For Those Who Are Grieving This Christmas Season

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       My experienced friends warned me that certain days of the year could pull a bereaved person down into a quicksand-like spiral as the memory of the past rubs salt into the still-wounded present. Holidays and anniversaries magnify the loss of a loved one, each event having the potential to drag under the people left behind. As a new Christmas season approached, I hoped that during the second anniversary of my baby girl Megan’s birth and death, I would resist both fighting the pull of grief and trying to speed through this potentially heartbreaking time. For as a victim in quicksand soon learns, both thrashing around and trying to rush through it could result in more loss. Continuing to fight causes the quicksand victim to further sink, just as I could further sink into my grief and self pity. Panicking and trying to speed the process of escape causes the victim to sink faster, just as I could push myself further into the pit of despair by not taking my time to acknowledge and face my grieving.

The Key with both quicksand and with grief is to move slowly, take small steps, and be willing to let others pull you out.

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     Two years before, I gave birth to a premature baby girl on December 23. The most intense forty days of my life followed her emergency birth as my husband and I watched our baby girl go on and off a respirator and survive bowel surgery, only to watch her take her final breath in my arms. Megan weighed just 2 pounds 4 ounces, but she was perfectly formed, a true gift from God. As she struggled for her life, we struggled against two major snowstorms to bring her my breast milk. I felt so torn between visiting the hospital and caring for my other two daughters, Mary Jo and Katie, at home.

As Megan took her final breath, however, I felt God’s complete peace and an awareness of his sovereignty. She shared forty days with us on earth, the number the early church fathers held as “the necessary period of cleansing or testing and strengthening which allows the fullness of wisdom to become a reality.” According to the Bible, Jesus spent forty hours in the tomb between good Friday and Easter morning, as well as forty days in the desert while being tempted. Noah and his family spent forty days on the ark. Moses fasted for forty days before he received the Ten Commandments, and the Israelites wandered for forty years before entering the Promised Land. Megan completed her forty days on earth and was now free from pain, praising God in her own Promised Land – Heaven.

The name Megan means “will achieve might and strength,” and I knew in my innermost depths her life was complete at forty days. While most days I could trust in God’s perfect wisdom for my family and me, as a sensitive and shortsighted human I still felt the loss of a loved one. Grieving is a healthy and necessary process whose emotions and tears should not be buried or ignored. I spent the following year writing in my journal and creating a scrap/photo album to include the photos, cards, and letters sent to commemorate Megan’s short life. A room was dedicated to her at my home church and Mary Jo, Katie, and I made frequent stops to hang bulletin boards and set up supplies. A year and a half later, a baby boy named Jacob blessed our family (Jacob means “the supplanter”). The waves of grief diminished as time and understanding increased. I turned to Jesus and His Holy Word for comfort and I felt my own faith strengthen. At times, I relished in the thought that I had a child in Heaven, for is that not our ultimate goal as parents?

However, as Christmas and Megan’s second birthday approached, my fears of how I would handle the days increased. Christmas was centered on a baby boy who was miraculously born. The absence of a miracle for Megan would seem greater with one less stocking to fill. On the other hand, if I filled a stocking as some bereaved parents do, I have one less child to unpack all the goodies. The sore empty wound that I still carried (and will always carry in a lesser degree until I am reunited with my baby) seemed such a contrast to the cheery hustle and bustle of Christmas. What could I do instead of planning her birthday party? What could I buy instead of party favors, cake and ice cream? Would anyone but me remember Megan’s birthday?

     Christmas surrounded me with its cinnamon smells, jingle bells, glitter and gold tinsel. Could it have been only two years before, alone in my cold sterile hospital room that I spent Christmas morning? I was supposed to be six months pregnant, I thought. Instead, my little baby girl struggled for life in intensive care. My staples stung from the emergency cesarean, a physical reminder of the stinging feeling of sitting alone in a hospital bed trying to imagine the reactions of my girls as they opened their gifts at home. Two years later, especially during anniversary remembrances, the sore emptiness of loss was ever present and I feared I would sink into the quicksand of self-pity and depression. “Lord, I can’t let Megan’s birthday take away the peace and Joy of Christmas from my other children. Help.”

     The Sunday before Christmas, we stopped by Megan’s grave after church. Before I opened the car door, I spotted something lying on her tombstone. I burst into tears of joy as I realized someone had left a tiny Christmas tree in Megan’s memory. Little ornaments of angels, Mary and Joseph, adorned the little tree. Attached was a card inside a plastic bag. Who could have been so kind? Who remembered Megan? With trembling hands, I ripped open the bag. As I read the card, my questions melted into understanding. Of course –  It was from Irene and Rich, friends of ours who had lost their own baby a year before mine to SIDS. “Merry Christmas, Megan,” the card read.  “Keep an extra eye out on your Mommy and Daddy, Mary Jo, Katie and Jacob this Christmas. You are forever in their hearts.”  

     I felt God’s love through the gift of that tree. As I thought about how Rich and Irene were able to comfort me because of their own loss, an idea sprouted. Now I had a plan as to how I was going to celebrate Megan’s birthday. My excitement grew as I planned our birthday surprise, and I no longer felt the quicksand pull of self-pity. On December 23rd, I bundled up my children and stopped first at a florist shop and selected a colorful bouquet with roses.

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Next, we stopped at a local bookstore. I did not know the owners personally, but I had briefly met their preteen daughter before she died in a bicycling accident years before. She had watched my older daughter at church, and so five-year-old Mary Jo handed the father our bouquet. “What’s this?” he asked. I nodded to the picture of his daughter behind the cash register.  The words sputtered out and my eyes blinked back tears. “This is in memory of your daughter.”

     Later that night, as I pulled into our driveway, I noticed a white rose with a note attached lying in our path. I recognized my friend Terry’s handwriting, but the message felt straight from heaven.  “Mommy, Thank you for giving me a ‘birth’ day.  Love, Megan.”

     Tears of gratitude and release flowed. Like a balm for my wound, the tears flowed as I again felt God’s love and understanding through a friend. More ideas began to spring up as if my tears provided the moisture necessary for germination. Many neighbors, relatives and  friends were approaching quicksand pools of their own, and I hoped to help pull some of them out. The strongest pull is love, I will tell them, and the only escape from a pool of quicksand is to receive God’s love and then to love-pull a friend out of their own.

How your tears can be transformed into sweet wine #5 Mary at the Wedding of Cana

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Oh my dear Sweet Sister…..have you been waiting and hoping for something to change in your life? Are you searching for transformation?  Perhaps you have been praying for a relationship to be healed, a broken heart to be mended or maybe a sickly body to be restored to a healthy one?   Do you feel as if you are walking in a desert place and need hope and refreshment?  Jesus changes water into wine and He can make something beautiful out of whatever you are facing.

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He not only changed the water into wine but He created the sweetest and best wine for the later part of the reception. Come join your sweet sisters in this study and find out how “He saves the Best for last.”

Our focus in this series “Man…..Does Jesus Love His Women” is the close relationship Jesus had with many women in the New Testament.  The story of the Wedding of Cana reveals Jesus first miracle and gives us insight into his relationship with his mother Mary.

Let’s start by reading slowly John 2: 1-12.

Imagine yourself in this scene as Mary. During Biblical times a wedding festival included the entire town and lasted many days and to run out of wine would be an embarrassment to the wedding party as well as a huge disappointment to all who attended. Most people in biblical times labored long hours and had few opportunities for feasting and celebrating.

  1. If you were Mary and had a son who you knew could “change the situation”  ……what would you do?

She came to him and face to face she told him the situation. He questioned her with,“Woman, why turn to me? My hour has not come.”

 But she did not give up. She took action and assumed that He would help.  He respected his Mother Mary and let God use her to continue to unfold God’s perfect plan. He listened to her concern. He responded to her.  Isn’t this the give and take of what a true love relationship entails?

  1.   “Do whatever He tells you.”   What kind of statement is this?

This is a statement of faith. A command from our “mother” to follow what God asks us to do. Let us consider what the servants needed to do to follow what Jesus asked them to do.

  1. How did the jars start off  They were Empty.
  2. Then the servants were asked to ? fill them with water ……..the servants had to make numerous trips to the well to fill up the 20-30 gallon stone jars. A total of 100 gallons of water. Wow!

We must become like the stone jars sweet sister.  We must empty ourselves out first before we can be filled with the holy spirit.  We prepare ourselves for the gift of God bubbling up within us with the confessing of our sins and the emptying of ourselves as we surrender our lives to God.   What could the water represent in this story?

Could our tears be as the water that was needed to fill the jars before the miracle occurs?

During desert times of loss and heartache, we cry tears that are precious to the Lord. If fact, in Psalm 56:8 the bible states that God collects our tears in a bottle.

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“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.

Could these huge stone jars be as the bottle reminding us that Jesus not only weeps with us but is collecting our tears to someday change them into the sweetest and finest wine?

We serve a God that keeps changing things.

He started off in Genesis changing dust into a man.

Then he made a woman out of a man’s rib.

Now at a Wedding in Cana, He changes ordinary water into extraordinary sweet, sweet wine.

To my  sweet sisters, remember that you can draw near to Jesus as Mary did and tell him your situation. Repent and turn from any sin.  Let him collect your tears in His jar and trust that he promises to change your tears to sweet joy. If we draw near to him…the best is yet to be.

(To my Catholic sweet sisters, remember that Mary is now up in Heaven around the throne of God with all the angels and saints.  She has influence still and you can ask for her to pray with you to our Lord Jesus Christ.)

Now please turn to John Ch. 15  to read about how Jesus relates his followers to the grape branches and that He is like a vine.

3. How can we be sure to produce good grapes and wine?

Yes! We need to remain close to Jesus. 

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Reflect on the close relationship Mary had with her son Jesus at this wedding receptions. She spoke her request and then she listened. She encouraged others to follow him as well and to do “Everything He tells you”.

4. What if I feel as if I am in a drought and I don’t see any change happening in my situation or the situation of one of my family members?

Oh. Sweet Sister I understand. I’ve experienced times of drought while grieving.  Maybe you don’t see anything good with loss right now and think this time is just a waste of time and energy. I also have had  times of worry and angst over the choices or the situation of a family member.  I have seen many family members and friends struggle in times of drought and the fear can be overwhelming for those feeling helpless as we watch.

If you or a loved one is in a season of drought imagine the roots of your faith and the faith of your loved ones growing deep and wide under the surface. You can’t see the roots of the grape plant but it is during times of drought and heat that the best grapes are produced. The smaller grapes contain a more condensed juice that in turn produces a sweeter wine.  The Dessert wine (the sweetest wine of all) has been left on the vine an extra month. So if you feel exhausted from waiting, remember the best grapes have to wait the longest and that God has not forgotten you or your situation.

Our desert times can produce the sweetest dessert wine if we choose to remain on the vine.

Truly truly friend….God is able to use a drought to produce sweet wine.

If we listen and follow what He says to do.

If we remain close to Him.

If we have faith as Mary did and assume He wants to help.

  1. What Action can you do to show your faith ?

a. Perhaps writing down three things that you are thankful for.

b. Writing 10 good things about the person who is challenging you.

c. Asking a friend to pray with you. Or for you.

d. Turn on praise music and sing along or just read the words and soak it in.

e. Reach out to someone who is suffering their own desert time….a person whose loss or struggle is more recent.  Trust often means releasing the situation into God’s strong and loving hands and then focusing on helping those God has put in your path.

God is all about transformation and doesn’t waste anything. He even collects our tears and in His own time changes them to the sweetest of wines.  So trust that God will use this desert time to cause your roots of faith to go deep and your future compassion for others will be as sweet as the dessert wine served after a special dinner.

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“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

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