August Scripture Journal Challenge: Verses on Grief

I don’t know about you but it’s been much harder for me to study Scripture since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.

Not because I don’t want to dive deep like I used to but because I don’t have the same ability to sit still and read like I did before.

So I’ve looked for easy ways to make Scripture study part of my morning routine.

One way I’ve done that is by using a themed “Monthly Scripture Writing” calendar.

There are several around and regardless of which month may be slapped across the top of the list, they can be used according to whatever topic is most helpful or appropriate for you at the time.

In an effort to encourage myself and anyone who wants to join in, I’m going to be writing blog posts using a calendar of verses on Grief.

Here’s the link: http://www.swtblessings.com/2017/03/april-scripture-writing-plan-grief.html (You can download and print your own copy.)

It will work like this:

Purchase or find a notebook you can designate as your Scripture journal. It can be a spiral notebook (easy to find and on sale now before school starts), a composition book (plain or fancy), a traditional journal (usually in a smaller format) or simply loose-leaf paper that you can pop in a three ring binder. It really doesn’t matter. Use what is easiest for you to keep track of and write in.

I personally prefer the cheap 70 sheet spiral notebooks because they lay flat when opened and make writing and drawing easier. It also means that if I want to or need to, I can use up to four pages per day and it will all still fit in one notebook. The covers are easy to decorate (if I want to) and pages are durable. I choose wide-ruled which leaves room for doodling around words for emphasis.

Round up some colored pens, pencils, crayons and/or markers. We will use these to highlight/emphasize words and to illustrate verses.

Purchase or locate a few regular pens that you prefer for writing. For just a couple dollars you can get roller ball or gel pens that really do make a huge difference when copying the longer verses. It’s no fun to write with a cranky instrument!

A Bible in the version you prefer. I have more than one in various versions but also use an online resource like Biblegateway.com or Biblehub.com which makes most English versions available at my fingertips. I really like that option because even though I will only copy out the verse in a single version, reading it in several versions sheds more light on the meaning than when I only read it in one. I’ve also found that familiar verses can become stale if I only read/copy them in the version I know best.

That’s really all you absolutely need for this challenge.

But if you are interested in making your journal more fun and expanding your knowledge a little more, here are a few other things I’d add to my Bible journal basket:

Sticky notes in several different colors. I love, love, love these! I will often copy out the verse in one Bible translation and then jot down significantly different language from another onto a sticky note and add it to the page. I also sometimes use these notes for my own insights or personal illustrations/examples. On occasion, when pressed for time, I’ll write out a question I want to look up later and pop it into the journal as a reminder.

A dictionary. I love to look up words. While it may well be that I technically understand the meaning of a word, when I look it up in the dictionary I’m always reminded of subtle distinctions I’d miss otherwise. Plus there is usually a list of antonyms and synonyms that refine my understanding.

Stickers. I confess I’ve never quite gotten over having these colorful, playful and pretty little additions in my stash to brighten pages here and there. Absolutely NOT necessary but awfully fun.

Topical concordance. If you’ve never learned to use one, now’s a great time to do so. Obviously our main topic will be grief for this month. But often as I’m reading a verse, I want to explore other topics mentioned and use the concordance for that. It’s true you can Google the topic but what you usually get in those results is someone else’s idea of which verses are most pertinent. A good concordance lists all the verses that contain that word in order for the whole Bible.

Magazines that I am comfortable ripping apart for illustrations. I comb through magazines and rip out pages that have interesting graphics or word bubbles or landscapes and keep them in a folder for when I want to add just a little something to a page.

This list could be endless. I hope that some folks will comment below and share what they enjoy adding to a journal.

I place all these in a basket I keep by my rocking chair so I never have to go searching for one or more of the things I need to complete each day’s assignment.

That’s really all there is to it.

Each day you will write that day’s verse(s) on one page. You can add in-text notes or save your observations and notes for after the Scripture. Use a second page to record thoughts and observations, cross-referenced scriptures, an illustration or two, quotes, pictures or prayers.

At the end of the month you will have your very own personalized topical Bible reference notebook and prayer journal.

I’ll be posting something about each day’s selection here and on Facebook in both our closed bereaved parents’ group and on the public Heartache and Hope page if you’re looking for companionship and encouragement.

I hope you’ll join me and add your own voice to the discussion.

Grief Changes

This life is not all sadness and sorrow, death and darkness.  

It was.  For a very, very long time all I could see was distant flickers of light.  

They were just enough to keep me going but not enough to lift the utter blackness that surrounded me.  

Now I would characterize life as hazy gray-most things still filtered through a lens of grief but generally brighter.  

I can see and feel the change.  It’s not as hard to get up most mornings.  Not as hard to put dates on a calendar.  Not as hard to commit to social activities and to actually show up.  Not as hard to talk about family life with strangers and acquaintances.  Not as hard to do so many things that were practically impossible in the first weeks, months and years.

I am so, so grateful.  

And there are good things-very good things-happening in my family.  

I’m even more grateful for those.  

A baby who could have had a sad story has a happy one!  He is growing and grinning and getting ready (within the month, we think) to escape the hospital.  His dad is home from deployment.  His mom is healing like a champ from severe illness and from her surgery.  They are forming a happy trio and full of love.

ryker smiling

A wedding is less than two weeks away!  After some (typical) stress and struggle things are falling into place.  My daughter is joining her life to a good man and that fills my heart with joy.

fiona and brandon at farm

My niece is graduating high school.  All the kids in that generation are grown ups just as we finally added one to begin the next.

My mother and father are still here to enjoy these things.  

If you are afraid you will never, ever feel joy again, I understand.  That was one of the most frightening aspects of early days and months and years.  I could not imagine having that heavy, dark cloud envelope me for the rest of my life.

It seems impossible it could ever be otherwise.  

But I’m here to tell you-it doesn’t have to be that way.  If you reach for the tiny lights you can just barely see in the distance and make whatever feeble and faltering steps forward, your heart will learn to feel something besides sorrow again.

At first it may only be a split-second when a smile nearly, but not quite, crosses your lips.

Then it might be an hour when you realize you’ve actually been completely engaged and present with your family or good friend.

One day you will be slipping into bed and think, “Today was a pretty good day”.  It will shock you, sadden you  and encourage you all at the same time.

It’s not a smooth upward journey that lands you out of the pit of grief.

It’s a bumpy road that tosses you around.  Highs and lows, ups and downs.  And it lasts a lifetime.

But if you purpose to hold on with both hands, to stay the course, keep heading toward the bits of light, laughter, love and loveliness teasing you in the distance, you will make progress.

Bad things have happened-the worst, in fact. 

Bad things still happen. 

But good things happen too.  

Very good things.  

I want to be present for them, don’t you?

courage is always an act of love

Repost: Light Years

Since I’m spending time with my new grandson, I’ll be offering a few more reposts than usual this week.  If you haven’t seen them, I hope you enjoy them for the first time.  If you have already read them, I hope they are a blessing just the same.

Thank you for all the prayers and encouragement as our family rallies around this new life and helps him fight to gain the strength and size to come home.  ❤

Part of my Lenten observance includes reading the book of John.  

The words are not new to me, I’ve read them over and over-probably dozens of times in the past 30 years.  So I decided to use a different translation this time around in order to shake out some new insights and cause me to pay closer attention to what God might have for me right here, right now.

The very first reading did just that.

Read the rest here:  Light Years

Torches In The Dark

There are so many life circumstances that plunge a heart into darkness.  

Child loss is certainly one of them, although not the only one.  

And when you’re in the dark, stumbling around, trying to avoid the sharp corners and looking, looking, looking for a tiny sliver of light to guide you out, it is terrifying.  

If you don’t have a pocket full of matches or a flashlight or a lantern, you are at the mercy of whoever cares enough to come back for you.

I am so thankful for the friends and family who never tire of my fearful cries when I find myself in dark places.  

They come running.  

They don’t leave me there.  

Sometimes all they have is a tiny candle themselves, a sliver of hope they are clinging to.  But they raise it high , share its glow with me and together we take a step forward toward the brighter light of day.

I will never, ever forget the ones who come to me with a torch.

They help my heart when I can’t help myself.  

They refuse to leave me in the dark.  

 

you never forget a person who came to you with a torch in the dark

Photo of man with lantern by Marko Blažević on Unsplash

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