Still Grieving

By |2021-05-01T13:07:12+00:00May 1st, 2021|Categories: Laura's Blog|

 

“I have this friend who is still grieving her husband.  It’s been a year.   Do you think you could see her?”

“I have a friend who is still grieving her child.   Can you meet with her and tell her how it will get better?”

Words I often hear from well-meaning friends wanting me to counsel people who are grieving.  However, those words “still grieving” always strikes a chord in my heart.

There is this faulty assumption that after a year or maybe even two – we should no longer be grieving someone who has passed away.

When we lose people, we never get over that.

In scripture we are taught:

“So, God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him.” (Genesis 1:27, ESV)

In God’s image you were designed for eternal relationships.

Take comfort in knowing that you were designed to grieve well.  To adjust, heal and grow.

But you were not designed to get over losing a person – that is impossible!  It goes against the very nature of God to get over people.

Grief never ends.  But it can and should change in time.

As we approach the 13th anniversary of our son’s passing, I think about how differently my grief looks now compared to then.

After Jamie’s death, I went years without sleeping through the night.  Every time I closed my eyes, I saw images that no mother should ever see.  I thought I’d never get them out of my head.  Now, I sleep very well.  If my sleep is bothered these days, it has nothing to do with those images.

I didn’t think I would ever be able to “function” like a normal person after his death.  Going to the grocery store, going to church, working, being around people was such a challenge.  The crowds triggered memories of the days surrounding his death and funeral. Everywhere I turned there was a memory that would completely devastate me and bring back the rawness of that day.

Most people meant well, but often the things they said would trigger me.   Being at home was even harder because I was surrounded by the silence that his death had brought.  It took me nine years before I felt fully comfortable in my skin again.  I have no problem being around people or crowds now. As my husband says, “I’m back to being to the social butterfly I was before.”

I was a walking database of knowledge prior to Jamie’s death.  I kept up with everything in my head.  Very seldom did I need to write down reminders because my mind was able to organize it and retain it.  I could read something one time and my brain retained it. After Jamie’s death, my concentration was gone. I would read and re-read things and a few minutes later still couldn’t remember what I just read.  I would find myself on the road driving some days and literally forget where I was going.  I was also a person who paid attention to the “details”.  If I showed up for whatever the event was, that was the only detail I could retain.

I remember feeling like I couldn’t allow myself to learn anything new because it might push out his memories.  I was scared I would forget Jamie.  Thirteen years later and I know that will never happen.  I’m not scared of forgetting him – it’s impossible. I have allowed myself to grieve him.  The more I allowed myself to grieve and not run from the grief, the more my ability to heal and grow has developed.

My attention for detail and ability to concentrate has returned fully.  The trauma of his death combined with the aging process has affected some of my memory, I have to write things down now to remember them these days.  But God has allowed me to learn and grow in ways I never thought possible after his death.

If you know someone whose grieving or if you’re grieving yourself – please know that you were not designed to get over that person. Instead of focusing on the fact that you’re “still grieving” – take inventory.  A healthier question to ask would be, how has your grief changed?

Are you still isolating from others?  Are you able to talk about your loss?

On May 3, 2021 it will be thirteen years since our son Jamie died.  I still grieve his absence. I will until the day I see him again in Heaven. His death has brought numerous other losses (secondary losses) that I also grieve – their story is yet to be told.

But my grief looks so different than it did 13 years ago.

I’ve read dozens of books on grief over the years.  I agree with very few of them.

When I spend time with people grieving, I don’t focus on faulty concepts (like stages and getting over it).  Instead I focus on helping them find healthy ways to grieve, to tell their story and engage in life again.  That is possible.

 

My Hope Endures,

Laura Holmes

Director, Ephraim Ministries

 

Returning to Church After a Loss

By |2021-03-07T21:56:45+00:00March 7th, 2021|Categories: Laura's Blog, Uncategorized|

Growing up, going to church was my “safe” place.  I loved it there.  Naturally I wanted to be there Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, and anytime throughout the week that there was an opportunity to go. That love for church (being around God’s children) carried into my adult years, and I did my best to share that love with my own children.

But all that changed on May 3rd of 2008 when our youngest son Jamie passed away.

The next Sunday we went to church.

That Sunday was Mother’s Day – it was a horrible experience. Some would ask “what were you thinking?” Perhaps that is the part of grief that many don’t understand.  At first and for a long time, you’re not fully able to think clearly – you’re just reacting to the trauma that has happened.  Drowning in a sea of emotions, shifting between moments of shock/disbelief (stunned) and raw pain.  Your brain is not able to comprehend what has happened.

I continued to attend church in the following weeks, but it wasn’t the same.

Walking in there seeing all the “happy” families just left me feeling more broken (and some days angry).  Sitting in the sanctuary filled with people only overwhelmed with me vivid images of the crowds of people that surrounded us in the days after his death.  Whenever our pastor was on the stage speaking, all I could see was Jamie’s casket. I heard nothing he said because my mind replayed the funeral. His funeral service had been held in our sanctuary packed with family and friends. I would go to look at the screens for the words of the songs being sung, and all I would see were the pictures that were shown of Jamie during his funeral.

I always left the services on Sunday feeling worse than when I came in. I knew I needed to stay connected. But I had to do something different.

Prior to Jamie’s death, I had worn many hats in church (taught Children’s Church, Sunday School, was the Praise & Worship leader, wrote Easter and Christmas programs, wrote the curriculum for VBS and directed it to name a few).

I was not able to keep juggling all the things that I had before.  I prayed and sought guidance asking God to show me at least one thing I could do to keep myself connected to other believers.  The women’s ministry had a Tuesday night bible study that I had been a part of. It held no memories of attending with the boys.  I committed to the Lord that I would be faithful to that and asked him for grace on Sunday mornings as I healed.  It would take a while before I could go on Sunday morning and get something out of the message.

For some time, I watched the service at home on Sunday mornings. I didn’t have to battle the memories at home like I did walking into that sanctuary.

Attending Tuesday nights (in person) kept me connected to my church family and to the Word.  Tuesday nights were still painful – you see, the room where the study was held didn’t exist when Jamie was alive. That area was the courtyard – the last place I saw him alive.  The place where I walked him to the limousine that Friday afternoon and kissed him goodbye. The same place that three days later I walked behind his coffin to the hearse after the funeral.  I still had to battle some memories every time I walked in the door to that room.

No matter how hard it was to go, I knew I could not quit going to church at all.

This verse kept playing in mind every time I felt like giving up –

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” (Hebrew 10:25, KJV)

Many nights I walked into bible study with no makeup, my hair a mess, my eyes red and swollen from crying – looking and feeling like the walking dead.   I had nothing to offer anyone.  My feelings and my faith were in constant battle.  Then slowly things changed.

Almost thirteen years later, I have no trouble attending church on Sunday morning or any other time. Painful memories still pop up, but they don’t overwhelm me.  I’ve also added back on many hats of areas to serve.  I went from being the one in need of help to one able to offer help.

I’m still committed to Tuesday night bible study – I don’t feel like the Lord has released me from that commitment.  In fact, in 12 years, I’ve only missed about 5 Tuesday nights – when we make a promise to the Lord, we need to do everything in our power to keep it. When we do our part, He is faithful to do His.

PTSD, anxiety and depression are very real by-products of the death of a child.  We live in a physical body, and being a Christian doesn’t exempt us from feeling these things.  If you’re battling these things – you are not a weak Christian – you are human. A season of loss can be a dangerous time of spiritual warfare because we are dealing with so many feelings – that it can “feel” easier to just stay home. To avoid being triggered by exposing ourselves to those painful places.  Maybe you can’t do everything the way you did before; but let me encourage you to not completely isolate from other believers.  The more you isolate, the easier it becomes to stay away.  The overwhelming feelings will not get easier (that’s just the lie satan wants you to believe).  Staying connected (even in little ways) allows you to grieve and heal in a slow and healthy way.  It also makes it easier to re-enter life fully when you’re able.

No matter how difficult it is, going to the place that hurts us the most is the very thing that brings healing.

It’s what I’ve experienced on Tuesday nights over the last 12 years that brings this scripture to life for me. The ladies that are a part of that group have been there in my brokenness and vulnerability.  We’ve cried together, prayed together and encouraged each other in the Lord over the years. I am extremely thankful that God put them in my life. They’ve seen all the ugliness and now they’re seeing the beauty of the restoration.  It took a lot of time and it took commitment to not live by my feelings, but let my feelings heal and live by my faith.

 

My Hope Endures,

Laura Holmes

Director, Ephraim Ministries

 

Being Fruitful In Suffering

By |2021-02-02T14:10:04+00:00February 1st, 2021|Categories: Laura's Blog|

Being Fruitful in Suffering

The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” (Genesis 41:52, ESV)

The bible reading plan I’m following this year recently led me to Genesis and the story of Joseph. Joseph had endured years of heartache. The unimaginable had happened. He was betrayed by his own family. Abandoned. Alone. He was falsely accused, imprisoned and left for dead.

Despite what was going on in Joseph’s life he stayed connected to God. He didn’t let the circumstances change that.  Sometimes when life is hard it seems that all we can do is just survive it – by any means. But God wants us to do more than survive – he wants us to thrive. He wants us to bear fruit in all seasons.

Later in life, Joseph had two sons.  The oldest he named Manasseh. Manasseh means, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” (Gen.  41:51) The youngest was named – Ephraim “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” (Gen. 41:52)

Being a “Manasseh” a survivor and getting over a painful past or personal trauma is a wonderful accomplishment. It brings glory to the person.

But the message of Ephraim, “being fruitful in suffering” is that it brings glory to GOD—WHO ALONE can give the grace-filled capacity to face the unimaginable and be fruitful in the unimaginable. An even greater glory is to never forget and to let the suffering become the platform for the display of God’s glory. Producing fruit through pain and heartache is a miraculous occurrence.

It is clear from studying the life of Joseph that God gave him Manasseh.  God gave him the ability to forget the pain, to move past it.  Otherwise, he would have been a bitter, closed off person.

When we’re broken and consumed by grief, we may feel like we have nothing to give someone else. Our hearts tell us there is no possible way we could comfort someone else.  If we’re not careful we’ll believe that lie and close our selves off to people.  But the truth is that people who are hurtingwant people to be real with them – they want their voices heard/their pain validated. To be able to sit with someone grieving and allow them to talk and share their heart without rushing them through the process brings tremendous healing.  A simple gesture of kindness goes along ways. To be able to offer a smile or even a hug can help the person feel like they’re not alone. Being able to do those simple things while you’re hurting yourself is exactly what “fruitful in suffering” is all about.

Joseph found himself in the worst of conditions.  Yet from reviewing his life we can learn from him.  Even though he was hurting in that prison, he had nothing to offer them but himself.  He took the time to listen and connect with other prisoners. We’re never so broken that God can’t use us.

We never read where Joseph gave up and became bitter. God didn’t keep Joseph from enduring a lot of hard things “But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor”. God honored Joseph and opened a lot of doors for Joseph to bless others.

Joseph went from being sold as a slave to the 2nd most powerful person in Egypt. None of us want to go through hard times and suffer great loss. But one thing I’ve learned in my own life- if I keep my eyes on Jesus and allow Him to use me – even when I’m in a situation I don’t want to be in – – He will bring good from it. He will take my emptiness and fill it to overflowing.

Father, life is not going as planned.  I am so grateful that You are not caught off guard.  I choose to cast my cares on you.                   

I can rejoice in my sufferings because I know you that you will use to your glory.

My Hope Endures,

Laura Holmes,

Director, Ephraim Ministries

Pressing On

By |2021-01-19T14:39:41+00:00January 19th, 2021|Categories: Laura's Blog|

Pressing On

“Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13 (NIV)

Earlier this month we celebrated the start of a new year.  One thing I always loved about a new year was getting organized.  I developed a habit many years ago of using the down time from Christmas to New Year’s to sit down with my calendar and plan out my year.  I would put in the birthday/anniversary dates of family and friends.  Church activities and major things coming up in that year with our family.  Particularly in the lives of our children.  Anxiously awaiting all the wonderful things that year would bring.

Twelve years ago when our son Jamie died, I felt like the calendar became an enemy of mine.  What at one time documented so much hope, now only held sorrow. A canvas I would have filled with their activities. Yet now the silence overwhelmed me and paralyzed me with fear.  It was a painful reminder of 365 days of emptiness ahead of me.

Paul writes in Philippians 3:13-14 “forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

When we lose a loved one, moving forward in life seems an unsurmountable task. Fear tells us that if we move forward, we are letting them go. That we will forget them.  There’s this feeling of guilt that we have let them down by continuing to live. Fear says there’s no way you can live without them.

But fear is a liar.

There were many days of overwhelming sadness and years of sleepless nights.  There were numerous occasions where I felt the pain would certainly kill me. But by the grace of God it didn’t.

I made a conscious decision to continue to press on towards Christ.  In pressing on I had to let go of the fear that kept me paralyzed.  In the beginning it was a moment -by-moment process. I had to surrender the trauma and put it under the powerful blood of Jesus Christ.  Those things were behind me now.

I also had to let go of my plans that once filled the calendar and surrender my future days to His plans.  Pressing on means that we are picking up our cross daily.  We take that thing that breaks our heart the most and instead of giving in to our feelings, we choose to continue serving wherever He leads.

During this most recent holiday season, I purchased my new calendar for 2021.  I sat down and started doing what I did so many years ago.  Writing in dates of birthdays and events coming up.  Church and work commitments.  In doing that, I found myself once again amazed at how God hears our prayers and restores.  My calendar is quite full of life these days – even in a pandemic. Down time happens when I intentionally put some it on the calendar.  All because of the wonderful opportunities God has blessed me with.

If you are facing a season of loss, I want to encourage you to press on toward Jesus.  Allow him to bring life into those empty days.  Letting go of the fear and pressing on toward Christ is not letting go of your loved one.

Father, remind us that until you call us home we are here to reach others for the Kingdom.  The only way we can do that is my pressing on heavenward into Christ.  Help us not be paralyzed by our fear. But to be open to go where you call us.

My Hope Endures,

Laura Holmes

Director, Ephraim Ministries

Sometimes It’s Not the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

By |2020-12-03T20:54:39+00:00December 3rd, 2020|Categories: Laura's Blog|

I was recently at a dinner party and the hostess asked us to go around the circle and share a favorite Christmas tradition that we did with our families. My mind immediately started racing trying to find something to share that wouldn’t leave everyone in tears.  I was having a nice time and didn’t want to be the party pooper.

There used to be many happy traditions.  They seem like a lifetime ago now.

Chuck and I were always off the Friday after Thanksgiving.  That Friday would be our “kick-off” to Christmas with the boys. We would sleep in late, have a lazy morning with a big breakfast then off we’d go to find the perfect tree. We always got a real tree and the biggest we could find.  That weekend there would be no Black Friday shopping.  The four of us would be together focused on decorating the house inside and outside.  Going all out (as much as we could afford).  We would watch our first Christmas movie of the season that weekend, while enjoying the glow of the tree lit up and sipping hot cocoa and usually eating pizza and popcorn.

We made sure to have all the decorating done that weekend because once we rolled into December our calendars were always full.  The boys had school events and practices for the various programs they were involved in. The four of us were always involved in Christmas programs at church, I even wrote some of the programs over the years – so that meant extra time at church in December practicing/preparing. There would also be Christmas caroling and trips to see Christmas lights throughout the month.

By the time Christmas Eve rolled around we had already celebrated the entire month, but the thrill of Christmas was just beginning. I remember tracking Santa on Norad with the boys on Christmas Eve.  We would always read the birth of Jesus from the Bible and “Twas the Night Before Christmas” and we’d always open one gift on Christmas Eve.  Of course, we always picked the one gift they could open and always made sure it was new pajamas to wear.  And we always wrote our letters Santa and left them out on Christmas Eve with milk and cookies for him.  Trying to get two very excited boys to go to sleep that night was never an easy task.  Then Chuck and I would be up for hours putting stuff together for Christmas morning.

When the boys woke on Christmas morning, they knew to come get us first (if we weren’t already up).  One of us would go into the living room, turn the Christmas tree lights on and put on Christmas music in the background.  Once we were ready with camera in hand, they ran excitedly to the living room to see what Santa had brought.

For Christmas 2001, (they were ages 12 and 10) one of their “big” gifts was an envelope in the tree. The envelope held 4 tickets to a 3-day Christian music festival at Liberty University (Winterfest).  It included ringing in the New Year with some of the biggest Christian artists around at that time.  They were thrilled and that itself became a “new” tradition that we kept every year. We were blessed by the fact that they loved Jesus and loved Christian music.

As the verse in that famous song goes-

It’s the most wonderful time of the year
There’ll be much mistletoeing
And hearts will be glowing
When loved ones are near
It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Chuck and I always made it a priority to be off the two weeks from Christmas to New Year’s.  It was a wonderful time of no schedules, sleeping late, hanging out with the boys and just reconnecting as a family before another full and busy year started.  All of that ended in 2008 when Jamie died.  Christmas time (and the entire month of December) became something to “endure” not to look forward to with anticipation.  The first Christmas after he died was horrible and the following years just as bad.  Family members grieving in their own unique way ended up pushing away the ones that loved them the most.  Christmas became a painful reminder of what was.  A home that was once full of life, love and laughter now empty and silent.

Sometimes, it’s not the most the wonderful time of the year

In his book, “Hope for the Brokenhearted” Dr. Terveen writes “going forward through grief, suffering and loss demands our greatest faith and love.  Jesus marched into battle, full to the brim with love and faith. Thwarting the designs of the Devil to make death the last word on the battlefield of people’s souls, Jesus turns the tables by turning his own suffering and death into the very means of life for a myriad of people who give their lives to him.  In the midst of our own pain, our hurt, and our losses, Jesus still comes to us (sometimes waking us up) with his call to go on, to go forward with him through the battles we must yet face in a world still afflicted by heartbreaking pain.  We do not go on alone.  He has gone this way before us, and now he will go forward with us.”

This year will be our twelfth Christmas since Jamie died.  Christmas is still not the same as it was before. The month of December no longer means a month of celebrating for us. Grieving never ends but it can and should change. Unfortunately, though, sometimes people don’t grieve.  Instead they run from the pain they feel.  They try to bury their pain (and overwhelming emotions) in jobs and substances – hoping that will fill the void. And pushing away from anyone that would remind them of the pain. Which only causes more pain and loss. Grief has left our family a fractured shadow of what was.

There will always be an emptiness, an ache in my heart to hear him, to see him, to have one more conversation with him around the dinner table.  But as I’ve continued to “go forward through my grief” and be honest with Jesus about my pain – I’ve watched over the years how Jesus has brought a lot of healing.  In fact, when our family does get together this year for Christmas, I am quite certain there will laughter, fun and games and lots of life in our home that day.

If you’re facing a holiday season that brings great sadness to your heart, please know you are not alone.  Remember the words of Matthew 5:4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  Your sadness and disappointment are real.  It is okay to bring them to Jesus this Christmas season.  He is the only one who can bring us deep and lasting comfort for life’s sorrows. It is His birth as a babe in a manger, and his death on a cross and resurrection that gives us Hope to endure this life.

 

My Hope Endures,

Laura Holmes, MA, CATP

Director, Ephraim Ministries