Help Along the Way

Hi there everybody-

I hope your to-do lists are getting shorter! I hope to post again before Christmas, but in case I miss you:  Merry Christmas! I hope you have a wonderful holiday with your family and friends. No gift given and no gift received can ever top the gift we are celebrating: Jesus Christ! May your soul know its worth & rejoice!

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21

I have made a new page called Grief Resources. I am pasting it below so you don’t even have to click to it now, but it will be a permanent part of my site. You’ll always see it in the blog’s banner. I have included the resources that have been most helpful to me- books, websites and Bible verses.  I have an entire bookshelf of books but only a few made this list. I hope someone finds something helpful.

warmly, Maria

Grief Needs Help:
My List of Best Resources

If you, or someone you love, is journeying with grief, here are the most comforting and encouraging resources I have found so far:

For anyone who has lost a close family member or friend:

  • Griefshare–  Their website is full of encouragement and resources.  To receive the free daily email, just go to their site and put in your email. My head was still on my pillow when I read their daily email each morning. It was always encouraging, hopeful and short. This organization also offers local support groups through the country. Click here.
  • Journeying through Grief by Kenneth Haugk.  This series of four books move with you through grief. They are a great way for churches to reach out to people as they go through the first year of loss.  Click here.
  • Streams in the Desert– A devotional book that has brought me the most encouragement in the hardest seasons of my life. Click here
  • Jesus Calling– A devotional book that I can’t do without. It is great for everyone, whether they have experienced loss or not. Click here.

Especially for widows: 

  • From One Widow to Another– by Miriam Neff.  This book is my go-to resource. It is practical and encouraging at a deep level. I can’t recommend it enough for widows of any age. To see this book on Amazon, click here.
  • Widow MightThe best and most comprehensive website I have found for widows. It covers practical issues and questions. It is also a good place for close family members, friends and even churches to learn how to encourage and reach out to widows. To go to this site, click here.
  • A Widow’s Might– A devotional website for Christian widows who are trying to trust God in the midst of loss. The team of writers all are widows and have combined their gifts to write devotionals and plan retreats. They will send you several devotionals via email each week to encourage you in your journey. They also inexpensively sell their devotionals in seasonal collections so that people who aren’t computer savvy can have them too. To go to this site, click here.   For the Love of HER Life: Winter Edition– this link takes you to their Amazon page where they sell the devotionals. Click here.
  • A New Season– This is a sister devotional website to A Widow’s Might for women who are finding their way after the initial season of grief has quieted.  There are frequent devotionals geared to women on a variety of topics, not limited to widows or grief. To go to this site, click here.
  • Modern Widow’s Club– This online community is all about inspiring widows to live full lives after loss.  They have a few local groups around the country but have a strong online group where widows encourage each other, ask practical questions, and vent about the realities of loss.  They have a $25 membership fee, which allows you to access their private facebook page. It has been encouraging to me to know that there are other widows who are grappling with many of the same challenges I am facing.  (To clarify: it isn’t a Christian group, which is occasionally evident in the topics or advice.) To go this site, click here.

Especially for children coping with loss:

Streams in the Desert for Kids– A kid’s version of the classic devotional. It is probably best for older kids-teens. It would be a great read-aloud at night.

Bible Passages About Grief I Visit Often:

Deuteronomy 33:27  The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.

Isaiah 26:3  You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast because they trust in You.

Psalm 23:4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me.

Psalm 27:13-14 I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; wait on the Lord.

Psalm 34:18   The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Psalm 46:1   God is our refuge and strength; an ever-present help in times of trouble.

Psalm 119:28  My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word.

Psalm 94:18-19  When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your love, O Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.

Psalm 18:2  The Lord is my Rock and my Fortress and my Deliverer; my God is my Rock in whom I take refuge.

Matthew 11:28-30  Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

2 Corinthians 1:3-5 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

Romans 8:38-39  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.

The Biggest and Best and 24/7 Help is God!

This is an excerpt from my Essentials page on this blog.  You can read more on that page about what it means to have a relationship with God.

If you don’t have a relationship with God, my encouragement is to be real about it.  God can handle your questions and accusations and doubts. He welcomes seekers. So, I challenge you to ask Him to show you that He is real. What do you have to lose? You have everything to gain.

Here’s a great book that might address some of your honest questions.  Start Here: Beginning a Relationship with Jesus (Dwight & Unice).

If you have a relationship with God, but it seems disconnected, don’t try to do faith alone.  God made us to be in His family! It is a real family. You have brothers and sisters in faith, and they are amazing people.

  • Find a church where the emphasis is on knowing God and loving others. Get to know the people there. Look for opportunities to meet with a small group of people.  (Email me if you are looking for a church but are having a hard time finding one. Maybe I can help. mcwherelovetakesyou@gmail.com)
  • Read the Bible (the books of Psalms and John are two great places to start). If you don’t have one, here’s a favorite that we have recommended over the years: The NIV Quest Study Bible. You might also be encouraged by the book I mentioned above.

Finding Christmas Joy When You’re Afraid It May Be Lost

This is our third Christmas without John.  A few weeks ago I was in Walmart and saw all of the Christmas displays and was blindsided by grief. Thankfully, it was early in the morning and the store was vacant.  The soap and deodorant aisle bore witness to my tears as I stood there venting to the Lord. “Lord, I did two Christmases without him.  Aren’t we done yet?  I don’t want to do this alone again.”

John was a thoughful gift giver. He truly enjoyed brainstorming gift ideas and shopping together.  We always had a wrapping night a week or two before Christmas so that everything (well, most of it) was done ahead of time. It was so. much. fun. He loved seeing everything put into piles for each of the kids. He’d assess them to see if the gift distribution looked balanced. He’d pre-load batteries and then put toys back into their packages. He’d have a whole system for wrapping efficiently and quickly- our dining room table strewn with colorful paper, tape and piles.

Marriage can be so exquisitely beautiful even, and maybe especially, in the little delights.  sigh.

So, the past two Christmases have been tough. Of course, the first one, was incredibly difficult, and frankly, I wanted to disappear.  Kind of like Bilbo at his birthday party in The Hobbit– “I am going now. I bid you all a fond farewell!”  So we compromised, we stayed through that painful first Christmas because there was no escaping it. There was going to have to be a first Christmas at home without him.  “Let’s just get it over with.” But, two days after Christmas we raced to New York City for several days of distraction and fun. It was wonderful to get away.

Last year definitely felt easier. There were no firsts to endure, and the adjustments we had made the first year were more natural.

And, now, here I am at year three, and it is starting to feel familiar. There is less of a cringe factor.  I am looking forward to wrapping things up and enjoying this sweet time of celebrating the Best Gift with our kids. I have learned to be honest about the moments that are hardest for me, and I talk to the Lord about how to redirect them.

So, for those of you who may be walking in similar shoes- widowed, single mom, or missing someone you cherish- here are a few practical things I do to manage the emotions and realities of the holidays.

1. The Dad Inspired Gift- I decided that each Christmas I wanted to choose a gift for our kids that John would have enjoyed giving them. It doesn’t have to be expensive or extravagant. I just try to think of something that would make John smile to give them and the kids smile to receive.

The first year I had the idea of taking the kids to Build-A-Bear. We all made bears (and tucked lots of hearts inside of them). I have never been a stuffed animal person. Until now. Sometimes, when you are missing someone so deeply and desperately, you simply need a hug. But there isn’t always someone around. And, you might need a hug for a long time- like all night. It is a job that stuffed animals do well. I told the kids to stand and hug every bear until they found the one that felt right. The one that made them feel comforted to hug and hold. So we all bought bears. I have discovered that stuffed animals have two amazing qualities: faithfully present and completely unconditional. A lot like my dog, Sadie.

Last year, I gave my girls infinity rings and my son a computer programming course for kids (John loved computers from a young age and would have passed that on to him).  This year : )  NOPE I can’t tell you because my girls sometimes read this blog and I LOVE surprises!  But, they will all smile on Christmas morning. AND I AM SO EXCITED!!

I love the Dad Gift idea because it gives our emotions and love for John a tangible place to go. He is still part of our morning. I get more excited about those gifts than anything else I give them. I know John would love this idea and would smile.

2. Wrapping by myself- Ugh. I decided to make it more bearable. I wrap during the day when they are in school and watch a movie for company. I also try to have something to indulge in that I usually don’t treat myself to- Starbucks mint cocoa or holiday M&Ms…a little perk to keep me going. Chocolate always helps.  🙂

3. Putting out gifts- We used to do this Christmas Eve night and inevitably, it would turn into a very early morning! I just can’t do that. So, I put out all of their gifts under/around the tree a few days before Christmas (we wrap each kids’ presents in one kind of wrapping paper so we know at a glance who it is for). It is nice to come home from church on Christmas Eve and have everything done except for the stockings. Staying up late by myself is full of too many emotional landmines. I feel like I am a live Hallmark channel movie. Bleh. So it is better to keep it simple and head to bed.

4. Eating breakfast together Christmas morning- the first two years that was way too painful so we ate in the living room after gifts. We didn’t have to endure his empty place at the table.

5. Getting out of town- It was a mercy to get out of town right after the first Christmas. It breaks the spell of grief. We all needed a break from the intensity of being at home without him. This year I hope we can do a night or two away before the kids go back to school. A little road trip does wonders for my perspective.

6. Christmas Eve service- We love going to the late Christmas Eve service at our church. It has become a treasured, quiet, calming hour. Christ’s birthday celebrating at its best. Last year at the close of the service, we all went outside with candles. A couple hundred of us. Bundled, breath made visible, singing, welcoming the celebration that was announced in the stars. It was holy and lovely and reminded me that our new life continues to unfold with undeniable beauty.

7. A fake tree- Yep. We always had a real Fraser fir. Most years we were content with a nearby lot (no hikes through the forest). But that first year I was dreading the thought of the watering and the mess. Besides I didn’t want to burden anyone with helping us get it cut, in the stand, and in the house. I decided that I needed to streamline. So, I gave myself permission to buy a really nice artificial tree on Black Friday. Christmas does not = fresh tree. Truthfully, I love my new tree. This year my mom-in-law gave me the perfect addition: a reed diffuser (little sticks in a jar filled with fragrant oils) that smells like a fir tree. It makes our tree seem real.

8. Look for ways to help- There are many reasons why, but for us, it is important to remember that the scope of suffering in this life is huge. We aren’t the only people with loss or broken hearts. It would be easy to get self-fixated, but I believe we must actively engage in the needs in the world so that we continue to care and love with depth. When I don’t know of someone in need, I pray that the Lord will show us who to help. He always does.

9. Give your kids opportunities to give– As parents we know the joy of giving.  For kids grappling with the paradox of great loss and holidays, the joy of giving can be a greater, more meaningful blessing than ever. Make sure their gifts to others are a priority. They don’t have to be store bought. Handmade and homemade are always treasured. Pinterest is your friend for ideas! : )

10. Encourage your kids to be real with their emotions- but know they really just want Christmas to be wonderful again. They feel robbed. It is going to take time to adjust, but it will happen.

These are just a few suggestions. If you’re in my shoes, be creative and figure out what works for you and your kids: something that will raise the joy and smile factor (but not cause financial stress in January!), something that will lessen the intensity of the pain. Cry when you need to. Laugh as often as you can. Pray about every stress you feel. Overall, I would say that I have learned to face the hardest moments of holidays ahead of time, and I try to re-direct them. We are still learning how to do this. I am sure I will learn more this year. It’s okay.

It is important to me that our kids know we are still fully celebrating Christmas because it was always about more than family memories. Our true joy is in the Gift that brought life and light into our hearts forever. And that Gift will never ever change. May your heart find its greatest joy in knowing we’ve already been given the perfect gift: Jesus, to find Him is to know Christmas.

Amazingly, He makes my heart merry- Maria

PS  We usually try to read through something as a family for advent. (a few nights a week if we can) This year we are enjoying reading through Unwrapping the Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp. Truly, I can’t recommend it enough. There is a version for families and for adults.  We are reading the family version together even though my kids are older.  It is absolutely compelling.  Go here to find out more. We will probably be reading it well into January! But after all, every day of the year should be a celebration of Him! : )

Only He Can Do This

Have you ever had a breakfast that almost turned into lunch? It happened to me this week when I met another widow for breakfast. We left the restaurant close to noon. : )

She is decades ahead of me on this journey. Oh how I hope to have the vitality and energy and sparkle she does when I have journeyed that long. She and the Lord have had many adventures that she never imagined would be part of her story. She inspires and encourages me.

With an embarrassed laugh, she said, “I sometimes feel guilty because I am so happy!”  OF COURSE, she’d rather have lived these many years with her incredible husband, yet in her circumstances God has helped her discover impossible joy.

I understand. The impossible can be possible if God is in it.

For the first time, it struck me: I know who I identify with the most in the Bible. There are a lot of broken lives and dreams in the Bible, and there are several widows (I do have a favorite widow, but I will tell you about her another time),

But, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego top my list. Remember them? They were the three men who wouldn’t bow down to King Nebuchadnezzar’s huge golden idol (even though everyone else did).  The King had commanded that when the music played everyone should fall down and worship or they’d immediately be thrown into a blazing hot furnace.

The music played and everyone bowed down except for them; they were standing there very conspicuously in their robes and turbans among a crowd of people stretched out flat. Talk about sticking out like sore thumbs!

Raging King Nebuchadnezzar couldn’t believe it! He gave them the benefit of the doubt (not everyone there spoke the same language), and had the music replayed. They still didn’t bow.

This is what they respectfully told him, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

That didn’t go over so well. Off they went- tightly bound with ropes- into a huge burning furnace. It was so hot that the soldiers died who threw them into it.

Within a few moments, “King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and said, ‘Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”

It was AMAZING: they didn’t die. They didn’t burn. They weren’t even singed. They didn’t even smell like a fire.

When King Nebuchadnezzar had them taken out of the fire; everyone checked them out and were awed. The King declared, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.”

He went on to say that no one could say anything against their God or they’d be killed “for no other god can save in this way.”

They had company in that fire. King Nebuchadnezzar declared it was an angel. Bible scholars believe it was Jesus. All I know is that it was the actual, miraculous presence of God who met them in there.

And, God is with me in my fire. I am aware that from the outside looking into our lives, everyone cringes. I used to cringe too when I heard about a family like us. And, now, the holidays are coming and everyone cringes a little more.

Recently, I stood in Walmart stunned that Christmas was coming, yet again, without John. No gift brainstorming or shopping or wrapping or Christmas-morning smiling or treasuring or being together at the sweetest time of the year with our four.

“Isn’t this over, yet, Lord?” 

But, honestly, from inside this fire I can tell you that God’s presence has made this fire bearable. Sometimes people tell me I am radiant. I don’t feel radiant, so if there is anything shiny about me it is the comfort and hope God has given me.

I wouldn’t mind getting out of my furnace, but God’s presence in my life is so utterly compelling that I know it is okay that I have to stay. As long as He is with me this fire can’t destroy me.

Maybe it feels like you are in a furnace too. Life can get hot. All I want to say tonight is that you don’t have to take the heat alone.

Jesus will enter into your furnace with you. Not only that, He will take off the ropes that are paralyzing you. You will be set free in your fire.

And He. will. walk. with. you.

And, the fire simply won’t be what it appears. You actually might find yourself saying, “This isn’t so bad. This isn’t the way I thought it would be or the way that it used to be. And, it isn’t how everyone thinks that it is. It is still a fire, but it is something other. I am walking and thriving and flourishing in this fire.”

And, like the reborn Scrooge, your heart will GROW with love for this God who loves you so much that He came to be with you in it. And you will glow.

And that is who we are celebrating this month- the one called Immanuel, which means God with us. God is with me in my life’s fiery furnace only because of Jesus who “gave me the right to be called a child of God.” Our Father God cares deeply for His children and is with us in our pain and fiery furnaces until the time is right to bring us home.

No matter how things appear, you can always trust Him.

With praise & love to the only God who can save in this way-

Maria

(Passages were from Daniel 3)

“In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and he answered by setting me free. The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.

What can man do to me? The Lord is with me; he is my helper. I will look in triumph on my enemies.”

Psalm 118:5-7