When Friends Grieve {5 Tips When You Want to Help}

When she saw me coming she wavered. Before we even started hugging she was releasing her pent up tears. It would continue for the next hour or so. Her melting into the arms of friends and family. It’s a lot of emotion for one person to carry alone. Here she was, saying goodbye to two of the most important women in her life. Within the span of one week both her grandma and her mom had died. And now she was doing calling hours and funerals and grave-side services. That’s a lot of emotion for one person to carry alone.

But she doesn’t have to. We are there. Holding up some of the burden with her. Her community is surrounding her – her husband, her pastor, her friends, her extended family. We are there. And, that’s it really. We are just being there – some of us physically and many of us in spirit. It’s a powerful thing to know you’re not alone when you’re hurting.

A lot of people have been asking me what they need. How we can help. We want to DO something. Something tangible. To take some of that ache away. To carry just a little bit of the burden for her.

It’s a beautiful scene really, watching people want to surround her like that.

As I’ve been reflecting on it, a few things have come to mind. I’m no grief counselor, mind-you. Just a friend watching another friend struggle through a month full of sorrows.

  1. Pray. Like for real. For them and with them. Sometimes we feel like praying is the “only thing we can do right now.” Like it’s the second-best option since there is nothing else we can do. Can I just take a sec to remind you that approaching the throne of grace to talk to the wise, loving, all-powerful  King of the universe on someone else’s behalf is NOT second-best? Go to Him and ask Him to scoop her up into His strong arms and comfort her in her time of need. Do it often and tell her that you’ve done it. And, when you can, do it with her. She might sob through the whole thing but there is something very moving about being prayed for with people you love and trust.
  2. See if there are any tangible needs that they do have right now. But be specific and be patient. Sometimes they don’t know WHAT they need. They’re too overwhelmed to make sense of lots of “what do you need” requests. Right now, my grieving friends have meals coming regularly through the wonderful website Take Them A Meal. And they are getting help with the daily needs of their kids. Those are the two most urgent needs that most families have in times of crisis. Beyond that, they just need to get through the week and let the dust settle.
  3. Offer to take things off of their to-do list. If she was supposed to run the PTA bake sale this weekend, offer to take it over for her. But don’t assume. She might WANT to do something mindless and unrelated to hospitals and funeral homes. Cleaning her house might be a burden that she would be blessed to have done by someone else. On the other hand, it might be very therapeutic for her to get on her hands and knees and scrub the floor. Ask, sincerely offer, even push a little bit to let her know you’re serious; but don’t assume.
  4. Text, email or facebook them just to let them know you care about them. A simple message can go a long way. But don’t be hurt if they don’t reply. They probably won’t. Because they just can’t always.
  5. If you really want to do something tangible but the meal schedule is already full and they are covered on childcare, think outside the box. Maybe a gift card for a family outing or dinner out would be nice for them to look forward to once the dust has settled a bit. Tuck it inside a card with words of love and encouragement. And mail it! In this digital age of ours, a real card with handwriting is a precious gift! The most important thing is just the communication that you are “in it” with them. Grief can be a lonely, tiring place.

Remember that as you come alongside hurting people in your life, you are showing them a little bit of God Himself. You are messengers of His grace and love for them. Just be willing to be used as He leads you. And, that will make all the difference.

Bible Reflections

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that one of my great passions is God’s Word. I want to continue to move toward viewing with longing, not as a duty.

Today, I’m over at The Better Mom, sharing some of that passion. Will you join me over there?

 

And, if you’d enjoy some further reading on the topic, here are a few of my other favorite posts from the archives. They are all on the topic of falling love with God’s Word.

Blessings on this Sabbath Day,

Christmas Dissonance {More Advent Thoughts}

I have long struggled with the reality of living in a busy culture. A culture that has certain traditions and expectations (not necessarily bad ones either). A culture that is run by a clock with deadlines and appointments and places to be. Constantly.

And, especially during any kind of holiday. Like, oh say, Christmas.

I wrestle with it because I have conflicting emotions. On the one hand, I bemoan the hectic pace and the expectations. The December to-do list can be crushing. On the other hand, I really like doing some of the things I do. I like making teacher gifts. I like decorating the tree and baking cookies. I like the added events like Christmas parties and concerts.

As a result, I feel a great dissonance. I want to keep Christmas simple. Even though I know it has become a circus. But I don’t totally want to kill the circus. Because it’s fun. Even though I know the circus can be a little distracting. And so it goes. Dissonance. In my soul. Over Christmas.

Usually, I just try to be more organized. I don’t truly simplify. I just organize the chaos a little better. But even THAT only sort-of works. Because I get halfway through December and realize I’ve been making Rick’s favorite Christmas cookies for other people. But not for him.

Last year, I was super proud of us because we decided to only send our Christmas card/letter/picture thingy out every OTHER year. I know, right? Just every OTHER year. Whew. Those McKees are really taming the circus with that one. Impressed, aren’t you?

Well, I can’t say that I’ve solved the dissonance in my soul over this whole thing. I haven’t. I’m still wrestling. BUT, I’ll leave you with a few words from my Advent devotional. I’m glad for voices that challenge me to keep wrestling. (Otherwise, I’d probably just believe the Target commercials and give into buying more stuff to make my house more perfect and my kids more happy.)

This entry is penned by Loretta Ross-Grott, an American author and dramatist.

The intensity and strain that many of us bring to Christmas must suggest to some onlookers that, on the whole, Christians do not seem to have gotten the point of it. Probably few of us have the faith or the nerve to tamper with hallowed Christmas traditions on a large scale, or with our other holiday celebrations. But a small experiment might prove interesting. What if, instead of DOING something, we were to BE something special? Be a womb. Be a dwelling for God. Be surprised.”

Well, there you have it.

Advent Reflections {Sharing from Watch for the Light}

As I mentioned yesterday, I’d like to use my blog space to share snippets from the Advent book I’ve been reading this year. It’s a great collection of thoughts from various authors/speakers.

This is one is by Madeline L’Engle. It’s just a couple of paragraphs but I love the imagery she conjures:

Was there a moment, known only to God, when all the stars held their breath, when the galaxies paused in their dance for a fraction of a second, and the Word, who had called it all into being, went with all His love into the womb of a young girl, and the universe started to breathe again, and the ancient harmonies resumed their song, and the angels clapped their hands for joy?”

Think about that for a sec. Don’t you just love image of it? All the universe pausing at this one moment in time at the wonder of it.

She goes on: “Power. Greater power than we can imagine, abandoned, as the Word knew the powerlessness of the unborn child, still unformed, taking up almost no space in the great ocean of amniotic fluid, unseeing, unhearing, unknowing. Slowly growing, as any human embryo grows, arms and legs and a head, eyes, mouth, nose, slowly swimming into life until the ocean in the womb is no longer enough, and it is time for birth.

Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, Christ, the Maker of the universe or perhaps many universes, willingly and lovingly leaving all that power and coming to this poor, sin-filled planet to live with us for a few years…

Yes. This.

This is Christmas.

 

How I Learned Thanks From a Faraway Blog Friend

Several years ago I stumbled upon a blog that impacted me deeply. I was new to the blogosphere and really found it because I was doing some research for a retreat at which I was to speak. It was filled with the words of a Canadian farmer’s wife and homeschooling mama to six. God used her words and her photos to stir my heart. Our lives were as different as day and night – me living in a liberal college town, a preacher’s wife, and public school mama to just two. Nevertheless, our love of Jesus and His grace made us sisters and I felt like I had “met” a kindred spirit.

When she started blogging about everyday graces and being purposeful about giving thanks, she planted an important seed in my heart. It was a seed that I desperately needed to let take root – in a place that had been given over to grumbling and criticizing. For I am a woman who loves to evaluate ideas and think critically. I know that critical thinking can be beneficial. But, it’s a good quality that can lead to bad character if left unchecked. To being judgmental and critical. To looking for the next, better thing instead of enjoying the current situation. In a nutshell, it can lead to a lack of gratitude.

Of Blogs and Books

So, I joined her in keeping a journal of thanks. I started soaking in the everyday and thanking God for even the little blessings or the hard moments. As I began to really notice my life, even the way I took photos changed. A pile of laundry became a thing of beauty. An unmet expectation transformed into an opportunity to trust.

And then, I read her book. It was the food and water that brought the seed to fruition – gave it roots and a place to grow.

Since then, it’s been a process of embracing gratitude and seeing all of life as grace. It’s not a new concept – it’s clear as clear on the pages of Scripture. Right there in the beginning. Pretty much all sin, right back to the first sin, stems out of an unthankful heart. A heart that demands more is a heart that can’t see the bounty of God’s goodness. It’s a heart that doesn’t trust the Giver. And, a lack of gratitude is an easy companion to pride and selfishness.

Ann says it this way: “Our fall was, has always been, and always will be, that we aren’t satisfied in God and what He gives. We hunger for something more, something other.”

No, it’s not a new concept at all. It’s just that Ann wrote into a void. There’s just not a lot out there about gratitude. Just take a look at the most-read articles or the most-popular books on the shelf. Most people want to know how to get more, not be happy with the less you already have. We compare and we covet and we fantasize about another life. And unless we do something obvious like rob a bank to get that life, we can hide these “little” sins behind a good work ethic and the American dream  – maybe even hide them from ourselves. An extra-marital affair at work usually gets discovered; but you can be envious of your friend’s life for a lot of years without ever recognizing the lack of gratitude (and the damage it does to your heart).

So what?

Yesterday I told you I was going to give you some tips and traditions for November. I did compile a list of links and ideas to help you celebrate gratitude. I think I’ll actually save them for this weekend.

For now, the only tip I’ll give is the one I gleaned from Ann. Start counting. On a scrap of paper. In a journal. Use her printable. Just start jotting them down. And be specific. Maybe it would go something like this: #1 the way his breath sounds next to you when you wake up in the middle of the night, #2 the bright green of the moss that grows in-between the bricks of your walkway, #3 seeing her handwriting when the mail came last week… etc.

When Ann first started counting, her goal was to record 1,000 gifts. But once she started, she decided to never stop.

Can you imagine what it would be like to live life this way – not just in November but all year round? No matter the circumstance? Sometimes, I like to imagine all of our thanks rising up to heaven like great big bowls of incense. Wafting up before God and bringing Him great pleasure.

For He delights in giving to us.

Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow.  – James, the half-brother of Jesus

Could we try it together?

To help with the counting, you can join me over at our Facebook page. Each day in November, I will post  a new quote about gratitude on the In A Mirror Dimly page. Below it, you can comment and list another thanks (or two or three) for the day. I know some of you are already doing this on your personal Facebook pages. But, how cool would it be to also do it together in one place? To rejoice with each other and see a growing list of thanks?

 

November’s Gratitude {And Why I’m Not Decorating for Christmas Yet}

Today is the first day of November. I have taken to calling it the forgotten month. The one stuck in between Halloween and Christmas. Our hunger for the festivities of Christmas has nearly eclipsed it all together.

I find myself fighting hard against this tide. Refusing to turn on the Christmas music or drag out the bins full of Christmas beauties. My soul bristling against the store aisles that already stock ornaments and baubles.

Don’t hate me. I know some of you are hating me. Because I’ve seen your Facebook posts. {wink} Maybe you think it’s sort of Grinch-like of me to refuse to start humming to Bing Crosby. It’s not that I don’t like Christmas. I do. I love Christmas. And, not just because it feels like a magical time full of traditions and precious family memories. But, more importantly, I love it because it’s the celebration of the greatest gift ever. I’m undone when I ponder the miracle of it.

So, yes, I do love Christmas. Just not the way we have forced it into November.

My dilemma…

I’m not exactly sure why it bothers me so much really. I guess there’s nothing inherently wrong about watching It’s a Wonderful Life in November. I mean, who decided that Christmas decorations can’t come out until the weekend after Thanksgiving anyway?

I think I just want some time to pause. A time to focus on thanks. During that scrap of time that comes after the last of the candy corn is gone, but before the headlong rush into the busyness and the spending that comes with Christmas celebrations.

I sometimes wonder if  we just don’t quite know what to do with ourselves during November. To be still and give thanks? Pfft. We’re much more comfortable behind a Spidey mask and passing out candy or carving pumpkins with the fam. Or, better yet, let’s get to stringing popcorn and wrapping presents.

But, to be still and choose gratitude? Yikes. Thanks means dependence – on someone bigger than us. Gratitude implies grace. And that whole thing makes us squirm a little bit.

For me, November is the pause in the middle of the all the hub-bub. Because, let’s face it, in America our celebrations are an awful lot of hub-bub. Even when we try to keep them simple and focused.

I’m realizing that I need November’s pause – to refocus my heart.

Here’s what I’m doing about it…

Thanksgiving is on the 22nd this year. That gives me 22 days to just “be”. To receive bounty from God and remind myself that He is the Giver. To catch final snippets of time to be outside before the snows come and we huddle indoors. To light candles and smell harvest scents. To make Butternut Squash Soup with the last of the garden goodness. To enjoy the final turning of the leaves that have hung on thus far. To read once again about the sacrifices that brought the pilgrims to free shores. To remember how God has taken the hard places of our life and made them beautiful. To whisper thanks over the kids as they sleep at night and even thanks over the 3 we never knew. To remember that even His taking away is somehow a giving. To linger a second longer and notice the way the raindrops cling to the banister. To jot notes to friends who make my life richer. To count them out. Blessing upon blessing. Gifts overflowing.

“Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies,  those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.” -John Milton

So, please forgive me if I’m not ready to get into the Christmas spirit. To be honest, I feel strongly about this November thing; but I really won’t judge if you’d rather start pulling out the Christmas goodies. As for me, I’m staking off these 22 days for gratitude. I have to. My soul aches for it. (And, ironically, it actually makes me more prepared for Christmas.)

Join me? If you come back tomorrow, I’ll have a few tips and traditions to help you count the gifts and offer thanks.

 

A Season for Dying {Lessons from The Black-Eyed Susan}

The Black-Eyed Susans are dying. They’ve spent themselves.

Now they prepare for a new season. They’ll lie still and quiet under the heavy blanket of snow this winter. But they’ll be back next Spring, inching back out of the ground when it’s safe – in greater number and strength they’ll come.

Come summer they’re sure to burst forth again, filling the long side of our house with life. This is the way of things. Sure as sure.

I always take a picture of them in their glory. Right about July. They make me smile there – tall and proud with their deep yellow petals and their big black center.

This year, though, I missed my July photo. We were so busy that I barely stopped to notice them there.

Ironically, I was struck instead by their beauty in a different season. This one. Right now, as they lay dying. I didn’t notice it before but there is another kind of beauty in them at this stage. It’s a stark kind of beauty. One that comes after the glory.

Because they have spent themselves for something wonderful.

They are depleted and exhausted by their summer effort. Their proud stems are bending over and most of their petals have dropped. A few hang on… reminders of the glory.

There is something beautiful about that dying. Something that stirs in my soul as I contemplate the shriveled leaves and the scattered petals.

So strong is our longing for the glory, that sometimes I think we miss the beauty of this. Jesus didn’t. He knew that the dying had its own kind of splendor. In speaking of His own pending death He said this: “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”

We’re not so sure about this. In his short piece on repentance, William Willimon said it this way: “Whatever the Gospel means, we tell ourselves, it could not mean death. Love, divine or human, could never exact something so costly.”

Could it really mean that Jesus bids me come and die? And that there is really some beauty in that? A glory of its own?

In the agony of having my petals stripped clean by a rebellious child or a selfish friend, there is beauty? When I pour myself out for my kids and I have nothing left but shriveled leaves and a blackened nub? When I am bent low by the harsh winds of this world and insensitive demands of others? When no one even notices me? Beauty? There?

Jesus says there is. Will we believe Him? Will we come and die,  laying our own desires aside? Spending our days serving others? Giving instead of buying? Going instead of relaxing? Sacrificing instead of indulging? Submitting instead of demanding?

And after we have been spent, what then? Will we yield to Winter and wait for Spring to call forth new life from the very ground where the spent petals lay?

Nature echoes it. The Black-Eyed Susans attest to this truth. Spend yourself and see, they say.

Will you?

Rethinking Mondays

Monday Piles

Sometimes Mondays are hard. Sometimes your daughter has a bumpy start (which usually means you have a bumpy start). And the laundry piles high from a busy weekend. And your schedule gets set a little off kilter because of the daughter drama.  And your loose tea is too pulverized so you get little bits of tea floating out of the tea ball into your mug. And you remember that you forgot to plan the menu because you took a nap Sunday afternoon instead… so there’s no real plan for feeding your family dinner tonight.  And maybe your to-do list feels a bit too long. And you read the news when you should have been making the bed… and it was more politics to make you feel grumpy inside.

But then there is this from Ann’s book on gratitude: “life change comes when we receive life with thanks and ask for nothing to change.” Receive it all with thanks. All of life. Not just the stuff that’s easy to receive – like the cool Fall air or my favorite hoodie or the lingering hug from my man. But a dare to live fully right where I am.

To give thanks. Thanks that I have a daughter and I’m the one to help her through bumpy starts. Thanks that I work from home so I can rearrange my schedule to wipe tears and offer to come take her out to lunch at Noon. Thanks that I know her teacher who gives me a nod and smile when I explain the morning drama. Thanks for a weekend full of time with family and friends and the dearest church family ever. Thanks for laundry to cover our nakedness and for the four precious bodies that need clothed in this home. Thanks that I got my tea on sale and that the stray leaves can be scooped up and that English Breakfast tea is so darn yummy. Thanks that we live in a country of abundance so there’s always a box of whole wheat pasta and a jar of red sauce in the cupboard when dinner gets forgotten. And even zucchini in the fridge from the local farmers. Thanks that my to-do list is a result of living with purpose and caring for my little domain. Thanks that God has entrusted me with tasks to accomplish and that I can do even the laundry for His glory.

Thanks for the story about the latest teachers union strike in Chicago that made me grumpy with political angst. Well, maybe not. But maybe thanks for democracy and choices. {wink}

Yes. Sometimes Mondays are hard. But I suppose most of it depends on your perspective.

And another thing…

This week I’ve been pondering on reasons why I love the Bible so much. Here is today’s revelation: IT’S GOD. TALKING. TO US.

God. Bending down from His throne exalted above the heavens where He is worshipped in a never-ending chorus of praise and worship by magnificent creatures in a place that has no gross blemish or corrupt stain.

Why?

Because He wants to talk with us. God does. You know, the One who spoke the galaxies into existence. Yes, Him.

He wants to talk to us. Wants to whisper sweet nothings in our ears and remind us that we are more deeply loved than we could ever imagine – despite our many flaws. Longs to tell us the most ancient stories and unfold some of the great mysteries for us. To recount the time He told the proud waves to stop and scrunched the land up into little piles that we call mountains. Or the time He became as small as a spec and lived in a womb for nine months. Or how He was thinking about me…and you…and the joy set before Him. Back when the weight of the world bore down on His shoulders in the darkest-of-dark moments 2,000 years ago. Or how He’s going to give me a new name one day. On that one day when He comes on the clouds to catch me up and take me home where I belong. To that one place that doesn’t even need a sun because He’s there. Yes, He’d like to chat with me about those things.

And, I’d rather read the comics or watch American Idol or check Facebook? Something is seriously wrong with this picture.

Do I really need to say more?

Enjoying Your Just Desserts

I want you to take a sec and think about your most favorite dessert. I’m not talking about prepackaged cookies from the Keebler elves. I’m talking about real dessert. Maybe more like something from the Cheesecake Factory.

You know how it is when you’re having a really good dessert, right?

You savor every bite. Let it dissolve on your tongue as you enjoy every bit of flavor. And, then when you’re on the last bite, you feel a mixture of sadness and delight. Sadness because the whole experience is about to be over. Delight because it was rich and delicious and everything you had hoped it would be. The indulgence makes your heart happy.

That’s how I feel about Tiramasu. And Baklava. And quality dark chocolate… with fresh strawberries. And Graeter’s Rasberry Chocolate Chip Ice Cream.

And the Bible.

Whaaaaat?

You see, too often we think about the Bible like we think about brussel sprouts (you may insert some other hated vegetable if you’re a lover of these tiny cabbage-like greens; I don’t mean to offend). We know it’s good for us and that we should probably have our daily dose. But, in truth, we don’t really savor it. We don’t anticipate it. Like a child at the dinner table, we pinch our noses and choke it down until the next day when we’ll have to do it all again. Usually accompanied by a heavy side of guilt.

But, I want you to know that it doesn’t have to be this way. It wasn’t for King David. For this warrior-poet, God’s Word was more like eating dessert. Here’s what he said about it in Psalm 19:

The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.

More to be desired are they than gold, yes, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward.

After reading David’s praise of God’s words, do you get the sense that he was choking them down out of duty? No way! For David, it was his delight to take them in and let them transform his life!

Why? Because they restore the soul, make wise the simple, rejoice the heart, and enlighten the eyes.

Sweet friends, stop making your Bible a symbol of guilt and obligation! It’s not. It was never meant to be. Is it good for us? Yes. Should we read it regularly and apply ourselves to studying it? Yes. Do we have to read it? Yes. Another place in scripture calls it our daily bread – so, yes, there is certainly a sense in which HAVE to have it. But, only if we want to LIVE!

What a shame that we have made it so much more like eating brussel sprouts and less like feasting on something rich and decadent.

Why do we DO that? Is it that we’ve allowed ourselves to become satisfied with a steady diet of prepackaged Keebler crap so we feel full? Is it that our tastebuds have become dull and we just don’t know good food anymore? Maybe we just don’t remember how great a good piece of Baklava can taste? Is it that we’ve busied ourselves with so much other stuff that we’re really not “alive.” Oh, we look like we’re alive. But we’re really parched and dry and malnourished because we’re wasting away inside. Is it because we don’t think the dessert will be yummy? Maybe we’ve been duped into thinking it will be gross and cardboardy.

Probably a little bit of all of the above.

Could we try feasting? Because I don’t want to have dull tastebuds or eat prepackaged cookies or settle for wasting away. Or miss the good stuff because I thought it was cardboard. None of those sound appealing. Maybe lets try David’s approach.

David says that God’s Word is sweeter than honey.

We don’t really appreciate this illustration because we have sugar. But only recently in man’s history (mid-19th century) did sugar become affordable to the average Westerner. Prior to then, it was a very expensive luxury. I know that’s hard to believe because now it’s in EVERYTHING we eat. But it was once highly valued. And honey even more so because it’s twice as sweet as sugar and has healing properties. It was often used as a form of currency or as a tribute or offering. It was something to be prized and savored.

For just a moment, I want you to imagine honey just dripping off the honeycomb. Fresh, pure honey. Imagine a kid, sitting in a meadow with it – taking a big, sloppy lick right off the honeycomb.

Now, I want you to go pick up your Bible. And ask God to help you feel the same way about it. Rehearse David’s Words. Shout them back to God with reckless abandon.

Oh God, YOUR law is perfect, converting my soul: YOUR testimony is sure, making wise the simple. YOUR statutes are right, rejoicing my heart: YOUR commandment is pure, enlightening my eyes. YOUR fear is clean, enduring for ever: YOUR judgments are true and righteous altogether.

More to be desired are they than gold, yes, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. If I keep them there is great reward.

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