Tag: grief (page 1 of 2)

One Defiant Act You Can Choose This Christmas

I stand outside in the early dawn of my hometown, and tears pool in my eyes.

I am moved by this – the bravest picture I’ve seen this season. A picture of defiance over darkness, hope holding on.

My brother, David died of cancer 2 1/2 years ago.

He was an “everyone is welcome” guy. A “we’ll leave the light on” guy. A “stop by anytime…come as you are” guy. But since his death, the house has looked shadowed, like it was grieving too.

Until now. Until this small act of defiance, by my sister-in-law, Susan. A courageous act of choosing Life.

Susan chose the small, but significant act of putting up Christmas lights.

To me it shouts, “I will NOT let the darkness win!”

“In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:4-5

God made us for Life – life in relationship with Him, now, and forever. There’s nothing the Evil One would like more than convincing us that the darkness of loss and pain are too much, too pervasive, to allow us to ever walk in the light again.

Courage doesn’t mean the darkness doesn’t exist. It means you don’t give it the power to control your life. 

Many of you are experiencing pain, and loss this Advent.

You need to be gentle with yourself. Allow yourself to say “no”. Choose what will nurture and sustain you. Draw near to Jesus.

But I also know that you can make choices to courageously light a candle in your darkness. Your tiny light may look like

  • just getting out of bed in the morning
  • finding one thing to thank God for
  • calling a friend
  • listening to worship music
  • serving someone else

Every year our church has a special worship service at the beginning of December, specifically for people struggling with darkness and loss during the Christmas season. Each person who shows up is courageous…choosing light over darkness.

This year we opened with this song. I pray it encourages you.

God will make a way through the darkness. I’m cheering you on as you choose the defiant act of lighting a candle.

What are some ways you are bringing light to the darkness?


3 Things to Leave Behind When You’re Traveling Rough Roads with Someone

I am so grateful John and I get to travel a lot. But travel is not without its challenges.

We have one rule that we stick to no matter what. We never take more than a carry-on suitcase.

I don’t remember for sure, but this could have been implemented the year that John had to borrow underwear for a week when his luggage didn’t arrive in Zambia.

This afternoon I’m packing for another trip. This trip comes on the heels of losing one of our closest friends, suddenly, to a brain aneurism. It’s got me thinking…

Traveling with someone through loss, we need to travel lightly. Just like there are certain items I need to cull out in order to pack in a carry-on, there are unhelpful things we need to leave behind when we are walking through a hard time with someone.

So, here are three things I’ve learned to take out, and leave behind when going through a crisis with someone:

  1. Leave behind right to be offended. This is NOT about you. Forget your ego, your pride, your wants and prioritize what the grieving person wants. No matter what. The wife of our friend who died was wise and brave to say she didn’t want people around her right away. Close friends could have been offended, but they knew this wasn’t about them.
  2. Leave behind control/schedule. When life feels out of control, our inclination is to try to bring order. We want to do anything we can to fix things. We think we’re helping, but we need to let go of our need for control and convenience and just report for duty.
  3. Leave behind assumptions. We all know that every loss is different and everyone grieves differently, but even tiny assumptions need to be tossed. There was someone I was sure my friend would want me to call last week, to take that off her plate, but I was wrong. Other people she wanted me to call, I was surprised at.

I’ve written more about this before, but I’m interested in your thoughts. What has your experience been walking with others on rough journeys?


The Small, but Important Shifts that Will Make You a More Effective Helper

My sister-in-law Susan, is a young widow of a year and a half.  She is outside trying to stay ahead of the fat, heavy snow that is falling fast and piling up faster. She struggles on her own to shovel her walkway with an injured back, when a neighbor and his young son walk up, with shovels in hand.

“Can we help?” asks the little boy.

The father gently corrects him. “No son, remember, that’s not what we say. We say “We’re here to help!”

What a brilliant shift!

If someone says, “Can we help?” what’s our go-to response?  “Oh no, that’s ok.” Right?

But in the face of an enthusiastic “We’re here to help!” it becomes a community activity.

It’s fascinating to me how little tweaks in what we say can make a big difference. 

Most of us have had someone ask “How are you doing?” in a season when we want to hurl things at them and scream “I’M A HOT MESS OF PAIN HERE AND WANT TO DIE, CAN’T YOU SEE THAT???” However, it’s so natural, we ALL ask the question without thinking about it. When you know people are going through a hard time, consider alternatives like:

  • “I’m so glad to see you (or to hear your voice).” Then stop and just listen.
  • “I can’t imagine how hard this is for you, but I’d like to better understand what you’re going through.”
  • “I love you.”
  • Give them a hug and say, “I’m here. I can’t imagine what this is like for you, but I’d love to take a walk and listen.”
  • “What’s on your plate for today?” Often if you ask people what they’re doing, they’ll tell you how they’re feeling.
  • After someone dies, over the long-haul when others have stopped asking, say “What do you miss most about ________?”

And sometimes it’s not the words, but the silence that matters.

I’ve written before on some other practical suggestions, and if you want a terrific book on this, check out What Grieving People Wish You Knew about what really helps (and what really hurts”).


Some Notes on Anniversaries We Just Don’t Want to Celebrate


You may remember marking moments like the day you started a new job, a first kiss, college graduation, the day you accepted Jesus. You remember the date of your wedding, when babies were born, your Mom’s birthday…

These are life-giving, joy-filled moments we savor.

But what about the anniversary of a death?

A year ago today, just after midnight, my brother David died. This morning I’ve been re-reading the passage of Scripture my other brother, Cris read at the memorial service. He was struck by the fact that David lived the verse:

“Taste and see that the Lord is good.”

I’ve been meditating on it, praying it.

Psalm 34

1 I will extol the Lord at all times;
    his praise will always be on my lips.

I will glory in the Lord;
    let the afflicted hear and rejoice.

I “will” – it’s a choice, a discipline, a commitment. I will glory “in the Lord” – not in my circumstances. He is good and unchanging.

“Everyone worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.” Timothy Keller

David lived this. When cancer came, yes, he prayed for healing, but he worshipped God, not his own desires.

Glorify the Lord with me;
    let us exalt his name together.

Together. We choose, especially in times of pain, to draw together. Though our voices may falter, we invite each other to join us in a broken hallelujah.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
    he delivered me from all my fears.

Those who look to him are radiant;
    their faces are never covered with shame.

This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
    he saved him out of all his troubles.

The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him,
    and he delivers them.

I look at all the verbs in this Psalm that refer to our action – “sought”, “look”, “called”, “fear” “taste”, “take refuge”.  We can cry out to the Lord with all that is in us. We look to Him to bring Life in the midst of death.

He “delivers”, “hears”, “saves”, “blesses”, “encamps” around us.

 Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.  

To be blessed is to will Life for someone, to flourish. With the Lord we will experience blessing – Life even in the midst of death.

Fear the Lord, you his holy people,
    for those who fear him lack nothing.

Other versions translate “fear” as “reverence” or “worship”.

“All shall work together for good; everything is needful that He sends; nothing can be needful that He withholds.” John Newton

And then verse 18… The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
    and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Lord, we praise You that though the darkness of grief can threaten to eclipse everything else, You are a good God and your Light will not allow the darkness to overcome. We have felt confused, comforted, crushed, and carried this year… But we choose to trust You no matter what. “You are a good, good Father. It’s who You are.” We praise You for your faithfulness and compassion. We praise You that though we miss David terribly, You have overcome death and that we will live forever with You and him.

Tonight, family and close friends will gather at Susan’s for one of the grilling dinners that David loved so much to host. As we come together we look forward to laughing and sharing “Dave stories” which are really “Yay God!” stories. Once again, we will “Taste and see that God is good.”


Soul Food for Super Bowl Weekend

Yay Weekend!  I know these Friday posts are such a hodgepodge, but I hope you each find something to delight, inspire, or motivate you.

Some of you will be into the Super Bowl, some not, but I pray this weekend God will meet you and refresh you in ways that only He can.

First, a quote from my friend, Sharol Hayner. Her husband, and our friend, Steve, died just over a year ago.

As for us with my brother’s death, this has been a year of absorbing the reality of loss and trying to choose joy, and envision life again.

Sharol sent an update this past week which included this reflection. Her image has been one that has rolled around in my head all week. It is beautiful and hopeful and maybe as helpful to you as it’s been for me.

Grief is like living in a house with many rooms, each with a different name: sadness, anger, fear, celebration, remembering, joy, gratitude.  A friend suggested that the key to abiding in this house is to leave the door to each room unlocked and even opened. I frequently visit these rooms and will occasionally get stuck in one of them. I’ve learned that I must keep the door open so that I can get out. This has been helpful when a room overwhelms me and I am tempted to lock the door from the outside and never enter or lock the door from the inside and never leave. I will always live in this house as it is God’s place for me. But the house itself isn’t named Grief. It is named Life.  There will be new rooms in time. Gratefully, I don’t live there alone. God is always there, ready to meet me and walk with me into each room. Many of you are there with me as well.

Along those same lines…If everything in your life feels broken, this may be the song you need today.

Any I have to share my favorite picture of the week – Muslim girls waiting to fist-bump the president, taken after Obama gave a speech in Baltimore against anti-muslim rhetoric.


(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

“There are voices who are constantly claiming you have to choose between your identities. … Do not believe them. … You fit in here. Right here. You’re right where you belong. You’re part of America, too…You’re not Muslim or American, you’re Muslim and American. And don’t grow cynical.”

On my nightstand…The Art of MemoirYou guys! Oh my goodness, this book! It has me obsessed. Each sentence feels like I need to chew it like a cow chewing her cud, squeezing every bit of flavor and nutrition out of it.

And there is so much there to absorb! It is fascinating whether you’re an aspiring writer or a reader. One of the reviewers wrote: “…Anyone yearning to write will be inspired, and anyone passionate to live an examined life will fall in love with language and literature all over again.”


Here’s a sample…

“That’s the quality I’ve found most consistently in those life-story writers I’ve met. Truth is not their enemy. It’s the bannister they grab of when feeling around on the dark cellar stairs…”

I took this book out of the library but it’s all I can do not to grab a pen and underline huge chunks of it!

Lastly…For those Super Bowl party goers or watchers...I tried this recipe recently (the easy version) and had people ask for the recipe so I thought I’d share it here as an option for a Super Bowl party this weekend. Enjoy!

Super Bowl Sunday Hot Corn Dip Recipe

So there are two ways to do this – the easy way is by using this or any similar corn salsa you like:


If you use a bottled corn salsa just skip down to the mayo part 🙂

You really can totally play with this, but here’s the “real” recipe:

2 TB butter

3 1/2 cups corn kernels (can use corn from 4 ears of white or yellow corn or use canned mixture)

1/2 ts. salt

1 cup finely chopped yellow onions

1/2 cup finely chopped red bell peppers

1/2 cup chopped green onions (green and white parts)

1 jalapeño seeded and minced (I’d omit)

1 tsp minced garlic (I’d use more)

1 cup mayonnaise

1 cup (4 oz) Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

1 cup (4 oz.) Sharp cheddar cheese shredded

Tortilla scoops or Frito scoops for dipping

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Melt 1 TB butter in leg heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add corn, salt and pepper. Cook stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 5 min. Transfer to bowl
  • Melt remaining TB of butter in the skillet. Add the yellow onions and bell peppers and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are wilted, about 2 minutes. Add the green onions, jalapeño and garlic and cook, stirring for 2 minutes, or until veggies are softened.
  • Transfer to the bowl with corn.
  • Add mayo and 1/2 of Monterey Jack cheese and 1/2 of Cheddar cheese, mixing well.
  • Pour into 8 inch square baking dish (or whatever).
  • Sprinkle with remaining cheese.
  • Bake until bubbly and golden brown – 10-12 minutes.

Yield: 6 cups of dip. 12-18 servings.

That’s it for me. What has been delighting, inspiring, or motivating you this week?

When Jesus Doesn’t Show up and Something Dies

Years ago I had a dream I believed was from God. There was a quiet Holy Spirit whisper.

I trusted Him (I thought).

I worked hard. I asked the right questions. I got the right permissions.

I was affirmed for my gifts in the area of my dream. I won awards.

And then, painfully, my dream was demolished by a series of choices outside my control.

A friend said it was like I walked out into an intersection I had been told was safe and was run over by a mack truck being driven by people I trusted.

I waited expectantly for God to swoop in and fix everything.

But God was silent.

He didn’t right the wrongs. He didn’t correct the injustices. I was left with the death of illusions, trust, and my dream.

Jesus lingered “somewhere else” and didn’t show up in time.

Like in Monday’s post, God didn’t make sense to me.

I think all of us have times when God has seemed inattentive, uncooperative, or late. What do we do when Jesus doesn’t show up and something dies? Continue reading

Just a Story

Sunday was a beautiful day here in Minnesota. The trees were showing off all fancy. The lakes and bike paths were calling “Come and play!”. God had graciously given us One. More. Day. before “you know what”.


It was a beautiful day and a terrible day. 7 year old little girl in our community died on Lake Minnetonka from carbon monoxide poisoning. One of those  No-It can’t be-This-just-can’t-happen-kind-of-things. Continue reading

When You Don’t Feel Strong or Courageous

Dear Baby David,

I know you’re with Jesus, but does that mean you know what’s going on here? How the heck does that work? I want to know.

I’m back in Glen Ellyn staying with our precious Susan for a couple of days. You’ve been gone from us for two months, and the season has changed from Summer to Officially Fall. Continue reading

Soul Food for Those Who are Grieving

I wrote last week that one of my deepest desires for this space is that it would delight and refresh your soul. I want there to be laughter and fun and creativity mixed in with some of the more intense stuff of life. My hope is that “Soul Food” posts will provide some ideas and resources that you’ll look forward to like a kid looks forward to a day at the State Fair.

Recently I read a great business article  that brought to mind all the creative ways that people ministered to us around my brother’s death.

I’ve written about relational and practical stuff, and we have treasured every note that was written to us, but this is different.

Today I want to share some of the creative ways people used their spiritual gifts, talents, and resources to minister to us in the hopes it may inspire us as we minister to others.

  • In the midst of the emotional roller coaster ride with David towards eternal life, we had friends who one day said, “Are you free for dinner? Come out on our boat with us and let us care for you and you just breathe.”

They gave us hugs and listening ears and dinner and beauty. We cruised on Lake Minnetonka and ate and talked and relaxed, and it was a gift.


  • One day I received an email from a friend who lives in Australia. She is a talented photographer and gardener. Her note said “Come, let’s take a virtual walk in my garden together and soak up God’s goodness.” She attached a power point with photos and thoughts as if we were walking through her garden together! You can take a look at part of it here: Winter pruned 1
  • Two friends made CD’s – mixes of songs they felt would be comforting during this hard season. For Susan and David there were many trips to and from the hospital in Chicago when these provided a strengthening sound track. This song, Nearness, on one of the CD’s was sung at David’s memorial service. If you’re having a hard day, this is for you.

There were also really meaningful gifts after David died in addition to people who blew us away by contributing in his honor. We were surprised by how moving these gifts were.

  • Like I said, there have been many kind gifts, but I want to mention one – a family sent us a delightful memorial wind chime with a quote on it. It is a beautiful, meaningful reminder whenever the wind blows.
  • While I was still in Chicago with family, a friend dropped off 5 dinners to our home in Minneapolis that she had made and frozen for us. Yes, of course I have time to make dinner (I don’t have kids at home and it wasn’t my husband that died), but what I’ve discovered is how exhausted you are after a crisis, or in a season of grief and how nice it is NOT TO HAVE TO THINK about dinner.
  • My small group, who had been part of an indefatigable prayer team for David, created one of the most meaningful gifts. They wrote verses that we had clung to during David’s cancer and notes of encouragement on a hurricane with a candle. We’ve talked often about how God’s light shines through the broken places in our lives and the gold lines represent those places of healing.


  • I was moved to tears when I opened a card the other day and a friend in MN had laminated the newspaper obituary of my brother (which I helped write, but had not seen). She said she thought I might want to keep it in my Bible.


All of these gifts were creative, thoughtful and personal. They communicated care and a desire to remember with us someone we loved.

Are there some additional ways people have ministered to you when you have been grieving?


One Thing Grieving People Want us to Know

Last week we had our carpets cleaned. As I was talking to the Larry the cleaner guy, he noticed and commented on a framed note one of our daughters wrote when she was about 5 years old.IMG_3323

“Do you have kids?” I asked.

“Yeah, I have five kids. Actually, I had five. One died.”

“Oh”, I said. “I’m so sorry. When did that happen?”

“18 years ago” he responded. “Matthew was 6 years old. He died of cancer.”

It was clear he wanted to talk and I wanted to learn from him, so I asked him to tell me about his experience and his son.

Larry is a Christian and shared what his church community had done at the time that had carried them and showed them the love of God. But the one time he teared up was when he said, “But then it stopped. And no one asked how we were doing anymore. And no one talked about Matthew – how they missed him, or what they loved about him. The kids his age went on and grew up and no one talked about Matthew anymore. And that’s the painful part.”

This is what I hear over and over again from people who have lost a loved one.

“We don’t want you to forget our person.”

“We want you to tell us what you remember and what you loved and what you miss. A month after they’re gone, or a year, or 18 years.”

Often, I think we may be afraid if we bring up the name of someone who has died, it will make our friends sad, butI’m trying to learn from those who have lost people they love, and they’re telling me something different. Don’t be afraid of the emotion. Tears may be those of joy mixed with sadness and gratitude.

I didn’t know Matthew, but the next time Larry comes to clean our carpet I’m going to make a point to ask him what he loved the most about Matthew.

I’m going to call my mom and re-tell some special stories about my grandparents.

I’m going to write my cousin and tell her what I miss about her mom.

And today when I saw a friend at church who had lost his wife of 60 years, I asked what he missed most.  “Her bossiness.” he said with a smile and teary eyes.

Is there someone you might remember today?

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