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.
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.
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.
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.”
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://email@example.com.
Donate to purchase a blanket for a new widow $10 each!
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.
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
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.”
Psalm 37:5 “Commit your way to the LORD, trust also in Him, 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.”
Psalm 62:8 “Trust in Him at all times, O people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.”
Psalm 115:11 “You who fear the LORD, 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.”
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 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.
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.
What made you happy?
What made you sad?
What did you treasure?
What causes you to wonder? What is your current prayer request or area you are surrendering to the Lord?
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.
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.
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!
“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
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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:
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.
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.
“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
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.
 Findings from http://www.hellogrief.org/about/life-with-grief-research/ 2015; 5:5
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.
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.
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.
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.