Seasonal

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.

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

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

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

“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, that 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.

Showing love to a widow can be scary and intimidating. Below are some things to consider as you step out of your comfort zone to be present in her pain:

  1. She has experienced the death of her husband in exchange she received the title of widow. Offer words of condolence, “I am so sorry for the loss of your husband. I cannot imagine what you may be feeling or dealing with.”
  2. She is in pain, physically and emotionally, creating the “widow’s fog.” She may look good on the outside, but there is a lot going on inside. Many men don’t know how to respond to their own wives and children in the context of pain, much less, another woman. Deal with her in an understanding manner, even if you do not understand.
  3. She is in a season of suffering. Challenges experienced by the widow and fatherless are personal and enduring, requiring individualized and long-term solutions. You can’t fix all her problems, but take what you are good at and see if it can be used to help her (organizing, cooking, writing a card, making a call).
  4. She is not always thinking clearly. Therefore, she may need for you to share information with her slowly. Writing down important information will help prevent misunderstanding.
  5. She may be afraid. She is afraid of her future, afraid of how she will live without her husband, afraid she will make a mistake, afraid she will not know what to do, afraid she will be taken advantage of. Be gentle and kind in your approach towards her with integrity.
  6. She may feel somewhat desperate because of her distressed situation. If you came to help with a plumbing issue, don’t be surprised if she asks you to move a piece of furniture. She needs help and doesn’t think of the proper protocol. Consider going the extra mile.
  7. She may have financial means to pay for home repairs, counseling, or other needs. This is great! However, she is still alone and may have needs money can’t buy. Be sensitive to her new status of life without a husband. Many widows are more than happy to pay for services, but desire trustworthy service providers.
  8. She experiences loneliness. Therefore, she may appreciate having someone to talk to. Showing compassion for her is more important than checking off your box for serving the widow.
  9. She needs help with clear expectations. Outline the job that you intend to help her with, preferably over the phone first. If you are pressure washing her driveway, make it clear this is the purpose of your service. If you are volunteering services, let her know from the start. If you would like for her to pay, make this clear when you set up the appointment.
  10. She should not be stereotyped. If she has a fresh manicure and Starbucks cup in her hand, don’t assume she is not managing her money well. Thank God for provision and care for her in ways beyond immediate needs, without judgment.
  11. She needs hope. A few words of hope are invaluable. Affirm that God is there even though you may not know how He will be there to meet her needs. Take time to pray with and for her.
  12. She is created in the image of God, therefore has immeasurable worth and value. Treat her accordingly in every respect.