When you're tired and discouraged
from fruitless efforts ...
God knows how hard you tried.
When you've cried so long
and your heart is in anguish ...
God has counted your tears.
If you feel that your life is on hold
and time has passed you by ...
God is waiting with you.
When you're lonely and your friends
are too busy even for a phone call ...
God is by your side.
When you think you've tried everything
and don't know where to turn ...
God is the solution.
When nothing makes sense
and you are confused or frustrated ...
God has the answer.
If suddenly your outlook is brighter
and you find traces of hope ...
God has whispered to you.
When something joyful happens
and you are filled with awe ...
God has smiled on you.
When you have a purpose to fulfill
and a dream to follow ...
God has opened your eyes and called you by name.
Remember that wherever you are
or whatever you are facing ...
Chapters and Books
As I look back over my life I find that it is very much like a book, sometimes history, sometimes comedy, sometimes tragedy and drama. That's on the good days. Other times I find that it most resembles a cheap novel, lots of pages but not very exciting or interesting. But when I examine the individual chapters, I have many mixed feelings. Some of those chapters disappoint me. I find myself wishing I could revisit those times and re-write my thoughts or actions or the outcomes. But because it's the past, it's out of my reach. I can't re-write but I can learn the lessons that life has taught me. The chapters that contain stories of families and friends are very dear to me. I can go back in my memories and read the many treasured stories I have accumulated. There, too, I wish I could change some things but there, too, I can't. I can only make sure that I conduct my relationships better now by saying (sometimes with difficulty) "I'm sorry" or "I was wrong" or "I need your help" or "I love you" or "I think you're wonderful." How I wish I had said some of those things to my loved ones who have died. How I wish I still had the chance to say them. But, in the case of my parents, relatives and friends who have died, I can't do that. I have to trust that they knew. I can, however, say those things now to those who are still a part of my daily life. I can take the lessons learned with difficulty and apply them. For, you see, the book of my life is yet unfinished. There are chapters unfolding each day. Each day I greet the dawn with gratitude and look forward to the adventures and teachings I shall encounter. Each evening I reflect on my successes and failures and plan for the day yet to come.
And my dead are the volumes on the shelves of my memory. I can lift each tenderly and with affection and page through their chapters and their stories and their heritage to me. I can enfold the volumes, one by one, and hold them close, reliving the days I shared with them, sharing them with those around me.
So, my friends, write your chapters well. Keep the books of the dead with respect and joy.
May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life.
Duties to the Living; Duties to the Dead
We do not live in a vacuum or alone on a desert island, even if our pain makes us think we do. We live as a strand in a web of life that stretches widely and touches many. What affects us affects others. Grief is, however, such a powerful force in our lives that we can, for a time, become confused about our duties.
We live at a time when the pop psychologists would have us all pay so much attention to our own feelings that everything else becomes subordinate to those feelings. While I agree that we must pay attention to what is going on with us and that we must do whatever helps us to attain healing, I also believe strongly that we have duties to the living as well as to the dead. To find the balance is not always easy.
For a time, the griever is not sure who has died. The degree of numbness that can encompass a person makes him/her feel like there is no life possible without the person who has died and for a time activities of daily living can suffer as a person descends into the hell of loneliness and depression. We must accept that in the beginning, a bereaved person doesn't have much, if any, control over the storms of deep emotion. It is, however, interesting to note that bible does have injunctions against excessive grief. For a generous amount of time, the bereft person is given much leeway and great care is taken to ensure time and space to grieve. But there also comes a time when a person must engage in activities of living and, in spite of the internal pain, reclaim one's place in the daily world of interactions. We must not mistake the mixture in us of feelings and actions. Throughout life, we must often act even when our feelings are obstacles. If employees only went to work when they felt like it, there wouldn't be many people working. If we only took care of our families when we felt like it, there wouldn't be many families. We are required to do many things in our daily lives that we don't feel like doing. And we are required to do many things in our grieving life that we don't feel like doing.
What precisely are our duties to the dead? And what are our duties to the living?
We must treasure and honor the memories of the dead. We must tell their stories and make sure they are not forgotten. We must keep close to our hearts the lessons we have learned in our lives with one who has gone before us. We must tell the children stories of their grandparents and parents. We must honor them as our ancestors.
And our duties to the living require us to be alive and not act as if we are dead. We must take our places, as we can, in our families and in our communities. We must make our contributions, large or small, to the world in which we live. We must live out the stories that one day will be told about us as those we leave behind honor our memories.
It does no honor to the dead to refrain from life.
It does no honor to the living, either.
The path of grief is difficult and lonely. It is not easy to know what to do or how to do it. In seeking balance in our grief, we create the path.
The holidays are approaching rapidly and everywhere grieving people are dreading them. For many this is the first major holiday without that special person. For many the idea of being thankful seems impossible. It feels like everything positive has been wiped out of life and only the heaviness of negativity and loss remain.
It takes time to remember that we have much for which to be grateful. For a long time after the death there is a cloud of numbness and meaninglessness surrounding the mourners. When a holiday comes, the first tendency is to make it go away, to act as if there is no holiday, to eliminate it from the calendar. Or worse, some follow family traditions for the holiday and never once mention the person who has died. I say 'worse' because the effort to avoid causing pain by mentioning someone's name takes a great toll and is largely unsuccessful anyway. Everyone present is working so hard to keep grief in rather than expressing it . The effort to do that creates a great cloud of discomfort that blankets all present. But, there are many things to be thankful for. The life of the person who has died contains many shared gifts that bring smiles as well as tears that provide hearty laughter as well as pain. It is much more beneficial for healing if the family shares the joys and tears together, rather than trying to be strong for some reason.
There is one truth about grief: you have to go through the pain to get the healing.
For the holidays, some need to keep celebrations just the way they've always been. If that's the case, it becomes important to find ways of honoring the person who has died. Some set a place at table. Some place a prominent picture and put flowers of light a candle. Others tell stories of the one who is no longer present. These are all ways of honoring memories, of evoking presence.
Some need to do things differently because they are not yet ready to resume long-standing family rituals. This can mean having the meal at someone else's house. It can mean going out to dinner. It can mean taking a trip instead of staying home.
There is no right or wrong way to do this. The only right way is what works to help the family get through a difficult time. And in the presence of those who care, there is much for which to be thankful.
SEASONS OF GRIEF
All winter we looked forward to summer. It arrived and now is rapidly moving toward fall. It becomes difficult sometimes to remember what day it is as the tasks pile up and our duties and family responsibilities carry us forward. Grief has seasons too. The seasons of grieving don't move as orderly as summer, fall, winter, spring but they too have their characteristics.
In the Spring of our grief, it is all new and grows faster than we can comprehend. Everything and everywhere reminds us of our pain which seems to fill every corner of our being. The rains of grief's spring are the tears.
In the summer of our grief, we are surrounded by the fruits of our pain. We have days that are comfortable and seem manageable and days when our discomfort seems to take away the very air we need to breathe. But there are occasional good and comfortable days.
In the Fall of our grief, we begin to shed some of the defenses we have placed around us. Just as the trees shed their leaves, we begin to shed isolation and loneliness as we join little by little in social, community and family events and manage to look forward to them sometimes.
And in the winter of our grief, we rest, just as the earth rests from its season of growth and harvest. We take comfort in our memories and in our love and look forward to the next spring when we will grow once again, this time as a new person, having realized what it means to go on.
And in each season come the unexpected storms that take us by surprise and cause us to run inward to escape the turmoil. But after the storm, the sun shines once again.
IN YOUR TIME OF DIFFICULTY, ONLY ONE CAN GIVE YOU TRUE AND LASTING PEACE. "For Christ is our peace" (Ephesians 2:14).