A Holy Comfort for Our Grief

There are times when you know you’ve encountered a holy experience. Two weeks ago, on a Friday evening, friends gathered to remember our friend Melissa. She lost her agonizing battle with depression and took her life on a Saturday morning in early December.

We who knew her have reeled with shock and grief over her tragic loss at only 38-years old. A service was held in the new community where she and her family had relocated in October. Several close friends felt it was important to honor Melissa here, where she had made her home for at least a decade.

About two dozen of us sat in a large circle in the church fellowship hall. A slide show flashed pictures of Melissa and her family. We each told how we had come to know and love her. We cried and even laughed together, remembering the happy times. 

What could we have done differently? How could we have helped her through those dark times? Questions hung in the stillness. But each person spoke comfort where answers are hard to find. God is faithful, no matter what our circumstances, one close friend reminded. She talked about how Melissa’s new church, a group of people who barely knew them, had rallied to support the grieving family. Another friend mentioned that Melissa’s oldest son’s teacher had also lost her mother to suicide when she was a child. God is certainly with those who are brokenhearted–even when we are at a loss to understand.

We held hands, sang a song together, and prayed for God to do what none of us can–to bring healing, peace, and comfort to all who grieve. Melissa’s close friends had packed up all of her clothing and brought it to the church. Please take something, they urged. Her husband wanted it that way. When I walked into the hall and saw the tables of neatly folded and sorted clothing, I broke into tears. How could I take anything? I saw Melissa in so many of those garments. Then I sensed that it would be wrong not to take something. I picked up a raspberry colored top and instinctively held it close. Her friends had given me a precious gift.

A favorite place

Maybe you’re walking through a season of grief, wondering how you’ll make it through the next moment, not to mention a lifetime. I pray you’ll know God’s faithfulness and be comforted, just as we were on a cold, January night. 

 

   

Change can be Good

We’ve come to the end of another Thanksgiving weekend–the first Thanksgiving in many years that we’ve stayed home for the holiday. Usually we travel over the mountains, through the woods, and on the ferry to my parents’ home on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.

This year, Mom wasn’t feeling up to having company. Understandable. She’s still recovering from a mastectomy in August on top of the ongoing demands of caring for my dad who has dementia. I left the decision about Thanksgiving to Mom. We didn’t want to add an iota to her already overloaded plate of responsibilities…even though I would’ve loved to cook up all the traditional Thanksgiving fixings for her and Dad.

One night after I talked with Mom, I woke up with that unsettled feeling that I’ve experienced more frequently. I recognize what it is–anxiety about my parents and how I can support them. Almost immediately, a phrase popped into my sleep-clouded thoughts: Change can be good. I remembered Patsy Clairmont at Women of Faith speaking about change and the positive outcomes it can bring. 
 
Sometimes we get tunnel vision and we only see the bleakness of a situation. Dad and Mom alone on Thanksgiving…would Mom even want to cook? What if they had to resort to frozen dinners? That’s when I realized I don’t always consider the God- factor…how might He use this for good? How will the situation change when He shows up? What if the change I’ve been dreading or feeling sad about is the change that is most needed?

It all comes back to trusting God…no matter what is happening around me. I must believe He will always be there. He knows all the ins and outs of every circumstance. My abilities and resources are limited. His are boundless.

When I called Mom on Thanksgiving, I asked her if she was cooking.  No…she didn’t have to do any cooking. Her neighbors were bringing Thanksgiving dinner. “They insisted,” Mom added.

Wow! The Lord had taken care of Dad and Mom without me making any arrangements. Changing our Thanksgiving plans had given Mom a much-needed rest–and the ability to be blessed by her neighbors. I breathed a sigh of relief and made a mental note to remember–yes, change can be good!

Is there some change in your life you’re dreading? How does considering the God-factor help you face uncertainty? 

Over the Top!

There’s only one way to describe last weekend’s Women of Faith event in Spokane…over the top! I joined two of my dearest friends, Mary and Judy, in Spokane. Our friendships span more than 30 years. Since our birthdays are in late-August and early-September, we have our annual birthday party–and what better way to celebrate than at Women of Faith! Being together with friends is an over the top experience in itself.

My special Women of Faith friends, Mary & Judy

But then add the day-time session on Friday with Patsy Clairmont and Andy Andrews, and you get an unbelievable mix of humor, truth, and inspiration. Patsy reminded me to say “yes” to God, to practice taking responsibility for my behavior, and to grow up. Andy’s enthusiasm was contagious as he raced around the stage, up and down the stairs, and into the audience, proclaiming there’s huge hope for making different choices in our lives. I never imagined the variety of tunes that could accompany the words to Amazing GraceGhostriders in the Sky, House of the Rising Sun (sung like Elvis), and even the theme song from Gilligan’s Island! Who knew? I love Andy Andrews and his big heart for people!

Brenda Warner topped off the day with her inspiring story of God’s faithfulness to her as a single mom with a special needs child, and how her mission today focuses on loving babies with severe disabilities. Music with the Worship Team throughout the day and Mandisa’s concert Friday night lifted 7,000 women to a beautiful place of praise and worship.

When I thought it couldn’t get any better, Saturday came with a full day of over the top music and messages. I learned that Women of Faith has helped sponsor more than 160,000 children with World Vision during the past decade. What a testimony to Women of Faith and the thousands of women of faith who have responded to help these precious children.

Sandi Patty sang “We Shall Behold Him,” and tears flowed down my cheeks without apology– an over the top moment of inexpressible praise to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Lisa Whelchel spoke about friendship. Patsy told about her son’s illness and how she learned that change can be good. Deborah Joy Winans brought powerful truth with her dramatic presentations and a reminder to “drop our rocks” of judgment toward others. Marilyn Meberg explained why we always want more…God has placed eternity in our hearts. A concert with Amy Grant made the weekend complete for me. I remember listening to Amy’s music when I was a brand-new Christian in the early 1980’s, and how her music encouraged me back then. It still does!

Women of Faith is much more than an “event” to attend with special friends. It’s more like a reunion. The Porch Pals are friends we’ve come to know and appreciate and love through the years. Luci Swindoll came to Spokane and joined the Worship Team in singing “Great is Thy Faithfulness,”  even though she’s speaking at the Imagine event. She didn’t have to be there, but seeing her touched my heart–like seeing an old friend.

I hope you have an opportunity to experience an over the top weekend with Women of Faith. I’d love to hear about your experiences!

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After the Storm

I grew up in Iowa where the threat of tornadoes in the spring and summer seemed

terrifying. Even though a twister never touched down in our small town while I lived there, the reality of a disaster wasn’t simply paranoia. Most residents of Grinnell, Iowa knew that a tornado had nearly destroyed the town in the late 1800s. I remember running for the basement on more than one occasion and having nightmares that I couldn’t get there in time, that my rubbery legs wouldn’t be strong enough to carry me. Knowing that my mom kept watch on nights when tornado warnings had been issued brought some relief to my fears.

If that wasn’t enough, we experienced the anxiety of a potential nuclear disaster with the Cuban Missile Crisis in the early 1960s. As a 4th grader, I didn’t understand the gravity of the situation, but hearing talk about bomb shelters and practicing air raid drills where we crawled under our desks at school, gave me cause for alarm. I recall a tense three or four days with a verbal showdown between President Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev. Still, I felt some reassurance knowing the grownups were handling the situation.

In the aftermath of the horrific disaster in Japan and the escalating crises in the Middle East, I have felt like that frightened 10-year old. Now I’m the grown-up..and frankly, there isn’t any solace in looking to others to work everything out.

The other day, a comment on a blog about the potential of another economic collapse said, Everything will be all right. It always is. The sun will come up tomorrow. Whether or not there will be an economic collapse isn’t the point. Saying that everything will be all right is misguided and naive. It isn’t all right for thousands of people who have lost jobs and homes. It isn’t all right for survivors of the devastation in Japan, even though the sun is still rising. Frightening, tragic events do happen.

At times like this, I know the antidote for fear is growing deeper in my faith. The crux of my Christian faith is belief that even if bad, perplexing events happen in life, events that literally shake my whole belief system, God is still faithful. I’ve found comfort, as always, in God’s Word.

Romans 8 asks the important questions:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In these days of uncertainty, I pray we will draw closer to the One who never changes–and find comfort and peace in His presence. And in that sense, everything is all right.

God’s Presence in the Dark Night

It’s Saturday morning and I’m still wrapped in my bathrobe. Really, my favorite time of the week because I can sit quietly, no place to rush off to. Oh, there’s plenty to do…get ready for winter projects, housework, all those chores that beg attention. But for this moment, I’ll enjoy looking out at the dazzling blue skies, feeling a warm breeze through the open window. I’ll soak in every moment of this final “summer” weekend. October is imminent and the weather here usually changes like clockwork. 

In this morning’s quiet, I’ve been reading Deb Watson’s incredibly touching book, Kiss Goodbye: The Story of God’s Presence in the Dark Night.  I’ve read her story over several weeks, and each time I pick up her book, I feel as if I’ve been invited into a sacred and holy place.

I first “met” Deb on Twitter. I was scrolling through the daily tweets and saw one from Deb Watson who reported her excitement about her first book being published. I think because she and I share the same name and I know the feeling of a first book coming off the press, I twittered back to her.

Congratulations, Deb, I wrote. I pray your book will be successful! 

Then the conversation began. Deb answered that her book was about the death of her 19-year-old daughter. I felt the pang that only another mother can understand, even though I have never journeyed to the depths of grief as Deb and her family have. After I watched the book trailer for Kiss Goodbye, I emailed Deb again. She graciously offered to send me a copy of her book which I gratefully accepted.

I knew this would be a difficult read, but I had no idea how Deb’s telling of her family’s loss of their beautiful daughter and sister, Cathy, would completely draw me in as if I were there with her as a friend. Sitting in the livingroom with them in shock and disbelief the night of the tragic accident, anticipating all the “firsts” of those weeks and months after Cathy’s death, or the longing for one friend to call or stop by on that first Christmas Eve without Cathy. And no one did.

Deb pulls aside the curtain of private family suffering and with her real and honest writing style, allows us to glimpse the intensity of raw pain in coming to terms with the loss of someone we dearly love. That she invites us complete strangers into this sacred, intensely personal place, is truly courageous.

In reading Kiss Goodbye, there is no doubt where this courage comes from. Woven through the anguish, is the inspiring message that God is faithful, no matter what our circumstances. We may each know that on different levels, based on our life experiences, but the Watson family’s story underscores the truth of God’s presence in any dark night, especially in the midst of unimaginable suffering–and that offers much hope and comfort to us other pilgrims on life’s journey. For it isn’t a matter of if we will ever experience the pain of losing someone we love, but when.  Deb’s example gives me courage to believe that with God’s grace and the support of loving family and friends, I too, will be able to walk through the valley of the shadow of death and come out on the other side.

Since I received Deb’s book, I’ve had the wonderful privilege of talking with her on the phone. Hearing her voice resonate with compassion for others who are suffering, yet with unmistakable joy in living life as a devoted follower of Christ, is more solid evidence that the Lord does indeed use all things for good, even the most heartbreaking and hard to understand circumstances, for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.

Thank you, Deb, for your sharing your story and your friendship!