Welcome! Perhaps you found this blog because you recently lost a spouse. If so, you are specifically in my prayers, as I pray for everyone who reads these words. May this blog bring you comfort and help in your time of grief.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Fighting FEAR with FAITH

In an earlier blog post I shared some of my experiences with fear. In meeting with other widows and widowers over the years, I find that fear is a very common battle, especially after losing a spouse. In this post I want to suggest some thoughts to help us fight FEAR with FAITH.

Perhaps simple acronyms will help us. Let's first look at FEAR.

  • F is for Flight. When we are fearful we are likely to flee from any situation that we fear. In the process we tend to pull back from healthy friendships and activities, and that leads us down a lonely path.
  • E is for Error. In a state of fear we begin to think in strange and unhealthy ways. We imagine worst case scenarios and dwell on negative "what ifs." We may even be able to identify that a particular thought process is unreasonable or even absurd, but that doesn't necessarily remove the resulting fear.
  • A is for Anxiety. We feel anxious about our own safety, or the safety of people we love, and that makes it seem wiser to withdraw into perceived safety than to step out and take reasonable risks or even engage in normal daily activities.
  • R is for Reaction. Instead of deciding on the best course of action, we get into a pattern of reacting to our emotional state or to perceived threats. These reactive decisions often lead us in negative directions.

How can we fight FEAR? With FAITH.

  • F is for Family and Friends. We can tell a couple close people about our struggles and ask them to pray for us. We can ask someone to be with us at times when we feel most lonely or most vulnerable. Without relationships like these we can tend to withdraw into a shell of loneliness, which only increases fear rather than overcoming it.
  • A is for Activity. Fear threatens to paralyze us. We can counter this by finding something active and enjoyable to do. Go to church. Meet a friend for coffee. Attend a show at a local theater. Take a short trip to see a beautiful place. Visit a park or a lake and spend a couple hours enjoying God's creation.
  • I is for Insight. We can counter our fears with essential Truth from God's Word. Here are some verses on which we can meditate:
               Philippians 4:4-9
               Psalm 56:3-4
               Psalm 27:1
               Psalm 118:5-6
               John 14:27
               John 16:33
               Romans 8:15
               2 Timothy 1:7
               1 John 4:18

  • T is for Truth. In addition to the truth of God's Word, we can counter our fears with other truths from life. It is statistically improbable that our car will be stolen our our house invaded. It is extremely unlikely that I will be mugged on a suburban street or attacked while sitting in my church. We can let these simple truths overshadow erroneous thoughts and their affiliated fears.
  • H is for Health. We want to eat healthily, sleep adequately, and find some form of exercise we enjoy. For starters, we can take a short walk every day. When we take care of our physical bodies, that helps our mental and emotional health as well.

You might point out that fear is an emotion, and it is difficult to counter emotion with reason. This is partially true, but the Word of God gives us many commands about our emotions: Love one another (John 13:34-35); rejoice always (1 Thessalonians 5:16, Philippians 4:4); be thankful (1 Thessalonians 5:18, Colossians 3:15). And the Bible tells us to fear not (John 14:27). So to an important degree, God calls us to control our emotions. And He gives us the power to do so through the Holy Spirit.

You might find that this is overly simplistic. Perhaps so. I admit that some fears are so intense or complex that they are hard to understand, much less fight. Yet I also know that the Lord doesn't want us trapped in our fears, so maybe these simplistic steps will help us at least to begin the process of overcoming fears in our lives.

Are you ready to fight FEAR with FAITH?

The Long Break, and the Joys and Challenges of Adoption

Perhaps you've noticed that my blogs have been a bit quiet lately. For this I do apologize, and hope you'll allow me to explain this long break.

My wife and I have recently adopted an eleven-year-old son, and are working diligently to integrate him into our family that includes three other children. We know the Lord has led us down this path, but the way is filled with joys and challenges.

God doesn't call us to follow the easy path; He calls us to follow the path that He will bless.

We are embracing the joys and challenges, but in order to focus on my family I have stepped back from writing for the last several months. I continue to serve the pastoral role to which the Lord has called me. Now, from this point forward, I plan to resume my semi-regular blogging. My goal remains the same: "Relating biblical truth to everyday life, to draw people closer to Christ."

God's blessings to you. I'll write more soon.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

How Can I Help?

I want my written words to bless and help people, to meet people at their point of need. What questions or needs do you have that I might be able to address in a forthcoming book or on this blog? Please comment below.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Differences in Grief Experiences

For my forthcoming book for widows and widowers, I'm writing a section that examines various factors that contribute to the wide range of grief experiences we face. As I'm working on my list, I wonder if you might help me define some additional factors that I can include in my list.

To explain a bit further, it's obvious that there are some similarities in people's experiences of grief. Everyone deals with stages of sadness, anger, and fear. Everyone faces some level of depression. Everyone who has lost as spouse has spent some time evaluating the marriage and thinking through things that might have been done differently. These commonalities in grief are helpful to examine, which I do in the pages of my book.

But I also want to explore why grief experiences are so vastly different among widows and widowers. Your grief is not like my grief, nor like anyone else's. What contributes to this? Here is my list, currently "in progress."

A) Differences based on the nature of the marriage relationship. Were husband and wife very close, or were they more distant - maybe even conflictive - with one another? Were they married a few months, a few years, or a few decades? What roles (finance, household duties, childcare, etc.) did the other spouse assume, which now fall to the widow(er)? Were there unresolved marital issues that now weigh heavily on the widow(er)?

B) Differences based on the current life situation. Are the children young, teen-aged, or grown and out of the house? Does the widow(er) live with financial security or financial uncertainty? Were husband and wife retired or just starting out in life? Does the widow(er) have family members who live nearby and can provide helpful support? Does the widow(er) have good friends to talk with or ask for help?

C) Differences based on the nature of the spouse's death. Was it a sudden accident that didn't allow any time to prepare, or was it a long illness that allowed some time to grieve even before the point of death? Was there some kind of injustice involved in the death (murder, accident that was someone else's fault, medical mistake)? Was the death due to suicide?

D) Differences based on faith in God. Does the widow(er) believe that God can help them through the difficult days of grief? Does the widow(er) believe in the Bible's descriptions of heaven? Does the widow(er) feel certainty that their spouse is in heaven, or is there some doubt about where their spouse may be?

I'm sure there are other factors that affect each person's individual experience of grief. Please give some brief feedback about other things I might include in this section of my book. Thanks so much!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Grief as a Line

I'm developing an illustration, and I'd love to hear YOUR feedback below.

I'm thinking about the time it takes to grieve, and how it varies from person to person based on a wide range of factors. I'm a visual person, so I'm trying to develop a way to describe these variations visually.

Let's visualize the "grief process" as a line. At some point on that line is the point of death. However, death may not be at the beginning of the line. When a woman learns that her husband has only a few months to live, she really begins that process of grieving even before his life ends; she starts to work through the shock and the anger as she comes to grips with the reality of his imminent passing.

Still, "death" is a definite point somewhere on the line. But for the woman mentioned in this example, she has already started grieving, so it may take her a shorter period of time to reach the end of that grief journey.

However, for someone who loses a spouse to an accident, he or she has no advance time to begin grieving. The point of "death" is at the beginning of the line, and for these people, the grief journey often takes quite a bit longer. This was definitely true in my own experience.

Then I think of an older man whose wife died a long, slow, death due to cancer. He was ready to remarry just a few months later, because he had already done most of his grieving while his wife lay in hospice care. His adult children, however, were still grappling with their own grief, and felt unprepared when their father announced he was ready to remarry. Every person in the family was grieving; they were just in different places on the line of grief.

To further this illustration, I think of things which may make the line longer or shorter. If a couple is very young, that lengthens the line because there is additional grief over the death of the future. If an injustice has led to a death, that often lengthens the grief process. If a couple has had unresolved issues, or financial difficulties, the grief process may be longer because of the other emotions that arise. Yet on the other hand, if a couple has lived a long life and has felt prepared for the point in which one of their lives would end, the line might be shorter. If a person feels certain their loved one is now in heaven, that sense of peace may make the line a little shorter. If a widow(er) trusts that their future is secure in God's hands, that often shortens the process of grief a little bit.

Part of why I'm grappling with this illustration is that I counsel a number of people who wonder, "Is what I'm going through 'normal'?" When it comes to grief, there are so many absurdities that we almost always feel that something must be "wrong" or that we're not grieving "normally." I have used this visual of a line with a few widows and widowers, and have found that it helps illustrate why people's grief journeys are all different, and why there is very little way to compare one person's grief with another.

So please tell me...does this illustration help you visualize grief a little better? Do you have suggestions for how I might sharpen this visual image so it can become even more helpful?

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Curves and Switchbacks

One summer I took my family to Pike's Peak in Colorado. Our van had a wonderful compass to tell us which way we were going, and that compass had helped us a lot up to that point in our two-week trip.

The road up to Pike's Peak is full of sharp curves, switchbacks, and steep drops off the side of the road. Along the way up the mountain we noticed that the compass was desperately trying to keep up, but by the time it caught up, we were already rounding the next curve, and it was suddenly displaying the wrong direction.

In some ways, the grief process can be like this. There are various "stages" of grief, but a grieving widow(er) will move back and forth through these stages at unpredictable moments. Our mental compass cannot keep up with the curves and switchbacks along the crazy road of grief.

Sudden flashes of anger. Bursting into tears in the middle of the grocery store. Overwhelming and unexplainable moments of fear. Wondering if maybe this is all a bad dream and your spouse will suddenly show up alive and well. Grief brings a crazy mix of unpredictable emotions!

Sometimes we just have to hang on through the strange and unpredictable ride. I would offer you these words of comfort: You're not going crazy - you're grieving.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Help! I'm Exhausted!

I am by myself right now with my two kiddos, ages 6 and 2. Sometimes I feel so drained from having to be the only one to care for them nonstop all day, every day. Do you have any tips?

A young woman I know sent me this question because she knew I had single-parented two young children for two and a half years. Although her situation is different - her husband is deployed for a year overseas - the net result is the same: she is single-handedly taking care of her house and her kids. Indeed there are many people in similar situations.

I wrote these words to encourage her:

I feel for you! It's very hard to single-parent. I remember most nights just collapsing into bed exhausted, choosing to ignore the dirty dishes and the sheets that hadn't been washed for more than a month. It is truly draining, so please don't think something's wrong if you are constantly tired or overwhelmingly behind. That's just normal.

It's all about choosing the things that are most important. Pay the bills on time. Cook healthy meals. Keep things as clean as possible. Keep the laundry up-to-date. These things are essential to life.

However, you may not have time to make scrapbooks, respond to every e-mail, go to every church or school event, or other things you think you "should" do. Choose what's most important and don't feel guilty about the things you cannot do right now.

You can ask for help for some things. For example, you might hire a friend (and pay them well) to clean your house top-to-bottom once a month.

There are several things I did that simplified life:
* I bought my son all one kind of sock and my daughter all another kind. That made sorting and folding clean socks a simple task.
* I gave away all clothing items that needed to be ironed. I didn't have time or patience to iron.
* I put away the kids' clothes in a way that they could easily choose their own outfits. Matching shirts/pants sets were folded together. "Play Clothes" were put in a separate drawer from "good clothes."
* I bought a chest freezer and purchased food in bulk. I maintained a good quantity of quick-prepare (healthy) dinners, frozen veggies, and other food standards (ground beef, chicken, etc.).
* I stocked ahead on household items that, if we ran out, would require me to go to the store in an "emergency." I didn't want such emergencies to force me to squeeze a store trip into a very busy day. I made sure I was always well-stocked on things like milk, bread, cereal, kids' favorite snacks, toilet paper, laundry detergent, and basic medicines.
* I learned the art of crock-pot cooking.
* I learned the value of preparing a meal in a quantity for three nights, and then freezing two nights' worth to use at a later date.
* I changed my hairstyle and my kids' hairstyles to something I could cut by myself at home and not have to spend time styling in the mornings.
* I bought a flexible shower hose/head that attached to the bathtub spigot. That made it easier to rinse the kids off after a bath, but I could also focus the water so it didn't get in their faces.
* I chose to splurge on Clorox Wipes, Swiffer dusters, and other things that made cleaning as quick and painless as possible. There are times to be frugal with money, but there are also times we need to be frugal with our time, and in this case, it was worth spending the extra money to save precious time.

These are just a few ideas to start you out.

Single-parenting is very hard, but you can do it. Keep pressing on! God's grace and strength to you!