affected by the loss in the mix.
  • If you have been the host but don’t feel like you can do it this year-definitely consider passing that to someone else.  And don’t feel guilty about it.
  • Include the missing family members at the table in some way. One bereaved mom wrote:  “My niece includes my  son and mom at events hosted in her home.  She sets a chair aside and places a photo in the seat and a commemorative bow on the chair back.”
  • Don’t make certain foods. I make giant plates of cookies but have not made shortbread cookies since my son left us.  It was his favorite and one of the few things that tempted him from his strict weight-lifting diet
  • Make your child’s favorites and enjoy eating them and sharing memories around the table.

Let others do the planning/cooking/communicating.

  • Explain to your family that you aren’t up to being the one to plan this year’s holidays.  Let someone else do it.  Participate if and when you can.  
  • Be kind, but stand your ground.

Make new traditions. 

  • If you go around the table at Thanksgiving saying, “I’m thankful for…“-it might not be something you can do this year.  That’s OK.
  • Light a candle for the missing child.  You might want to have those present share a favorite memory or you might simply want to have the candle create a silent presence.
  • Some families can’t bring themselves to use the same Christmas tree they used before loss so they get a new and/or different one.  Some don’t want a tree at all.
  • Some families have a separate tree full of ornaments or memorabilia for their missing child and use the main tree as usual for the rest of the family.
  •  “I have a separate tree for Z. . It’s filled with ornaments that remind us of him. They range from glass ornaments with his favorite candy inside to a Thomas the tank engine ornament. Collecting more ornaments for him as I’m out shopping for others helps me during this very painful time.”
  • Some families don’t hang any stockings while others hang them all, including the missing child’s.
  • Another family asks family members and friends to write a note to their son or share a favorite memory of him.  They place them in his stocking to be opened and read on Christmas Day.
  • “We asked everyone to do a random act of kindness in memory of our daughter and our friends’ son and to email it to us. We printed out all of the emails, put them in her stocking and read them as a family on Christmas morning. It was amazing to hear all of the lives touched as a result, and it took our focus off of our loss.”
  • My husband, children (all adults) and myself didn’t want to receive gifts from extended family the first year.  We still gave them, but asked that others refrain or give a donation in our son’s name.
  • Some families buy gifts that would be appropriate for another child the same age as their missing child (or the age they would be) and give them to  another child for Christmas.

Commemorate your child:  

  • Some bereaved parents put a Christmas tree with solar powered or battery powered lights on their child’s resting place.
  • Some parents take family photos and include a large photo of their missing child or a special family memento (like a stuffed animal or symbol on a shirt) to represent that child in the pictures.
  • Some families give donations in their child’s name to organizations that purchase Christmas gifts for needy families or food for families at Thanksgiving.
  • In some communities there is a “Blue Christmas” ceremony on December 21st each year in which families gather to remember lost loved ones with music, candles and sometimes a devotional message. Some are sponsored by local chapters of The Compassionate Friends.  If there is not one in your area, your church may be willing to host one.

Keep the same traditions:

  • For some families, keeping everything the same is the most comforting choice. Especially if there are young children involved, it may be the easiest way to go.
  • But feel free to ask for help.  If you are not up to shopping for children in the family, make a list, let someone else do it and wrap the presents for you. Or use an online shopping service (many offer gift wrap).
  • Same goes for holiday outings-maybe a good family friend or an extended family member could take the children this year and document it with photos.

Whatever you choose to do or not do, know that there’s no wrong way or right way.  

Be gentle with yourself-this is a hard road.  And a long one. 

Photo credit: State Farm via Visual hunt

Set it Aside

Good is something you do, not something you talk about.
Some medals are pinned to your soul, not to your jacket.
Gino Bartali

Set aside the tweets and the memes

Set aside the scores and the football predictions

Set aside the latest greatest whatever.

Move it off the table of your heart 

And create space for the truly important:

The drowning people fleeing war torn countries where children are starving or being buried alive in bombed out rubble;

The families displaced-many forever-from homes that were nowhere near a flood plain and who never imagined they would watch a lifetime of memories float downstream;

The frightened ones trafficked for men’s pleasure-praying that someone, anyone, notices and steps in to save them;

The lonely teen unsure of where to turn until his thoughts become so unendurable that only one way out seems reasonable;

The old man or old woman, forgotten and alone, breathing stale air in a home that isn’t home-no one speaking his name, her name-as if they had already passed from this life to the next.

You think it doesn’t matter much.

You think someone else will take care of it

Until it’s you

Waiting for light in the darkness

Looking for hope to hold onto

Begging for help as you’re drowning in despair.

As it is, you boast in your proud intentions.  All such boasting is evil. Therefore whoever knows the right thing to do, yet fails to do it, is guilty of sin.

James 4:17 The Berean Study Bible