Alex Kondratev

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

 

When Suffering is All You Have to Offer

Mark 12:41-44:                                                                                                                                                           “And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

“A poor widow.” Gosh, doesn’t life feel like that sometimes. Half the person we needed to be for our family, friends, and coworkers and empty handed. Sometimes our emotional or physical poverty cuts so deep that we feel no possible sense of recovery, stripped to the core. In those moments our human response is to give up. Sometimes we even feel like it’s the only logical response.

There’s a beautiful secret in this piece of scripture for those who are not only widows, like myself, but for those who are spent, worn out, and suffering. There is respite and reward for those who dare to walk up to the offering plate with ripped jeans and nothing left in their pockets to offer but who are determined to give “all they have to live on.”

That was my life story 2 years ago. The tragic death of my husband of 14 months left me deep within the valley of the shadow of death. I was the poor widow, and I didn’t want to be. I wanted to walk up to the offering box of life to offer my large sums, proving that life was going well, that my dreams were still intact, and that I still had some amount of control on things. My reality was vastly different. I ate, slept, and breathed grief, “all I had to live on.”

I don’t know what your suffering looks like today. Do you just want your old life back? Is your kid’s grief breaking your heart? Are your hopes for finding your “dream job” waning as you spend yet another day at your cubicle? Are you having a hard time believing truth as you continue to fight that long lasting sin? Is death knocking at your door or that of a friend or family members?

Have you stared the brokenness of this world in the eyes recently and felt it’s sting?

Here’s the secret we see hidden in plain sight in Mark 12, your brokenness is a gift, reminding you and others that it’s not wealth, health, or prosperity that give you hope, it’s Christ. It’s a humble reliance on a God that says you can trust me with all you have, even to the point where it hurts, even when it looks like a mess of broken dreams. Two and a half years ago, all I had was a dead husband, no answers, and loneliness, but still God was calling me to come to the offering box. What I found when I went was not a God who mocked my “nothingness,” instead, as I lifted up my hands I heard, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness…for when you are weak, then you are strong.”

When we are weak, God calls us to come, so that he can be strong. Look at the scripture, of all the people coming to offer their sums, Jesus highlights the small gift of the widow. No amount of money that the widow offered was going to make her gift more substantial to God—he didn’t need that. Jesus honored the small gift not because it was large in size but large in substance. Surrender is the lesson of the offering box.

There is always something to give back to God, even when our gift looks and feels like nothing. What is God calling you to drop on the offering box today? He is calling you to put it all in, everything you have to live on, tears included. He will be faithful.

Reading Resources: Crossing to the Other Side of Grief

No matter how far down the road of grief you have traveled, one month to 20 years, renewing our hope is essential. Every battle we face must be fought with the hope of heaven. On the hardest days, we need other people to hold on to that hope for us. We need to know that we aren’t the only ones trying to survive the pains of death. We need to see that people have made it to the other side, life after death. That’s what a good book can do. It can reinforce the truth – the truth that all hope is not lost, that there is purpose in our pain, and that Christ is still faithful. The list here is not exhaustive, many Christians have suffered and written to say that God is still who He says He is, these are just some of our (Lori and Alex) favorites.

Note: If you only have time in your busy schedule to read just one book, pick the Word of God, every time! There is no replacement for the hope it offers and the healing it brings.

Tear Soup by Pat Schwiebert

Hands down this is my favorite first book to give to one starting a journey in grief. 

This beautifully illustrated book describes and defines the grief process in such a way that a five-year-old to 95-year-old can understand.  Without overwhelming the one suffering, it educates them on what to expect.  Wrap this book up with a box of Kleenex or a handkerchief and deliver this as your first attempt to show compassion to the hurting one.

The Path of Loneliness by Elisabeth Elliot

Great read for anyone along the widow journey.

Few people understand the suffering of a widow quite like Elisabeth Elliot. Enduring the tragedy of losing two husbands in her lifetime, she brings real hope to tired and lonely hearts. In this book Elliot balances love and challenge perfectly. She acknowledges the crippling pain of our loss and grieves with her readers, but she doesn’t stay there. She reminds the reader that this suffering we now face is meant to push us to a greater understanding of Christ and his love for us and the broken people of the world. This book taught me to embrace my loneliness as a gift from God himself and to use this hurt to push me into a hurting world that needs Christ.

A Grace Disguised by Gerald Sittser

One of the first books I read on grief was written by a man who lost his mother, wife, and daughter (three generations) in one tragic accident. His story impacted me deeply. The anointing over the sharing of lessons learned tutored me at the beginning of my own journey. “In coming to the end of ourselves, we can come to the beginning of a new life – one marked by spiritual depth, joy, compassion, and a deeper appreciation of simple blessings. If you let it, your sorrow will increase your capacity to live well, to love life, and to experience joy, not after the darkness but even in the midst of it.”

Lament for a Son by Nicholas Wolterstorff

Good for the hurting trying to put words to their pain.

Nicholas Wolterstorff lost his son, and like any who lose someone they love, felt the all-consuming sting of death on his life. In his attempt to express his pain, he wrote several short journals some memories, some questions, some moments of deep pain and moments of deep hope all with simplicity and candor. This short book, literally gave words to my pain. I cried with it and laughed with it. Wolterstorff walked with me in the hurt and made me feel like I was not alone.

TIP TO THE READER: Make sure you make it all the way to the end and watch how Christ starts to transform this hurting parent’s heart and orient his mind toward the hope of Heaven.

The Gospel According to Job by Mike Mason

Great to read devotionally. Good to give to guys going through a trial.

The story of Job and his suffering is more than most of us can comprehend—he lost his family, possessions and his own health. Even though our struggle may not compare with the amount of loss Job experienced, at some point in our own process, we may feel it is close. Job can be a difficult book to understand. Mike Mason does an excellent job of breaking it down into bite-size pieces to read devotionally over time. The Word of God on the book of Job will speak and encourage you in your own trial, “through Job we learn the secret of the gospel: that ‘mercy is the permission to be human.’ The Lord never gave Job an explanation for all he had been through. His only answer was Himself. But as Job discovered, that was enough. The Gospel According to Job sensitively reminds us that it’s all right to doubt, to be confused, to wonder–in short, to be completely human. But what will heal us and help us endure is a direct, transforming encounter with the living God.”

Through the Eyes of a Lion by Levi Lusko

For all who feel like their pain is too much and too hard to keep going!

Written by a man who lost his young child, Levi Lusko shocks the readers system back to life with so much hope for the future. Lusko gives the grieved the much-needed push to keep going! He encourages the reader the stare in the face of tragedy and fear and fight it with the power of Christ. I read this book in the first year of becoming a widow and was consoled in my pain and energized to use it to help others see their need for the Gospel in the midst of earth-shattering pain.

The Undistracted Widow by Carol W. Cornish

Good for widows in the 2-3rd year.

There comes a point in the process where life comes after death and it’s time to move forward.  The Undistracted Widow challenges widows to look at their new season in life as purposed.  With this perspective, women are encouraged to look at what God says about the widow, her identity, emotions, and direction encouraging her to move forward by putting her trust in God.

Suffering and the Sovereignty of God by John Piper

For all who want to have a greater understanding of suffering.

Suffering brings about wrestling even for those strong in the faith. Wrestling with the truth that God is in complete control over every aspect of life and death. If God is ultimately the one in complete control, how and why does He allow us to suffer?  If He really loved me, He would have stopped the pain – wouldn’t He? These issues are handled Scripturally with compassion and understanding from those who have also suffered.

Sufferer, Easter is for You

Easter is a holiday you can feel in the air. It comes right when the cold weather has made its final stand. Victory! The sunshine and warmer weather has sent those cold, dark clouds back to where they came from (except for in New York, I don’t know when your warm is coming, but it is, right? Yea, it has to, hold on!) Flowers start to blossom, store fronts change from jackets to swim suits, winter snow scenes to spring bouquets—it’s here. For most this is a season of excitement and anticipation, a celebration of new life both physically and spiritually. But for the sufferer, it’s yet another season where the absence of our loved one is felt deep within. Another holiday that we ache to celebrate the joy of life with ALL of our family. Even though I am happily remarried to an amazing man, this holiday hits me especially hard each year. My late husband John-Michael loved Easter. He sang on Easter morning like he had won the Mega Millions, because in light of the cross, he knew he had won. Oh, how I long for the day when I can sing with him again of the triumph of Easter. Don’t you, my suffering friend? How badly do you want to sing knowing that all the bad has been wiped away and that full restoration has finally come? I want it so bad, but here we are, stuck in the middle. Somewhere between the Easter baskets and egg hunts, Lent devotionals, and church celebrations, we’re tired and don’t yet fully feel the triumph of Easter. The winter may have passed, but the final frost on our soul hasn’t seemed to melt quite yet.

Widow, sufferer, Easter is for you. I know it because the coming of the first Easter must have felt a lot the same for the disciples. They had left everything to follow Jesus. They planted all their stakes and dreams in him. They believed that their season of long suffering would lead to a triumphant victory here on Earth. They didn’t expect the cross, they didn’t expect death. They were certain that he was going to break down the temple and rebuild it, in front of their very eyes. Their idea of restoration looked so much different than what God had in mind. Even when told by Jesus that he would die and rise again (Matthew 20:17-19), they didn’t understand, thinking that they wouldn’t suffer quite that much, and surely neither would the Son of God. But as Good Friday hit, they were stunned. Jesus died. All their dreams and plans were destroyed. The death of Jesus shook the disciples so much that they locked themselves in a home for fear that everything they believed could have been wrong (John 20:19). They had no idea what to do next, this wasn’t the life they thought they signed up for. We can say that again, this wasn’t the life we thought we signed up for.

Like the disciples, we cannot comprehend the full meaning of the suffering we are going through. I too have sat in the quiet of my home thinking, sometimes screaming, “WHAT am I going to do next?!” I cannot give you a concrete answer as to why my beloved, funny, young, full-of-life, late husband is not with me to celebrate Easter this year. Even with warnings in scripture that promise suffering here on Earth, I couldn’t have fathomed the heartache that could come from it. But, hold on, it’s what happened next in the disciple’s lives that changed the story for them and changed the story for you and me—completely, forever! All the sufferers, and honestly, all the Earth, hinges on what happened next. At the moment of complete darkness, complete chaos, and complete hopelessness, enters our Savior…

“PEACE TO YOU!” Luke 24:36

Jesus was alive. Jesus rose from the dead. JESUS CONQUERED DEATH. And what are his first words to them? Peace. My dear friends, peace. “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see…” Luke 24:38-39. It was him. Can you imagine the relief they must have felt? Death was no longer the final answer. There was someone greater, and he faced the curse of death and conquered it for us. This was a triumphant victory.

It is just like Jesus to meet us with hope and promise in the midst of confusion.

“Instead of explaining our suffering God shares it.” (Nicholas Wolterstorff)

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

This Easter, the promise of the resurrection is for you. The cross declares that Jesus has tasted death for you so that it doesn’t have to be the final word for you, for your kids, or for your life. In the place of havoc Jesus has offered peace. No matter what this broken world throws at you, no matter the plots Satan has to destroy, take heart, Jesus has overcome them all. You may not be singing with flowers in your hair, you may very well be in the stillness of your home, holding onto that last shred of hope that victory is coming. It is. It has. You can’t see fully right now what restoration will look like, but in Christ you will. In Christ your hope is as rock solid as the defeat of winter and the restoration of spring.

 

To the Widow’s Mother-in-law by Alex Kondratev

Dear Mom (in-law),

We have both lost someone that is irreplaceable in our lives. You a son, the one you carried in your womb for nine months, the one you brought into this world, the baby you held in your arms, had inside jokes with, the one who called you mommy and counted on you for so many years. The one you raised into the man I love—he is who I love in many ways because of you. And me a husband, the one I built a life with and shaped my world around, the one who held my hand in all the joys and sorrows of life, the man that I vowed my all to, to become one with. Our grief is so deep because this man was a part of us and now he is gone. We grieve many of the same things—his laugh, his hugs, his jokes and his talents, but in the same breath, our grief is vastly different. I know we both feel that lonely chasm deep within our bones.

In the days of living out this unexpected plan of God, I won’t always love you the way your son had a way of loving you, after all I’m not him. And I know you won’t always be able to love me in the ways he loved me, after all you’re not him. But, I do believe that we have enough of that man pulsing through our veins to be there for one another in a way that no one else can.

Mom, there is no light way to put this, we will face hard days, months and years ahead. We will each have to make decisions that we never thought we would have to make. Decisions that will impact us and change us, and for better, and sometimes worse, we won’t look the same as we used to. Tears will often take the place of laughter in our homes and family dinners will feel almost impossible. So here we are, at a fork in the road. We can hug each other and part ways with tears in our eyes leaving each to our own grief battle or like Naomi and Ruth, when faced with the death blow of son and husband, we can take the much harder road that leads to seeing beauty that comes only from winning battles of love, trust, and service.

Today, let’s choose to take the harder path, we will probably have to choose that tomorrow…and the next day too, but I believe God will honor it.  Promises will be hard to keep while God is putting our lives back together, so I present these needs and resolutions to you. Please know, my resolutions to you are not exhaustive and are not conditional on you meeting my needs. When you and I fail to meet these needs and fulfill these resolutions, because we inevitably will, the promise of grace will always stand.

I need…

  • Your prayers.
  • Remind me that the Gospel is true—even now, even in the pain.
  • Open communication—the opportunity to admit that something you have done has hurt me.
  • Space to grieve— If I don’t call or text back it doesn’t mean I don’t care.
  • Respect—I’ve got so many decisions to make for myself (and my kids), please respect me as head, like you would have for your son leading our relationship/family.
  • Connection—be present with me (and your grandkids).
  • Acceptance—If God brings the opportunity for love again, please don’t check out of my life.
  • Love—I’m your family forever.

I resolve…

  • To pray for you.
  • To remind you that the Gospel is true—even now, even in the pain.
  • To remember and celebrate my late husband, your son, and to remember that this will look different for each of us.
  • To give the benefit of the doubt—I trust that the things you do that have hurt me aren’t done specifically to hurt me, but because you are grieving.
  • To be humble—if I’ve hurt you, I want to apologize.
  • To connect—You’ve already lost a son, don’t worry, you won’t lose me (or my kids).
  • To be patient and then patient again.
  • To be considerate—of your grief, of how I choose to honor my late husband, of how I choose to move forward, of what I post on social media.
  • To be transparent—if God brings the opportunity for love again, I’ll tell you and be gentle in doing so.
  • To talk it out—for all the things that come our way (grief differences, family celebrations, anniversaries, new relationships…) let’s talk it out.
  • To love you—you’re my family forever.

Mom, I endeavor to honor these resolutions because I want to honor you, but more than that, I want to honor and trust God. In Ruth 2:10-12, Ruth received a blessing from Boaz, but also from God himself. She received this blessing because of all she had done for her mother-in-law, but that wasn’t all, “The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” She received this blessing because she entrusted herself to the Lord when all around her was foreign and uncertain. She believed that God had a plan for her relationships and her life. There is so much purpose in our relationship, Mom. I, like Ruth, choose to believe that this mysterious road called grief will be better walked by your side than alone.

Love,

Your Daughter (in-law)