Guest Writer

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.

 

Beyond My Capability by Ryan Ingraffia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Lyrics from Wide Open by Northpoint INSIDEOUT.

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

 

 

 

Starting a New Chapter Without a Dad

Dear you, who is starting college without a dad,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With God as Father, you’ve got this!

Christieanna

 

 

The Realities of Suicide Go Beyond Mental Health By Mo Isom

I remember the feeling constantly haunting me.

I was certain I was going to die young.

I was certain I would never get to experience marriage or pregnancy or motherhood or any of life’s monumental joys that had always filled my dreams.

Not only was I sure I would die young, but I was relatively certain I would be the one to take my own life.

Since the moment I had stared at my dad’s body on a morgue table with a self-inflicted gunshot wound in his chest, a spirit of death had come upon me and, from that point forward, consistently sold me vicious lies that were packaged to look and sound like inevitable truths.

I was a Jesus-loving, Holy Spirit-filled, ministry-leading young woman who was regularly plagued by thoughts of suicide and inescapable feelings of oppression and death. Not because it was anything I desired, but because my soul was the battleground for a very real and tangible degree of spiritual affliction that I was completely ill-equipped to recognize and fight at that point in my faith journey.

Nobody had ever talked to me about true spiritual warfare. Nobody had spoken up about the reality of unclean spirits and the doors we often leave open for the enemy to maintain jurisdiction in various areas of our hearts and lives.

I didn’t grow up in a denomination of the faith that taught much about deliverance, so I assumed it was my responsibility to do my best to cope.

To cope with the feelings of oppression I just couldn’t quite shake.

To simply cope and focus on my desire for happiness.

When I opened the Holy Word of God I frequently read of Jesus casting out demons and the power of God to break the chains of bondage to unclean spirits in our lives, but nobody around me was talking about how I could practically be set free of my own struggles. So I assumed I was supposed to quietly find balance between both—faith in Jesus, balanced with the need to somehow keep my restless and anxious thoughts in check.

But Jesus didn’t take the cross and rise from the grave, conquering sin and death—overthrowing darkness and bringing a new administration of mercy and grace—in order for us to cope. Jesus came to set the captives FREE. To deliver us from evil and to give us the Holy Spirit as our guide and our helper so we can move through this fallen, oppressed world reigned by an enemy who is slick and deceiving (2 Corinthians 4:4, Ephesians 2:2, John 12:31), with great authority, power and victory over the dark spirits that delight in our self-destruction.

You see, in John 10:10 Jesus said,

“The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy. But I have come that they may have LIFE, and have LIFE in all its fullness.”

Jesus was never apprehensive about addressing the realities of spiritual warfare and the prevalence of unclean spirits. He came to make us aware of who our true enemy is (Ephesians 6:12), and to equip us to recognize the schemes of darkness (2 Corinthians 2:11).

It’s why one of the very first things Jesus did when He began His ministry was cast out an unclean spirit (Mark 1:25-28). It’s why one of the first instructions Jesus gave the disciples when He sent them out was to cast out demons (Luke 9:1-2). It’s why, in Jesus’ final message before ascending to Heaven, He noted that one miraculous sign that will accompany those who believe in Him will be the authority and power to cast out demons in His name (Mark 16:16-18).

Jesus spent His ministry educating us to the reality that the affliction we face in this life is not simply a matter of mental health, or physical health, or emotional health. No, the reality of the battles we are fighting are of spiritual health. And He has given us the ability, through the power, love, rescue and restoration offered by the Holy Spirit, to armor up and fight the good fight of faith (1 Timothy 6:12).

I will never forget when I was delivered from the spirit of death that had afflicted me for so long. I was speaking at a church in Colorado and during a gap in our itinerary, the leadership team invited me back into their offices. They were so full of lovingkindness and so earnest in their care for me.

They sensed in their hearts that I was wrestling with something and they explained that they were passionate about seeing people set free from spiritual affliction. That was where I first learned the power of simply speaking about the affliction we are enduring. We take ground from the enemy who is shaming us into silence when we find courage to articulate our struggle.

I began to open up about this nagging feeling of death and doom that was haunting me and without missing a beat they began to pray some of the most powerful and specific prayers I had ever heard. They led me through warfare prayers that broke generational curses, claimed victory over the enemy in Jesus’ name, and reclaimed jurisdiction in my soul from the grip of unclean spirits. We repented of sins, prayed God would search my heart and draw to mind areas of unforgiveness in my life, areas of deceit, areas of disobedience. We prayed and repented and asked God to cover even the sins I could not draw to mind (Psalm 19:12). And then we praised and trusted. We praised God for His faithfulness to cleanse us of all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9), we prayed the blood of Jesus over my life—that I would be sanctified by His love (Hebrews 10:10-14). We trusted God for freedom by the power of the Holy Spirit and before I knew it they capped it off with a resounding ‘amen’ and it was time to head to our next event.

I was amazed. And speechless. And couldn’t quite wrap my head around all that had just happened, but my spirit felt instant relief. The next morning I woke up feeling legitimately renewed and from that day forward I was never again afflicted by fears of premature death, thoughts of my inevitable capacity to commit suicide, or doomed feelings of oppression or tragic loss.

I was truly free. In Jesus’ name, I was loosed of that unclean spirit and God’s power was put on display in my life in a truly miraculous way.

There were definite benefits to the ways the world had offered me help up until that point, but no grief counseling or anti-depression medications had been a complete prescription to the affliction of my soul. They had treated the symptoms, but never uprooted the cause. I needed Jehovah Rapha, the Great Physician, the One who is mighty to save, to do surgery on my suffering spirit.

Don’t get me wrong, I am truly happy our society is beginning to address mental health. It is very real, very important, and a layer of our well-being that is essential to nurture. However, mental health issues are not the sole answer to the cause of suicide. It is one layer of the problem, but it is not the exhaustive answer to the strangleholds we are wrestling with in growing proportions.

We must recognize that there is spiritual warfare that is real and tangible and we must fight for those around us who are afflicted and don’t know true deliverance or the hope of healing. We must become warriors of intercession. Part of the reason Christ came was to show us how to set the captives free, how to cast out demons, to heal, to love, and to move in power and authority. If we truly desire to make headway in the arena of mental health, then we must begin to speak of spiritual health and the Holy Spirit’s power to completely transform us from the inside out—leading to the complete and transformative renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2).

God fiercely loves every single one of us—and Jesus came to set the captives free. May we humble ourselves before the Lord (James 4:10) in order to understand these realities more fully and by the power of WARFARE PRAYERS put the unclean spirits, including spirits of death and suicide, in their rightful place—a footstool beneath OUR KING’S feet (Hebrews 10:12-13).

For more by Mo Isom visit: http://moisom.com/blog/

 

 

 

 

Voice of the fatherless – The Remembrance Day by Kayla Apon Whittinghill

Remembrance Days are actually biblical.  We see in Scripture encouragement to stop and remember.  The Remembrance Day is the date a precious one departs from this world leaving life to never be the same again.  For many, no matter how hard you try, you will remember on the anniversary of your loved one’s death.  May you also take time to remember the faithfulness of God during your time of suffering.

Today’s article introduces a new section to the blog team, the voice of the fatherless.  We pulled out an old article of remembrance because we felt it was worth remembering.  Kayla Apon Whittinghill shares lessons from her pain:

Approaching May 17th each year feels a little bit like walking out of the mall after shopping only to find that it is absolutely pouring outside. You have no umbrella – your only choice is to dash to your car and embrace the inevitable drenching of you and all your belongings. You are safe once you get to your car, but the process is always a little messy.

This day feels the same to me – there’s no way to avoid the tears, the remembering, and the revisiting of scars that many times go unnoticed. It’s not fun. I will get wet, but on the other side, usually the morning of May 18th, I feel cleansed and at peace after tasting of His faithfulness once again.

12 years without my daddy.

Has it really been that long? In some ways it feels just like yesterday that mom came downstairs and told us through tears that we had a new daddy. On that day we joined the privileged group of people that are particularly protected and cared for by God – “A Father of the Fatherless and defender of the widow is God in His holy dwelling.”

“Do not move the ancient boundary or go into the fields of the fatherless. For their Redeemer is strong; He will plead their case against you.” (Proverbs 23:10-11.)

I never would have chosen to make the trade between a natural daddy and having God only as my Father – but I’m so thankful that God decided for me.

Every year the loss is felt in a new way. Last year, it was the pain of not having him here to know my husband; this year it hurts that he isn’t here to rejoice in this pregnancy, and I know next year I will long for him to be able to know and love my son.

The thing that hurts the most is that he chose to leave. He took his own life – no one but the enemy influenced his death. He didn’t have to do it. Yes, even in this, my soul is at rest because of what I know of my God:

  1. He is sovereign. Nothing can happen to me outside of His consent and all-wise plan.
  2. He can do me no wrongOnly because of the cross am I experiencing such grace in this life. Even the most severe trial is a taste of mercy because the pain doesn’t even to compete to the wrath I deserve but will not experience because Jesus drank it all for me.
  3. Knowing Jesus better because of this is totally worth it. If this is the way God has chosen to introduce me more deeply to Christ, if this is His preferred method of making me more like Him, and if there are lessons and treasures that can be gleaned from this trial that can be obtained in no easier way…then I am grateful. So. Very. Grateful.
  4. Knowing Jesus even just a little bit better is infinitely worth any amount of pain I must experience in the process. He is just so good.

I will definitely cry a lot on May 17th…I always do. But even in the pain I know that I do not grieve like someone who has no hope. I will see my daddy again. My pain can only go so far – and no farther, because Jesus is coming back and I will see my Savior’s face, He will wipe the tears from my eyes, and then I will always be with the Lord.

“Bless our God, O peoples, and sound His praise abroad, who keeps us in life and does not allow our feet to slip. For You have tried us, O God; You have refined us as silver is refined. You brought us into the net; You laid an oppressive burden upon our loins. You made men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water, Yet you brought us out into a place of abundance. Come and hear, all who fear God, and I will tell of what He has done for my soul.” Psalm 66:8-12, 16

 

Let’s Talk About Death by Ryan Ingraffia

Last weekend, death clawed its way back into my family’s lives all too soon after the loss of my husband. A fresh scab was torn off before it had time to heal properly. My Aunt Louise’s life long journey ended, and she left the world surrounded by all 7 of her sisters, her mom, and her two daughters. Louise suffered from a brain tumor over 20 years ago and had a few surgeries to remove the tumor. Doctors had said she had weeks, maybe months to live. The entire family prepared themselves to send her off over two decades ago. However, God had other plans and said her time on Earth was not finished yet. Although Louise’s life looked different after her surgeries, she had the best caregivers to make her last 20 years of life happy and comfortable. My mom tells me the way she left was actually beautiful. All of the girls were singing childhood camp songs and laughing along as they held her hand. Louise apparently had enough of their singing and said, “I’m out of here.” We know she left laughing inside and comforted as she was surrounded by an enormous amount of love.

I was not able to travel to my Aunt this weekend, and perhaps that was okay. I spent the weekend with a very dear friend of mine who has also experienced quite a bit of loss in her life, as well. A lot of our conversations somehow revolved around dying, death, and Heaven. And to be honest, it is a topic that is just not talked about enough. A lot of people try to change the subject quickly as they don’t know what to say, or they don’t understand it, or maybe they do understand it, but it is something that is impossible to wrap their minds around. And maybe it takes losing someone to be able to converse with others about death and Heaven.

We, in a general sense, ignore death because it is just too scary and too sad to comprehend. It is undeniably awful for us who are left without our mom, our husband, our friend, our child. How do we go on? How do we do holidays without them? Who do we call when we need advice or share good news with? Death is absolutely devastating to us, and God is devastated for us. He hates that our heart is broken, and he grieves with us. Mine and Matt’s friend wrote a letter to me shortly after his death. He shared with me this verse:

“Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 Oh death, where is your victory? Oh death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ”. 1 Corinthians 15:55-57

He told me that when he tries to comprehend the loss of someone, he reads this verse. He says it is actually hard to believe verse 55 when we ask, “Oh death, where is your sting?” because it hurts us, it shocks us, and it devastates us. But then he says that verse 56 points out that the sting of death is sin. The reason why it hurts is because life was not supposed to be this way. We were meant to be eternal beings but then- sin. He says, we have to remind ourselves that we are validated in the feeling of this sting, but we have to believe in what this verse is really telling us. We should understand that compared to the victory of Christ and the eternal victory that we will experience, this current sting of death is small. Can you imagine that? If you are currently walking through, or have walked through (or you will walk through- one day) pain, that is so dark and deep, that it will be insignificant to the amazing-ness that is Heaven? So, if this pain is unbearably terrible, imagine what Heaven will be like…

The next verse,

 “58 Therefore, my beloved brother, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:58

We must hold onto and focus on the promise of Heaven. And we should talk about death. A lot. I believe that our fear of dying would subside if we get comfortable talking about the afterlife in Heaven. Therefore, if we become less afraid of death, we will be able to live a fuller life on a day-to-day basis.

And for just a minute, let’s set our grief aside and think about our loved ones who are embarking on their journey of Heaven. Levi Lusko states in his book, Through the Eyes of a Lion,

“As agonizing and painful as it can be, death is the ultimate upgrade for the believer: moving from the tent into the home Jesus has been preparing for you.”

My husband, an avid swimmer and golfer, is probably up in Heaven swimming laps and never getting tired. He probably has a golf game under par, every single time. He may be making beats with his friend, Lex, who joins him up there. Matt has been upgraded from a lap pool to an endless ocean, his swing is always just right and the weather conditions are in his favor to at least par every hole, and his music has rhythms and beats that we could never create on Earth. My Aunt Louise is now living it up with her witty and loud personality she had when she was younger. There are no air holes in her Wendy’s frosty and the cranberry sauce comes perfectly out of the can every single time. (Writing this makes me wish I knew her a little better before she got sick. I feel like I would have more things to say. I’ve been told she was the fun one and always had a good time; she sounds a lot like my Matt). Now, I’m not the most educated person when it comes to Heaven, I still have a lot to learn. I have been told different things about Heaven. I hear that you are so busy worshiping God that you don’t need the things you longed for on Earth, like a swimming pool or the perfect frosty, but this is just what I imagine and what comforts me. Everyone is different!

When someone asks about how you are doing, or mentions your lost loved one, maybe instead of welling up with tears of sadness, well up with tears of happiness as they have received the premium upgrade from Earth to Heaven. Think about how happy they must be. There are no more bad days, no more aches and pains.

So, let’s talk about dying, death, and Heaven. The Lord promises us that we will experience great heartache. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will sooner or later. Believe me, my life was pretty cushy five months ago. Nothing bad really has ever happened to me or my family, and I never thought it would! We have had a few broken bones, a few moves across the country, we lost our grandpa to a short battle with cancer, but we were always more than okay. In 4 months, my mom has lost her son-in law and her sister. I know it is hard and it stinks FOR US. But for THEM we should actually be really happy.

Death, where is your sting? Death, you do not win.

Death, there is never a good time for you to knock on our door—you will have to claw your way in. But death, you are the next step to an everlasting world with our family and our God for eternity.

 

 

To the Widow’s Friend by Allee Rodenbaugh

The days after John-Michael tragically died were painfully long. I never knew how painful it could be to watch someone walk through such intense grief. Alex had lost her husband, her best friend, all of her future dreams with John-Michael, and the only person who could truly make her laugh and smile on a wretchedly long work day.

I’ve never felt more powerless as a friend. There were so many moments where there was nothing I could do or say to take the pain away. It felt as if the only way this was going to get better was if we woke up one day and realized this all was just a horribly long, bad dream.

When Alex asked me to write this, my first response was an awkward laugh. I failed horribly at this whole “being a best friend to the widow” some of the days, weeks, and months following John-Michael’s death. All I wanted was for her to have joy again and it felt like that would never be possible. I plead constantly with God to provide her reprieve and peace and to restore her joy.

There was one moment when I was ready to throw in the towel on the idea that this God I claimed to follow was still “good.” Alex woke up one night at 4 a.m. because she couldn’t sleep and decided to read her Bible. She softly read 2 Corinthians 4 aloud and when she got to verse 16 the tears started falling… hard.

“For this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory.”  2 Corinthians 4:16

I remember being so angry in that moment. “LIGHT?! HOW INSENSITIVE, GOD. Nothing about this is “light,” I thought to myself.

I proceeded to beg God to give me something to say to help her respond to this scripture. I was pleading with him to show up and provide me something that would fix everything she was experiencing in her heart.

Then, Alex, tear-soaked-Bible in hand, looks over at me and says, “If this grief, that is saturating my entire being is considered “light,” then how beautiful will the glory of Christ be.”

I was speechless. Here I was—the friend trying to be a fill-in god that could fix this pain, but God was doing His job, the job that was never mine. Being a sweet, tender, loving Father to her and showing her that even though it feels like all of her world has crumbled, there is purpose, meaning and beauty in this pain that will make Christ’s ever-satisfactory glory completely worth it.

I still get chills thinking about how surreal that moment was. I now have story after story of the Lord’s faithfulness in the months following.

I learned a lot of “hard-way” lessons when it comes to walking with people through grief. But I’ve found three things that are certainly vital to walking through these seasons faithfully:

First, there are times when silence and your presence are all she needs;

for you to sit in the pain with her without trying to give answers or reasons, without changing the subject. She just needs affirmation that the reality of this circumstance is painful, that her heartache is justified, and that this world was not created to be this way.

Even Jesus asked James and John to sit with him in his grief as he sat in anguish before he went to the cross:  “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Matthew 26:37

Second, there are times where she needs to be reminded of the gospel;

when her mind is plagued by fear, hurt, and lies or her circumstances have caused her to doubt everything she’s ever believed to be true. Gently remind her of why God is good and point her to eternity.  In 1 Thessalonians 4:13 it says, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others who do not have hope.”

What sets us apart as Christians in grief is that we are able to grieve with hope. The Lord doesn’t ask us to replace our mourning with thanksgiving. Rather, he uses our sorrow to proclaim a type of thanksgiving we wouldn’t be able to express otherwise. The thanks be to him who says our grief will be worth it. The giving of ourselves to say that even if our earthly hopes have been deferred, our eternal hope will never be lost.

Lastly, she needs you to be her cheerleader, not her critic.

Critics come out of the woodworks when tragedy strikes. Everyone has opinions on how a widow should grieve, when it’s okay to talk about it, or when they should pursue another relationship.

Be the friend that helps fight for joy when it starts creeping back in. I know right now it’s impossible to believe when I tell you that the days won’t always seem this heavy. But eventually, there will be a day when it feels like she has started to get her laugh back. Celebrate that alongside her. Find ways to embrace it and create more of it. You will not and cannot bring healing. Only Christ can do that. But life and death are not distinctly separated from one another in the seasons of our lives. Mourning and dancing—they don’t always take turns. While people celebrate engagements, new babies, and the sweetness of life, the fallen world will continue to break our hearts, often times simultaneously. The tension is constantly there, leaving us wondering when to celebrate and when to cry. Often the best thing we can do is recognize the tension and do both, trusting and remembering that when Jesus left this earth, He didn’t leave us alone to discern the timing of our responses. He gave us the Spirit to help navigate these complexities.

The last 2.5 years have not been easy, but I can tell you that mine and Alex’s friendship is one I will forever hold dear to my heart. It has been stretched, challenged, and deepened through this season. We live 1,000+ miles away from each other now, but when we do get time together, it is clear the foundations of our relationship run deep, to the depths of suffering and pain to the joys of life and celebration. Nicholas Wolterstorff said,

“I shall look at the world through tears. Perhaps I shall see things that, dry-eyed, I could not see.”

This will be hard and there will be days when you will feel inadequate, insufficient, and like you’re failing. Press on, my friend! Through tears and pain, you will see and know the Lord more intimately and so will your friend. Joy comes in the morning, and it will come through this seemingly unending mourning.

 

A New Valentine’s Day Tradition by Brittany Price Brooker 

One of my favorite memories with my late husband Patrick was our first Valentine’s Day together. We decided that instead of spending the day all about us, we would create a tradition to spend Valentine’s Day on others. We prayed about what to do and decided we would love on the widows, orphans, and the hurting. We called our church and were given some names of some precious widows, a foster child, a lonely older lady who lived by herself, and an older couple where the husband was caring for his ailing wife. We mapped out the whole night, called to make appointments in advance, and on Valentine’s day, we shopped for beautiful flowers, cards, and some yummy treats and headed out. We thoroughly enjoyed visiting with each person as they shared their heart, opened their goodies, and we prayed with them. It was so much fun! We met some amazing people that our paths never would have crossed unless we had purposed to reach out.

Another year, we were able to reach out to and love on some older widows, some divorcees, and some single ladies who were still waiting for “the one” the Lord had for them. Our desire was to create this family tradition to teach our children to be sensitive of those who are hurting around us or just need some encouragement.

Somehow, when my husband passed away, several people found out about our Valentine’s Day tradition. How encouraging to hear that other families have decided to start this tradition with their families as a way to teach their children how to refocus Valentine’s day. What an amazing gift!

We have personally been the recipients of the hands and feet of Jesus these past couple years, and we are ever so grateful for the healing it has provided to our hearts. Below are some ideas of intentional blessings that we have used on Valentine’s Day and others have comforted our family with over the years.

  • Deliver a coffee to a single friend with a sweet note of encouragement and love.
  • Take flowers to someone to brighten their day along with a sweet verse & note.
  • Bring a meal to a family that is hurting.
  • Drop off some special treats to a family who recently had a divorce (snacks, breakfast food, muffins, toys, etc…).
  • Buy a gift or a meaningful book for someone that could use encouragement and deliver it with a sweet note.
  • Make homemade cards with affirmation from scripture that expresses the love that God lavishes on us and make a list of God’s promises.
  • Drop off a gift card to a family who is hurting financially and encourage them to take a night off of the stress and take time to invest in their marriage.
  • Pray and ask the Lord to lead and guide you to what you are supposed to do. The Holy Spirit is our helper in all things and will show you what the most meaningful thing will be.

Remember, this is truly how the Lord uses the body of Christ–to be the hands and feet of Jesus to demonstrate His amazing love in tangible ways!

Perspective Ministries will be delivering blankets to new widows for Valentine’s Day as a reminder of God’s covering.  If you are in the Atlanta area and would like to help, please contact lori@perspectiveministries.org.  If you would like to bless a new widow on Valentine’s Day for only $10, donate now.