Monday, August 4, 2014

Monday Mourning -- How to Help a Grieving Friend (Part 4)

This will be the final installment of a series of posts I wrote back in November of 2010 about how to help those who are grieving.  I hope the re-posting of this series has been helpful to you as you encounter those who are hurting and heartbroken by their circumstances in life.

As I read over this post today, I had to smile when I read the second to the last paragraph, where I refer to a "new venture" God had placed on our hearts.  That "new venture" is now known as "While We're Waiting", and God has indeed blessed it beyond our wildest dreams.  I'm so grateful and humbled that God has entrusted this ministry to us.

OK, so we're finally coming to the end of my seemingly endless blogging on grief. Whew! I don't know about you, but it's been kind of a rough series of posts for me. I've just learned so much over the last couple of years...things that I had absolutely no idea about before...and I've wanted to share it all. As I said when I started all of this (please read the last three posts if this is your first visit to this blog), I just don't think we spend enough time talking about grief, especially in our churches, when we are surrounded by people slogging their way through it.

So, back to Nancy Guthrie's four needs of grieving people:

They have intense sadness that is lonely and lingering and needs to be respected.

They have significant questions that need to be answered in light of Scripture.

They have broken relationships that need to be healed.

And finally,

They have a deep desire to discover some meaning and purpose in their loss.

Once again, I think she's right on with this one. It has made a huge difference to us that we've been able to actually see God's purpose being fulfilled through Hannah's death. I think we've been particularly blessed in that regard due to the fact that Hannah actually prayed for a storm in order to give God glory and to bring others closer to Him. We've seen her prayer answered over and over again, and it continues to be answered even today.

I really believe there is some purpose in every loss...we sometimes just have to look a lot harder to see it. I don't believe that God does things randomly. Now, we may not find that purpose until we get to Heaven someday...and we may have to learn to live with that. He didn't promise us answers, but He did promise us Himself.

I think that Nancy could have added a subpoint under this one, but she didn't...so I will. Here it is.

They have a deep desire that their loved one be remembered.

You know, when an elderly person dies, they leave behind a legacy. They have children, grandchildren, maybe even great grandchildren...all of whom carry their DNA. They've had a lifetime to build relationships with others, and their influence in life may have been very widespread. Long after they leave this earth, their legacy lives on through their descendants and the people they've influenced during their long lifetime.

When a child dies, there is none of that. That child will never have a single descendant; their relationships have been few; and their circle of influence has been limited. After they leave this earth, their parents, siblings, extended family members and close friends are still filled with their memories, but not many others.

This is why so many bereaved parents start foundations, establish scholarships, or launch ministries following the death of their children. They have a deep desire not only for their child to be remembered, but also to bring good out of a tragic situation. Just a few great projects that have sprung up out of immense grief are the following: Keep the Faith, Kamo's Kids, and Vincent & Annabella's Garden. God has a way of bringing beauty out of ashes, but we must be willing to let Him use our sorrow for His purposes.

We've been so grateful that He's allowed us numerous opportunities to share His glory through Hannah's story, and that He's brought the Anchor of Hope Cancer Ministry into being as a result of our experiences with cancer. We are particularly excited about two things that He is doing right now.

We have been asked to speak at the Arkansas Children's Hospital Hematology/Oncology Memorial Service on Sunday, November 21st. This is an annual service that is held for families who have lost children to cancer over the past year. I must say that I am thrilled and terrified about this opportunity all at the same time. Thrilled, because I am looking forward to sharing what God has taught us over the past 20 months, but terrified at the thought of being back at Children's Hospital. I have not been back there since the day Hannah was rolled out of there on our way to the hospice center. It will be a difficult day emotionally, so prayers would be greatly appreciated!!

We are also excited about a new venture that God has placed on our hearts. I don't want to disclose too many details yet, because it is all still coming together, but we have been meeting with another bereaved couple about it, and it is very apparent that God is at work. That's all I'm going to say about it right now, but I will share more when I'm able. We would also appreciate prayers about this project, even though I'm not going to tell you what it is at this point. Just please pray that God will keep His hand upon it, that we will follow His leadership, and that He will bring it together according to His will.

Thanks for sticking with me through this whole series on grief. I've often said that even if I knew nobody else ever read it, I'd continue to write this blog simply because it helps me so much. I am thankful that there are people who read it, though, and it always makes my day when I hear from someone that something I wrote helped them in some way. It's humbling, too, and even a little bit scary to know that so many people read what I write. I pray that I will always be careful to follow God's leadership as I write. And thank YOU for your faithful prayers in that regard!!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Thoughtful Thursday -- On Guilt

Take a minute and think back to, oh, maybe about sixth grade.  You’re sitting in your classroom at school, minding your own business, when the kid sitting behind you fires off a large spitball at the teacher, hitting her square in the back of the head.  The teacher whirls around and says, “All right, who did that?”  Of course, no one raises their hand.  So she says, “All right, class, we’re all just going to sit here until the guilty person confesses.”  She crosses her arms and waits, tapping her foot on the floor.  As the seconds tick by, and the silence lengthens, you start squirming in your seat.  You may even begin to sweat a little bit.  You KNOW you didn’t do it, but for some reason you begin to feel guilty.  Should you confess, just to end the tension?  You finally breathe a huge sigh of relief when the kid behind you says, “It was me.”

Guilt.  It's a heavy weight to bear.  Paralyzing, really.

Guilt is a common emotion among parents.  From the time our kids are born, it seems like there’s something to feel guilty about.  For us moms, it starts even before they’re born … “Oh man, I shouldn’t have had that sip of Diet Coke.”  Then, as they grow, there are more and more things to feel guilty about … not sterilizing that pacifier that was dropped on the floor, letting your kids watch too much TV, eating ice cream for supper occasionally.  The list could go on and on.  It seems that, as parents, we are just wired to feel guilt.

When a child dies, that guilt can be overwhelming.  I think every parent who has lost a child deals with guilt to some degree or another.  As parents, we believe that our main responsibility is to protect our child, so it just follows that sometimes we feel that our child’s death must somehow be our fault.

This idea is as old as the oldest book in the Bible.  Even Job’s friends told Job that he must somehow be responsible for all the tragedy that had befallen him.

But this idea assumes that the power of life and death are in our hands, and our child died because we dropped the ball somehow.  The Bible tells us again and again that only God is sovereign over life and death.  Job 14:5  (NIV) says, "A person's days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed."  And Psalm 139:16 reminds us that God ordained our days before we were ever born.

We talk with a lot of parents as we host While We're Waiting events, and we sometimes encounter parents who believe their child’s death is a punishment from God because of some kind of sin in their own life.

We always remind them that the price for all of our sins was paid by Jesus’ death on the cross.  Most everyone is familiar with John 3:16 … “For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”  But, we often neglect the following verse, John 3:17 … “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”

And listen to what Romans 8:31-34 has to say about this topic …

"What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.  Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us."

And then there’s Romans 8:1, which says …

"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus..."

When we continue to wallow in guilt, we are demonstrating a lack of trust in God.  If we are Christians, and we believe Jesus died on the cross so we could be forgiven of our sin, yet we continue to believe that the loss of our child is somehow a punishment from God, we are saying that we do not trust Him to hold up His end of the bargain in forgiving us.

We must continually make the choice to put our trust in God’s Word and not our feelings.  Our feelings will lie to us every time.  This choice must be made daily, or even moment by moment.

Romans 8:34 says that Christ Jesus is at the right hand of God and is interceding for us. As long as we remain shackled by guilt, we can do nothing for Him ... and Satan loves that!  We honor our Lord and His sacrifice for us by accepting the grace and peace He so freely offers.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Monday Mourning -- How to Help a Grieving Friend (Part 3)

It's Monday ... That means it's time for the third installment of "How to Help a Grieving Friend", a reprise of a series of blog posts I wrote back in the fall of 2010.  This one is a bit lengthy (sorry about that!) but I hope it is helpful to you as you encounter those who are hurting.  It's from November 4, 2010 ...

Picking up where we left off.....(Please read the last two posts if you're new to this blog).....I'd like to share more about our experience with grief after losing our daughter to cancer a little over 20 months ago. Again, credit goes to Nancy Guthrie and Greg Laurie for the basic outline of these thoughts.

According to Nancy, grieving people have four primary needs. In my last two posts, I discussed the first two:

Grieving people have intense sadness that is lonely and lingering that needs to be respected.

Grieving people have significant questions that need to be answered in light of Scripture.
Now, for the third:

Grieving people have broken relationships that need to be healed.

A crisis or grief situation can cause enormous stress within a family, and in outside relationships as well. Again, my comments on this topic are those of a bereaved parent, since that is the only kind of grief I'm familiar with.

Have you ever heard the statistic that 75% (or 85% or 90%!) of couples divorce after the death of a child? I certainly had...and then I was actually reminded of it by a few "helpful" people after Hannah went to Heaven. But did you know that that statistic is a myth? Recent studies show that the divorce rate for bereaved couples is actually BELOW the national average! If you don't believe me, google it! A 2006 study by The Compassionate Friends (the nation's largest self-help bereavement organization for families) actually shows that only 16% of bereaved couples divorce. Who knew?

Now, that's not to say that there are not stresses on a marriage resulting from the death of a child (especially if the marriage is already strained before the loss). There certainly are...not the least of which is the fact that husbands and wives tend to grieve differently. Brad and I certainly do, and it requires a great deal of patience and understanding to allow each other the space and time to do so. There are times when we might wonder if our spouse will ever be the same...and you know what? They probably won't! Losing a child is a life-transforming experience...Neither spouse will ever be the same. But that doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing. If we allow Him, God can use our experiences to change us for the better, and to bring us into an even stronger relationship with Him and with our spouses. In one of her books, Nancy Guthrie describes the relationship between bereaved spouses as that of two wounded soldiers, limping off the battlefield, leaning heavily on each other, basically holding each other up as they are walking. Now that's a word picture I can relate to!

Relationships with extended family can also become strained, as expectations regarding holidays, family gatherings, birthdays, etc., can become a source of stress. Often, grieving families want to start completely new traditions, and extended family members may not understand. They are grieving, too, and sometimes just don't know how they can help their hurting loved ones navigate these difficult waters. Some bereaved families choose to just "skip Christmas" or other holidays for a year or so. We didn't skip Christmas last year (though we considered it!), but we did do some things differently, because some of our family traditions were just too painful. I'm chafing a little bit at the Christmas displays I'm already seeing at Wal-Mart...We just work at surviving one holiday at a time these days. Hannah's birthday is behind us...we tackle Thanksgiving next...I'll start thinking about Christmas after that.

Then there are those people outside of the grieving family...the people who love them, who are concerned about them, and who desperately want to say something to make them "feel better." These people are well-meaning, and have only the family's best interest at heart. But...some of the things they say can hurt. Or even if they don't really hurt, at best they're not helpful. Here's a list of some rather "unhelpful" things that people commonly say to grieving people:

"I understand what you're going through." (Unless you really, truly do...if, for example, you've also had a child who died of cancer. And even then, nobody REALLY understands another person's grief.)

"He/She is in a better place." (Yes, I'm glad Hannah is in a better place...but I really wish she was still here with us!)

"It's a good thing you have another child." (Ummm...No comment.)

"God always picks His best flowers first." (What does that even mean?)

"God must have needed him/her more than you did." (But couldn't He have left him/her here for a little longer? I really needed him/her, too!)

"God must have wanted another angel in Heaven." (I'm really not sure this one passes theological muster. I don't think Hannah is an angel...I believe she is far superior to the angels.)

"How are you doing?"...followed by a hand on your arm and a compassionate look deep into your eyes with the follow-up question..."But how are you REALLY doing?" (Especially if you are in a public place...that second question can often lead to the release of a lot of pent-up emotion that the person may not wish to share with everyone.) Let me also say...If you are a very close friend or family member of the grieving person, you are in a private place, and you are prepared for an honest response, it's okay to ask these questions.

Then there's the other extreme...the avoiders. I understand this group very well, because I have been (and still kind of am) one of them. These are the folks who see a grieving family coming down the church hallway or down the aisle at Wal-Mart, and suddenly realize that they need to go to the bathroom, or remember that there was something they forgot to pick up in another aisle. I know this because I've done it!! I've done it for two different reasons...one was that I simply didn't know what to say and was afraid of saying something wrong, and the other was that I was afraid I might start crying, choke up, and not be able to say anything at all. Did you catch that both reasons involved being afraid? I really think that's the root of the avoidance issue.

Some grieving families are very hurt by the fact that people avoid them, or may spend time with them, but avoid the subject that they most want to talk about. For me, personally, this has not been a problem, because I understand the avoiders so well. For many people, though, this can be a source of great pain and lead to broken relationships.

I hope you're not beating yourself up right now and thinking, "Oh no! I've been doing (or saying) everything wrong for my grieving friend or family member!" Please don't do that! As Paul would say, "I am the chief" of wrongdoers in this area, and only learned better through the death of my own child. I still slide back into my avoiding habits from time to time...Thankfully, God is still working on me.

So, what's the "right" thing to do when you encounter a grieving person or family? I think a lot depends on how well you know the person. If they are just an acquaintance or someone you have a relatively shallow relationship with, it is probably best to say something like, "I'm sorry about what happened. I'm praying for you." This is highly preferable to "How are you doing?" because it doesn't require a response from the grieving person. If you knew the person who passed away, a brief word about what they meant to you might be appropriate. If you're in a private setting, you might share a little more deeply about what the person meant to you, but be careful about doing this in public settings. It may be more than the grieving person can handle at that particular moment. Honestly, particularly early on in my grief, when I was in public...church, a football game, work...sometimes I was just trying to make it through the event. I would walk through a crowd thinking to myself, "Please don't stop me to talk about Hannah, please don't stop me to talk about Hannah, please don't stop me to talk about Hannah." I knew that if somebody did, I would totally lose it. A brief "I'm praying for you" or a quick hug, I could handle, but not much more than that. Your prayers are absolutely the best gift you can give to a grieving person.

If you know the person well...just love them. Spend time with them. Let them talk. Don't be afraid to bring up the person who has died...I can promise you they're already thinking about them anyway! Allow them to share their questions and struggles without judging. Give them space to work through their emotions, and don't expect them to get over it quickly. Be prepared to spend a lot of time listening, and refrain from attempting to "fix" them. Only God can do that!

I'm almost done...Just a couple more thoughts to share...I promise!

Take a few moments to talk to your children about how to help people who are grieving, especially if you know of a situation they may be encountering with a friend or classmate. When Bethany returned to school a few days after Hannah's funeral, she was met with the following comments from fellow students: "I know just how you feel...my dog died last week." "Hey, I heard your sister kicked the bucket." "How come your sister had to die on my birthday?" I'm not kidding. Her classmates actually said these things to her. Please, please talk to your kids.

Sometimes grieving people have a hard time returning to church after their loss. There are a variety of reasons for this. The memories make it hard...If you've been accustomed to sitting together as a family in church, it can be extraordinarily difficult to come back without one of your family members. Oh, how I miss hearing Hannah singing next to me. The music makes it hard...Music can always trigger emotion, especially when you're grieving. And some of those praise songs can be hard to sing when your heart is heavy and your faith is shaken. The people make it hard (although they don't mean to!)...a grieving person can sometimes feel like they're in a fishbowl, and that everyone is watching them to see "how they're doing." The sermons can make it hard...some messages (particularly those about families) can be difficult for a grieving person to hear. Finally, the expectations make it hard...We tend to have a certain expectation for how people are supposed to behave at church. We dress ourselves up, pick up our Bibles, and put on our smiles. I'll be honest...sometimes it's just too much effort to keep that smile on for two (or more) straight hours. If a grieving person or family doesn't return to church right away after their loss, it may be that they are just not ready to face all of that yet.

I actually started writing this post three days ago. (I'm sorry if it feels like you started reading it three days ago :-) !) I never intended for it to be this long. I've actually lost sleep over this post...waking up early, early in the mornings and thinking about what I wanted to share. My intention is not to criticize or make anyone feel bad about something they've said to a grieving person. And I certainly can't speak for all grieving people...many of them might feel completely differently than I do about some of these things. I can only share from my own experience. And my hope and prayer in sharing all of this is that it will open your eyes and give you a better understanding of those of us who grieve.

Finally...If you are someone who is grieving, and your heart has been broken by something that someone has (or hasn't) said, let me share one last thought with you. The day I started this post, I stopped by our local Christian bookstore to pick up a new 2011 planner, and found a neat little flip calendar for my desk. It's called "Rain on Me: Daily Moments of Hope and Encouragement" by Holley Gerth. When I sat down at my desk to start writing this blog, I opened up that calendar to November 4th, and this is what it said,

"If people have said things to you in God's name that have wounded you deeply, if you sit in the pew on Sunday morning and feel utterly alone in your pain, if you have been hurt by the very ones intended to heal you--then please know that is not God's desire for you. We are imperfect people, and we are capable of tearing each other apart in ways that break our Heavenly Father's heart."

How cool is that? On the very day I sit down to write about grieving people having broken relationships, that is what my brand new calendar says. Someone must have needed to hear that. Our Heavenly Father grieves with us, and some day, He will set all things right.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

"While We're Waiting" Wednesday -- A Weekend in Mississippi

Many of you ask us often how things are going with the While We're Waiting ministry, so I thought I would start using Wednesdays on the blog as my day to "catch you up" with what we've been up to.  And lately, that's been a lot!

This past weekend, we had the opportunity to hold a While We're Waiting Weekend for Bereaved Parents in Carriere, Mississippi.  How did we end up in southern Mississippi, you ask?  A couple from that part of the country came to our April 2013 retreat at Family Farm near Hot Springs, Arkansas, where we normally hold our events.  They felt the weekend was very helpful for them and they asked if we would consider doing one in their area.  That began a year-long process of planning, preparing, and praying for this past weekend's event.

This weekend was a bit different than our usual weekends.  For this event, we used the couple's lake home as our meeting place, and our guests either stayed in hotels or in their own homes if they lived locally.  It was a very relaxing setting, and we were able to take part in some fun outdoor activities (dodging rain showers all weekend), and enjoy some amazing food.

And of course, we shared the stories of our precious children and discussed a variety of topics faced each day by parents who have children in Heaven.  We cried together and we laughed together.  We sang together and we prayed together.  And we formed bonds of friendship that will last forever.

Here's what Allyson's mom had to say after our weekend together ...

"For those of you who haven't been to a W.W.W retreat I would highly encourage you to go.  In the Lord we are ok and we are going make it. Doesn't mean we don't ache, hurt, or are sad; it just means that because of His strength we can get through another day that brings us closer to eternity.  I choose to praise Him through this storm and watch for His hand to move each day."

A few pictures from the weekend ...










Wish you could have smelled those ribs cooking!  And I still have to snicker a little bit when I think of those Mississippi folks playing with that Arkansas Razorback Baggo set.

On our way home after the retreat, we spent the night with some good friends of ours in Madison, Mississippi, and had the privilege of meeting three more "waiting" families.  These families shared in an unthinkable tragedy ... their three college-age sons were all killed in a car accident together.  We had never met these people ... but within minutes, we were talking as if we had known each other our entire lives.  We were immediately bound together by our love for our children and our love for the Lord.  Before we knew it, five hours had raced by.  What a blessing it was to share both tears and laughter with them!  I went to bed that night with heavy eyes, but a full heart.

This weekend, we'll be traveling to Little Elm, Texas, to share at Point Church. The co-founders of While We're Waiting, Larry & Janice Brown, will be joining us, and all four of us will be speaking.  We'll be sharing our Hannah's story, their Adam's story, and the story of While We're Waiting ... all of which is ultimately God's story!  If you're in the area, we'd love for you to join us.  The church meets at Lakeview Elementary School, 1800 Waterside Drive, at 10:30 a.m.

There's a lot more going on with While We're Waiting, but this post is long enough already.  Tune in next week for another episode of "While We're Waiting" Wednesday.  :-)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Monday Mourning -- How to Help a Grieving Friend (Part 2)

This past weekend, we had the amazing opportunity to spend a great deal of time with some wonderful moms and dads ... all of whom have children in Heaven.  We hosted our very first While We're Waiting Weekend for Bereaved Parents "on the road" this weekend ... traveling all the way to southern Mississippi to share a few days with several couples and singles at a beautiful lake home.  On our way home last night, we had the privilege of meeting with three more bereaved, but believing, couples in the Jackson, Mississippi, area.  We started our visit at 4:30 yesterday afternoon, and by the time we looked up, it was 9:30 at night!  It's always amazing to me how quickly time flies by when like-minded moms and dads get together.

But that's not what I want to write about tonight.  I do plan to share more about our weekend, but, honestly, I need a couple of days to regroup ... I'm exhausted!  But it's a good kind of tired, if you know what I mean.

Last Monday, I began the reprisal of a series of blog posts I shared in the fall of 2010.  All of these posts have to do with grief in general, and how we can help friends who are grieving specifically.  So tonight, here's the second of these posts.  Look for the third one next week.

 In today's post, I want to share some more thoughts about grief. If this is your first visit to my blog, you might want to read my last post to get an idea where I'm going with this and why. Again, I want to give credit to books and interviews by Nancy Guthrie and Greg Laurie for the basic framework of this series of posts.

Nancy stated in an interview with the Gospel Coalition Blog on August 4, 2010, that grieving people have four primary needs. After countless discussions with bereaved parents, and through our own experience after losing our daughter to cancer, we've found her statements to be very accurate. 

In my last post, I shared the first need:

Grieving people have lingering sadness that is lonely and lingering that needs to be respected.
Today, I want to share her second point, and discuss it in light of our experience.

Grieving people have significant questions that need to be answered in light of Scripture.

As I've stated before, I've been in church basically my entire life. But until my teenaged daughter was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I was quite content to stay in the shallow end of the theological pool. To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure I had ever even learned how to swim...I really think I was still sitting in an inner tube wearing floaties. Not really a pretty picture of a 41-year-old woman!

But when that diagnosis came, I suddenly found myself in the deep end of the pool with a hole in my inner tube and the floaties stripped away. I'm so thankful that even though I'd never really had to apply them, I'd been getting "swimming lessons" my entire life. I could at least dog paddle, I knew the Master Lifeguard, and I had access to all of His written swimming lessons. I knew where to turn for help.

But, still, there were questions...deep questions that were not easily answered.

Why does a 16-year-old girl who is serving the Lord get cancer?

If God is a God of love, why doesn't He heal my child?

Why pray, when God's going to do what He's going to do anyway?

Does God even care about what happens to our family?

You may remember that we went to a Respite Retreat with other bereaved couples over Labor Day weekend. We spent hours and hours just sitting around and talking. There were no shallow conversations at that retreat...all of us were navigating the deep end of the pool, and that's what we wanted to talk about.

A common experience of bereaved parents is that they no longer enjoy "small talk." Who has time to talk about the weather, or the latest ball game, or even politics (make sure you vote today!) when there are life and death issues to discuss?! One of the moms at the retreat exclained, "I love it here! Everywhere else we go people want to talk about Kindergarten, and we want to talk about Calculus!" I knew exactly what she meant.

I still don't have all the answers to my deep theological questions. But there are a few things I know:

God is good, He is in control, and He's working out His plan. Sin, evil, cancer, death...all of these things will come to an end in His perfect time.

God is God, He sees the big picture, and He has a purpose in everything that happens (even if I don't like it...okay, even if I hate it!)

God is sovereign, and He can be trusted. I don't have to understand everything, I just have to rest in the knowledge of His care.

These are the kinds of things that grieving people need to be assured of. Don't try to answer all their questions with "Sunday School" answers, but listen to their questions without judging. Love them, pray for them, and gently guide them to the comfort that comes only from the Master Lifeguard.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Monday Mourning -- How to Help a Grieving Friend

People often ask me how they can help a friend who has lost a child.  They see the tears, they feel the heartbreak, they hear the grief in their friend's voice ... but they have no idea what to do and say or what not to do or say.  A few years back, I wrote a series of posts about that very thing, and I often direct people to those posts when I'm asked that question.  Since I've been hearing that question more and more recently, I thought I'd reprise that series of posts.  I'll be posting one each "Monday Mourning" for the next four weeks.

So here we go ... This one originally appeared on the blog on October 31, 2010:

You know, I've been attending church for my entire life. My parents made sure we were there every time the doors were open. Sure, when I went to college, there were some Sundays that I attended Boxsprings Baptist (an old OBU joke), but for the most part, I was in church. As often as we've moved since we've been married, we've always made finding a church home a priority. So over the years, I've been in literally hundreds of church services, Bible studies, and Sunday School classes.

And in all those years, I've never heard a single sermon or Sunday School lesson on grief. Until the death of my daughter in February 2009, I didn't know ANYTHING about grief. I had never learned anything about it at church, and I certainly had never experienced it. I had never lost anyone close to me...grandparents, yes, but grandparents are "supposed" to die. I had no idea what it was like to be deeply, achingly sad. I also had no idea how many sad people there were around me. I've learned a lot over the last couple of years.

So, when Brad and I were asked to share with the deacon body at our church last week, we knew right away what we wanted to talk about...grief. And who needs to know more about ministering to grieving people than the deacons? It was the perfect opportunity to share some of what we've learned.

I'd like to share some of that presentation with you over the next few posts. Many of the thoughts I'm going to share originate with Nancy Guthrie and Greg Laurie, both of whom have lost children. I'll also be adding lots of our own experiences and stories. My goal is to be as transparent and honest as possible, to try to give you a window into our grief. I'll be writing from the perspective of a grieving parent, because that's the only kind of grief I know. My prayer is that God will use something I write to help you personally, if you find yourself in a season of sorrow, or that He will provide you with some sort of insight to help a grieving friend or loved one.

In a recent interview, Nancy Guthrie discussed four needs that grieving people share. The first was this:

They have intense sadness that is lonely and lingering and needs to be respected.

Here's how ignorant I used to be about grief...I honestly thought that when someone lost a loved one, they were really sad for awhile...maybe about six months or so...and then they just kind of got over it. I had no idea how long it takes to work through grief (and it is work!). It's been twenty months since Hannah left for Heaven, and we are definitely not "over it", nor do I think we ever will be. Greg Laurie describes losing his son as somewhat similar to the amputation of a limb. The wound from an amputation heals over time, but your limb is never restored. Unlike a broken leg, which heals and allows you to return to normal life, an amputation changes your life forever. 

The intense sadness of grief tends to come in waves. Sometimes the waves are fairly gentle and can be ridden out, and sometimes they are tsunamis that suck you down, spin you around, and leave you gasping for breath. Depending on the status of those waves, you may see the grieving person smiling and doing "fine", or you may see them doubled over in tears. You can't make assumptions on how a person "is doing" based on what you see at any given moment. Because in the very next moment, things could change. 

We need to respect a person's need to grieve by giving them the time and space to do so. The person may not be able to return to their normal activities right away....or they might. They might find comfort in returning to a routine. They may want to talk about their loss...or they may not. Think back to the story of Job in the Bible. His friends sat with him in complete silence for seven days...things fell apart when they opened their mouths! Unless you are a very close friend or family member, don't ask them, "How are you doing?" That is an incredibly difficult question for a grieving person to answer. For one thing, the answer could vary widely depending on the status of the waves at that particular moment. And, there is no simple answer to that question. Don't ask it unless you have plenty of time to sit and listen to what might be a brutally honest response. 

Saying "Let me know if you need anything" isn't particularly helpful either. Someone who is going through an intense period of grief may not be emotionally able to ask for the help they need. It is much better to figure out what their needs are and take steps to meet them. A wonderful neighbor took care of our dog when we spent long days at the hospital. People brought food to the extended family staying at our house while we were at the hospice center in Little Rock. There was a hot meal waiting on our kitchen counter the evening we arrived home after saying our final good-byes to Hannah. Dear friends collected pictures and personal items of Hannah's and arranged them beautifully at the visitation and funeral. I could never have done that on my own. We didn't ask for any of these things...people just obeyed the Holy Spirit's promptings and did them. And while a grieving person may forget a lot of things...these kinds of things are never forgotten!

Grieving people need time, space, and "permission" to be sad. That sadness may last awhile. And that's okay.

More to come on my next Monday Mourning post ...

Monday, July 7, 2014

Monday Mourning -- The Highest Form of Love



This past Sunday, we had the opportunity to visit a rather large church where we set up a table with information about While We're Waiting and handed out brochures to those who were interested in learning more about the ministry.  We spent some time visiting with one of the pastors of this church who had lost his wife to cancer several years ago.  

This gentleman was very interested in While We're Waiting and the fact that its outreach is specifically to parents who have lost children, unlike other grief ministries which are more broadly focused, addressing all types of loss equally.

He said that, in his opinion, the loss of a child is a unique type of loss ... something different from any other ... and, as such, it needs to be addressed differently.  Which, of course, is exactly the need that While We're Waiting is seeking to meet.

Then he went on to say something that really struck me.  He said, "In fact, the bond between a parent and child is so strong, that is why I believe God chose to use that relationship to demonstrate His love for us.  When He gave up His own Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for our sins, He was showing the highest form of love."

It's worth saying again ... The bond between a parent and child is so strong, that is why God chose to use that relationship to demonstrate the magnitude of His love for us.  When He gave up His own Son, Jesus, to die on the cross to redeem us from our sin, He was illustrating the highest form of love.

Honestly, I had never thought about it in that way before.  But, wow, does it make God's gift of His Son just that much more meaningful.  And it makes me that much more grateful!

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life."  John 3:16