I just attended the beautiful memorial service for my dear friend Belinda’s husband. (I believe the photo above is the last taken while James still had breath. Jesus was about to take the other hand to take him Home!) He was a very young 51-year-old. Until the last few months of his life, he was incredibly healthy. Up until the end he was the strong, protective, provider super-hero of their family. (He always will be!) They have three young adult daughters and not long ago added a set of siblings- three young boys who needed a family. Though I know without a doubt my friend James is free and living a life we all can only dream of, I can’t help but weep for Belinda and each of her children. I know a lot of what they must go through. As much as I want, I cannot take away their pain and grief. It’s something each one of them will have to go through in their own way. How I wish I could help!

That’s the whole reason I led a weekly grief support group for over twenty years. Grief is such a personal experience for each person because their relationship with their loved one is so unique and personal. I saw how much having a place to simply voice emotions and tell the story of their one-of-a –kind relationship was to so many who came to the group. It took courage for those who came to make that step, but there were so many who just couldn’t or didn’t want to go to a group setting. As I continued to pray for those who I knew were grieving, I believe the Lord placed on my heart the thought of a “grief support group” in a book. It is a blend of me sharing raw excerpts from my personal grief/prayer journal, a place for the griever to share their personal stories, thoughts and prayers, and for God’s encouragement and ever steady presence during one of the most painful times in each person’s life. In other words, it would be a “grief support group between the Lord, the grieving person and me.” It can be done in the privacy of your own home, at your own pace—even in the middle of the night when a lot of grieving is most intense. And now, the Lord opened up a My Forever Memories Grief group on Facebook.

I gave my sweet friend Belinda a book. I know it won’t take away the pain. Yet I pray that as she reads how the Lord lead me through my grief, and writes about her own amazing story, she will see how the Lord is right there closer than ever. He will never leave her or forsake her (or her children). He will hold her hand and walk her through the valley of the shadow of death and bring her out into a joy and hope that is more precious than she can imagine. I also gave her the children’s book for her young boys to fill out as their own personal memory book of their awesome dad who will forever be their superhero. There is no way I can walk beside Belinda and all the others I personally know (as well as those I have never met) as they grieve, but there is more love than can be measured in these books. There are continued prayers that each person finds the support and hope they need to express their own grief and find the eternal hope of Jesus Christ. I have no doubt that my sweet friend Belinda will find all the eternal help she needs one day at a time as she carries the great gift of love she and James shared throughout her journey Home.

Love and Prayers

 

Heavenly Father,

For a long time, I have asked You to lead the weekly Bible Study growth group I facilitate. It’s always an adventure to watch how You lead. It never goes like I expect. I’m always surprised by the ways You teach all of us. The latest lesson You are leading us in has been through these “hawk attacks” as I go on my morning walks. There have been a series of attacks starting with a silent hawk zooming from behind with great power right on the top of my head! There has been a fair amount of fear try to keep me from walking as there have been more threats on sequential walks—but, Lord, I know You don’t want me to give in to fear.

So besides yelling at them and shaking my keys, this morning I pulled my long ponytail up and wore a straw hat. The huge birds were still out in full force all around me but I felt protected. As I walked past one scene of attack, there were four of them sitting high on the dead branches protruding high above the live part of the tree. Right as I walked past, a car drove by in the otherwise deserted street. I felt Your timing. They would not attack while something so large and powerful was there. As I passed by the first painful point of attack, there just happened to be four young people I had never seen walking together on the other side of the street. They passed by exactly at the very point of attack. They were talking about Jesus and said His name several times!

Father, thank You for the reminder that You are always with me protecting me. You won’t let anything through unless it is somehow for Your glory. All I need to do is be on alert for the attacks that are certain to come; be dressed in Your armor; overcome fear with the knowledge that You are with me; keep around other believers; and trust in Your protection, timing and angels; and use Jesus’ name to ward off the enemy. Help me to keep on walking with You (and to finish the lesson on “weapons and armor” that I didn’t know I was teaching—but You are leading for tonight! Just following Your lesson plan, Lord!)

 

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“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.”  Ephesians 6:10-18

“Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of suffering.”   1 Peter 5:8-9

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Prayer Prompt-

Father, show me where I’m being attacked right now and help me stand in Jesus Christ…

Heavenly Father,

About four to five years ago, You put on my heart to host a Ladies’ Retreat. I started praying about it, not wanting it to be my planning but Yours. I wanted You to completely lead in every single aspect of the conference. I really wanted every single decision to be led by You.  I asked a group of my sisters to join me in prayer. We all prayed for two years before it was obvious You were ready to go forward with it. As it entered the organizing stage, we prayed for every single aspect from the theme to those leading or sharing testimonies to the bags distributed. It was incredible to watch You do things we could never dream of or plan. Two years ago, the event was a spiritual success in more ways than we could ever know! (Including large numbers of women involved!)

Ever since, I have tried to simply follow Your lead instead of coming up with my plans then asking You to bless them. It’s been an adventure! This past weekend, I was sort of “in charge” of our little church’s very first Parent’s Night Out. Once again, I wanted You to lead every part of the way. The same thing happened; You picked out people to serve in different areas which were a surprise to me. Everyone involved was excited and “on fire” to be a part of something that would serve children and their families around the church neighborhood. Friday night, we had about thirty volunteers ready to serve whoever came. They had each poured their hearts into their part. Four children showed up! I was more disappointed than anyone. Not one of the other volunteers let it dampen their enthusiasm. We went through the evening with those four kids getting a lot of love and attention. Most every one of the volunteers asked when we were going to do the next one!

When I got home, I looked at the one good picture I got of the evening. It spoke deeply to my soul of the success of the evening. There was someone I never expected to volunteer reading a story of the miracles of Jesus to two of the kids. Later, You woke me up from a deep sleep and spoke to my still disappointed spirit. I thought of all that went into preparing for that night and the four kids who came. I thought of all the prayer and work which went into the Ladies Retreat and how You used it to affect so many lives. Then You spoke to my heart, “Just look at what I will do for even one!” Lord, my job is to follow Your instructions. The results are up to You. You will go to amazing lengths to reach even one single person. That’s success to You! Thanks for letting us be a part of a miraculous evening!

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“See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of My Father in heaven. What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about the one sheep than the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.”  Jesus said in Matthew 18:10-14

“I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” Luke 15:7  (thought- not one of us is righteous apart from Jesus Christ.)

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Prayer Prompt-

Father, I admit my great need for You and the great value You have placed on each person…

Dear Friends,

One of the hardest parts of grief is seeing children grieve. Children need a way to express their emotions, as well. If we, as adults have difficulty dealing with the ever-changing emotions that come with grieving, think how children and young people must feel trying to sort it all out.

Perhaps a parent died or a grandparent, a sibling, a baby, a favorite uncle or aunt, a young friend, a teacher, or a close neighbor. Children must deal with the loss they are experiencing. One of the most helpful ways is to give children or youth a way to review their memories. That’s why I developed this interactive children’s book called My Forever Memories of You: Personal Memory Book to Help a Child or Youth Deal With the Death of a Loved One- With Ideas for Adults who Long to Help. Depending on the age of the child, you can help them go through it or let them draw pictures or write their memories. Each page has a prompt so the child or youth can record their personal memories. It is their book to write. They will be the author. It is a memory book of their loved one. This precious keepsake can be kept to read back through later in life as children often grieve at different stages in their life as they grow older.

The opening section is specifically for the parent, guardian, counselor or teacher who wants to help the child through their grief. There are some helpful thoughts to give children and young people the support they need during such a hard time. As with the adult book, it offers the hope of eternal life.

As with adults, children can look ok and even play but they need to work through their grief, knowing they will be alright. You can also check out my website for ways to help children grieve. Pray for the children and young people you know who are grieving.

Love and prayers

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew  19:14

Dear Friends,

I’m very aware that there are always new people who might be reading what I happen to write about grief. Most often, when someone is reading something written on grief, they are either still actively grieving or someone they love is, and they are searching for help.

I fully realize though I am a certified grief recovery specialist and have been facilitating a grief group for 25 years, and have written a lot about grief, including the books, MYFOREVER MEMORIES OF YOU, I am not an expert on your grief. Your grief is very personal because the one you are missing is unique and one-of-a-kind just as your relationship with them is. Please do not ever think that I am telling you how to grieve, either in the form of this blog or in the books I’ve put together. (The books are designed for you to write your memories in, to actively work through your personal grief.) My purpose and inspiration for writing about grief is to offer you eternal hope in the midst of your pain.

I used to tell those who came to the group I facilitated that I hoped they never felt guilty for not coming each week, and that I certainly hoped they wouldn’t be coming forever. Not only have I grieved deeply and discovered I could go on in life but I have seen many others begin to find joy again when they believed they never could.

There comes a time when you may feel guilty for laughing or enjoying something—that perhaps because of the deep love you have for them, you should honor them by grieving forever. Obviously, there will be times throughout your life when grief pops up as you miss them and the relationship you had with them or as you wish they could experience a certain thing with you. They will always be with you as you travel on in this life. They have forever become a part of your life. Even when you know you will be reunited someday, you just wish you could have them today. Yet, the deep grief does not need to last the rest of your lifetime. As you come to terms with their departure, you can remember and be incredibly grateful without letting grief rule the rest of your life.

I recall having a dream/vision of heaven with Steve (my first husband) showing me around. (Sorry I do not recall the specific details, but I do believe it somehow happened. Whenever I started to feel guilty about enjoying life again, I remembered that he was enjoying his new life so much more than I ever could here on this earth. It helped me to feel free to savor each day here and to also look forward to the future.

I know you must grieve, but I pray that as you work through your precious memories, and realize the impact your loved one has had on your life, and are grateful for whatever time you were able to have with them—that you are able to grieve with hope. The hope that our Lord is will never ever leave you, that He walks with you, and that you can go on living this life because of the promise of eternal life found in Jesus Christ.

All my love and prayers.

“I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.”   John 16:20

Heavenly Father,

I started my 45 minute walk with You early this morning in a quiet neighborhood before the sweltering Oklahoma heat took over this day. It was so perfect. The skies were overcast with clouds providing shade from the intense sun—yet also making it possible to catch a glimpse of Your glory! I had just taken a photo of the sun, which I can usually not look at, peeking through some clouds. It was a sweet picture of Your powerful glory shining through. We may not be able to look directly upon You, but we can see Your glory all around when we look. Probably ten minutes later, I was still basking in Your presence while walking…

In the quiet morning with no traffic, I heard something come up behind my head and it hit the top of my head with such power that it almost knocked me down. While reeling from the physical and mental shock, I watched a large bird fly from my head! I couldn’t believe a bird could have that much power! It was too large and hit too hard to be a blue jay, which are known to swoosh down and attack. I watched the large wing span soar up to the tip of a tall tree not too far from me. It was a hawk! I couldn’t believe I had been attacked by a hawk. I caught a glimpse of my shadow, and saw my hair bouncing around in a “messy bun.” He must have thought I was an animal. Without stopping my walk, I yelled at him, “I’m not an animal!”  Then I jangled my keys at him just so he would know for sure. I continued to make noise with my keys for at least half a block in case he tried to swoop down on me again.

Lord, You reminded me we shouldn’t be surprised when attacks come. They often come when we are basking in Your glory. It can sometimes seem to come out of nowhere, threatening to knock us to our feet. That’s why we need to be prepared and not let the shock of the attack get to us. I knew You were with me; that no matter how much force the attack seems to have, it has no eternal power over me; that I can use Your words to fight with and I can keep on walking with You, trusting You no matter what is going on. The attack might hurt—like my head from the powerful blow of a bird. But I am Yours and You are mine. So I will keep on walking, enjoying Your powerful glory. I’ll just be on guard and prepared to ward off attacks in Jesus’ name!

 

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“Jesus said, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’” John 11:40

“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. Do everything in love.”  1 Corinthians 16:13-14

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes…Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand…” Ephesians 6:10,11,13 (just read all of it!)

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Prayer Prompt-

Lord, help me be on guard and ready to stand with You when the attacks come…

Heavenly Father,

I’ve had many “first loves” in my life! There was my first boyfriend in kindergarten (I recall his kindness but not his name), the first time I remember falling in love with the beauty of nature, the feel of my little hand in my daddy’s strong hand, experiencing the love of creating beauty through art, first girlfriends after having all brothers, having a 15 year old boy woo me who later became my husband for 18 wonderful years before his death, holding my first born (and each one after that) and gazing into their eyes, being surprised by love again by my present husband of 22 amazing years when I didn’t think it was possible, discovering how deeply I could love his children (as much as the ones I gave birth to), handing over our children over to their spouses and finding I loved their mates as much as my own, being present at the birth of each of my grandchildren and falling in love all over again, the joy of having our son and daughter-in-law adopt three children at once and loving them all at once as deeply as if they had been born into the family, leaving more than one church that I so deeply loved only to discover a new one that I could fall in love with as much as the first, savoring the joy of writing, teaching each new child is also like a first love because I have never had that particular child before…

Yet there are words straight from You, Lord, in the Bible from Revelation 2:4-5 that has pierced my soul each time I happen to read it: “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent, and do the things you did at first.” Lord, I recall the first time as a young girl when I gave my life to You. I was incredibly grateful that You heard my cries when no one else heard and saved me from the abuse of a family friend. I remember dancing with unbridled joy as a young adult when Your Spirit within me rejoiced upon me making You Lord of my life. I recall when I couldn’t wait to run to You in prayer when going through extreme challenges for an extended time. Nothing or no one else could give me all You do when I run to Your strong tower!

You were there forming me in my mother’s womb, loving me first before anyone else even knew me. You have been faithful throughout my whole life. You never leave me or forsake me. You have always been with me and always will be…for all eternity. You created me, woo me, surround me with rich blessings, and delight in sharing Your Spirit with me. You loved me first. In fact, all love flows from You first. You walk with me in the garden of this life and are preparing an eternal place for me—with You even now. Forgive me when I place another love before You—whether it is a person or place or activity. I long to love You in a way worthy of the love You give me. Help me keep You as my FIRST love. The funny thing is when I do, I can love all my other “firsts” so much deeper! I love You, Lord!

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“I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for My name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.”  Revelation 2:2-5

“‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it” Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’” Matthew 22:36-40

“We love because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

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Prayer Prompt-

Lord, are You my first love? Show me who/what I have put before You?

Heavenly Father,

During the past week, I’ve been extremely aware of the distractions that come as I take time in prayer with You, Lord. I know it happens all the time, but each day I have purposely set aside quiet time in my backyard to spend alone with You during this past week, I have been more aware of how easily distracted I am. With all my heart, I have started out desiring to simply be still and spend time enjoying Your presence, worshipping You, praising You, thanking You, listening to You,  and then bringing people before You. No matter how sincere my intentions were, within the first few minutes, it seemed I caught my mind wandering…to a dead leaf on a plant that needed to be picked off, to a potting bench project that needs to be completed, to a crazy squirrel trying to get in my bird feeder, to my nearby phone that seemed to be calling me even with no ring! How easily I am distracted! I think that’s why I write a lot when praying to You. It helps me stay focused on You!

As soon as I was saddened at the thought of how quickly I am distracted during my special time with You, You showered me with tender love. You reminded me that even though my husband and I truly love one another, that at times we become so accustomed to one another’s voices that we simply do not hear the words the other is saying. We still love one another. We just have to work a little harder at concentrating on the very one we love who is so near. Father, how patient You are with me! How tender is Your beautiful mercy. You understand my prone to wandering. Yet You also appreciate my attempts to come to You with all my heart, mind and soul.

You are so personally involved in our lives that this morning, as I once again sat outside for my alone time with You, I opened my devotion up to read and it “just so happened” to be about “wandering from Your peaceful presence!” You would think after all my years of loving my time with You, I wouldn’t wander. Funny, the distractions seem to happen more often for me when the pathway seems smooth. It’s easier to want all my requests to be heard when there is a huge challenge to overcome. Then You have all my attention!  Lord, I’m so glad You know my humanness and are there to help remind me to come back to You as soon as I realize I have wandered. Let me recognize the distractions and turn back to You, the One who loves me anyway! Father, I am so grateful that You are never distracted from me.

 

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“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing but the body is weak.”   Matthew 26:41

 

“She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what He said. But Martha became distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to Him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t You care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’  ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset by many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’” Luke 10:39-41

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Prayer Prompt-

Lord, show me what distracts me from Your sweet presence…

Heavenly Father,

One of my relatives has been visiting his brother who is in a halfway house after serving 9 years in prison. It was not his first time to spend years behind bars. He is getting a real taste of freedom. He has a paying job. He can walk to the store to spend his money. He can take a bath immersed in water for the first time in 9 years. He is going through a little culture shock because the world has changed so much in those nine years. He is more than intimidated by cell phones and technology. He seems to not only enjoy his freedom, but so far he realizes he needs to guard it. I’m certain he will face temptation to go back to his old life—even though he knows it leads to that hellish life of imprisonment. I pray with all my heart that he finds true freedom in Christ which cannot be taken away as we keep our eyes on Him.

Father, I was talking to someone else last night who never went to prison but was just as much a prisoner of darkness. She was held down, humiliated, abused, fearful for her life and the lives of others, was made to feel absolutely hopeless. She was drug down into a pit of darkness where there seemed no way out of. And yet she is finally free! She absolutely knows she was freed by Jesus. She is living in the light of Jesus Christ instead of the dark deadly pit of sin. She also needs to guard that freedom. There are constant temptations trying to pull her down. As long as she keeps her eyes and soul focused on You, that darkness has no power over her. When the temptation comes to go back towards her old dark hopeless life, all she has to do is call the name of Jesus—the name at which all powers must fall.

Lord, as we celebrate America’s freedom once again, I think of the cost of that freedom. It was bought with the blood of men and women willing to die for our freedom. But even America’s freedom is fragile. We must guard it—not only with people who are still willing to give their lives to defend it—but with our personal responsibility to use that freedom wisely; to live our lives in the light of Jesus; to shine out with Your love and holiness that comes only from the high cost of Jesus’ holy blood given for us so we could be free. Father, when I am tempted by the world to go back to my old life, let me guard my precious eternal freedom by looking to You! Because of Jesus, I am free indeed!

 

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Jesus read this scripture from the Old Testament as recorded in Luke 4:18-21:   “ ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He sent Me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of our Lord’s favor.’ Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on Him, and He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’”  

 

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36

 

“You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.”  Galatians 5:13

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Prayer Prompt-

Father, am I living in prison or in freedom?

Dear Friends,

When a loved one has just died, it can feel like your whole world stops…but the world around you just keeps on going. You need time to grieve, to take it all in, to process this huge void, to let the huge gaping wound heal… but the bills keep coming, the water heater floods the garage; your kids need care; your car breaks down…

A dear friend of mine just lost her husband recently. Before the reality had time to even set in—within a month of his death, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and was quickly told it had spread. She is grieving the death of her husband and her own health, while continuing to work, go through treatments, and help prepare for two daughters’ weddings. Life does not stop no matter how much we want it to.

It is still critical to slow down and breathe in God’s Spirit (our comforter, counselor, strength). It truly helps to be gentle with yourself as you grieve. Grieving takes more energy than you realize. In our fast-paced society, everyone expects things to happen quickly. Grief can’t be rushed through. It is there no matter what else is going on. Sometimes we have to remind others that we are still grieving when they demand too much of us during this season of our lives. Sometimes, we even have to remind ourselves not too expect too much of ourselves for a while. This intense grief will not last forever. It can slowly become a beautiful part of who we are with God’s help.

Some of the most important parts of grief are realizing what a great gift we had in our relationship with our loved one, figuring out how to go on without them and finding a way to honor them as we go forward. This is definitely a process. It can be done. It needs to be done—even if the world doesn’t stop and life goes on with all its demands.

Practical Ways to Grieve When the World Doesn’t Stop:

  • Set aside some time to journal or work through your grief
  • Free up your schedule as much as possible for a while
  • Grieve at your own pace and not by other’s timetable
  • Try not to avoid grief with excessive activities, shopping, medications, travel…
  • Trust God to help you handle all that comes up each day, one day at a time
  • There are many more suggestions in my book My Forever Memories of You. It truly has many interactive ways to work through grief and trust the Lord to come out stronger than ever. There is even a chapter called “The World Should Stop!”

All my love and prayers

“Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9