The Grief of Today by Katie Campbell Lewis

Month 42 looks a lot different than month one. Daughter, sister, friend, wife, teacher, widow, creator, maker, plant lover, wife again… Of all the hats I wear and roles I play, I’d call myself a fragmented mess this week.

Pouring over my journal from the first year after my husband, Tim, died, I recorded snippets I wrote in week one, month one, month seven, month twenty-four. I transcribed Bible verses that had buoyed me through some of my earliest, darkest days. Then moving bits and pieces around, I tried to pull out some sharable message from the blur of memories and past thinking. I edited down, slept on it, reread it, waiting for that moment when it all clicked. But something wasn’t right. This wasn’t how my writing went—it usually came pouring out of me in one fell swoop needing only a few grammatical fixes and then, boom. Done.

Why was this so hard for me? Why couldn’t I find the words to share one of my most sacred stories? Frustrated and sad, I talked it through with my now husband, Ben, who knew and deeply loved Tim, and watched me walk through the last years of cancer and the early days of grief. He knows the details well, he knows my heart, he has seen the underside of grief that can carry me away, and he agreed that something wasn’t quite ringing true in my words. He encouraged me to write from my perspective today, not from my past.  I had changed, but I was trying to go back and tell an old version of my story. So, I deleted it all—all 2,500(!) words I originally gathered, all of my efforts to explain what this is like, and started over early one morning, after the week that had kicked my butt was finally over.

The word widow doesn’t quite feel right for me – it never has. I wish I could create a word without the charged, pitied image that comes to mind. Even that though, the desire for a different title, shows this deep longing I’ve felt my whole life. I don’t know if you’re like me, but I fear the potential of being misunderstood, especially on my dark days. Yet once your person dies and you’re left with a shattered world to eventually reclaim as your own, being misunderstood is part of your inherited struggle. How could we possibly articulate what this is like?

Here we are – irreversibly different. Now, I talk to hummingbirds every day because that is one of the ways I feel close to Tim, when before, I wasn’t really sure I believed in anything like that. Now, I lead a room full of fifth-graders through the ups and down of learning (and hormones starting), when three and a half years ago, I could barely get out of my bed.

I now have an innate sense of how to show up for my student whose mom just died of cancer. God is aligning me – he is using and growing every part of me – all the pain, loss, and confusion, as well as all the persistence, connection, and hope. Without having lost Tim, I wouldn’t know how to do this. I am so incredibly sad for my student and his family, and so incredibly glad to love him from a deep place of knowing.

I now have an intimate relationship with feeling two (or more!) emotions simultaneously that seem to contradict one another – joy and sadness, peace and confusion, hope and sometimes even despair. Once you lose someone, the gray feels much more like home than the black and white naivete that, “it’ll all work out.” Well, it didn’t work out, and yet here I am, continuing to live a life full of promise, love, and meaning. I’m sad and I’m grateful. Now, my relationship to God has a frankness that is so much more compelling and real than the felt-storyboard version of faith I started growing as a child. God is good, all the time, not just when things are “going well.” I am grateful for His unchanging character in the midst of the constant ebb and flow of this life.

During an assembly at my school, we watched a short video about raising money for kids with cancer. As soon as I saw that the main character was a little redheaded boy (Tim was a redhead before chemo made him bleachy blond), I leaned over to my mentor and said, “I don’t think I can watch this.” Of course, I did, though, and as the story progressed, tears started falling down my cheeks, ever more rapidly. I couldn’t get it together and could tell the kindergarteners I was sitting by were wondering what was up with me… so I stepped out. I sat, I sobbed, I was comforted by colleagues who know all about Tim- I was completely swept away by a wave of grief so fresh it felt like month one all over again. And then, back I went, red face and all, to check in with my fifth-graders, sharing how much that video reminded me of Tim, and how important it is to help families going through cancer. Then, we kept going with our day.

We keep going. We are sad, funny, scared, irritated, thankful, bold, quiet, loud, and every contradiction possible, in the most beautiful, fragmented, pieced together ways. We may not ever be able to fully let others into this experience – to be misunderstood is part of this path – and yet we know that God sees us. The inevitable growth and change of grief may make people uncomfortable, but it also creates in us a beauty that can really change lives. My hope as you read my words is that you feel space to feel all the layers, to press into who God is shaping you to be, today.

 

10 Verses on Trusting God with Your Finances

Trusting God with our finances can be so scary, especially after losing the security of a loved one. In the uncertainty of the widow’s journey, it can be so easy to close our hands around what is left after the death, but greater freedom will be found in opening our hands and provisions to God, allowing Him to do what He wills! But we know that trust and change doesn’t usually happen overnight, so here are so verses to give you confidence in our one true Provider.

  1. “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” Psalm 23:1
  2. “Behold, the man who would not make God his refuge, but trusted in the abundance of his riches and was strong in his evil desire. But as for me, I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the lovingkindness of God forever and ever. I will give You thanks forever, because You have done it, And I will wait on Your name, for it is good, in the presence of Your godly ones.” Psalm 52:7-8
  3. “For the LORD God is a sun and shield; The LORD gives grace and glory; No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” Psalm 84:11
  4. “He who trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like the green leaf.” Proverbs 11:28
  5. “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” Matthew 6:7-8
  6. “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith!” Matthew 6:28-30
  7. “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19
  8. “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. “Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” Malachi 3:10
  9. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21
  10. “Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment.” 1 Timothy 6:17

 

Practical Ways to Care for the Widow this Spring

Oh, what a joyous time it is to watch and experience the birth of Spring! The miracle of life after death is simply glorious. Although the widow may feel encouraged by the warmth and beauty of spring, frost may continue in her grieving heart. As society makes plans for getaways and summer fun with their loved ones, her monotonous routine remains the same–alone. Alone to figure out ways to dust off her home, make repairs, and manage her lawn. Perhaps God would use you to lighten her load by considering meeting one of these practical needs.

1.     Help her with spring cleaning:

  • Service her air conditioner, change the filters, maybe even leave a few extra filters for the months ahead.
  • Give your time to help her clean out a closet. She may be ready to tackle her husband’s possessions, but she may need someone to hold her hand and wipe her tears during the process.
  • Offer to dust ceiling fans and window blinds.

2.     Help her usher in spring:

  • Deliver a spring bouquet just to let her know you are thinking of her.
  • Plant flowers in her yard as a reminder that when her focus is on God, she can bloom where she is planted.
  • Trim her bushes or spread fresh pine straw.
  • Provide consistent lawn care through the warmer months.

3.     Remember her on Mother’s Day!
The job of the widowed-mom is hard and heavy. One out of every four children in the United States is being raised by a single parent, most of which are single moms.

  • Pampering baskets, including gift cards for a manicure, pedicure, or massage, will help her take care of herself.
  • Ice cream and/or restaurant gift cards will provide her and her children with a fun outing.
  • Send notes of appreciation, affirming a job well done!

4.     Include her in your summer outings and plans:

  • Invite her to share a time of fellowship with you. Keep in mind that the widow often feels like the “3rd wheel” when couples gather together. Perhaps you could invite several widows to join you.
  • Consider giving her the keys to your beach or mountain home, trips away can be very healing for the grieving heart.

5.     Provide for a day trip or weekend away
Gift cards for food and gas will help make a simple retreat possible.

6.     Offer transportation

  • Drive her to medical appointments
  • Help with running errands
  • Pick her up for church or a community event

7.     Enlist a trusted handyman for home repairs
Make arrangements to come and conquer her “to-do” list—paint a room, re-arrange furniture, or fix that leaky faucet.

8.     Provide summer fun for her fatherless children.
Loving on her children is a gift to her.  One of the main concerns for the young widow is her children.

  • Summer camps
  • Butterfly gardens for kids, reminding them that life comes after death
  • Day passes – White Water/Aquarium/Movies

9.     Call:
Out of all the widows we surveyed, their greatest ongoing struggle is loneliness. Take time to pick up the phone to let her know she isn’t forgotten.

10. Write:
Widows love a hand-written note just to let them know you care.

11.  Visit:
Give your time away. Be intentional about planning a time to listen to her, keeping in mind that adult conversation may be limited in her new season.

12.  Pray:
Dear God, thank you for showing us that life comes after death. We thank you for Jesus Christ and His resurrection from the grave, so we can experience new life in Christ.  Please remind the precious widow of this truth. May she experience life after her own season of walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Please let her feel your Presence as she waits on you in this season.

“They waited for me as for showers and drank in my words as the spring rain.” Job 29:23

Unconventional Provision

No doubt the minute you entered this valley of transition, money crossed your mind – or the minds of family and friends – carrying with it a variety of emotions. Immediate loss or gain of income, the need to go to work or quit work, the fear of low income or responsibility of new riches could be a part of the loss you are experiencing.

Even though many widows are reduced to living on a poverty level, others represent some of the wealthiest women in the world. Money has power. It can bring false security and attempt to fill a void that only Jesus can fill. Or it can be a tool the Lord uses to build His kingdom and test our hearts.

Studies abound that tell us what we already know: for the most part, the income of a single woman is less – sometimes dramatically – than the income of a single man. There may be bills, known and unknown, that pile up, and accounts and invoices we did not know existed and aren’t sure how to handle. This is not true for all women, but it is a reality for some. Either way, we must cultivate a deeper trust in the Lord, whether riches abound or poverty crouches at the door.

In 2 Kings we get to see first-hand a widow whose financial burdens lurk at her door. I love it when God highlights a woman in Scripture that many can relate to, especially when it’s a widow.  Our identity is not in our status whether married, single, divorced, or widowed; however, it is interesting that often when God performs a miracle of faith for or through a widow, He mentions her identity—widow. Perhaps He does this just so other widows can be encouraged or perhaps because those He has allowed to carry the title widow have a calling and purpose that only God can fill because of His title, Husband to the widow.

In order to excel in our role as widow, we must understand that it is our job description to walk by faith. We have a clear example of this through the widow in 2 Kings.

When the curtain opens on act one, our 2 Kings (2K) widow is distraught. She has circumstances and needs similar to ours…a family, bills, loss, and pain. She faces these daily battles all while the shadow of grief hovers over her, yet we will begin to see how she is always under the umbrella of grace.

Mrs. 2K just experienced the death of her husband. He was a godly man; in fact, he was one of the sons of the prophets (possibly Obadiah). Wow—a very important person to the people and to God! Let’s take a peek into her situation. Would God allow pain to knock on her door? After-all, her family had given their lives to the ministry! The answer is yes He will, and He does. We are never exempt from pain in the economy of God. It seems that the environment of suffering is His favorite place to rain His grace and display the rainbow of His great glory.

Creditors knocked on this particular day to summon the precious sons of this brand-new widow!  How could this be? Her husband just died, and now the city officials announce they have a right to her sons because of insufficient funds to pay her debt. My guess would be that many have received notice from the bank announcing ISF, insufficient funds! That declaration in itself stabs at our stomachs, but to face the removal of a child would be a stab to the heart!

At this moment of need she cries out to Elisha, the top prophet in the land, for help. Was access to this man of God really as easy as Scripture reads? Before Mrs. 2K could pack away the past, God had made away for her present. Before she faced judgment for her debt, God sent the Judge to her defense. “God is a judge of the widow.”

Elisha asks, “What shall I do for you?”

The answer to the first question would be obvious, “Mr. Elisha, SAVE MY SONS!” I believe a secret lies within his reply. Elisha himself could do nothing for her outside of the amazing grace of God.

The second question, what do you have in your house?  Brings us to the place where all miracles begin—where we are.

Her response, “Your maidservant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil.” We know from past Bible precedence that this is the perfect setting for God to work—at the moment of last things and resources. (Oil is often symbolic of the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.) When empty best describes the situation, we know that an eternal purpose is in the heart of God.

She was issued a command,

“Go, borrow vessels at large for yourself from all your neighbors, even empty vessels; do not get a few.”

So here she is at her end. Others now must be included in the story—her neighbors, of all people. I wonder if they had heard the news and gasped, “Poor widow (literally) to lose sons because of debt.” God is certainly able to perform a miracle without the audience of her neighborhood. However, in this crisis, the neighbors were summoned. After the jars were collected, the widow gathered her family, shut the door, and poured oil.

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1

The widow had to step out in faith. She had to GO to her neighbors (uncomfortable), she had to GET a lot (unquestionable), and she was to GAIN provision (un-natural provision that is) not only for her debt, but for the rest of her life. The miracle took place because of her faith, and her provision was measured by her faith.

We are encouraged in Scripture that a faith capable of moving mountains begins the size of a small mustard seed. However, considering Mrs. 2K’s testimony, mustard seed faith is just the beginning of what God wants to do in our lives. To the extent of this widow’s faith was the amount of her provision. Do we obey in the areas God calls us to? Are we willing to include others? Are there regrets over the amount of faith we offer to God?

“And it came about when the vessels were full, that she said to her son, ‘bring me another vessel.’ And he said to her, ‘There is not one vessel more.’ And the oil stopped. Then she came and told the man of God. And he said, ‘Go, sell the oil and pay your debt, and you and your sons can live on the rest.” 2 Kings 4:6-7.

 

 

Fear Over Finances

Every single time I open my USAA bank app it…kindly…reminds me how many days I have until tax day. In fact I just opened it and a big “55 DAYS TO GO” smacked me right in the face! I often wonder why the app makes it such a happy reminder…tax day for me is never happy! I still remember like it was yesterday the daunting feeling of filing on my own for the first time after my husband died. 55 days, 30 days, 15 days, the countdown building my anxiety one day at a time, but every time I went to take action it was like I was frozen solid, unable to file for fear that I would lose yet another bit of control I was clinging so tightly to.

So, let’s take a test to see if I am alone here. 55 DAYS TO GO!! How does that make you feel? Does it cripple you like it did me 3 years ago? Do you start to wonder where that sheet of paper was that you swore you would remember where you put it, and well, now you can’t? Are you actually going to look for it right now? I’ll wait…

Maybe it’s not your taxes that scare you. Hopefully, the Turbo Tax numbers at the top of your page are all green (meaning you get a glorious refund)! But what about the rest of the year that’s counting down in front of your very eyes? Do you trust that God has each of those days and their exact provision in mind or are you tossing and turning in the wee hours of the night counting how much life insurance you have left, how much the mortgage is going to be, how much you will be making now that just one paycheck is coming in? If so, sister, you are so not alone!

After John-Michael died it didn’t just feel like my world was spinning out of control, it was! Every job that used to be divided between two people was now my responsibility. All of a sudden, I was expected to keep it all a float. Now if it could have been kept above water with tears that would have been good, but unfortunately my rent couldn’t be paid in tears. The impossibility of it all, grieving, trying to work, and managing finances were exactly the tools Satan had in mind to keep me so bogged down in fear that I wouldn’t be able to see the truth. The truth that all though my world was marked by chaos and question marks, God was not out of control or confused.

Instead of letting Satan own these next 55 days, allow God to step in and show you his power, yes over your finances, but even more so over your whole life.

Here are two practical steps to trade your fear over finances for freedom in the faithfulness of God.

1. Preach the gospel to yourself every day. When you’re your anxiety over provision becomes bigger than your trust in the God of the universe, it’s a sign to you that you need to sit yourself down and consider the ravens and the lilies! What’s that you say?

“Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?  Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried.  For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them.” Luke 12:24-30

You are more valuable to God than any of his creation. You are his child. He sacrificed everything for you, and will see to it that you are provided for. And when you start to feel less than the birds and the trees turn to God and ask for him to show you that he cares. Ask him to do more than you could ever imagine. You’ll be amazed at how he comes through and how he grows your faith in the process.

2. Ask for help. I am not ignorant to the HUGE financial problems that the death of a loved one can create. God does not intend for you to face these scary times alone. After JM died, I was very transparent with my church about my financial fears, and they were able to connect me with a great financial adviser who helped carry my burden for me in the early days after loss. You will be surprised the connections people have if you are willing to humbly ask.

No matter where you are financially this tax season, I pray you are seeking God. Asking God to make you more giving with what you have and more trusting with what you don’t. He is faithful in it all.

 

 

 

From Marriage’s First Kiss to Final Breath

 

Psalm 123:1 “To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens!”

Imagine it’s a Friday afternoon, you just got off work and you’re making a bee-line for those plans you’ve been looking forward to all week. You click on the radio and your favorite song is just starting, so naturally you turn it up, roll down the window, stick your hand out, and cruise down the highway making waves in the air as it weaves up and down over your fingers. Pause there in your mind. It’s bliss. Beside the inevitable Friday traffic, all seems right with the world. Have you had moments or seasons of life like that? Where things are going good, I mean really really good, so much so that you pause and look to heaven to say, “Why me?” or “God, I don’t deserve this…but I accept!” Those moments are meant to be celebrated, and I think they teach us something about our God and his economy.

JM, my late husband, and I looked to heaven a lot together over the years of our relationship. Sometimes in confusion and sometimes in praise, but (mostly) always in awe that we had a God who gave us such good gifts. From the time I met him at Snowbird Wilderness Outfitters camp, I remember looking to heaven and saying, “God why am I so attracted to this weirdo guy?” and he looking up with a completely different response, “This girl is smoking hot, God, and there is no way I am on her level.” (His words, not mine). We spent that summer sneakily flirting, dropping humble brags about how we were killing it with our campers, and shouting Ephesians 4:29 at each other from all over camp, because I guess that’s how Christians flirt… I still laugh when I think about JM looking to heaven and begging God not to let me friend zone him because of the many nights I spent putting make-up on him for a dumb British Rock Star character that he insisted on playing every Thursday night at the camp’s rodeo. And thankfully enough for him, he found out that God was enthroned and in the details because I didn’t even know what the friend zone was.

Almost exactly one year later, we went on our first date. I am sure we both spent many nights leading up to this date looking up to heaven for guidance as we got to know each other from long distance phone calls and texts. When the night came, we literally looked to heaven for the first time together as the small red and yellow biplane left the runway, headed for the sky. As we held hands for the first time watching the summer sun melt into the trees behind Kennesaw Mountain, we were both reassured that God was indeed the author of more than our story, but the great story that all creation was telling. Thankful we got to participate in that is an understatement.

I remember one night in particular, September 9, 2012. I was terrified as JM asked me to take the adventure with him in becoming his girlfriend. I rattled off my list of excuses as to why I wouldn’t make a good girlfriend, and he wasn’t even phased by one of them. He had spent countless hours that summer knocking on heaven’s door to receive guidance from a God that gives to those who ask. Again that night JM led my eyes to heaven, and although we realized that it was risky business to trust in a God who is a sovereign mystery, JM reminded me that it was the best place we could be. So I said yes, yes to a journey that terrified me in all the right ways.  We had no idea the path that lay before us, but hoped in a King who promised to lead his people.

Oh, and the night he proposed…there were so many moments between September 9, 2012 and that crisp November day that made me fall deeply in love with him and the God we were following. How fitting that for our final date as boyfriend and girlfriend JM would again lead us skyward. The helicopter blades whipped through Atlanta’s night sky as I sat next to him asking God how in the world I got this guy to like me. Little did I know that JM, sporting the hottest outfit I have ever seen by the way, was looking at more than the beautiful skyscrapers towering into the blackness above but looking to his God to calm his nerves, for in moments he would bend his knee to ask the girl next to him to spend forever by his side. About 30 minutes later, I had a ring on my finger and we both looked to heaven rejoicing in the fact that we got the gift of each other.

Or how about the time we looked to heaven because we had both finished college and were about to get married! We were broke, in desperate need of jobs and money, and so many other things, but boy were we content with the love that we had and the life we were making with God. We turned to God like needy kids and hoped that, like all the others times along our journey, that he would provide. And do you know, he did!

Then came July 13, 2014, the day JM and I said “I do” and vowed before God to love and serve each other until death do us part. We had no idea the commitment that we were actually making, and honestly, it’s probably best that we didn’t! On this day and in this moment in particular I remember looking to heaven with him. We had just finished our vows, placed the rings on each other’s fingers, and were singing In Christ Alone, only the kiss was left to seal the deal. In those last moments we gazed skyward. My eyes were closed and JM’s were staring up at God, both of us praying a very similar prayer, “Christ, be our light and our song on days when loving comes easy and be our solid ground when the fiercest droughts and storms come rolling in.” Gosh, I remember our faces so clearly, his blissful glance and my sweet contentment as we accepted the greatest gift God had given us to date.

We didn’t know what joys and what sorrows lay ahead on our path, but we knew that God was commanding our destiny, from marriage’s first kiss to final breath.

The very next day the hard work began. Marriage was fun, but it wasn’t easy, we would be the first to admit that! We looked to heaven several times a day and sometimes several times an hour asking God how to love each other better. We were selfish and clueless, but at the end of the day no matter how it had unfolded, we would look to God together before our heads sunk deep into our pillows. Even though our eyes were closed, and mine sometimes half asleep, our hearts were pointed towards the throne. We needed sanctification and grace and mercy. God came through, every time.

This year as I approach Valentine’s day, I cannot help but stare unendingly at the heavens, life was not what I expected it to be, but God has been faithful both in the past and in my present. I cannot help but think back on all those “Friday post-work drive” moments I got to have with JM, the few I had during my grief journey, and the ones that brought me to where I am now with my now husband, Alosha. There may have been traffic, but the song was just right and the wind was so fun to play in, that it didn’t matter how long it would take us to get to where we were going. That’s what I am declaring over my life today and what I pray you declare over yours. The idea is this: that we would lift our eyes to a God who gives us these beautiful, bliss filled moments to give us a small taste of what heaven will be like. There will be stops, bumps, and maybe a few tickets along your crazy ride, but rejoice in that fact that no matter how long it takes you to get to that final destination, you will indeed get there, and it will be more awesome than any weekend plan you have ever dreamed up!

Philippians 3:14 “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

 

Covering the Widow in Love

  1. Remember Her – the emphasis on couples, marriage and romantic “love” is a tender reminder of what is missing during this season in her life. Letting her know that you are thinking of her does not replace that old love but covers her with a new kind of love and support.
  2. Invite HerCover her lonely moments through intentional opportunities to fill the void. An invitation to join you for lunch or coffee shows her she is truly not alone.
  3. Pray for HerCover her in prayer and send her a Valentine card letting her know you have done so! Lifting her cares and needs before the One who can truly satisfy is the covering she really needs on this hard day!
  4.  Serve with Her – Give her an opportunity to be covered with a new perspective by directing her focus to the needs of others.
  5. Cover Her – Actually deliver a blanket to her house! The blanket is a symbol to her that God is her defender and her covering now that the covering of her husband is gone.

If you don’t already have plans this Valentine’s Day or were hoping to incorporate serving those who will find this holiday hard, Perspective Ministries welcomes your help in visiting new widows in the Metro-Atlanta area and bringing them this gift of care! If you are interested, please email http://lori@perspectiveministries.org.

Donate to purchase a blanket for a new widow $10 each!

 

 

Surprised by Power while Picking up Sticks

1 Kings 17

Widows, often unnamed, are scattered throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. The limited detailed biographies of these ladies who have been left alone offer a treasury of wisdom, encouragement, challenge, and hope reminding us that it is always good to put our trust in God.

*****

She was a young mother, living alone as a widow in a big city, Zarephath, with evil leaders who sought to put to death God’s messengers. Food and water were scarce, death seemed imminent and Widow Z was scared.

No doubt she had heard of the prophet in the land and the reality that his declaration to Ahab and Jezebel that there would be a drought in the land had come to pass. However, never did she dream this wanted man of God would show up, while she was picking up sticks, requesting a cup of water and her last breadcrumb.

How could this be? Here stood Elijah, the man on Jezebel’s hit list asking for her last meal announcing the supply of bread and water would match her need if she honored his request.

“Then Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go, do as you have said, but make me a little bread cake from it first and bring it out to me, and afterward you may make one for yourself and for your son. For thus says the LORD God of Israel, ‘The bowl of flour shall not be exhausted, nor shall the jar of oil be empty, until the day that the LORD sends rain on the face of the earth.’”   1 Kings 17:13-14

She was in the middle of a mess destined to end in the miraculous. Perhaps it was the little bit of hope from God’s promise that enabled her to take a step of faith, and another, and another as the Widow Z had heard of Elijah’s amazing God. Faith became sight and God’s Word was true – the bread and water did not run out for two whole years!

Scripture shares there were many widows living in the land however the Widow Z was the one chosen to play an important part in history. She may not have known the specifics of God’s command for her life, but through step-by-step participation in the unfolding unseen story of God, she experienced the miraculous. When fear knocked, she kneeled. When death triumphed, resurrected life restored her spiritual brokenness.

Little did she know that God’s temporary removal of grace over Israel, his chosen people, allowed for personal grace to come her way. Little did she know that her steps of obedience were orchestrated by God even before time began And, little did she know that her choices today would impact her tomorrow.

“And in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them. How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them!” Psalm 139.

The story doesn’t stop there as each day has enough trouble of its own. Her circumstances went from bad to worse when her fatherless son died. She blamed herself and quickly shifted the blame to Elijah, yet all the while God was in complete control! Fortunately, this man who walked with God knew just what to do—grab the boy and run to God, the One who not only hears our cries but brings life out of death.

She wasn’t cast aside but set apart for a bigger story in history—His (God’s) story, right alongside the kings and prophets. God took care of her. She gave her all and received abundantly. Their story became her story. She was an empty vessel filled for God’s glory. God brought her in so he could make himself known to her. She had value, worth, the covering of God, His great love reaching out to demonstrate that she was not forgotten. She did nothing while God did everything. God brought a man of God to her, representing the body of Christ, leading her to put her trust in God. Elijah was the first step to her salvation. When the curtain had closed on her darkest hour, there was an encore to the story—even in death, God resurrected life.

“And He said, “Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown. But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land; and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.” Luke 4:23-26

How is God at work in your story? Jesus stands ready to interject powerfully the miraculous into our mundane activities—even while picking up sticks or the pieces of our lives. Pay attention to the “behold moments” where God is at work.

Accept death as God’s grace-filled plan to give you new life.

Bible Verses of Hope when Trusting God with the Unknown

Each one of us faces the unknown every single day! This is why James offers an important reminder:

“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.  stead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” James 4:13-15

When facing the unknown, the Bible offers great promises for those who put their trust in God:

Read the verse and make note of the promise to claim:

Jeremiah 49:11 “… let your widows trust in Me.”

Psalm 9:10 “And those who know Your name will put their trust in You, For You, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You.”

Promise: When I put my trust in God, He will not forsake me.

Psalm 37:5 “Commit your way to the LORD, trust also in Him, and He will do it.”

Promise: Commit my way to the Lord and He will do it.

Psalm 40:3 “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; Many will see and fear and will trust in the LORD.”

Promise: God will put a new song in my mouth and many will fear and trust in the Lord.

Psalm 62:8 “Trust in Him at all times, O people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.”

Promise: Trust God at all times.  Pour out my heart to Him.  God is a refuge for me.

Psalm 115:11 “You who fear the LORD, trust in the LORD; He is their help and their shield.”

Promise: For those who trust in the Lord, He is their help and their shield.

Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.

Promise: Trust the Lord with all my heart leaning not on my own understanding.  He will make my paths straight.

Psalm 31:14 “But as for me, I trust in You, O LORD, I say, “You are my God.”

Psalm 33:21 “For our heart rejoices in Him, because we trust in His holy name.”

Psalm 56:3 “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You.”

Psalm 56:11 “In God I have put my trust, I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?”

 

A Resolution to Keep Going

A new year. A fresh start. Some of us really need that right? For some of us reading this 2018 tested the very limits of what we thought we could handle. It took us right up to the edge of our worst fears and even had the gumption to drag us a step further. It. Was. Hard. For others 2018 was a year of restoration in ways you never thought were possible after the suffering you experienced in the past. In 2018 a lot of us lost “normal” or were somewhere out there trying to find a “new normal.” But here we all are, some more tattered than others, at the doorstep of a brand new year, a clean slate, whether we like it or not.

When I rang, well actually cried, in the New Year of 2016 I remember thinking, blah blah resolutions and fresh starts and everyone all amped to have the “best year yet!” All I wanted was the past. I wanted 2011, the year I met JM, I wanted 2014, the year we got married, I wanted everything back pre September 19, 2015. Could I make it my resolution to have my life back? But as the ball dropped, the clock stuck midnight, and people all over the world kissed their way into the new year, there I was on my couch, lips unkissed, and alone with nothing left to do but resolve that 2016 would be the year I kept going.

For those of you who have gone through suffering you know sometimes the resolutions you make are simply the only choice you actually have to make…so no, I was no stronger than you when I resolved to keep walking forward, I just knew it was simply the only real option. I could have mentally disallowed 2016 to come and lived in the shadow of September 19 forever, but I knew in my spirit that’s not at all what God called me to, as his child he wanted me to keep going, because even though I couldn’t see the future, he could, and he was prepared to resolve with me that we could keep going into the new year together.

And like most resolutions, we get 5 days in, 1 month if you are the most dedicated amongst us, and we are exhausted. We start looking for all the excuses to just stay where and how we were the year before. I felt this pull too, even though I hated where I was at after losing my husband, it was still comfortable and predictable…wake up, cry, sleep, try to get life back together, fail, sleep, cry, repeat.

This is why we have to resolve with Christ, when he resolves something he brings it to fruition, every. single. time. Don’t believe it, because you can’t see it or feel it? Look at Hebrews chapter 11. “By faith Abel…,” “By faith Enoch, and Noah, and Abraham, and Sarah, and Jacob, and Moses…” The list goes on to name every biblical figure that even non-Christians know about. “By faith” they did what God called them to do. “By faith” they offered themselves, obeyed in the hard stuff, built a stinking ship in the desert (like come on?!). “By faith” they left what was behind, their homes, THEIR NORMAL, and walked into foreign lands. Why? Because that is what God called of them. He even promised and resolved, if you trust me at this new juncture, even though it is hard, and you cannot see how you can possibly move forward or this could possibly work out, you will be blessed, you will know me more, and you will get what I promised you, life with me in abundance.

Of course there will be days when we look back and long to be in that old familiar world we used to call home, I am sure Abraham and Moses did too. I am sure at times it got really tiresome waiting for what was promised but had not yet come, especially since some didn’t even get to see the promised land with their earthly eyes. I like to think that on the days when Noah was tired of people thinking he was crazy and just wanted to be a regular guy again or when Sarah was celebrating yet another birthday without the present of a child, wishing she could be younger and maybe conceive a child, that they would take a minute to ponder on it all, life’s past pleasures and blessings, then wipe the tears from their faces and say like C.S. Lewis would later write,

“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind,”

and then get back to the work of placing their faith in God! Of resolving to move forward.

When we go with God into the new year, we go with the promise that nothing will happen to us that God has not planned and that he cannot handle. Fellow sufferers, we know all too well that even though we go with God, we are not promised an easy road, but we are promised God’s presence. Like the Israelites following the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night as they escaped from Egypt, God’s presence will lead us in 2019. And although the path may not always be easy, we too will reach the true promised land, where suffering will be no more and each day will be more beautiful than the last. Here’s to seeing all that God will do in between, both in our lives and in others.

Treasuring

As we pack Christmas away, may the message and power of this true eternal story remain with us.  The end of the year lends itself to times of reflection.

Scripture records two occasions where Mary “treasured.” Both times came after experiencing something beyond her understanding and imagination.

Luke 2:19 records that “Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” This time of consideration came after Jesus was miraculously conceived, birthed and now she held the Lamb of God, who came to take away the sins of the world, in her arms. There are no words to express the joy and wonder felt as you finally look into the eyes of your newborn after months of anticipation, but to hold the Son of God, as Mary experienced, is more than we can begin to comprehend.  What a great gift!  She had so much to treasure and even more to ponder.

The next time Mary treasured was after her young son, Jesus, had been missing for three days.  When she found Him in the temple, Jesus’ response to Mary was, “Did you not know that I had to be about my Father’s house?”  Of course she didn’t know. The Bible goes on to share, “…they did not understand the statement He had made to them.”  How could she understand why her boy had left her side to teach men in the temple? She just couldn’t. Luke 2:51 states, “…and His mother treasured all these things in her heart.”

In his commentary, Matthew Henry discusses the act of treasuring:
“The truths of Christ are worth keeping; and the way to keep them safe is to ponder them. Meditation is the best help to memory. That which at first is dark, so that we know not what to make of it, may afterwards become plain and easy; we should therefore lay it up for hereafter.”

Mary set an example to all of us: When we are troubled, we must treasure. God is always at work beyond our limited understanding. Darkness is always light to God (Psalm 139:12), but honestly, always appears dark to us – in our experience, understanding and knowledge of the work God is doing on our behalf and for His glory.

When my children were in the home, we were intentional about one-on-one moments expressing different emotions we were feeling i.e. what made us sad, what made us happy, etc.  This helped me learn how to pray for them. Their responses were recorded in a journal that I updated each time we shared.  As we closed out the year, our family followed Mary’s example of reflection.  We each filled out our “Year-At-A-Glance” to share together on New Year’s Day. You may want to take time to think through these questions and plan a time of intentional sharing with your family. You may discover something you want to treasure or jot down an experience you will need to ponder before the Lord.

Treasuring At-A-Glance

What made you happy?

  • What made you happy this year?
  • Were there any special celebrations?
  • What do you look forward to in 2019?

What made you sad?

  • Did you experience something painful or difficult?
  • What was your biggest lesson learned from this?

What did you treasure?

  • What memories did you make?
  • Did God answer a specific prayer need or teach you something?

What causes you to wonder?  What is your current prayer request or area you are surrendering to the Lord?

God’s Provision:

  • How did God care or provide for you in practical, or in supernatural ways?
  • How did God use you to bless someone?

Psalm 68:5, “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.”

To the fatherless: How did God “Father” you?
To the widow:  How did God care for you as your Defender and covering now that your husband is gone?

May 2019 be a year of treasuring and trusting the truth that God hasn’t left your side. He loves you and He cares. God will provide, protect, and be near to you as you ponder.

Light Their World This Christmas 2018

Christmas is one week from today! Perspective Ministries has personally cared for over 55 widowed moms and 110 fatherless children during this giving season. While it is a blessing to light the world of the widow and her children at Christmas, it is equally important to carry her throughout the year helping to lighten her load. Please consider making a donation towards Perspective Ministries, as we meet the practical, emotional, and spiritual needs of widows and their children in 2019.

Our Giving Catalog is full of ways you can care for the widow and fatherless through Perspective Ministries.

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.