Helping someone in grief

I recently went to a community talk on grief in an effort to help my mother-in-law navigate this time of sorrow and depression. She not only lost her beloved husband of 62 years, but also her vitality, sense of purpose, and independence. Add to that some debilitating health issues and you can imagine the grace it takes to daily live in such a place.

We have tried over the past year to encourage, love, and provide for her, but the bottom line is...there's nothing we can do to change her pain. We want to fix it, but she's on her own journey of loss and all we can do is come alongside, pray, help as we’re able, and leave the process to the Lord.

I was helped by the lecture.  It relieved me of the sense of guilt that I haven't done enough, that I've failed her and the Lord in some way. It armed me with some fresh understanding of both what she's going through and how we can better support her.

If you’re grieving a loss, or helping someone else who is, here are a few thoughts from the talk. Maybe they’ll help.

About grief

  • The symptoms and process of grieving can come with all major changes in life.
  • Grief is a massive stressor, both physically and psychologically. Symptoms may include: exhaustion, shock and numbness, decreased immune response, panic attacks, confusion, forgetfulness, inability to function, preoccupation, obsessive thinking, escapism, frustration, hostility, change in sleep patterns, decreased intellectual ability, and social withdrawal; being distracted, depressed, sad, lonely, angry, fearful; avoidance and over-busyness.
  • There’s no way out of grief; one must go through it. It is exhausting, both emotionally and physically. Deep tiredness and inability to function well is typical, requiring every inner resource to move through grieving. It is hard work.
  • Everyone’s journey is different. The process is unique for each one and should not be expected to ‘wind up’ on any timetable (”A year’s gone by, you’re feeling better, right?”—wrong).
  • Grief is isolating, life-changing, and long term. The work of grief is to process through it and learn how to move on with a new life paradigm. It is possible and there’s good on the other side.

How we can help someone in grief

  • Be patient. Be patient. Be patient.
  • Listen to what they’re processing. Listen with heart, listen with patience—they’ll repeat themselves but it's part of the process.
  • Avoid the temptation to speak platitudes and provide ready answers—that’s our way of dealing with the discomfort of being near their grief. Listen.
  • Don’t be afraid to feel the pain with them. This is so uncomfortable for most of us, but is one of the greatest gifts you can give.
  • Recognize that they’re not only facing deep loss but also changes of routine in almost every area of life. They might need help finding a new way to live.
  • Effective grieving should not be done alone. 
  • Recognize that the grief process is one of ups and downs, good days and bad days. But the gift of time lessens the extremes and it will get better.

As Christians, we have the Lord’s comfort and power to get us through these hard times. There are hundreds of verses in the Bible that  promise us His strength, understanding, and hope. If you have lost a loved one who was a believer in Jesus, the Lord tells us that we will see them again and be with them for all eternity (I Thessalonians 4:13-18). Praise God! The separation is only temporary.


When life gives you lemons...

…you know the rest—make lemonade!

That’s what we’re doing around here right now, making the best of a challenging situation. My husband has been laid low--literally!--the past seven weeks with a back injury. Thankfully, he’s getting better, and we’re appreciating in a whole new way the little privileges of life we tend to take for granted…like sitting, tying your own shoes, going for a walk.

He’s reread a book on the power of praise during this time that has really been a gift to us.  You tend to forget that God wants you to be thankful in everything when you’re drowning in the circumstances and pain of trouble.

It seems a contradiction, but as we’ve talked and worked to implement this, we’ve been newly reminded of the power and benefit of praise and thanksgiving.  We’ve been able to stay in peace and not succumb to the negative.

So I'll share with you some sips of our lemonade!

Giving thanks to the Lord in everything…

…reminds us of the fundamentals:  He made us, He redeemed us at great cost, and He is working out His good master plan for our lives no matter what it looks like.  [Romans 8:28]

…keeps us out of the pit of discouragement and despair. [Psalm 40:1-3]

…cuts off complaining (which God hates).  [Numbers 14:29]

…reaffirms our faith and strengthens it.  [Philemon 6]

…is a powerful weapon against the attacks of the enemy on our minds and hearts.  [Psalm 28:6-7]

…is part of worship.  [Psalm 100]

…is an act of faith, and that's what pleases God.  [Hebrews 11:6]

…declares that we trust His leadership, wisdom, and love--no matter what it looks like or feels like.  [Proverbs 3:5-6]

…keeps us squarely in the Kingdom of light, not darkness.  Darkness is where death-things rule and I want no part of it.  [Colossians 1:12-13]

…gives God the freedom to work His creative wonders out of a difficult situation. That's what He does! That's what He's good at!  [II Chronicles 20:21-22]

…keeps the door open to miracles.  [Luke 17:11-19]

…brings peace to your heart. These things are bigger than we are and we cannot fix them. Casting our care on Him in a spirit of thankfulness and praise releases the problem to Him--right where He wants it to be.  [Philippians 4:6-7]

…declares what I believe He's going to do, and that's how we obtain the promises--believing what is true in the spirit even though we don't see it in the flesh.  [Hebrews 11:1]

So whatever lemons you’ve been dealt today, I offer you this good reminder. It works!

Be thankful in all circumstances, 
for this is God's will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

I Thessalonians 5:18 (NLT)


Holding steady

One of the things I'm often challenged in is steadiness.  My mood or frame of mind can be influenced by lack of sleep or physical issues, stress and feeling overwhelmed, situations that feel edgy or out of control.  I want to be like what this blog is titled - still waters!  Unflappable, spiritually-minded, steady.  All the time.

It is clearer than ever to me that the battles of life are won or lost in my mind.  Discouragement with myself or situations can have a completely deflating effect, robbing me of motivation to do the right thing even when I don't feel like it.

While I'm better than I used to be, there's lots of room for improvement. It's one of the great goals of my life (and no doubt God's for me!).

I know that steadiness comes directly from my relationship with the Lord.  He is my source of peace, order, confidence, strength, etc.  And that means this unshakable quality I desire is spiritual in nature, not a product of perfect circumstances. It's ever the battle between the mind of the flesh and the mind of the spirit, isn't it? The apostle Paul said it perfectly:
So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.                Romans 8:6  NLT
There's the secret--letting the Holy Spirit take control. For me, that means really believing that when I ask Him to take care of a situation, He does.  God's grace (His supernatural ability) is specifically given for whatever the need, so if I can stay focused on that provision, instead of my issues, I will stay steady.  Working on that!

How about you?  How do you hold yourself steady in the daily struggles of life?


"Leave to thy God"

This morning, the wonderful words from one of my most favorite hymns "Be Still, My Soul" came to mind.  During a time of great turmoil in my life, this ministered deeply to my heart, calming and settling me with God's peace.  Read through the lyrics here, and see if it doesn't do the same for you

Be Still, My Soul

Be still, my soul, the Lord is on thy side;
bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
leave to thy God to order and provide;
in every change he faithful will remain. 

Be still, my soul, thy best, thy heavenly friend
through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
Be still, my soul, thy God doth undertake
to guide the future as he has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
all now mysterious shall be bright at last.

Be still, my soul, the waves and winds still know
his voice who ruled them while he dwelt below.
Be still, my soul, the hour is hastening on
when we shall be forever with the Lord,
when disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
sorrow forgot, love's purest joys restored.

Be still, my soul, when change and tears are past,
all safe and blessed we shall meet at last. 

Katharina von Schlegel, 1752; trans. by Jane Borthwick, 1855 (Ps. 46:10)



I am called to write.

That fact has been both a joy and a torment.  A joy when I could be engaged in learning and growing in the craft, writing and expressing the things that were on my heart.  But a torment when life intruded on my time to write, distracting me from my focus and rendering me unable to work with words.

Such have been the last few years.  I had been steadily writing around the edges of the time given to homemaking and homeschooling, making some progress.  God had given me a big vision for a children's Bible study book, and I'd gotten a good start on it.  But a few years of huge life issues completely sidelined me.  My writing quietly folded itself away.

By last summer, my frustration level was at an all-time high.  I was grieving the loss of this dream and looking to the future in despair that I’d ever be able to really write again.  I told the Lord more than once that He would do me a favor and just Take.It.Away.  I could at least be at peace.

Then last fall, I started feeling some deep stirrings of unexplained hope.  Words began to come to me daily, from many different sources—”renew the vision,” “new beginnings,” “resurrection of dead dreams.”  I know from experience that this kind of thing is no accident.  God was gently stirring the waters and aiming to redirect my negative and non-productive thinking.  Lysa TerKeurst calls these “limiting beliefs,” those things that hinder you from moving into all that God has for you.

I’ve been at this place before—the crisis of faith.  Years ago, my dreams to have a baby went through the fires of testing.  I’d suffered long with a painful physical condition that threatened my ability to conceive, but I also had had a clear promise from the Lord in His Word that I would be the “happy mother of children.”  It was a rocky road though; several surgeries, several miscarriages, the last of which was particularly brutal at half-term.  Brokenhearted and profoundly disappointed, I was so done with the whole thing.  Pregnancy was a mine field and I gave up.

I stayed at that place of deep depression for a year and a half.  But one day in my quiet time with the Lord, I felt He was saying, “We have some unfinished business.” He was right.  Nothing from His side had changed.  I knew I would either have to take hold again by faith, or let it go and know that by so doing, I’d never see my answer.  It was terrifying, considering my history.  But I believe His grace made me able to re-engage once again.  I did, and long story short, our miracle daughter was born “in the fullness of time.”  (All glory to His Name!)

So back to the writing.  I could see that a similar principle was at work here.  If the “gifts and callings of God are without repentance,” (Romans 11:29) meaning He doesn’t take them back, then nothing had changed from His side.  I had to get moving, demonstrate my faith in the face of seeming impossibilities (my frozen writer’s brain, time to write), and change my thinking and words. 

So instead of, “Why start? I’ll never be able to finish,” or “Forget it, it’s not even reasonable to think I could write a book at this season of my life”—I began to state what I was asking and believing God to do.  “I am a prolific writer.  The Holy Spirit is quickening my mind, giving me words.  He is helping me to use my hours wisely.  He is arranging my days so I’ll have slots of time to write.  I am doing the will of God, therefore He will give me good success.”

It’s funny.  When I began to shake off my “limiting beliefs” and start believing that God was giving this dream back, things began to change.  He gave me a whole new, enlarged vision not only for my book but for all of my writing—for His Kingdom work.  He is arranging my daily life so that I have actually have chunks of time to brainstorm and redesign and write.  It’s glorious!  I feel like what Eric Liddel said in Chariots of Fire, “when I run, I feel His pleasure.” When I write, I feel His pleasure.

So I’d like to encourage you today.  If you have a dream that has died, but it just doesn’t let go of you, maybe God wants you to be willing to take hold again. To believe that it’s His joy and delight to fulfill in you all that He made you to be and do.  Don’t stop short!  It might be really hard, that reaching out and taking hold again.  But He will help you, as He has me.  As Christians, we know that in all things we live by faith.  Your faith pleases and honors the Father, and is the means by which you’ll see the “abundantly above and beyond all you can ask or think” come to pass.



A good prayer for today

In my Bible reading lately, I came across a prayer I used to pray often.  I'm not sure why I fell out of the habit, but it is one of those prayers that “covers the waterfront.”  I sense my faith engaging with confidence as I pray it over requests and needs for myself and others.  In fact, I sometimes change the ‘we’ to ‘I’ and ‘me’—as I’ve written below.  It’s found in Colossians 1:9-12.
“Father, today I pray, in the Name of Your Son Jesus…

…that I may be filled with the knowledge of Your will
    in all wisdom and
    spiritual understanding;

…that I may walk worthy of You,
    fully pleasing You;

…that I may be fruitful in every good work;

…that I may increase in the knowledge of You;

…that I may be strengthened with all might,
    According to Your glorious power,
    With all patience and longsuffering
    With joy.

I thank You for qualifying me to be a partaker
    of the inheritance of the saints
    in the light.

I believe it,
    I receive it by faith,
    and now act on the promise
    that my prayer is granted.”



Times and seasons

It has been so evident since we moved here to Arizona two years ago that we began a whole new life season, other than the obvious geographic relocation. 

Back in Colorado, nearly my whole life was absorbed in the many facets of homeschooling and all things children—teaching in my own homeschool and our church Sunday School, curriculum planning, support and youth group activities, etc. Moving here drew us fully into the larger picture of extended family life, and simultaneously ended my season of homeschooling.

Now, as this new year begins, I find myself in the season of care-giving.  My father-in-law’s passing eight months ago created a new and very challenging situation for the family—not only helping my mother-in-law with all facets of her daily life and health issues, but trying to bring real encouragement and comfort to her sorrowing heart.  I’m afraid we’ve not been very successful as there are no shortcuts in the grief process. 

I’ve really never been much around elderly folk; I never knew my grandparents or older extended relatives, and have largely been unaware of the incredible challenges seniors can face.  Where once they were strong, productive and independent, now they deal with tiredness, forgetfulness, health troubles, grief, loss of independence, loss of purpose.  They have to let others call the shots and be gracious at the same time.

Care-giving is similar to homeschooling—very much a walk of faith.  Every day I need the Lord’s practical wisdom and help. Each day it’s just doing the next thing, trusting that our efforts will bear fruit.  And, like homeschooling, it’s all about someone else—a good refining process for the soul! 

My prayer is that the Lord will help me be faithful in this season and learn all the lessons He has for me.  It’s not easy, but then I guess nothing worthwhile ever is, right?


The "re-" words

I have been prayerfully pondering a strong thought for some weeks now, something that I believe God is speaking as a theme for this new year.


The work of the enemy of our souls is always negative--you know, the 'de-' words.  Defeat. Despair. Destroy. Depress. Jesus warned us of this in John 10:10:  "The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and destroy."

Have you experienced any of these attacks this year?  I have.  Some days it was hard to keep my head above water and remember that Jesus had all the strength and help I needed for every situation.

But the Lord has been reminding me that He is the Redeemer!  He has 'bought back' every kind of destruction that can come against me and turn it into Life.  The second half of that verse describes it:  "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly."

When you think about it, redemption is a package deal, absolutely everything I need or ever will need. It's a "re-" word that encompasses all the others. "Re-" means "go back to, again, anew."  Only in Jesus, He doesn't just take us back to where we were derailed. He takes us up into His realm of resurrection life--the superabundance, overflowing, more-than-enough, extraordinary supply of His redeeming work on the cross.











Doesn't that just make your heart sing?  It does mine.  I desperately need this precious and powerful work of the Holy Spirit over this year.  I'm looking for it in all my needy situations, asking for it, thanking Him for it.

May He quicken this truth to your heart today, in whatever place of challenge you find yourself, and give you new and fresh encouragement for 2016!