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 Gentle

By |2020-02-08T19:01:09+00:00February 8th, 2020|Categories: Uncategorized|

“Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.”  Philippians 4:4-5 (NIV)

Somewhere over the course of history one of our societal norms became asking people “how are you doing?” as a greeting.  You walk into a grocery store/restaurant or make a phone call to a customer service area and you will quickly hear “how are you?” Unfortunately, most of the time the question isn’t asked with genuine concern. It’s asked out of habit.

One incident that was extremely upsetting to me was an encounter I had with a friend at the grocery store.  She saw me, her face lit up and she made a beeline to me.

“Hey girl, how are you doing?  How’s your summer been?”

And just like that she was gone.  I thought she was making a beeline to me.  Apparently, she was after the produce that was behind me.  There I was, left feeling like I had just been shot in the gut, hemorrhaging in the produce department.

“She was at my sons funeral in May.  It’s only July, did she really ask me how my summer has been?”

In my grief, I had lost that sensor to just ignore the question. Our society calls it a polite courtesy. I feel it’s pretentious.  Why ask a question if you don’t want to know the answer?  We have a world of hurting people around us.  Yet, I watch people walk by one another with such shallowness.  One will say “hi, how are you?” the other will respond “I’m fine” and they keep on moving.

Why?? Why ask a question – instead why not make a declarative statement.  “Hi, it’s good to see you” and keep on walking.  You didn’t ask the person anything.  There’s nothing shallow or pretentious about making a statement.  But when you ask that question what are you expecting the person to say?  Especially when you know they’ve just experienced a great loss. You’re putting that person in the position to lie.

The insensitivity of the way that question was often asked made me want to completely retreat from the outside world. Prior to Jamie’s death, I had been guilty of doing the same thing to people myself.  I would walk by them in a grocery store or the church and politely smile and say “Hi, how are you?”; all the while knowing that something hard was going on in their life.  Yet not sure of how to say anything or even if I should say anything.  I found myself asking the Lord for forgiveness of my own insensitivity.

In Philippians 4:4-5, we are instructed to “let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near”.

When I see someone out in the grocery store or church and I know they are in a hard season of life, I will walk over to them, ask them if I can give them a hug. I usually say something like “it’s so good to see you out” or “I’m praying for you.”  I realize the physical and mental energy it took for them to be out.  I try to be kind.  I never ask someone how they are doing unless I’m able to take the time to have the conversation with them and truly hear their heart.

Gentleness is the quality of being kind and careful.  Make the effort to be careful in your greetings.  Don’t be quick to throw out idol words.

No matter how busy we are, let us all pursue being kind and careful with the way we walk past the broken in our society.

My Hope Endures,

Laura Holmes

Director, Ephraim Ministries

 

 

 

Pressing On

By |2020-01-30T19:48:03+00:00January 27th, 2020|Categories: Uncategorized|

“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 and a new decade.  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.

Eleven years ago when our son 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 insurmountable 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.  I had to surrender it under the powerful blood of Jesus Christ.

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. Pressing on means lifting the heaviness of the heartache we bare to Jesus.  We don’t forget our loved one. They are never more than a thought away. But the heaviness of our load lessens in time. If we keep our eyes on Jesus and not the pain and continue to serve wherever He leads.

During this most recent holiday season, I purchased my new calendar for 2020.  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. Down time happens when I intentionally put it on the calendar all.  My days have become full of life simply because I trusted God during those empty days.

If you are facing a season of loss, I want to encourage you to press on toward Jesus.  Trust that in Him to bring life into those empty days.  Letting go of the fear 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.

For His Glory,

Laura Holmes

Director, Ephraim Ministries