12 Practical Ways to Light Their World this Christmas

The cold days and long, dark nights that are characteristic in the winter leave the widow feeling like the winter of her soul may never end.  We have all had seasons like this, when the biting cold outside matches the biting hurt we feel on the inside. Without the comfort and love of her husband, the winter months have way of intensifying the loneliness and grief the widow feels. Thankfully, God gives snow in the winter as a beautiful picture of His grace, and before we know it, the snow melts away reminding us that there is life after death. We invite you to be another picture of grace for the widow and fatherless this winter season. This list of practical ideas, compiled by widows, will help you bring light into otherwise dark places. For all you will do, we thank you!

  1. Winterize her home:
    Service her heating system and change air filters.
    Check batteries in smoke detectors and fire alarms.
    Bring firewood
    Trim tree limbs that could be hazardous in a storm
    Provide flashlights and candles in case of power outages
    Change light bulbs inside and out
  2. Help her prepare for the year ahead:
    Financial planning
    Tax preparation
  3. Give your time to preserve her memories:
    Offer an evening or weekend to help her sort through pictures—having someone to share these special moments with is a blessing.
    Take time to write out a specific memory of her loved one, and deliver it to her.
  4. Thoughtful ideas:
    Buy her warm and cozy things:Winter gloves / scarf / warm socks / blanket—something to snuggle up to on the chilly nights
    Candles—these always have a way of making the holidays warmer and brighter, especially on the cold and dreary days.
    Fill her pantry with love: Tea, hot chocolate and coffee are always a safe bet.
    Stock her freezer with casseroles and soups.
  5. Give her a good book:
    “Reading gives us some place to go when we have to stay where we are.” – Mason Cooley
  6. Send gift cards: food and gas are always needed
  7. Care for her fatherless children
    Babysit her kids or come with an activity to share with her and her children
  8. Provide help with medical attention, if needed
  9. Call: Be available if weather isolates – make sure she is okay.
  10. Write: After the rush of the holidays, it’s easy for loneliness to set in—send a card letting her know you are thinking of her. Hand-written notes may be her greatest friend.
  11. Visit: Invite her to join you at the movies, for dinner, or take her to run errands.
  12. Pray:
    Dear God, please show the warmth of your love to this precious widow during the winter months.  Thank you that you promise to be her covering.  May she experience your protection in the storm and provision from the cold. As she faces the year ahead, remind her that your plans are good, you are with her, and you will help her. Amen.

    “Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

Finding Christmas by Michelle Lynn Senters

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).  – Matthew 1:23

Far too early on Christmas morning, my daughters burst into my bedroom with the announcement that Santa had come and it was time to wake up. At 10 and 4 years old, they knew the Christmas routine. No one could open a gift until Mom had her first cup of coffee. The girls ran back and forth between snooping through the presents and pleading with me to hurry. The anticipation was almost too much for them to bear as I put the cinnamon rolls into the oven, turned on the Christmas music, and poured myself a cup of coffee.

The truth is, I needed that cup of coffee. It gave me a few minutes to collect myself and muster up some semblance of Christmas joy. My daughters deserved that much. They didn’t need to know I only got a few hours of sleep because I worked into the night wrapping presents and taking perfect Santa and Rudolph-sized bites out of the cookies and carrots. They didn’t need to know I hid my grief behind every decoration, casserole, song, and pine-scented candle. And they certainly didn’t need to know my half-hearted prayer as I sipped my coffee and watched them fuss and giggle in their red, plaid pajamas.

This doesn’t feel right, God. It isn’t supposed to be like this. I should be joyful, but all I feel is empty.

I glanced at the tiny, baby Jesus in the nativity beside the Christmas tree. The figure of Mary knelt in adoration beside him. Joseph, the shepherds, and angels stood behind. I wondered if the real Mary felt the same way I did. She gave birth to the King of the world in a manger because there was no room for them at the inn. When she labored among the animals and filth, did she think, “It isn’t supposed to be like this?” Did she wonder if she had failed her Son or worry if she would be enough for Him? Or did the concerns of this world fade into praise as Mary held GOD in her arms?

“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” – Luke 2:19

I realized then I needed to treasure up and ponder the things of Jesus if I was to find Christmas again.

SHIFTING OUR FOCUS

Our culture glorifies Christmas as a feel-good, do-good, $465 billion-dollar, secular industry. Providing our children with a memorable Christmas seems an impossible task for a single parent who struggles with loneliness, grief, or financial strain. As we navigate the holiday season, it is imperative we take an honest look at our expectations and consider if it is time to shift our focus.

Reflect on the following questions:

  1. What are my hopes and expectations for Christmas this year?
  2. Do I anticipate any issues, pressure, stress, or emotional distress? What can I do to prevent, reduce, or prepare for these struggles?
  3. What traditions do we have that bring a sense of peace, wholeness, connection, and hope to our family? Restore, retain, and embrace these traditions.
  4. Do we have any traditions or expectations that intensify our sense of loss, grief, and brokenness? Consider letting these go.
  5. What new traditions can we adopt? New traditions will help establish your new identity as a whole and healthy family. Consider serving in a soup kitchen, filling shoe boxes with gifts to send overseas, donating a toy to charity, baking cookies for an elderly neighbor, driving through town to see the Christmas lights, taking more photographs, celebrating Advent, and reading Luke 2 with your children on Christmas morning.
  6. What impact does my financial situation have over Christmas? Has a reduction in our standard of living decreased our joy or increased my debt? If so, what financial or emotional adjustments do I need to make?
  7. How can I personally “treasure up and ponder” the things of Jesus this season? Spend more time reading God’s Word, praying, or writing in a gratitude journal.
  8. How can I help my children “treasure up and ponder” the things of Jesus? Teaching your children about the life and character of Jesus will leave a powerful and lasting legacy of faith.

FOR THIS REASON HE CAME

This Christmas, you may feel pain. You may grieve. You might feel lost, lonely, or afraid. You may wonder where Christmas is in the midst of your loss and suffering. Let me assure you, friend, Christmas is not lost. It is not out of reach. You may be far from home or perhaps you have long abandoned the tree and presents. Perhaps your pain lies hidden behind the noise and bustle of the day… but know this. It is for this suffering that Jesus came. This babe, borne into a humble state, came to heal the broken-hearted. Our broken hearts.

Pain and suffering may hijack the traditional trappings of Christmas, but we do not have to let it steal our joy. Our thanks and praise. We know that joy and suffering can occupy the same place in the heart. And so, through presents and wrapping, through the pain and loss, we still see Christmas… perhaps more clearly than ever before.

MICHELLE LYNN SENTERS (B.A. Education; M.Ed. Integrated Teaching Through the Arts) raised two daughters on her own and experienced many issues common to single mothers. She is the author of The Unseen Companion (Moody Publishers 2017) and has founded the Arise Ministry for Single Moms at her local church in Colorado Springs, CO.

Parenting a Grieving Child – Kathleen Fucci’s story

I met my husband on a blind date. Sounds ordinary enough. But it wasn’t. A long-time friend of mine called me one day and said, “Sit down. My wife and I have prayed about this, and we want you to meet someone. He’s a widower with three kids.” Ugh. And then he told me some of the awful details. Cancer. A four-year, hard-fought battle. Three beautiful kids and this strong man of great character left behind.  I couldn’t comprehend a person my own age having gone through such a trauma. And what about the kids?

The gravity of what they had lost began to set in the very first time I met them. A picture of their mom and her obituary was framed in the entryway of their home. Her handiwork was everywhere. She had made the curtains in the kids’ rooms, and hung the wallpaper. She had decorated every room. I looked through albums, and more albums, of the birthday parties she had thrown for them and the hairstyles she had fashioned for the girls. The Christmases, dance recitals, soccer games, baseball practices–all of them captured her smiling face, loving touch, or playful sense of humor. Her hand-written recipe cards were in the kitchen; her coat was in the closet. But the warmth and security of her presence was most certainly gone. Now what?

One out of seven children will lose a parent or sibling before the age of 20.[1] That statistic overwhelms me.

My kids were 6, 8, and 10 when their mom died. I fell in love with their dad, and I fell in love with them. They were 9, 11, and 13 when I became their second mom. I made most every mistake a person could make in trying to navigate them through their grief. I didn’t know what I was doing. Our lives seemed too frantic, at the time, to try to figure it out. I was desperately trying to make a home for our kids, while also trying to manage the effects of their trauma. I see everything more clearly now that they are grown. I’ve learned a lot, both from Scripture and from experience, about broken-heartedness. What does a broken-hearted child need in order to heal? To re-engage with life?  To prosper? To believe in God’s goodness again? The short answer is Jesus. Revealing Jesus to our sorrowful children is our privilege and our calling. The long answer, well let me take a crack at it:

Grieving kids feel alone.

In fifth grade our oldest daughter, Kristina, was placed in a grief group at her public school. The school counselor was trying to facilitate some discussion by pointing out the kids’ body language and what it said about how they were feeling. Our daughter looked at him with fury and said, “Did your mom die?” When he replied, “No” she said, “Then you don’t know anything about how I’m feeling.”

Grieving kids often feel alone. They think no one understands what they’re going through. This gets magnified in their thoughts and sometimes manifests itself in a tornado of angry outbursts, tantrums, obstinacy, and other tempestuous behaviors. Sometimes it manifests itself in depression, withdrawal, apathy, or panic. Don’t take these behaviors personally. I did. Big mistake. This is just what childhood grief looks like. It’s rough and raw. Your child doesn’t hate you. She hates being in pain.

At times my kids’ overblown emotions made me want to pull away, to punish, or to control. But when I think back on it, I know they were just trying to communicate how traumatized they felt. They were too young to tell me with words. They couldn’t articulate their inner turmoil so they showed me with chaotic behavior.  In those terribly hard moments, I wish someone had told me how important it was to calm myself first, and then try to sympathize. What would it feel like if I had lost my mom at their age? Correction of their bad behavior might be necessary but I’d say double down on love and empathy. Oh what a stretch that is. But it works. Then help them, by asking many, many questions, to tell you what’s in their heart.

Another thing I found very helpful, when my kids felt all alone in their pain, was to ask them about their mom. What was she like? What do you remember about her? How did she make you feel special? I found they were eager to tell me. You know those recipe cards I said were in the kitchen? Kristina and I went through every one of them. We saved her favorites. I ended up learning to make one of their mom’s recipes, the one the kids liked the most, Korean flank steak. So let your kids tell you how much they loved the one they lost. Doing this created a very deep bond between my kids and me. I think they would tell you that sharing their mom with me made them feel less alone.

Grieving children have many unanswered questions.

Their souls are swarming with unrest. Inside they may be screaming, “Where is God?! Why has this happened to me?!” And because of their experiences, they will often conclude God isn’t real . . .God doesn’t love me . . .God isn’t kind. Eventually these kids will want answers to some pretty sophisticated questions about God. Mine did. Why does He allow people to die? If God is good, why is there so much evil in the world? What will we do in heaven? Does God answer prayers?

Someone has to anticipate and answer these questions with the hope and comfort of God’s Word. Our faith, our knowledge of the Word, and our personal relationship with Jesus are critical in helping our kids through their dark valley. We can use the Bible to tell our kids about people who lost loved ones or were trapped in terrible circumstances. We can point to David, Ruth, Joseph and so many others to show them how God healed, blessed, and delivered them, and gave them extraordinary futures. We can teach our kids about death too, and how it originated. That way they will never have to wonder if the death of their loved one was their fault, or God’s fault. God hates death. They must know that.

Ultimately behind all of a grieving child’s questions is a deep need to be reassured of God’s goodness. We have the love of Jesus, living inside of us, to give them that assurance. We can all testify of the extraordinary ways God has been good to us, especially when we’ve faced difficulties. The revelation of God’s goodness produces faith and hope for the future.

Finally I will share with you one revelation that has revolutionized my understanding of broken-heartedness and its remedy.

Grief affects the spirit of a person.

“A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance, but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken.”  Proverbs 15:13 (italics mine)

“The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit.”  Psalm 34:18 (italics mine)

A broken heart and a broken spirit go hand in hand. Grief is a spiritual issue. If a child’s spirit is broken by sorrow, who can mend it?

“He (Jesus) heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”  Psalm 147:3

Ultimately examining grief does not heal grief. Jesus does.

Jesus heals broken spirits. He does this by revealing His character and nature to us. It is not as important for children to understand their grief as it is for them to know their Healer.

Kristina’s reflection on Jesus’ crucifixion was the turning point in her grief. That’s because there is no better comfort than knowing Jesus’ heart for us. When a child no longer doubts His goodness, the healing begins.

I am extraordinarily blessed to have three beautiful, loving kids who call me Mom. What ultimately led my kids back, from despair into faith and life, was knowing Jesus is good, Jesus loves them, Jesus is with them, and Jesus has eternally good plans for them. Jesus. He’s the short answer. He’s the long answer.

 

To order the great resource for children click here: Emily Lost Someone She Loved

For more information helping children grieve, contact Kathleen Fucci Ministries

Kathleen Fucci earned a B.A. in Psychology from The University of the South and an M.A. in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary.  She is a conference speaker and has taught Bible studies for churches in Southern California, including The Vineyard Church of Anaheim and Rock Harbor Church.

Her special areas of interest include: Christian apologetics, Biblical exegesis, eschatology, and health and healing, with extensive research in human physiology and psychoneuroimmunology (the effect of thoughts and emotions on the body’s immune system), as well as neurocardiology and neurotheology.  She has a passion for helping others discover and walk in their full inheritance in Christ Jesus.

Kathleen is an award-winning children’s picture book author, and recently finished her second picture book to offer hope and healing to children grieving the loss of someone they love.  She is a wife and mother of three adult children, who lost their mom when they were young.

[1] Findings from http://www.hellogrief.org/about/life-with-grief-research/ 2015; 5:5

Losing a Parent as a Child, Kristina Fucci’s Story

Sadly, children are not exempt from suffering, especially when they are faced with the death of a parent. Over the course of their lives, they will experience the many stages of grief, and as they grow, grief can grow and pop up in surprising ways. Shaping their perspective will play a huge part in producing positive fruit from their grief. Children must be directed and encouraged to see that God is both in control and a loving, kind, and gracious Father. Through that lens they will be able to see that God gives purpose in their pain—ultimately to know Him in a way they never would without the pain.

Children’s Grief Awareness week is a time to stop and pray God’s promises for the hurting children:

  • God protects the fatherless: Proverbs 23:10, Psalm 10:17-18, Psalm 68:5
  • God gives peace: Isaiah 54:13, Isaiah 26:3
  • God’s faithfulness is a shield: Psalm 91:4
  • God draws His Children near: Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14

Kristina shares her story…

In a perfect world, childhood is a time of joyful innocence, brimming with family activities, warmth, and wonder at all you’re learning and experiencing. Yes, my childhood included many of these things: a loving family, fun activities, sports, crafts, vacations, church, school, friends, birthday parties, girl scouts.

But when my mom died, my world was shattered.

I was ten years old. It no longer mattered to me how good my life had been, or what I had learned at Vacation Bible School. Death taught me, “God doesn’t love me!” The loss I felt screamed in my ear, ”God isn’t good!”  And the pain I carried whispered,“Things will never, ever be good again.”

I tried so hard to reconcile a good and loving God with the death of my mom. Deep down I wanted to believe that God was real and kind. That my mom was in heaven, not buried in the ground. I wanted to believe more than anything, but it felt as if there were a gulf separating me from God.

I turned inward with my feelings. Everyone was falling apart around me, so I resolved that no one would see me cry. I would remain stable. Steady. Only I wasn’t.  My anger was so overwhelming, I could not manage it. I was mad at everyone. God. Why did He allow this to happen? My family. Why wasn’t I told more about what was happening with my mom? My friends. Why did they all have whole families when mine was torn apart? Didn’t they know how lucky they were to still have a mom?

To cope I began doing the things my mom used to do – making sure my brother and sister were okay. That they had eaten dinner, done their homework. I did laundry. I cleaned. I did all I could to maintain order amidst the chaos churning all around me, and within me. I grew more and more bitter. What ten-year-old has to endure these things? Why is my life so hard compared to those around me? Why did this have to happen to me? Will things ever get better? Is the rest of my life going to feel like this? Will I ever feel joy again?

In the months after my mom’s death, I decided that either God wasn’t real—or He wasn’t good. Since I prayed for my mom to live, and she died, these seemed the only possible conclusions. Either way, I wanted to know. I wanted to know more about this God I didn’t even believe in. Months turned to years as I sat in this place of anger, pain, and brokenness.

And then something unexpected happened…

Without my praying, without my asking, without my even dreaming it could be so, God blessed me with another amazing mother. A mother who sat with me for hours to talk about the loss I had experienced. A mother who would allow me to ask any question about God I wanted—or needed—to ask.  A mother who took me to church, but let me make my faith my own.  A mother who cooked for me. Cared for me. A mother who loved me unconditionally, as I had been loved before. Without my even asking, God redeemed. Without even knowing it could be possible, He restored to me what I had lost.

As I processed my grief with my new mom, I began to grow in a true knowledge of who God is.

One summer my life-long best friend invited me to a church camp. Sitting in the crowded chapel, I listened, stunned, as the speaker walked us through Jesus’ crucifixion. I had no idea that Jesus had suffered like this. The truth rang loud and clear in my heart: Jesus was familiar with suffering. The man continued, “It does not matter what has happened to you, God was with you. He wept when you wept.” This time, my faulty paradigm shattered. God wasn’t distant. He wasn’t bad. He didn’t hate me. He was intimately aware of my suffering. He wept, too, in fact. When I would scream into my pillow at night, when the tears wouldn’t stop flowing, when the hole in my heart threatened to undo me, Jesus was with me. He cared. He loved me. He had, in fact, never left my side.

Being reassured of God’s goodness, His mercy, His love—it changed my life. He has provided for me, and restored to me what I lost. He has mended my broken heart. These miracles are proof to me of who He is and what He can do. He is much greater than my ten year old mind had allowed.

My new mom is like one of those stones the Israelites took up as they crossed the Jordan River—a symbol of God’s goodness. I can look back on my past and, instead of seeing a shattered life, a broken heart, I see the hand of a loving Father—restoring, redeeming, and healing.

To order the great resource for children click here: Emily Lost Someone She Loved

For more information helping children grieve, contact Kathleen Fucci Ministries

Kristina Fucci earned a B.A. in English from Westmont College and an M.A. in Christian Apologetics from Talbot School of Theology. Before joining Kathleen Fucci Ministries, Kristina worked in Christian publishing as a contributing writer and marketer for a number of children’s ministry resources, including Sunday School and Vacation Bible School Curricula. She has also worked in Christian radio.

 

10 Verses to Keep You Going

I don’t know about you, but my whole life I thought I understood suffering, that was until it really came knocking on my door with the death of my husband. Then it became personal, and just like that the questions, doubts, and fears came rushing in all at once. Where was God in all of this? Would he be faithful to me? Could I make it without my husband? Did I have reason to hope like I had grown up believing?

These questions can be overwhelming and downright terrifying, but in my lowest moments, I found answers and hope in scripture, in Christ. When the tears were many and there was no place else to run, these words held me safe and gave the courage to take another step.

In the midst of your suffering, I urge you to turn to the only place you will find lasting hope and purpose in the pain. It won’t make all your problems disappear, but you will never be alone. God wants to meet you in your suffering—he promises to. Take the timeless words of scripture and write them on your heart, day by day repeat them to yourself, and watch how they renew your mind and bring you to a place of contentment and trust in God.

1.     God will be with you every step of the way!

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.”

2.      You will feel like you can’t go on, but God WILL be your strength.

Psalm 73:26: “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

3.      God brings us a comfort like no one else can.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

4.      God will bring the healing we desire!

1 Peter 5:10: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”

5.      Our suffering isn’t meaningless.

2 Corinthians 4:17: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”

6.      In the pain, Christ is gain! (Cheesy but true!)

Philippians 3:8: “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”

7.      His heart is for the widow and the fatherless.

Psalm 68:5: “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.”

8.      In the hardest moments of our lives, God is fighting for us.

Isaiah 43:2: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”

9.      There is purpose in our pain.

Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

10.  In the end, “all sad things come untrue.” (J.R.R Tolkien)

Revelation 21:4: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

God was a not silent about those who suffer, in fact scripture is full of his promises to meet you in the mourning. His Word makes it clear that he has not left us to make it alone. There is hope, respite, and even new joys to be found in Christ. Anchor yourself in His words and though your boat may rock, it will never be thrown off course. He is faithful.

Finding The “New” Me

It took me a long time to figure out who Alex was after my husband JM died. There was a period of time where I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror (no joke). I would stare for minutes and genuinely not recognize myself, tears slowly starting to flow steadily down my cheeks. I was so lost. Lost in the grief, the tears, the funeral planning, the putting my life back together; I was only 23, and I didn’t have a clue who on earth I was.

We all know how it goes, when we are kids we are anyone the world wants (for better or worse, right?), we change with the wind and with whatever is “cool” and whichever friends we had that year. But as we get older, we start to care who we become and what we stand for, figuring out that life is HARD. I spent almost all my latter years of high school and most of college finding the real me, and somewhere in there I finally liked her and the path she had taken. Then college came to an end, I entered the “real world,” and married my best friend, JM, and legit became the best version of me…US. Of course, marriage was hard, as for all, but we were having fun defining our new roles and living life as a team of two.

On September 19, 2015, with the death of my husband, it seemed like all the figuring out I had done came crashing down on a BIG, FAT reset button, and right there, a week before my 24th birthday, I had to learn all over again. Or so I thought. My role changed but maybe, just maybe, my identity didn’t. It took several weeks to see it, but underneath all the darkness of grief, my identity was still there shaken but not destroyed. The things I had learned from God though all those formative years about who I was as a daughter of Christ and all the qualities God instilled in me through all my life’s highs and lows were there, ready to help me navigate the long road ahead. Sure, some things had to change, and they did in their own time, and eventually I found a me by remembering the old me and allowing God to shape the “new” me.

Everyone’s process will look different, but for me it started with relearning the timeless things about me:

The me before my first husband—my humor, things I liked doing, and my faith in Christ. I had to remember that just because I was no longer a wife did not mean that I was no longer me. I always liked traveling, so by gosh, I could still travel, even if it was alone. After all I still had Christ.

Then it moved to relearning who I was because of my first marriage—characteristics I picked up in our marriage, like learning to not throw in the towel so quickly. New hobbies like trying every cool foodie spot we could find, and trusting God’s goodness even when I couldn’t see it (boy would that come in handy).

The last part, and probably the hardest, was learning who Alex is because of all of this, the death, the life after, and even one day remarriage (a WHOLE different relearning, but fun). And, if I am going to be honest, the me I found before my new husband, and after my first was the best me. It hurt immensely finding her, but God was creating her all along the freaky, bumpy road. People who are in Christ don’t get lost in their grief, at least not permanently. Changing roles is never easy, but if we cling to our identity as Christ’s child who is loved and not forsaken, though we change a LOT, we don’t get lost.

Grief is a journey of truly finding and rooting your identity in Christ, not in a husband, not in tears, not in Alex the widow, not in remarriage, but in Christ. It’s taking the longings I have to see my first soul mate (even still) and saying, “God what do you want these longings to make of me.” If we don’t give them to Christ, they will literally rule our life, and we will never be able to move forward into what God has for us still on this earth. I had to learn that the role of Alex, as JM’s wife, was not identity, so that I could be okay when my role changed, which it inevitably will in many ways over my life. Of course, I still miss him, but as time passes, and as God gives me the grace to be content and then even elated again, my longings have become a tool to help me keep going and not one that stops me.

It all just takes time. There will be  so many hard moments where all you can be is sad, confused, and more sad, but eventually, if you keep clinging to Christ, that does break away and opens you to be the “new you,” and really keep living with purpose and life. I have never been so content and that’s not because nothing hurts anymore. It’s because when I thought I was permanently broken, God was with me, bringing beauty from the ashes, giving purpose to the pain.

12 Practical Ways to Care for the Widow this Fall

Summer busyness is over, and a new slower paced season is right around the corner. Although the turning of the leaves and cooler temperatures are a nice change from the summer heat, fall, and winter, can be some of the loneliest seasons for the widow. The many holidays ahead shine a bright spotlight on the fact that her husband is no longer here and force her to change a lot of the traditions she had become accustomed to – it’s a scary thought. Even though the widow might not verbalize her needs this fall, she will be needing the warmth of her community and a reminder of the closeness of Christ. As the warm weather begins to fade, consider the following ways to warm the widow’s heart and home this fall:

  1. ASK. Ask her what she needs, let her know what you are good at doing, and offer help in those areas.
  2. Provide warm clothes. Help a widowed mom sort through the children’s clothing making a list of needs to purchase.
  3. Provide a warm home and car by helping to winterize these things – change filters, provide maintenance on her heating system, or supply firewood. **While you are at it, check fire detectors and alarms and replace any batteries. **
  4. Help her yard to be cold weather ready by pruning bushes, raking leaves, and adding a new layer of mulch or pine straw.
  5. Don’t forget her on the holidays, fall is a time of family celebrations, this can leave the widow feeling lonelier than ever. Invite her and her kids to your fall family fun days or invite her to come around your Thanksgiving table. Remember, she may say no, but the invitation means she hasn’t been forgotten.
  6. Sit with her. Start a pot of coffee or tea and talk with her about how she is feeling about the transitioning of seasons and potential changing of traditions without her husband. Be intentional about helping them think through potentially difficult days and weeks ahead.
  7. Send her gift cards: food and gas are always needed.
  8. Set up a time to help her Christmas shop, run errands, or babysit, so she can prepare for the holidays.
  9. Fill her pantry with love: tea, hot chocolate, and coffee are always a safe bet. Stock her freezer with casseroles and soups.
  10. Care for her fatherless children. Babysit her kids or come with an activity to share with her and her children.
  11. Call and write! Leave her a nice note in her mailbox or make a call to check in with her.
  12. Pray: Dear God, I know that the changing of seasons can be hard on the widow and her fatherless children. Will you please be their warmth this fall. Would you continue to show them that you are the defender of the widow and the father to the fatherless, and please use me to bring the Gospel into her home. As she faces the season ahead, remind her that your plans are good, you are with her, and you will help her. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Yoke is Easy, My Burden is Light?

At the time of my husband’s unexpected death, I had eight children under the age of ten. The first four months were filled with business meetings, phone calls, and visits from well-meaning friends, family, and even strangers…oh and chaos – complete grace-filled chaos! The normal rhythm of our daily life had been turned upside down.

There were days that I would focus on something I had planned to do, like teaching school, when suddenly, I found myself doing something completely unplanned! It was that “grief thing” of keeping busy so I wouldn’t feel the pain. Or, it could have been the “grief brain” that removed the ability to focus on anything at all. Can you can relate? In my flurry, I would often enter a room to put something away and before I walked out again, I was involved in something I hadn’t ever planned to do.

For example, one afternoon I had the idea to separate a set of bunk beds into twin beds. I zipped into the room to perform this simple task without any thought at all that it would be something beyond my physical capability. My husband built the kid’s furniture to withstand any storm, apparently except for my grief attack. As I pulled the top bed off, I quickly realized that this was not a task to accomplish by myself. I was stuck! I couldn’t get it down to the floor, and I couldn’t get the bed back on top, and I couldn’t leave it hanging in mid-air. Frantically, I looked around only to see my precious little ones staring up at me willing to assist in any way they could. With the help of my two sons (ages 4 and 5) and my determined six-year-old daughter we managed to get the bed to the floor without hurting the babies in the process. The only damage was a minor hole in the wall and a broken bed. That little fit of independence brought out so many emotions. My inability to complete a simple task brought about anger I has buried deep inside. What do I even do with all this unresolved anger? Who do I resolve it with? Is unresolved anger what leads to depression? Oh my, what an emotional price to pay for the new bedroom arrangement!

Taking care of 8 children was always a bit overwhelming, but now, without my husband, I felt shaken, pressed down to my wits end, and running over. Actually, I felt that I had been run over. Even though I knew God was working through it all, life was hard, oh so hard. Change was taking place – physical, emotional, and spiritual change. Many days by 5:00 p.m. I felt that I just couldn’t make it through the rest of the day. However, with a houseful of small children, stopping wasn’t an option, so I pushed through. Soon dinner would be over, children bathed, and we would be onto my favorite part of the day – devotions and listening to the hearts of my children. Often, I had to confess my own wrong attitudes, a poor choice of words, or an action I didn’t think fully though. I loved to hear my children share their hurts and struggles, as well. (Side note: this simple but planned time of communication brought more fruit to our family more than anything else we do.)

Even though I had help here and there with the whole single-parenting thing, I still felt that my yoke wasn’t easy, and my burden was not light! Didn’t the Bible offer that promise somewhere? I asked God to give order to each day and to the large task ahead. I worked hard to be brave and courageous, but honestly, I was overwhelmed and exhausted. As I evaluated where I was in the timeline of my life, there were some very difficult years still ahead of me. I didn’t have in-house babysitting, I had a bunch of toddlers that need lots of consistent training and encouragement, and the adjustment to doing all of this alone was still very new. If God’s yoke was easy and His burden light, then I must be wearing the wrong yoke, right? I felt confident that the old yoke would feel so much better than my new one! But, I couldn’t take this new yoke off! (Weren’t yokes made for two oxen? I’m sure if it was for one ox, the load behind was smaller than 8?!)

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light”  (Matthew 11:28-30 NASB).

Easy? This was anything but easy. Light? In my own strength my new load was heavy. Rest? I didn’t think that would be possible for decades. I found myself pulling into a shell. I wanted to hide, disappear, and pretend that this had not happened. God kept telling me this was not a shell but a cocoon. To get the easy-light-rest that the Bible talks about, I had to trust God and learn from Him in this season, so that I would come out a beautiful butterfly rather than a dead caterpillar. When I looked up the meaning of the word easy in this text, I learned that the Greek meaning was much different than one would think. Easy is not the opposite of hard, but rather means to be fit for use, virtuous, and good. The process in this spiritual cocoon would be worth it all, and it was. His faithfulness proved that His burden is light when received with humility from His hand. God was performing a work of grace with this yoke upon me.

His easy, purposed, fit-for-use yoke is always tailor made to fit just as He planned–for our good and His glory.

 

Rejoice with Those Who Rejoice

Most of us widows find it easy to mourn with others and sympathize with pain, but when it comes to rejoicing with others, temptation can easily be creeping at the door. The temptation of resentment, the temptation of, “Why not me?” lurks. When it seems like life’s new joys have stopped for the widow, the new joys of others suddenly become more obvious to her. This new sensitivity to others’ joy, as well as pain, can be a beautiful thing or an ugly thing depending on how we respond to it. It may seem like an obvious concept, “rejoice with those who rejoice,” but when new joy for others becomes our own new loss, rejoicing with others may not come so easily.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the acknowledgement of loss in our lives, but we have to redirect our focus at some point. It’s okay to feel the sting of loss when you hear the news of another pregnancy, knowing you may never be able to have children again. It’s okay to acknowledge the pain when you see your fatherless child watching another child snuggled up in his own daddy’s arms. But we can’t stay there, we can’t dwell in the pain. Someone else’s gain does not make our loss any greater.

Three months into widowhood, I found myself sitting in a classroom at a hospital, seven months pregnant about to begin a water birth class. I sat at my desk, and I started to scan the room. I was the only woman in the room who didn’t have her husband by her side. Instead, I had my mom. My eyes welled up with tears at the reminder of my loss, along with the thoughts of this isn’t fair, why me? Thankfully, my mom was there for me, rather than no one at all. She mourned with me in the moment, acknowledged my pain, and redirected my thoughts towards thankfulness. What a blessing that those women had support, and their children would have fathers! Their gain ultimately became my joy.

“And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” 1 Corinthians 12:26 NKJV

We will never have joy if we don’t desire good for others. Our rejoicing with those who rejoice while we’re in a season of mourning is life giving on both sides. It’s an act of selfless love, rather than something that simply happens naturally. Most of us have high expectations for those who are rejoicing to mourn with the mourning, but the mourning are called to the same act of love. Considering others better than ourselves is not easy, and it’s certainly not what our sinful nature is inclined to do, but it’s what Jesus does and asks us to do, as well. Jesus asks difficult things of us, but He never asks us to do things that won’t benefit us in the end. God knows we gain joy in loving others and rejoicing with them.

There are seasons for everything and everyone. Sometimes we’re the ones in a season of mourning while others are in a season of rejoicing, and sometimes it’s the other way around. Keeping in mind that everyone experiences suffering at some point in their lives, is a good reminder that we aren’t always in the valley and others are certainly not always on the mountaintop. When we’re in the valley, we have the opportunity to share in the mountaintop moments by rejoicing with others, while also giving thanks to the ones choosing to mourn with us.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15 NKJV

“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.” Philippians 2:3 NKJV

Choose Life

(If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Suicide Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States, please call 1-800-273-8255)

Dear friend in the battle between life and death,

You are so precious and loved in the sight of God and many others. I know, life can be so hard, but you are not alone in the world, God is with you. In your darkest moments call out to him, and he will rescue you. Do not sit alone in this darkness either, find a friend, a counselor, a doctor and ask for help, you are worth helping!

The battle you are in right now is not only emotional and physical, but spiritual,

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.” Ephesians 6:12

Satan wants you to choose death, but God desires that you choose life. Your life is worth living. Ponder His words today and let them sink into your heart. You are loved!

Life is a gift from God

Psalm 139:2-3, 13-16 “You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways…For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

Isaiah 49:16 “Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands…”

God did not create us for death

John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

God desires that you choose life

2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

Life doesn’t stop with death

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

John 5:28-29 “Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.”

1 Corinthians 15:50-57 “Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”

Life allows for you to experience God’s faithfulness

Isaiah 38:18-19 “For Sheol cannot thank You, Death cannot praise You; Those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Your faithfulness. It is the living who give thanks to You, as I do today; a father tells his sons about Your faithfulness.”

Psalm 30:8-12 “What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise You? Will it declare Your faithfulness?”

Life trusts in God’s plan and allows God to be God

Isaiah 55:8-9 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways.”

You are deeply loved and will be missed!

Philippians 2:3-4 “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

There is purpose in your pain when you turn to God

Romans 8:28 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Life reaps reward in heaven

I Corinthians 3:13-15 “…each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”

Destroying God’s temple is a serious matter with loss of reward on judgment day.

1 Corinthians 3:15-17 “If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.

Life allows restoration and forgiveness

I John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

God says to CHOOSE LIFE!

Romans 6:13  “Do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.”

Deuteronomy 30:19-20 “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.”

 

Telling Children about the Suicide Death of a Parent

(If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Suicide Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States, please call 1-800-273-8255)

Q&A with kids who have lost a dad from suicide

The night before my husband chose to take his own life, I heard Psalm 68:5, “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” Because God charted the next season of our lives with this promise, I was able to gently repeat this promise to my children as the way of sharing this life-changing news with them,

“You have a new daddy—God promises to be a Father to the fatherless!”

It was hard to tell this information to myself so I knew right away that God had entrusted me with a huge responsibility in telling my children. They would always remember this pivotal moment of their lives. God was entrusting suffering into their lives at these young ages as well. We were really crossing a holy moment and the sovereignty of God and His promises would be our foundation.

When telling children difficult information, I heard it once said that you should insert only what the suitcase of their hearts can hold. It is important to tell your children the facts but be careful to share only what is age-appropriate. My older children (ages 8, 9, and 10) were told as little as possible, but enough for them to feel they had sufficient information to satisfy their curiosity. Telling my younger children that daddy died was all they could handle. They did not need to know how he died because they just could not understand at the ages of 1-6. Sadly, like sharing the secrets of sex, people will talk, and you want to make sure that you are the one to delicately and lovingly share the details of this news with your children.

Grief over a suicide death is complex and will manifest in many ways for children. Grief may lie dormant for years until their understanding catches up with their reality. I knew my children would eventually want and need to know the story of their dad; therefore, I took time to write out the story and details of his choice to the best of my understanding and experience and let it sit until it was time to share with them. I took time to share this information with them before they left home after high school. It is never easy to discuss but is important enough to share so that the enemy doesn’t continue to use this scheme against future generations.

What would I do differently today?

I’m not sure that I would change anything as I prayed that God would direct my steps and I believe that He did. I found comfort in the promise that God was their father. I trusted also that He is the great counselor even though God will often use others to speak into a life. The impact of this sin is deep and long-term. Getting wise counsel from the Word of God is important. My daily prayer for my children is that God would restore their soul from their walk through the valley of this death.

How are the children impacted by all of this?

Here is a Q&A with my children almost twenty years after the suicide death of their dad.

Q: When and how did your mom tell you your dad committed suicide?

A:

Abi (age 10 when her dad committed suicide/age 30 today): I think I learned details 3 days after he died. Slowly, over time I think I got a lot of my information by asking questions. It was probably by 5 years after his death that I had a good idea of what happened.

Kayla (age 9 when her dad committed suicide/age 28 today): I remember knowing that Daddy had killed himself right away – maybe that very night? For sure within the first week. I don’t remember the exact way this news was shared, but I do remember that she answered every question we had and didn’t try to hide information from us. I was 9 years old – I think age plays into this in a big way. A 4 or 5-year-old probably can’t process this at all, but an older child needs to be given all the information that they are able and willing to carry at the time. Also, if mom doesn’t tell them, they will probably try to find out from someone else.

Christieanna (age 6 when her dad committed suicide/age 26 today): I think I overheard the police say that they found him, and he had committed suicide. When mom told us that we had a new daddy, I don’t remember her saying he had committed suicide, but I already knew. I’m not sure I actually remember having anyone tell me the facts. I remember the way in which she told me and my siblings, but as far as the mechanism of injury, I’m not sure where I got that from. I assume a sibling told me, or maybe mom did that night and it was just a blur.

Isaac (age 5 when his daddy committed suicide/age 24 today): Really the only thing I remember is all of the kids sitting together in the downstairs living room and she came down and said, “Kids you no longer have an earthly daddy, but God is your Father now.”

Evan (age 4 when his daddy committed suicide/age 23 today): I do not remember exactly when my mother told me the details of my father’s death. I have asked questions of deeper levels as I have grown and matured, and my mom has always answered my questions to the best of her ability. I think a child needs to know the truth when he/she is ready. Some children are ready to receive information sooner than others. Just tell the truth. For me, being told the truth young was more important to me than figuring out the truth later and feeling like I’ve been lied too.

Micah (13 months old when his daddy died/age 20 today): She told us over time, I think she also helped us to understand through books that explained death in a way we could understand. I also remember her answering our questions whenever we would ask.

 Q: What was your first response?

A:

Abi (age 10 when her dad committed suicide/age 30 today): I don’t remember what I said, but I remember being surprised as I did not really understand. Suicide was, and always has been, something that seemed super intentional instead of something that could be accidental.

Kayla (age 9 when her dad committed suicide/28 today): I was shocked, devastated, and so confused. I felt completely blindsided by his death, and the way it happened.

Isaac (age 5 when his daddy committed suicide/age 24 today): Sadness at the loss but not much more than that because I was too young to understand what any of it meant.

Brandon (age 8 when his dad committed suicide/age 27 today): The first response is shock. It’s very surreal and hard to explain. Initially you just run the words through your mind and try to break down what you’re hearing, then you go through the waves of emotions. That first year really, you don’t hardly feel anything, you just keep thinking he’s going to walk in the door.

Christieanna (age 6 when her dad committed suicide/age 26 today): I remember my first response was watching everyone else fall apart. My older sisters were wailing, the younger siblings started crying too, but I think that cried just because everyone else was. I don’t know if the younger two actually understood what was happening. I remembered that my mom was strong, and we were about to start down a life altering journey together.

Q: How have you handled this reality as time went on?

A:

Brandon (age 8 when his dad committed suicide/age 27 today): It’s a wound that never quite heals completely. It’s always tender. To this day, I can’t hear, see, or talk about suicide without cringing. I think a lot of that is ok, there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to become calloused to it. As I’ve gotten older, the gravity of his decision weighs on me.  It’s much more distant as a child, but as I’ve grown, it becomes more tangible, like you can actually feel the reality of the decisions he made.

Christieanna (age 6 when her dad committed suicide/age 26 today): I have handled the reality of my dad committing suicide differently over the years. When I was younger, I questioned God a lot and asked Him how it could be love to take away someone I wanted to be there. I also questioned why we missed the signs, and if we could have done anything differently. I remember I would always daydream about what I would have done if I was there with him, and how I would have attempted to talk him out of it. My ideas weren’t that bright as a six-year-old, but I knew I would tell him he was worth it and that he was enough for us. I thought of different ways I would have stopped him if given the chance. I think that was my way of trying to cope by feeling I could have stopped it, and not fully understanding that the Lord had allowed it and I would not have been able to change any of it.

As time went by, the suicide part became less and less of a big deal, it was more just the fact that he was gone period. I think the reality of him killing himself is a push for me to make sure I let people know they are loved, and it’s help me see that there are signs everywhere. People are hurting, and one smile could change what they decide to do later on in their day.

I think that because I have faith, I actually do understand. I understand that my dad was in bondage, and genuinely thought that it would be easier for us if he weren’t there. Do I agree? Absolutely not, but I do understand his thinking, and hope that the next person I know who starts down this path will understand my thinking in that they are worth being alive, loved, and living.

Isaac (age 5 when his dad committed suicide/age 24 today): Probably easier than some. God is faithful over all. Yes, it’s a horrifying experience to lose a parent, but I don’t think it’s healthy to continually live in our past, but to learn from it. Accept what’s happened and allow God to continue to write your story.

Amy (2 ½ when her dad committed suicide/age 22 today): I handle it differently depending on the season. I’ve never been mad at God, though. I know He is sovereign and took my dad away for a reason that I may never understand. It has always hurt me that he thought he was not worthy enough to live though. Nobody should have to feel like that.

Q: What have you learned regarding your dad’s choice after 19 years? What have you learned regarding God and this choice?

A:

Abi (age 10 when her dad committed suicide/age 30 today): I have struggled with the intentional selfish abandonment of it and that has affected me in ways I’m still learning. I do not feel much compassion for his choice at all, although I can empathize with him.  I trust the Lord fully and know that he could have saved him, and in his sovereignty chose not to. I agree with God that he made the best choice for daddy and for our family. I am at peace with what happened and continue to trust the Lord and have the comfort of knowing that he holds all of our futures in his hand.

Kayla (age 9 when her dad committed suicide/age 28 today): I know now that my dad’s choice was multifaceted – the enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy. His hand in my dad’s choice cannot be overstated. He lays traps of temptation and comes like a lion to devour. I also know that my dad was completely responsible for his own choice. He was in bondage to sin that he was not able to escape, or maybe he didn’t hate it bad enough to do the hard work of repentance and surrender and learning to really walk by the Spirit and not carry out the desires of the flesh – I don’t know. Now as an adult, and parent, I see a level of selfishness in his decision that I never thought of as a child. I also know that at the end of the day, the sovereignty of the Lord rules over ALL. Even in this, God was there – He did not turn a blind eye, nor did He cause evil, but He was there and I know He cried first.

Brandon (age 8 when his dad committed suicide/age 27 today): From my dad’s choice I’ve realized the implications of sin. Sin will never let you go apart from the saving grace of Jesus. And if you let it, you can be turned over to it. I think with my dad, God allowed him to be turned over to his sin because time and time again he made the decision to turn back to it. I believe he allowed himself to get into a pit of darkness and lies that he was almost a walking dead man, and the action of suicide was just fleshing that out. I’ve learned that God is sovereign and if you can’t “trace His hand, trust His heart.”  He really does do all things for our good and His glory… that’s a big thing to say 18 years later because that was preached to me in the moment, but I’ve now lived long enough to validate the truth for myself.

Isaac (age 5 when his daddy committed suicide/age 24 today): I’ve learned that if you don’t take care of what may be eating away in the inside, it has the potential to ruin your life.  I know dad was a good man who just let the enemy continue to feed a lie to him that he eventually believed.  Regarding God it’s the same as above.  He is sovereign.  Everything that happens is within His plan.  I’ve not been much of one to question ‘why’, as much as I have ‘what now.’  So now that I know what happened, how am I going to use that to live my life tomorrow.  How will I use what God allowed to minister and lead others?

Evan (age 4 when his daddy committed suicide/age 23 today): Over time I have learned the severity of my father’s sin and how it has affected not just him, but many people linked to him. It’s a big deal, and I know it was a spiritual battle for him. We all deal with sin, and we will all be accountable to how we fought against sin. My dad’s story has stood as a lesson for me and how I will personally fight sin. But through my dad’s story, I have been able to use the ugly parts to reflect on the beautiful parts of God’s forgiveness and grace. It’s given me opportunities to warn others against the dangers of meddling in sin. God receives the glory for the good and bad in our lives, and that’s where I have landed after 19 years. We do not have permission to write our own stories, but we absolutely do have the ability to control how we respond to our adversity and what we do with it.

Amy (age 2 when her daddy committed suicide/age 22 today): I have learned that it is dangerous to mess around with big sins like my dad did. I’ve learned that it never gets easier telling someone that my dad killed himself. I now know that I am always going to grieve his death through the different seasons I go through. And I learned that God allows certain things to happen in order to glorify Himself and draw me closer to Him.

Q:  What do you feel is the best way/time to tell a child of this kind of death of a father?

A:

Abi (age 10 when her dad committed suicide/age 30 today): I think the least amount of information at first is the best, although all information should be shared over time.  Any amount of info, large or small, will be difficult to process. I have had friends and family members share very gruesome details about the method my dad chose over the years, and of course have come across too many movies and TV shows in which this is common. I always sympathize with other people who have lost family members this way, and I’m thankful it was probably not a super gory discovery. Although regularly I think of the men who found my dad and pray for them, I doubt they have been able to fully recover from finding him. This info is always gutting, always devastating. But I would rather hear it from family members first instead of finding out myself later. I don’t think it matters what method a person chooses, the hardest part is that it is a decision, not an accident.

Brandon (age 8 when his dad committed suicide/age 27 today): Make sure you have support around you. Maybe wait until family comes in to town etc.  It was very helpful having people in the house during the first few months. It would’ve been very dark, lonely, and sad if it was just our family.

Isaac (age 5 when his daddy committed suicide/age 24 today): Probably just tell them straight up and as soon as possible.  You don’t want them to hear rumors or stories from anyone else.

Evan (age 4 when his daddy committed suicide/age 23 today): Knowing God is sovereign and in control is important to grasp as a child. Understanding that it was God’s plan for me to be a fatherless young man was important for me to know right away. The details of the story can come later when I’m more matured if/when I need them.

Q: What would you want to say to a child who is just starting on this journey?

A:

Abi (age 10 when her dad committed suicide/age 30 today): That it is not your fault, there is no way you could’ve prevented it, even if he could go back in time and do this or that differently there is no way you could’ve stopped it, nothing you could’ve said to change his mind, no behavior or you could’ve done differently to make the circumstances different. It will be OK, the Lord will use time to heal.

Kayla (age 9 when her dad committed suicide/28 today): I would encourage you to press into God the Father, through His Word. Open your eyes and heart to see His mercy, goodness, and love for you. Meditate on His lifegiving Word, and let it heal you. He will make everything beautiful in His time, as you trust Him, love Him, and walk in His purposes.

Brandon (age 8 when his dad committed suicide/age 27 today): I’m so sorry.  You have been given a very heavy weight to carry.  But don’t use it as an excuse or a weakness. Let it make you stronger, embrace your pain.  The storms make us stronger.  Don’t blame God, He has the best heart and loves you.  There will come a day where you will be grateful that you went through this.  Or, you can be a victim and end up a statistic, you make that choice.

Evan (age 4 when his daddy committed suicide/age 23 today): Don’t ever accept that your story is anything other than GOD’s story for YOU. We are intricately designed and given a story that we are responsible for using for the glory of God. Find mentors and Godly people to help mold and grow you. Dig into God’s word to find out how He (capital H) wants you to use your story for His glory and YOUR good!

Amy (age 2 when her daddy committed suicide/age 22 today): I would tell them I’m sorry and that no one should have to go through something like this for any reason. I would tell them that no matter what, the Lord is going to be by their side every step of the way and hold them when they can’t take steps for themselves. I would tell them that believe it or not, God is sovereign. That they are not in this alone. I would tell them to not get angry at God – getting angry will not bring your loved one back to life. Go through the motions, but don’t resent God. He is there FOR you, BY you, and WITH you at every single moment.

Micah (13 months old when his daddy died/age 20 today): Press into Jesus, it’s okay to have hard times – when you do, talk to your mentors and peers and don’t hold it in!

Related blog articles:

The Seduction of Suicide

The Sin of Suicide

 

 

 

The Sin of Suicide

(If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Suicide Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States, please call 1-800-273-8255)

Within days of my husband’s suicide death, people started to give me their humble, maybe not, yet inaccurate opinions of where my husband would spend eternity! Yes—they really had the boldness to tell me that my husband would spend eternity in hell because of his choice to take his own life based on wrong theology! The circumstances of his death were horrific enough without the voice of others amplifying the tormenting questions that were already flooding my heart and soul. When my precious husband walked into eternity would he hear God say, “depart from me I never knew you” or “welcome home my prodigal son?” To this day, I don’t know the answer to those questions, but I do know this, if my husband had a saving covenant relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, nothing—not even suicide, would separate him from God as he was saved by grace and the blood of Jesus Christ is able to keep him.

Willfully terminating human life is a sin. The real question is, is that sin mortal – is it unforgivable, consigning the victim to an eternity outside the presence of God? The short answer is no, absolutely not, based on the Word of God.

Suicide can evoke intense theological discussion. Fortunately, for the most part today, “No major religion teaches anymore that death by suicide automatically means hell, but this merciless thought persists, inferring that God punishes people for being sick. In our broken world, unspeakable tragedies occur daily, but that doesn’t mean God causes or approves of those tragedies. Sadly, some grieving people have turned away from God as their ultimate source of comfort because of such misguided belief, generally following this line of reasoning:

(1) Murder is acknowledged as sin; (2) Suicide is self-murder; (3) Suicide is the last action of the person committing it, so (4) the suicide victim goes into eternity unforgiven and therefore is automatically eternally lost.

I suppose that follows a certain logic, but it reaches an unscriptural conclusion on at least two counts:

  • Eternal salvation is not based on our works but on the work of Jesus Christ!
  • There is a way we can renounce our salvation, but not one of the listed requirements includes murder!

“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.  For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life”  (John 3:17, 16).

“But to him who does not work [for his own salvation] but believes on him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness. . . Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven and whose sins are covered, blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin” (Romans 4:5-8).

“Even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”  (Ephesians 2:8-10).

We are saved by the work of Jesus Christ on the cross and there is nothing we can do to contribute to the saving process. A person who genuinely knows Christ as Savior, cannot by a single act annul the covenant of God to save his eternal soul! AMEN!

God’s Word teaches differently from those who believe suicide is the sin that separates one from God:

“What the shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?… But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  (Romans 8:31-37).

It is rank foolishness for any person to declare that they know what transpired between the victim and God in the minutes or split seconds before they slipped into eternity. No one knows how God may reveal Himself to the person in that moment. The scriptures plainly teach that those who call upon the Name of the Lord will be heard! Who can conceive of a victim who would not cry out with His final breath, “Oh God! Help me! Oh God, Save me!” It is not in the hand of any human to declare they know with certainty the future of any suicide victim without knowing what took place between God and that individual.

At the same time, it is vital that we acknowledge that salvation is promised to those who believe in the power of the blood of Jesus Christ to absolve their sin. The same God who made that promise also said that those who reject the sacrifice of His Son will perish. It is a serious matter. Even though suicide is a forgivable sin that will not separate one from God if they have a saving relationship with him based on the blood of Jesus Christ, choosing death over life is the wrong choice with consequences.

I submit that the “real” sin of suicide is dereliction of duty!

“I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. Plans handmade for each person by the Lord Himself. Plans to bring each person to a good end and not a disastrous one! Plans which can be subverted and never fulfilled because of a human choice to surrender to deception!

The Bible says that each of us when we enter heaven will have everything we have been and done exposed openly in the presence of the Lord, and all those things will be tested by fire – meaning our “gold” won’t burn but our “wood” will (1 Corinthians 3:13-15).

The Bible says that it is possible for everything we’ve done could be classified as “wood, hay and stubble, and burned in that examining fire yet the person will still be saved. Eternal salvation is not based on our works but on the work of Jesus Christ! Perhaps the scene will look like this: Jesus says, “I love you and receive you from the pain of your failure. You are forgiven, and you may enter into the presence of the Father, but everything you were to do and be for Me has been lost. I call you to account: why did you waste a moment of the life I planned for you to have?”

The Bible says that God will “wipe away all tears from our eyes.” What occasions those tears?  I think it is when we fully see what we have irretrievably squandered and fully know that “way of escape” made for us which we refused. We are accountable for every choice that we make. The day will come when we will all answer, “What have you done with the life I gave you?”

Sin is sin, each with its own set of consequences. Suicide is just that—a sin, but not the unpardonable forever separating sin. The consequences of this sin deeply impacts others possibly for their lifetime. As stated in the previous blog on The Seduction of Suicide, Satan is often involved in the decision against life because his mission in this world is “to kill, steal, and destroy.” If you struggle with depression or thoughts of suicide, please reach out for help. We want you to know and experience the truth that Jesus came to give life abundant!

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants” Deuteronomy 30:19.

 

 

 

The Seduction of Suicide

(If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Suicide Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States, please call 1-800-273-8255)

Satan comes to steal, kill, and destroy. This is the bottom line in suicide.

Suicide and suicidal thoughts are at their core an activity of Satan. The Word of God teaches that our struggle is not against flesh and blood. That means that the battle for life and death is often an invisible, yet very powerful battle against the greatest forces of darkness, “against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). We are at war with Satan himself. Scripture tells us this powerful adversary is crafty, a liar, thief, schemer, and the great accuser.

Sample notes from those who believed Satan’s lie:

  • Mom and Dad, I can’t seem to cope with the problems I have as a teenager. You don’t give me any help and no one else does. I can’t face life any more – Teenage child
  • Honey, I know I haven’t done my best, but I have tried. I can’t face life any more – take good care of the children – defeated husband and father
  • I don’t want to embarrass you, Mom and Dad, but I’m in the kind of mess for which there is no solution and no hope. I cannot go on living like this any longer – 25-year-old single
  • If I looked a certain way, people would like me. I’ve been rejected by many; I will just reject myself – Lonely adult

Suicide is submission to a deceiving spirit, a spirit that urges its victim to surrender because of emotional and physical pain he can no longer endure—pain usually stemming from humiliation or hopelessness. It is Satan’s main aim to make those who are in a dark spiritual battle feel ashamed and guilty. He is relentless in speaking lies to our mind and soul: you have really messed up, you will never be forgiven, and you will never be free from this turmoil. Not only will Satan lie, but waits for the opportune time to bring destruction in our lives. He is happy to wait years and even decades as he strategically plans his victory.

Death, even at one’s own hand, is finally presented as a valid option and the answer—the only way to experience freedom from bondage. In fact this self-focused mindset causes the struggling one to believe the deceptively wrapped lie that this is a self-LESS choice–others will be better off without you. The seduction from the devil is the shallow “promise” that death will be gain when, invariably, it will be great loss!

Satan does not play fair. We must be aware of his schemes and the lies. He uses fear of all types, abandonment, rejection failure, generational sin, and even statistics. We must fight for truth both for ourselves and those around us. We do not have to be victims of our circumstances or even of the generational sin. Just because depression, anxiety, addiction, and suicide have had victory in the family line does not mean you must carry this baton. Every family has sin, all the way back to Adam in the garden. Romans 3: 23 is clear, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Ezekiel 18 teaches that each man must choose truth for himself and not succumb to the sins of their fathers. Don’t sit back and wait for the shoe to drop or the ax to fall. God’s Word teaches differently, He equips us to fight, really fight, against Satan’s schemes. God grants us the power to observe and then choose to not do likewise:

Ezekiel 18:14, 17 “Now behold, he has a son who has observed all his father’s sins which he committed, and observing does not likewise . . . he keeps his hand from the poor, does not take interest or increase, but executes My ordinances, and walks in My statutes; he will not die for his father’s iniquity, he will surely live.”

Satan comes to steal, kill, and destroy, but Jesus came to give life abundant.

Do not fight this battle alone, please seek help if necessary.

Know and believe God’s truth from His Word.

  • Isaiah 54:17 “No weapon that is formed against you will prosper.”
  • Romans 8:31 “If God is for us, who is against us?”
  • 1 John 4:4 “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.”
  • Revelation 12:11 “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb.”

How to help one who is struggling:

  1. Believe their cry
  2. Listen
  3. Point them to the one who can give them hope – Jesus Christ
  4. Fast
  5. Pray
  6. Seek help from a professional source and point them to a professional source.

 

 

The Sovereignty of God in Suicide

(If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Suicide Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States, please call 1-800-273-8255)

Dear precious widow to suicide,

I am very sorry for the death of your husband. I am deeply grieved with you over the choice your husband made to take his own life. For many, you were blind-sided and caught completely off-guard, unaware of the deep turmoil your husband faced bringing him to make this painful choice. For others, you fought this spiritual battle with your husband almost daily, and now the fight for him is over and a new and difficult journey begins for you.

A myriad of huge questions needing clear answers tormented me for years. Why didn’t I respond differently to his cries? Why did my husband believe the lies? Why didn’t God answer our prayers? Surrendering to the truth that God is sovereign eventually became my resting place. By faith, I continued to trust that God is good, loving, kind, wise, and all-knowing even in the midst of this unthinkable act.

It is easy to accept the fact that we have nothing to do with our own birth and existence – we did absolutely nothing and here we are experiencing life in the world today. The Bible also confirms that death is in God’s hands, “The LORD brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up” (1 Samuel 2:6) or “No man has authority to restrain the wind with the wind, or authority over the day of death” (Ecclesiastes 8:8). But what happens when man intervenes and takes his own life? Is God in control of this as well? If God is sovereign, and He is, then suicide messes with the neatness of our thinking because suicide really is a messy topic without clear-cut answers. Since God is sovereign and did not intervene Himself into the war for my husband’s soul, how can I find comfort in this One who has sovereignly ordained such suffering?

There is a good chance that until you have experienced extreme pain and suffering in life, you have never thought much about the sovereignty of God. Most of us do not until God’s plan interrupts or disappoints ours. Even though we declare God to be God with our mouths, in our hearts we often struggle with the fact that God is God and we are not. Books have been written on the sovereignty of God covering a variety of topics – disease, natural disasters, evil, and man’s choice. For the one impacted by the loss of a loved one to suicide, the sovereignty of God over and in their choice is generally a subject to avoid. God’s sovereignty can become a wall that will push us away from God or a safe haven we run to when nothing else makes sense.

Here are 4 scriptural truths that help with the understanding and acceptance of God’s sovereignty:

1.       God allows physical death, He just does and we have to come to terms with that. This may be by natural means, consequence of poor choices, through Satan who comes to “steal, kills, and destroy,” or at the hand of man but Satan doesn’t have the last victory over death.

2.       We may not always understand the mind of God. Joseph’s story is one of mystery when we read that he suffered for two decades while God was at work: “But Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive’” (Genesis 50:19-20). Over and over in scripture God reminds us that he is in control and we are not and His ways are higher than ours:

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

“He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

3.       God allows Satan to attack us. In the story of Job, Scripture tells us that Satan asked permission from God to attack Job and God granted his request. The response of Job is what offers the most encouragement and comfort in light of God sovereignly allowing Satan to intervene, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).

Much like the story of Job, God sometimes allows Satan to work in our lives. Take Peter in the book of Luke, for example, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31) It is encouraging to note two purposes in this suffering: Jesus Christ prays for the strengthening of our faith even when Satan has access to our lives, and God will use our trial to strengthen others.

4.       We live in a broken world. The dominion, rule, and ownership of the planet which God had given to Adam and Eve, along with their allegiance, transferred to Satan when they chose to know his evil. What originally belonged to God by creation rights transferred into the hands of a self-made evil one!

If humanity was to be saved, it would be because of a choice man freely made! God would not force us to come back into relationship with Himself, but He would make the way available if man would choose to come! Yes, the world was broken, but God had a plan for good.

Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, volunteered to become the payment to Satan for humanity’s redemption! God, through Jesus, took all sin into Himself, and paid the debt of sin Himself so that humanity could be freed from the genetic of sin! There was a way made for humanity, in very fact, to be born again!

“For Jesus, who knew no sin, was made to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (II Corinthians 5:21).  In effect, God declared wherever there is a person anywhere on the planet who will refuse the leadership of Satan and who will choose Me again, I will come to him, and I will receive him.  Having paid the debt of sin, I will personally forgive every person who chooses Me to be his God.

The rule of choice – free will – has never been revoked. All of humanity is free to make deterministic choices about his or her own life! Deuteronomy 30:19 reminds us that the choice is ours, but encourages us to make the choice for life,

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants.”

May you feel the presence of God as you wrestle through the subject of life and death under the sovereign hand of God.

You may never know if God appointed death or allowed Satan to bring death, but you can be confident that God is with you in the valley of the shadow of death.

 

Beyond My Capability by Ryan Ingraffia

If you would have told me 8 months ago that I would never speak to my husband again, never look at him, never kiss him, never receive a text message from him, I would have told you to put a pillow over my face because I wouldn’t be able to survive one single day without him. If you would have told me that he wouldn’t be here to lay with every night and feel his warmth, reach up on my tippy toes to kiss him, or hear his handsome voice telling me he loves me ever again, I wouldn’t have been able to fathom the pain of what that may feel like and I would just assume to not feel it, and put me out of that misery before I would have the chance to experience it. Yet here I am every night falling asleep alone, looking at my phone and not seeing his name pop up, nor seeing him walk through the door. And it really is more painful than I would have imagined if you would have told me this would be my life. 8 months later, how I am getting through every day is beyond my own capability.

Ever since the day I met him, we talked- phone, text, Facebook message, snapchat, sticky notes- all the things- all day- everyday- for exactly 5 years. I was one of those over-bearing girlfriends when he wouldn’t answer a text back within a reasonable amount of time, I would become upset. Why? Maybe I’m crazy. Or maybe I craved to talk to him because he was my most favorite person in the entire world. Not talking to someone who I had an endless conversation with for 5 years is truly beyond my own capability.

We honestly did everything together. Grocery shopped, worked out, cooked, bathed our dog…when my prescription was ready at the pharmacy, the three of us (yes, our dog Daisy, too) would pile in the car and drive a half a mile down the road to get it. We didn’t do anything without each other. Why? Maybe I’m not independent enough. Or maybe because he was my partner in everything and I didn’t question doing anything without him. Or perhaps I somehow knew our time was limited. So how I am going to the grocery store by myself, out to coffee alone, or raising a 94-pound stubborn dog without his help, is positively beyond my own capability.

I feel like I have shared a few personal things, so why not dig a little deeper. Before our wedding, I developed debilitating anxiety. It came out of nowhere and it took over my life with full force. I think it stemmed from the fear of standing up in front of 150 people with everyone staring at me at the altar on my wedding day. Obviously, I wasn’t anxious of who I was marrying- it was just this unexplainable fear of having to stand up there for 15 minutes in the Atlanta summer heat. I still can’t explain why or where this anxiety came from, which makes it more frustrating. Regardless, Matt did some exposure therapy with me to try to overcome this irrational fear. He made me stand outside in the Houston heat (much hotter than Atlanta) in my wedding shoes, with a hooded sweatshirt on for 30 minutes, twice as long as our ceremony was supposed to be. (Can I just brag for a second about my sweet husband? Without judgement or criticism, he helped me through my absolute ridiculousness). And it worked because even though I felt jittery at the altar, it wasn’t as hot or as long as when we were “training.” The point of this obscenely silly story is to just put in to perspective how fearful and anxious I was 8+ months ago, when everything in my life was 100% perfectly fine. So, imagine now that something very real and terrifying happened to me, what my anxiety should be…

I was the Matron of Honor at my best friend’s wedding a few weekends ago. At her wedding, I stood up there husbandless, widowed, scared and scarred. But I was up there. I wrote a speech but convinced myself I wouldn’t be able to read it, told my friends that I wasn’t going to read it and that I would just write a nice letter to the bride and groom- up until the DJ called us up there as it was time for speeches. Something literally pulled me up from my chair and held me up there. I was able to read the words off my phone and through the microphone in front of 150 people. How I stood up there is exceptionally beyond my own capability.

All of this, the big and little things, that I’ve done in the past 8 months, are beyond my own capability and 100% through the strength Christ has given me through the Holy Spirit. This isn’t meant to brag or tell you all “I’m fine!” or “all is well.” I am writing to tell you why I can be fine. I am not fine on my own. I am not strong on my own, I am strong with Jesus. I am no longer anxious like I used to be, not because I just “got over” the things that made me feel anxious, but because I know God is in control. It is not worth the energy to be worried because God knows what will happen the next minute from now, tomorrow, and next year.

Would it be easier to hide under my covers and say no to all the opportunities that have arose since Matt has been gone? Of course. Do I hear the lies and fears running through my mind? All the time. Is it easier to listen to those lies rather than to ignore them and hand them over to God? Yep, it’s so tempting to believe them. Am I “okay?” A lot of the time, no, I am not. Bitterness, anger, pitifulness, and deep, deep grief do take up a lot of my emotions. But when I choose to see all of God’s works being put together piece by piece – joy, hope, and thankfulness begin to take over those other stages of grief.

Most of the advice I hear when I encounter a challenging situation is “give it to God”. Sounds easy… How do I actually DO that? It’s a constant learning process and I am trying all the time. But here are two things I cannot ignore:

  1. I cannot ignore hearing my husband’s soft voice in my head encouraging me, I can’t ignore his fearless presence I feel in me all the time.
  2. I also cannot ignore ALL of the things in 8 months God, Himself, has pulled me through. I know I am still in the depths of the valley, but because He has brought me through some of the worst and hardest things so far, I know He will not stop now. He will pull me up out of this valley. He has shown up for me every time I needed him to, how can I not believe He will continue to do so? Believing in this truth is how I can overcome such challenges.

I still have hopes and dreams for my future. A single dream cannot be put together based upon my own capability, it is through the power and sovereignty of Jesus Christ that dreams (big and small) will be fulfilled according to His plan so long as I put my trust in Him and honor Him. God isn’t going to offer me an instant solution, it is going to be a long, long road following Him, but He will point the way forward. I am confident that, in this storm, He is never going to let me down.

What are you going through right now that would be a lot easier if you handed it over to God? What dreams of yours haven’t been fulfilled because you haven’t invited God to help piece things together? What are you trying to accomplish that you can’t complete with only your own capability? Follow Jesus, He will point the way forward. You don’t have to do it on your own. You will be able to do the things you thought were impossible when you invite the God into your situation.

I am standing on the other side of everything I am afraid of, and God is standing there with his arms wide open*. He is walking with me, opening and closing doors, making things work together better than I could myself, He is good even when life isn’t.

*Lyrics from Wide Open by Northpoint INSIDEOUT.

Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TzOaWq5YczA

 

 

 

Who Am I Now?

Well over a year into widowhood, I found myself watching the girl with the sparkle in her eye and a hearty smile. She was goofy and seemingly carefree dancing and laughing in her dining room – and I was totally jealous. I wanted to be like her with all of her happiness.

The weird thing is, that dancing girl was me. I was watching a home video of my late husband and I, and boy, was I happy. I didn’t feel the pain of missing my husband, because he was right there with me in the room. As I watched all of our home videos and looked through our pictures, the same question jabbed at me; Who am I now? Will I ever be who I was before? The differences between the pre and post-widow me weren’t only in my carefree expressions of happiness, it was in how I could hardly remember someone’s name anymore, or how I felt like I could crumble under the expectations of how others thought I should be grieving. Pre-widow me knew (well, thought she knew) what her next step in life would be, but post-widow me wasn’t totally sure if she’d be any good for the work of the Kingdom of God. Post-widow me was tired and so easily agitated. Post-widow me struggled with fear of the future. Would I ever remember people’s names, have energy again, laugh until my abs hurt, or not dread good-bye’s so severely?

I believe the answer is an anomaly—no, but yes. Originally, I feared the answer “no,” but I now understand it isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a different thing. No doubt, it would be a fearful thing if the answer “no” weren’t also bundled with the answer, “yes.” There are so many similarities between myself now and who I was before, but overall, we are not the same and I praise God for that. I’m much slower to frustration again and I laugh until I can’t breathe again, but I still won’t be who I was before widowhood. Suffering is a refining process. God can use our pain to refine us in certain ways, and refining is not bad.

If our lives are surrendered to Christ Jesus, we shouldn’t want to remain the same, but rather to continuously grow in step with the Spirit. I’m glad I’m not who I was before Michael died, but it did require a season of pain and mourning to get here. And the journey is certainly not over. In the midst of the “Who am I stage?” we need to remember the identity God has given us, if we belong to Him. It’s an identity that isn’t swayed by our circumstances or emotions.

Becoming a widow did not strip me of the title of a child of God. Through tears from the pain of missing Michael, I could also rejoice in the fact that my Heavenly Father was doing a good work in me. When we don’t know who we are, we can trust Abba to always be who He says He is. When we feel our earthly identity is flaky, we can trust that the identity Abba has given us is sure and steady. We can trust God to use the pain and struggle of uncertainty to make us look more like His Son. We will laugh again, but we will never be who we were before the pain of widowhood entered our lives—and that’s a beautiful thing if we’re allowing the Spirit to lead us through it.

 

Setting our eyes on who we are is scary and ugly no matter what stage of life we’re in. We were not meant to find security in who we are, we were meant to find security in who God is. Our circumstances are going to reveal to us just how unstable we really are. Whether we allow God to use that to show us how stable He is, is up to us. While we’re redirecting our hearts and minds to Christ, He is growing and changing us to be more like Him. Being a new person is sweet, if it means becoming more like Jesus.

Growth and change look so different in different seasons. There are seasons of slow growth and rapid growth; seasons of invisible growth and visible growth. Nevertheless, if we are following Christ and living by the Holy Spirit we can trust God that He is growing us and changing us for our good and His glory. It’s not supposed to be a comfortable process, but it is worth it. I can confidently say, that the joy I have now in widowhood is not a result of my circumstances or my wavering personality, but instead because of who God is and who He says I am.

 

John 1:12-13 (NKJV)

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

Romans 8:14-17 (ESV)

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

I Cut the Grass…

I cut the grass because I love yard work and exercise. ?

I cut the grass because my husband is gone and it’s my turn to take over the yardwork. ?

I cut the grass because I cannot afford a lawn service. ☹

I cut the grass because the grass needed to be cut. ☹

Any of these you? Let’s give it up for all women out there who enjoy cutting the grass! For the first 40 years of my life, I had not experienced this joy (it’s all about perspective, right?). I cut the grass for the first time two years after my husband died. I know, I know, I was a spoiled woman! What can I say? My dad didn’t believe that women should cut the grass and neither did my husband – women worked on the inside and the men worked on the outside. But now someone had to cut the grass! I knew my 9-year-old son would soon be old enough to take on this responsibility, but I wanted to have a feel for what that would involve.

On that particular day, I had cooked several pots of spaghetti, lasagna, baked homemade bread, conquered many loads of laundry, orchestrated Saturday house cleanup with my eight small children AND added cutting the grass to my Widow Mom resume, all by noon! The adrenaline was flowing for sure. I remember proudly wondering how many men could accomplish that much by lunchtime?! In fact, I was singing, “Anything you can do I can do better!” Only God knows what kind of character He was trying to build in me (or tear down)!

Oh, if you could have witnessed my grass-cutting escapade – for the first half of my sloped front yard, I cut row after row without the self-propelled lawn mower in the self-propel gear! My neighbor had a good laugh watching me struggle to push the mower across the grass. When I saw him standing in my yard, I praised him for maintaining my lawn the first two years, letting him know he was receiving a lot of prayers at the moment – prayers of gratitude because I didn’t have to cut the grass up to this point. With that, he asked if he could show me just one little feature on the lawn mower, you guessed it, how to put the mower in the self-propel mode! I couldn’t believe it. WOW, I could dance while I mowed now and felt like I could cut his lawn as well! I even discovered that I liked cutting the grass! And I learned that sanctification is messy. This process was more about the work God wanted to do in my heart not in my yard. How often do I move through life on self-propel without allowing God to do the job for me? His yoke is easy when I wear His yoke.

Although my sons will tell you a different story because 19 years passed by before I cut the grass again!  By the way, my sons don’t believe women should cut the grass either, but it’s hard to tackle the job long distance.) As an empty nest approached, I decided to come out of grass-cutting retirement and take on this job once again, plus I decided to take on the weeds too! Yes, I have weeds in my yard, but not because I like the look. I first tried complaining to the company that sprays my yard periodically that the side yard was full of “unwanted plants,” their response didn’t help much, “Ma’am, we don’t spray the wooded areas.” Sadly, there were no “wooded areas” in my yard, just obvious neglect. So, rolling up my sleeves, I went to work spraying, pulling, and fighting off this enemy in my land. With the help of my strong sons, we whipped the yard back into shape with the expectation to receive the Yard of the Month award.

Crazy, but I felt God speak to me about taking on this responsibility. He gave me a few guidelines, if you cut the grass, you must have a good attitude—no woe-is-me, sad-Sally defiance creeping into my attitude. I also heard him say that I could handle this responsibility and yes, the exercise would be good for me, ouch! So, with that in mind, I made it through with a few lessons learned.

First, thankfulness! Thankfulness for the years my husband, neighbors and sons provided for all my lawn care needs—it’s amazing how a little hands-on work will amp up your appreciation. Second, I learned that I CAN cut the grass and I can like it! (It’s really not much harder than vacuuming the house, but oh for the day they come out with a Roomba for the yard!) Widows have the opportunity, yes note the word opportunity, to do things our married friends do not, and that’s okay, and sometimes fun, albeit stretching! God knows that we have needs – He sees them all. He will show us what we can and cannot do. When the responsibility is beyond our ability (as it was for me for many years), He will provide another way. And finally, as you take on new tasks keep your eyes out for the weeds, you don’t want all that hard work to be wasted by unwelcome guests – like it is in our hearts, no truly good work can be done if we do not allow God to tame the weeds in our hearts making us a vessel useful for his purposes! Although a “prize” would be nice, an “atta girl” or massage at the end of the day, the satisfaction that I did a job to the best of my ability as unto the Lord is enough.

 

 

Redirect Your Focus

“For we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I am fully known.”   I Corinthians 13:12

God brought my husband and I together confirming our decision to marry every step of the way. We both began our journey together knowing that it was “of God” – a gift to both of us.

Because of the many ways God united us, we chose to have our wedding bands  inscribed with,  “Everything God does, remains forever.” We knew in our hearts that God was bringing us together for a purpose…it felt almost supernatural. However, through the years I had forgotten that this verse was inscribed on my wedding band. Soon after my husband took his own life, I remembered and was disappointed that my “forever” didn’t match God’s “forever.”

The saying goes, “It ain’t over until the fat lady sings…” But what happens if the fat lady doesn’t sing in your life and it’s all over (or so it seems)?! What happens when you are journeying down the road of life and the road ends before your journey? Or what if you get on “the road” before you are ready to begin your journey? My marriage was over in many ways before it really started. I took my wedding ring off thinking, maybe I had missed God completely! It is interesting how we are ready to ask for a refund on our ticket just because “the fat lady doesn’t sing!”

Five years after his death, God asked me to re-direct my focus back to my original trust in Him concerning my marriage. I was ready to write this season off as a mistake, but God gently began to show me that eight children represented a lot of “forever” taking place because of my commitment unto the Lord in marrying my husband. God encouraged me to put my wedding ring back on, re-direct my focus, and trust Him.

After making this decision, I took the big step to take the ring to the jewelry store to be re-sized for my right hand.  The young girl at the counter was very kind to help me and patiently listened to my story. We finally decided on the new size. I gulped a bit when she announced the price to have this job done, but I heard God say, “it’s okay.” As I was leaving the store, I had an idea. I wonder if I could put eight small stones around the single diamond to represent the “forever” from my marriage. I asked to speak with the master jeweler to see if it would be possible.

When the jeweler came out to help me, his first comments were, “You’re Bobby Apon’s wife!”  I had only been to this jewelry store a couple of times and I had never met this man before. I replied, “Yes, I am.” He went on to share with me that his family had prayed for mine over the last four years as the Lord brought us to mind. “Ma’am…at least once a month we are encouraged to lift you and your family up to the Lord.” Of course, I stood there in a puddle of tears, overwhelmed by God’s grace in our lives.

I shared my story and idea with this man asking him if he thought it would be possible to add stones to my ring. Originally, I wanted emeralds in my wedding ring, but we chose not to add the extra expense as a young couple—we would do this later on. He said he would look into the possibility and let me know when I came back to pick up the ring.

I received a call, “Mrs. Apon, I have a thought on your wedding ring. I took your idea to add stones to your band to other businesses in the area, sharing your story with them.  Several business owners have chosen to join together to have eight emeralds added to your ring. This will be a gift from the Lord.” I was overwhelmed and humbled. He went on to add, “the ring should be ready by May 17th the date I considered my new anniversary when God became my husband.

ONLY GOD—my Husband, would care enough to give me a new wedding ring with “forever” inscribed again on it, now with a much deeper meaning. A symbol to me of His love and continued light in the darkness. I am so blessed! We all have wants, desires, and wishes. Often these are related to real needs, but many times they are not. If we feel that we are “in want” it is because a need or desire is going unmet. If a need is unmet or we are in want, we must trust God. Ultimately, God is able to meet our needs. If He chooses not to, we must trust His wisdom. God, is trustworthy and can be trusted with your forever.

 

Starting a New Chapter Without a Dad

Dear you, who is starting college without a dad,

Here you are at the start of a new school year but still without a daddy. I can remember going off to college like it was yesterday–the freedom of a new world opening up to me! I remember move-in day with my family and the excitement of a new chapter just about to begin. However, I also remember feeling sad because I knew my dad wasn’t experiencing it with me. He would have been so proud of my accomplishments and proud to send me off to find my way in the world. I desperately wanted him to be there with me. If I had been in control he would have been there to share in my joy and my nervousness, but God had other plans and those are the ones we must trust. Many times we make our plans then wrestle with God over His better plans. He directed and is still directing my life without a father, and I’m finding that it’s turning out to be the most beautiful story.

“Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:19

We may never know the reasoning behind what God allows, but trust that His plan is always to bring us closer to Him and to glorify Him.

I know the idea of college without a father might be daunting. People will assume you have a dad and talk about things that you might want to stay away from. But, let them ask the questions, let them wonder where he is, and then tell them what happened. I found that the more I was willing to open up with people and talk about my father, the more I healed. God will absolutely use your story to bring Himself glory, and that’s what our life is about! Claim your story with God as Father because it is a privilege and a joy.

Another thing: If you claim to be a Christ-follower then God is upholding you with His right hand and covering you with His wings. Fact. This means that He is in complete control and is protecting you. His very nature is that of a Father. Before time began, God had Jesus Christ as His son. Father is His first name! Cling to that in every single part of your life. Tell Him about the joys in college, and how you got an A on a test you studied hours and hours for. Cry to him when you feel homesick, or when you feel like you messed up in a class or on a team. He can handle your emotions, and as your Father, He wants you to pour them on Him. You shouldn’t have to go through it alone, and who better to talk to than your Creator, Father-God. He desires to hear your voice and have a relationship with you. Don’t let that fade, okay? He’s closer than our breath and wants us to be in His presence. Allow Him to work in and through you, and know that when the times get hard…He is there.

You’re going to change a lot in college, and I am excited to hear about how God uses you as a light. We’re called to be a “city on a hill” and live in a manner that glorifies Christ, no matter what. Use your testimony of God as your Father to point others around you to Him. There are hundreds of other kids who also have a story like yours and might not know how to deal with it. Show them the secret place found in Christ and allow yourself to be used of God. In the end, we’re broken vessels and if God can use you in any way to show others Himself then every bit of hurt, sadness, missing your dad, and misunderstanding is worth it. I promise you!

I’ve had God as Father for 18 years now, and I would look you in the eyes if I could and tell you it’s worth it. Very hard, and I’m not even completely healed – but I wouldn’t change it. God is faithful, and He’s going to carry you through the next season of your life as His precious child. Let this new season of fresh beginnings allow healing to take place in your heart. It may not feel right and it may be isolating, but you are not alone on this journey.

With God as Father, you’ve got this!

Christieanna

 

 

Good Grief Playlist

I don’t know about you, but in the days of my darkest grief, words were hard to come by. In my heart, I felt every emotion imaginable, but I couldn’t quite get them out in words. Early on, listening to other people cry out to God through worship helped me to not feel quite so alone. Surely if these people could sing in their hurt, so could I! There was something so beautiful about connecting with other hurting people through song and reaffirming our trust in God—like singing a modern day Psalm.

Then there were the days when Satan would tempt me to believe that my suffering was meaningless, yea, I still have them sometimes.  It was then that I would blast these songs in my car or at my house. To this day, I can still feel the truth change me through each passing chorus. Scripture is powerful like that, in the days when it was hard to focus on reading it, I would listen to it in song!

So here it is, my list of songs that I cried to, praised to, chanted to…and willed myself to believe some days! It’s a list of songs that has held me together and raised me up in my faith. So many of these words have become my battle cry over the years, and I hope they will become yours too!

This playlist is for the days when the waves of grief come crashing down again. For the days when tears are more than laughter, silence is more than words, and sorrow is more than joy. Listen and remember, you are not alone! God is with you in the valley of the shadow of death. The enemy wants you to believe a lie about your suffering today, but you do not have to! Let the healing words of scripture into your car, your home, or your headphones. Don’t be afraid to sing it or cry it out! Let’s face it, grief is inescapable, so let’s at least make it good (truth-filled) grief!

Without further ado, here it is! I pray it blesses you today!

http://bit.ly/goodgriefplaylist