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Wednesday
Feb162011

Change is Difficult – No Matter How You Dress It Up

Recently, I have found myself in the midst of many life changes – some good; some difficult; some sad; some – well, just different!  I would love to be able to say to you that I have handled each one with grace, with a smile on my face, with courage and determination.  Rather, I must admit that some have been just plain hard….and I haven’t always been graceful or smiley or thankful.

In fact, I have (maybe without even realizing it) thought I could control the change(s) and influenced the outcome.  Sometimes, truth be told, God does put me in a position to do exactly that.  I am asked for input, allowed to give my ‘two cents,’ listened to and have the opportunity to affect the end results.

At other times, however, I’m, well, just given the opportunity to grow through the changes that happen around me.  Some of those changes – maybe all of them – involve some kind of loss, and loss produces grief.   We all know at least some of the elements of grief – disappointment, hurt, anger, sadness, pain, even suffering, shock, resolution, acceptance --- and wouldn’t it be nice if these all happened in some kind of orderly fashion, a steady pattern of grieving where once we got through one phase we could move onto the next, never having to look back or have a ‘do-over’ of a particular piece of the grieving process.  Grief just doesn’t happen like that – we go in an out and circle back around through emotions and struggles.  You have heard me say more than once – GRIEF TAKES AS LONG AS IT TAKES! – even the grief that comes about due to change in our lives.

So, because God is a God of new beginnings, may He give us the strength, the help and the grace to accept the changes He allows to come into our lives and to do so in such a way that brings honor to Him and growth to us.

Friday
Jan212011

Ministering Through Grief

Sometimes we just don’t know what to do or to say – that is an absolutely true statement!  Every day we and those around us experience loss, change, and transition which we must grieve.  Grief is intense emotional suffering caused by loss, and while it is normal, it involves hard work.  Does that surprise you – that grief not only equals loss; it involves hard work…grief work!

Grief often begins with shock, whether it involves loss of life, loss of relationship, loss of livelihood, loss of the person’s living situation, or loss of health.  There may be emotional or physical symptoms as well.  Some people openly express their grief; others show no emotion.  Perhaps you are right in the midst of your own grief work – or you may be helping others work through their own loss. 

In the past, the model for Christians was to keep a stiff upper lip and to endure the pain and agony of the loss with little or no expression of emotion.  Perhaps even more incongruent with the truth of Scripture are those Christians who put on a ‘happy face,’ denying the pain of grief, which in effect denies the need for a Savior and a Comforter.  Expressing one’s grief does not express a lack of faith in God; instead it can lead to a deeper understanding of the need for God.  Grief is the proper expression of feelings associated with the loss of someone or something significant in our lives, and those who have lost someone close need time to rest and a person with whom they can express their grief. 

Many feel uncomfortable with other’s pain and don’t know what to say to those who are grieving.  Walking beside one who is grieving does NOT mean that you have the perfect things to say or do – it DOES mean that you are willing to walk alongside during the process, listening, holding their hand, praying.  The more comfortable you are with grief as a natural process, the better able you will be to accept yourself or others who are grieving right where they are and effectively minister to them.  And … if you are the griever, it means that you will be able to accept the listening friend who wishes to come alongside of you.

Crying, shock and numbness, nightmares, anger, guilt, irritability, restlessness, sleeplessness and loss of appetite all may be symptoms of the normal process of grief.  As we walk beside others who go through the valley of the shadow of death, God promises (from Psalm 32) that “He will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; He will counsel you and watch over you.”  You do NOT have to figure this all out on your own – God will be your teacher!  Ask for His help – and He most lovingly and most graciously will give it!

Wednesday
Dec292010

Small Does Not Mean Insignificant

“Why can’t I ‘get over myself’ … shake this gloom and doom … recognize that the things I am dealing with are not earth shattering?  In fact, many, many people around me are struggling far more than I am.”

Does the above describe you?  Do you find yourself in a funk or depression of sorts and not sure why?  Sometimes it is difficult to even pin point the root, isn’t it?  To start with, I have found it helpful to ask God to help me distinguish the root from the branches!  Unless I deal with root issues, I will become distracted with branch issues and continue to be side-tracked and unable to openly identify what it is that is causing my struggle.

Having identified the root issue, what if it is  seemingly a small one … that seems minor comparatively speaking … one that I ought to be able just to shake off?  I find these verses from the Book of Proverbs helpful.  (Bear with me in reading through Proverbs 30:24-28 …)

“Four things on earth are small, yet they are extremely wise:  Ants are creatures of little strength, yet they store up their food in the summer; coneys are creatures of little power, yet they make their home in the crags; locusts have no king, yet they advance together in ranks; a lizard can be caught with the hand, yet it is found in kings’ palaces.”

All four of these examples:  the ant, the coney, the locust, and the lizard are miniscule, relatively speaking.  Yet … the lessons to be learned from each one are significant:  little strength, not much power, no identified leader, BUT focused and united and able to accomplish much!

What does all of this have to do with your funk or depression?  The issue you are dealing with, though seemingly small in scope, is NOT insignificant.  NOR are you!  These ‘small’ issues can help you to grow (“Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds – big or small – because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1).    Growth happens IN and THROUGH struggles … there is no other way to grow.  AND you – and they (your struggles) are significant to God.

I want to remind you of your significance to God – (from Psalms 139…)  “O Lord, you have searched me and you KNOW me.  You know when I SIT and when I RISE; you perceive my THOUGHTS from afar.  You discern my GOING OUT and my LYING DOWN; you are familiar with ALL MY WAYS!”

He really knows you AND He loves you and He understands every struggle.  The issues may be small – but NOT insignificant.  God KNOWS and HE CARES!

 

Wednesday
Dec152010

What Will Today Hold For You

            What Will Today Hold For You?, 12.15.10

What will today hold for you?  Perhaps you went to bed last night with a heavy heart or a tired body or a confused mind.  You may have slept fitfully and awakened feeling sluggish, unrested, hurried and harried and dreading this day.  Will it be a repeat of yesterday?  Might you have some of the same disagreements you had yesterday?  Are the stressors in your life going to increase rather than decrease with the added pressures of today?

As you look at your little ‘corner of the world’ and see those around you enjoying and celebrating the Christmas holiday season and looking forward to the New Year, and you recognize that you are definitely not enjoying OR celebrating, what will you do with your personal pain?

You’ve heard the expression – “no pain; no gain” – and you may have resonated with it in terms of exercise, dieting, or other such mundane life events.  I wonder if you have ever stopped to ponder this expression in the context of the Christmas and Easter seasons -- where we have the ultimate example of the gain that comes from pain – the pain of the birth of a Baby in a manger, the difficult life the Incarnate Son of God lived here on this earth, culminating in His death on the cross and the eternal benefit for all who accept the Christ of Christmas and the Risen Lord of Easter.

God is a God of new beginnings.  God is a God of love.  God is the Redeemer.  The new beginning of Christmas, with the birth of the Christ-Child, speaks to us - who fear that today will be the same as yesterday - of the HOPE that today is a new day – a new beginning.  The God of love reminds us that His love is ever new and eternal.  The Redeemer God shows us that God can and does redeem our pain.   He invades our life with people and events that direct us; He graces us with wisdom and direction.

What will today hold for you?  It is a new day – one that God has made.

 

Wednesday
Nov102010

Coping With Grief Through The Holidays

Today's blog is a bit longer - my prayer is that it will help those of you reading it and those in your lives who need help facing these next few days and weeks!

Two Helpful Resources:

"The Art of Dying:  Living Fully Into the Life to Come" by Rob Moll

"Helping Those Who Hurt: A Handbook For Caring And Crisis" by Barb Roberts

The holidays are coming and this may be your first or second without your loved one.  What do you do to get through this huge wave – this tsunami, looming before you?  How do you cope when every time you turn on the radio in your car, turn on the television, go to the market, you see those around you with an ‘in tact’ family, with a holiday smile, and you are literally crumbling inside?

There is no right or wrong way to respond when grieving – particularly grieving through the Holiday Season!  We and sometimes those in our lives have the erroneous notion that we are all going to grieve just like someone else. Each family member, each widow or widower, each child, each parent, each grandchild, each grandparent, each friend grieves as an individual.  Though we are not alone on our journey, it is definitely an individual journey.  And I want to remind you – GRIEF TAKES AS LONG AS IT TAKES!

Not ALL of the following suggestions will be right for YOU.  In the same way that grief is an individual journey, grief help is also individual.  There are very few ‘should’s’ here… Some of you agonized through a slow, painful death with your loved one; for others it was sudden and traumatic. 

I would guess that some of you wish you could go to sleep and wake up on January 2nd, when the holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years) are a memory and the New Year has begun.  Then there may be others who are afraid for what the New Year will bring, and in fact, may struggle with the New Year – when all is supposed to be new.

Here are some hints (in no particular order) about getting through the holidays when grief may be all you see:

  1. Do what brings genuine comfort, even if it seems odd to others.
  2. Keep the traditions that have the most meaning for you but feel free to start new traditions.
  3. Brace yourself for the wave effect.  You’ll be cooking a turkey, doing fine, congratulating yourself about how well you are getting through the day, when stirring the gravy reminds you – or a favorite carol, or a color, or an ornament.  Another way to describe it is a ‘dip in’ to your grief.  It comes unexpectedly and can throw you!  Allow yourself to ‘feel the feeling’ of grief – even if it only lasts for a brief time.  At those times, give yourself permission to grieve, to cry, to stare off into space, to remember.  In fact, sometimes it is helpful during a given day to just allow the ‘flooding’ to come – find a quiet, safe place and give in to the tears.  Having taken the time you need to do that, you may better be able to interact with your family and friends during other parts of the day.
  4. Lean on your faith in our loving God.  Jesus says, “Come to me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  God has promised to never leave us nor forsake us.  In Psalm 23….Our Shepherd has said that HE walks beside us through the valley of the shadow of death, tenderly caring for us as a shepherd cares for his sheep.
  5. Speak of your loved one whenever he or she comes to mind – no holding back for fear of depressing yourself or others, including no holding back the tears or expressions of sorrow that naturally flow.  Do one special thing to commemorate how much you miss your loved one. 
  6. You might feel ‘guilty’ for experiencing pleasure and joy during the holidays – that somehow you are being disloyal to your loved one.  A grieving family had written that they intentionally gave more thought to each holiday task – from wrapping presents to mailing cards…appreciating them as time-honored rituals instead of dreary chores to be gotten out of the way.   Again, REMEMBER what I said earlier – not all of these ideas will be the right thing for everyone!

Tips for helping children grieve through the holidays:

Children need to have something to help provide them with a memory of that special person they lost.  Whether it is the loss of a sibling, parent, grandparent or friend, allow the children to help pick out something so the whole family will remember that loved one.  Buying or making a special ornament for the tree is a memory builder for upcoming Christmases.    Pick two or three traditions that will not overwork you.  If a friend or relative can help put up the tree and decorate, this is helpful.  Because adults find it difficult to face the upcoming holiday, sometimes they will try to keep busy and thus schedule too much.  This is the time when parents and children get very tired.  Lots of rest is important at these times.  Remember – sometimes SIMPLE IS BETTER!  If you have small children, allow them to do something nice for others; this can give special meaning to them and to you, and certainly to the recipients.

I cannot emphasize enough - There is no single way or answer to the question – “How do I get through the holidays.  There is not a ‘right way’ and a ‘wrong way!’  It is an individual and an individual-family process.

Plan for the approaching holidays.  Be aware that this will most likely be a difficult time for you.  The additional stress may affect you emotionally, cognitively, and physically; this is a normal reaction. Stress is an incredible drainer!  (No wonder you get tired more quickly and easily!)  It is important to be prepared for and recognize these feelings.  Recognize that holidays won’t be the same.  Be careful not to isolate yourself, though it is understandable to need some private time. Some people find it helpful to be with family and friends, emphasizing the familiar.  Others may wish to avoid old sights and sounds, perhaps even taking a trip.  Identify your fears.  This will help you deal with them.  Perhaps even discuss them with someone you trust.

Be realistic – know your limits…what can you do…what can you NOT do?  Don’t expect others to ‘mind-read’ you and know YOUR limits!  Be watchful of ‘energizers’ and ‘drainers!’  We all have people in our lives who energize and drain us – and particularly during this time of grief, it’s very important to have a balance – weighing heavy on the side of the energizers.  Your energy will be quickly drained anyway – be careful not to spend an unhealthy amount of time with things and people who drain you.

Put within your life and schedule healthy habits – eating, sleeping, exercise – go for a walk.

Children/teens do not grieve in the same way or have the same needs that you do.  Include them in decision-making for holiday events, gatherings, traditions, decorating, etc. – foods, gifts.

Listen to an 8-year old as he describes the Jesus of Christmas, the Babe in the manger, the one who has promised to never, ever leave us nor forsake us…“His Father appreciated everything He had done and all His hard work on earth, so He told Him He didn’t have to go out on the road any more.  He could stay in heaven.  So He did.  And now He helps His Father out by listening to prayers and seeing which things are important for God to take care of and which ones He can take care of Himself without having to bother God.  Like a secretary, only more important, of course.  You can pray anytime you want and They are sure to hear you because They’ve got it worked out so One of them is on duty all the time.”

While this story is sweet and may cause us to chuckle a little, our Father is definitely on duty ALL the time.  He loves you, He understands your pain – the Book of Hebrews tells us that we have a High Priest (Jesus) who understands ALL of our weaknesses and ALL of our pain and ALL of our sadness and ALL of our suffering and ALL of our loneliness.

He speaks to us with words of understanding and comfort and hope -

 “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” – Psalm 34

While grieving is individual, your pain is your pain, your journey is your journey – the commonness of your suffering is that He IS close to the broken-hearted and has promised to NEVER, EVER leave you nor forsake you!

God Bless you and walk beside you on your journey of suffering!

 

 

 

 

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