3 Ways to Endure Loss at the Holidays

My son’s football jersey lay folded on my lap; it will never be worn again. Not by my son and not by any other player on the High School football team. This is the gift offered in honoring my son’s life by the school and the team.

Determination, strategy, and looking out for your friends was my mantra to the team on Senior Banquet night as I encouraged them to be honest, stay away from drugs, and relayed my son’s struggle with addiction. Teammates, friends, of my son, received awards and applause for their contributions and accomplishments as athletes on this night; But, my son, Caleb, was not here on this night with his friends.  Speaking this message on Dec. 7, 2018, was hard.

You know what else is hard? 

Holidays. 

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Holidays are very hard for those of us who grieve. Holidays magnify the loss of a loved one, no matter if they died two weeks ago, or as in my case, my son died three and a half years ago from an accidental drug overdose; the heartache is heavier around the holidays.

The hard question is: how do we endure it?

I reflect on the words I spoke to Caleb’s teammates: determination, strategy, and looking out for your friends, and believe these are totally applicable to me right now as I endure this holiday season.

Sheer determination is what it takes to stand firm and persevere through the hard emotions, just as a lineman stands planted with both feet on the ground and all his weight pressed forward against the opposition that tries to plow him over. As the opposing teammate pushes against the lineman, hard emotions push against us who grieve and try to knock us down.

Strategy is key. A team does not go out on the field for a play without a strategy. Likewise, we who grieve need a strategy; what plan do we have to help us navigate the holidays when emotions run wild? My strategy is this:

  1. Allow and accept the emotions; it’s okay.
  2. Keep traditions; they provide stability.
  3. Invite others in; don’t isolate.

Lastly, look out for your friends. 

Two-fold, this applies to those of us who grieve, as well as those who watch people grieve. I find when I am feeling low, the best remedy for rising up out of the dark places is to focus on lifting someone else up. This brings me joy: Jesus, Others, Yourself. In this order, I find healing.

If you are watching someone grieve, look out for them by sitting with their emotions, with them. Do not negate them or brush them under the rug, and never say, “you should be over this by now.” (Fact: people do not “get-over” missing their loved one).  Include and invite: open your door for purposeful dates with those friends and speak about their loved one with them in a natural way of remembering; this is healing for us who grieve.

Determination, strategy, and looking out for your friends are three prompts I gave to the football team, friends of my son, Caleb, to spur positive and healthy life beyond the field. They are the same prompts I offer to you so that you may not only endure this holiday season, but have joy too!

Eeyore on the Soapbox

Eeyore is at least consistent.

Image result for Sad Eeyore Clip Art

Always blue, always tired, always with a harrumphing attitude, and yet, he is consistently steady. Plodding along, he still remains in friendship and in going about daily life as best he can. And the best part: he is always loved. The bear, the pig, and the owl alongside the sincerely empathizing boy seem ready to stand by him no matter what.

I am feeling it as the holiday season begins. Yes, I am feeling a bit Eeyore-ish.

Feeling a bit blue about my life situation dealing with residual side effects after surviving my second round of a cancer earlier this year; feeling a bit tired of missing my son who died suddenly just over three and a half years ago; and feeling a bit harumph-ish about writing: does it really matter if I write anyway?

And yet, I plod on, because, well, here I am: writing. Better late than never… August was a while ago.

I am an Eeyore on a Soapbox today.

I am here to tell you to plod on, keep in friendship, keep going forward in living, and remember: you are always loved.

Loss, illness, disappointments, fears, frustrations and hard stuff will always be part of this life. Not one of us gets to escape these things. The storms hit us all and we all get wet, wind-whipped, sand in the eye, and pinged by frozen ice sometimes. Like Eeyore, we all want a new tail because we think it will make things better.

But, a new tail won’t change a thing.

You want to know what changes things?

Good friends, found in both our biological family and in our community family. You know the ones; they are the ones that love you no matter what. Stay close to them, don’t push them away. Be with them even when you don’t really feel like it and let them be with you. This is my encouraging advice to you today. Guaranteed, it will make your daily living so much better.

Even more,

… even still, remember you are always loved.

Jesus loves you better, more deeply, and forever.

I am standing on the Soapbox now. I am hoping it matters that I write anyway.

Jesus came for the Eeyore’s like you and me, the downcast and disheartened people. And he tells us, cast your cares upon me because I care for you.

Jesus is the only one who can lift your chin up so it stays up. He alone gives you the sustaining strength to be transformed. A relationship with Jesus enables you to do more than plod along wishing for a new tail in life. Take courage my friends, Jesus loves you and cares for you just as you are, as an old Hymn says: “Jesus take me as I am, I can come no other way.” Transparent, it is just how Jesus wants us; bring your mess, your woes, and all that makes you weep. He is waiting and wanting to hug you close.

Eeyore’s,

unite with me and come to Jesus; this is my invitational gift to you this holiday season.

Though I still feel Eeyore-ish at times, I feel loved at all times and my chin stays up, even without a new tail.

Thoughts? Questions? Feel free to contact me.

Suffering is Necessary

Blood dripped and flowed from multiple places on his body.

My sandal once caught on the rim of a step and caused me to fall head-first into the corner bead of a wall. Blood spurted and oozed down my entire forehead and cheek , covering half my face by the time I got to the bathroom mirror to asses the damage: a one inch slice to my skin.

So, I imagine…

Blood dripped and flowed from multiple places on his body as HE hung there by three spiked nails. I wonder how much clean, untainted flesh was left during those last hours, if there was any at all.

My pain was localized and gave me a headache for a few hours even after I was cleaned up, stitched up, and sent home.

I cannot fathom the pain he suffered after being up all night and beaten and dragged and whipped and slung onto the wood and nailed and hauled up for all to see as he heaved each breath of air.

THAT.

That is the epitome of suffering.

And WHY?

That’s the question I have asked myself many times during trials of suffering.

Suffering, upon suffering, upon suffering.

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Was birthing a stillborn baby not enough?

Was having colorectal cancer not enough?

Was losing a young adult son to drug overdose not enough?

And now I have breast cancer…. is this enough? My experience tells me, no. There will be more suffering to come.

Why all this suffering in my life? Why all the suffering in your life?

Pondering this for years, I have an answer – maybe not the only answer, but I think its a pretty good answer.

The answer begins with a question:

Why did Jesus suffer to die on the cross?

Anyone who has attended Sunday School or church for a season knows the answer: Jesus died for us, for our sins, so we can go to heaven. This is exactly what I told my children as I raised them in the Way.

How quickly, in our own suffering, it is to forget that and cry, why Lord, am I suffering?

If we are to emulate Jesus in all we do, it clearly follows logically, that if Jesus suffered for the benefit of others then our suffering just might be for the benefit of others. And, because Jesus knows suffering, He authentically pours out compassion on us during our sufferings.

“He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” 2 Corinthians 1:4 NLT

I lost a baby and I was later able to comfort three young moms who lost babies too.

I had cancer and I was able to publish a book on the survival of that and share my testimony of hope.

I mourn a son who died from a drug overdose and have been able to write and speak publicly about that tragedy, offering heartfelt comfort to others.

The been-there-I-know-club is necessary for authentic compassion; Jesus is the King of that club!

I am currently halfway through breast cancer treatments and I know that God has at least one somebody He will soon put in my path for me to encourage in this kind of fight.

Yes. Suffering is necessary.

I am no savior by any means. But Jesus is my Savior, your Savior, if you choose Him.

Jesus’ suffering work on the cross is finished; one day His work through each of us will be finished as well, but until that day comes, I encourage you to keep your eyes focused on Him who knows it all and be ready to wrap your arms around someone else’s shoulders and offer authentic compassion from your been-there-I-know heart.

My Rock Piles

I was asked to speak this year at my church – on my Christmas Joy. But, how could I speak on Joy when I am not happy?

If you have about 7 or 8 minutes, have a listen; I hope you will be encouraged. May you finish this year out well and enter the New Year stronger !

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1SJdYMKhDNQ6RVHLGeGEA1Gmsxm1K68cM/view?usp=sharing

My Sons’ Death was a Springboard: Part One

My sons’ death was a springboard into the deeper understanding of three important things:

  1. The human condition
  2. The power of relationship
  3. The gift of a day

Today, I share #1 with you…

Open my eyes, to see people as you see them. This was a daily prayer of mine… little did I know that my sons’ death would precipitate God answering that prayer for me.  Until my son died of a drug overdose in May of 2018, I believe I was living in somewhat of a naïve, idealistic bubble in quasi-pursuit of living the American dream: the, have-jobs-got-house-got-car-got church-got-kids-and-the-proverbial-golden-dog mode where only the really bad stuff happens to those “other people.” My circle of influence and camaraderie was with like-minded folk. After my sons death, I was catapulted into another circle, the wider circle of people who suffer, struggle, and who have been broken by circumstances of life and I could never have been able to see them, unless I was first broken myself. You know the childish sassy-come-back of, “it takes one to know one”… well that’s true, I’d say, it takes being broken to be able to truly see the broken, with your heart.

Broken, is the human condition. Broken, is what God sees and it’s the entire reason why Jesus was born in the manger and nailed to a cross.  The beginning to seeing how God sees, means seeing the brokenness of the human condition.

Truth is, we are all broken in some way – so be gentle with each other and take the time to really see people underneath their brokenness.

Ephesians 4:2