When Hope Grieves

The colorful lights, packages wrapped with beautiful bows, Santa’s lap filled with happy children, the music of the season: all these joys spell Christmas.

Xmas candleBut what if we’re smack in the middle of grief? What if some of the joy is colored by sadness? How do we find hope when we so desperately need it?

Three possibilities float to the surface:

Keep the Traditions. Did she make a certain type of pie or a specialty casserole? Bake it yourself and remember what a great cook she was.

Did he string the lights on the tree? As you unwind and arrange the lights, remember how he made sure they were evenly distributed — how they reflected love throughout the room.

Did the family always meet at Grandma’s house, but now Grandma isn’t there and the house has been sold? Meet where you can and talk about her house. Show pictures to the grandchildren. Keep the memories of past Christmases alive.

Each family makes their own traditions. One of my favorites was shopping with my friend, Deb. That event did not happen this year, and I felt the loss so deeply.

But I cannot find hope if I only remember what once was.

Instead, I’ll remember Deb and find a day to shop alone, start with our favorite chai tea and tell her about my purchases. Give the gift I planned for her to a single mom who needs encouragement. Remember the fun of shopping together and toast her with some egg nog.

Fill the Empty Chair. Nothing is more discouraging than the empty chair beside the table. It’s a reminder of loss — a visual of who is missing.

Instead of staring at the emptiness, fill the chair with another person:

  • An international student who cannot fly hundreds of miles to be home for the holidays
  • A single mom who is bereft of her children because it’s his turn to share them with the other family
  • A homeless person who longs to feel the warmth of a home and experience a full belly
  • A young parolee who needs to understand how grace means second chances
  • Anyone you know who might be alone

As we fill the empty chair with another living being, it reminds us life DOES move forward. We don’t have to remain stuck within the grief of Christmas past.

Give Thanks for Memories. We shared many holidays with that special person. We still have some of the gift s/he gave us. Wear that sweater she knitted just for you. Dab on that perfume he gave you. Clasp the necklace or play the CD.

Revel in those precious reminders and give thanks. That person represents a unique place in your journey: spouse, parent, sibling, friend. No one can ever replace her or him.

Share your favorite holiday memories around the table. The stories will help that person seem alive again. When Deb enjoyed her food, she always said, “Uhm, uhm” between bites. I cannot eat guacamole without hearing her soprano gratitude.

As Soren Kierkegaard said, “Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward.”

Although this holiday may seem especially empty for you and the grief even more fresh — keep the traditions, fill the empty chair and give thanks for the memories.

Then remember your loved one is celebrating Christmas in heaven and probably thinking about you.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

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Hope Finds Holiness in Surprising Places

During a recent trip to Fort Scott, Kansas, my friend and I discovered a wonderful coffee shop. Our chai lattes tasted spicy yet mellow, and the missional atmosphere of this shop impressed us.Rev G quote on Ft Scott wall

Their bookshelves were filled with classics and some Christian fiction. I donated the Reverend G books and promised to bring the third book after its release in August.

But we were most interested in the church service advertised for Sunday morning, so we put it on our calendars and showed up along with about 30 other folks of all ages.

I looked around the room and thought, what a wonderful way to attract those who might be curious about faith. A great way to think outside the box!

I was a bit disappointed when we were handed bulletins – not so outside the box – but even churchy habits are hard to break.

The video sermon was taken from Romans. Seriously? Romans? How can you attract seekers with one of Paul’s most verbose books, a treatise even seasoned believers find difficult to understand.

But it soon became apparent that everyone in attendance was a believer or a seasoned church-goer so we discussed righteousness, legalism and how to determine God’s will.

A lovely young woman sang and accompanied herself on an acoustic guitar. We relaxed and enjoyed her melodies, interspersed with whooshes from the espresso machine. It was fun to meet saints from another town who worship the same God and aren’t afraid to welcome strangers.

Then a wonderful surprise greeted us as we left the building. Across the street was a colorful wall with a unique wooden door – Tuscan colors and the rough textures I love. We each took pictures while my creative mind immediately jumped to the questions: What’s on the other side of that door? What kind of novel can I plot with this door and this wall as the main focus?

Hope finds believers in interesting and surprising places all over the world. We so often root ourselves in our comfortable church pews where it’s easy to snooze through our own spirituality.

But when we move outside our comfortable walls and experience church in different settings, we breathe a fresh invite into the family that makes us Christian.

I’m encouraged to find pockets of believers in various places, worshiping in unique ways and spreading the love of Jesus without the confines of traditional walls. The texture and color of different congregants provide a rich setting for the stories we are all writing within our spiritual selves.

I think God must be glad about these creative venues. He is always able to create a new plan even while His attributes remain the same.

And as one of those creative types who yearns for more spiritual experiences outside the norm, I, too, am glad and filled with hope.

©2015 RJ Thesman – author of the Reverend G books – http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

Finding Hope at Lowe’s Garden Center

As I checked another day off my planner, I knew I needed to escape from the office and find something to refresh my spirit.

Ice cream? Nah – not on the healthy eating plan. Chai tea? Nope – too late in the day for caffeine.

So I drove to the one place where I knew I might find something creatively beautiful – something to bring cheer and renewed hope.

Especially during this season of spring, I find enjoyment just walking through aisles of flowers at the Lowe’s Garden Center. Salmon pink lilies, Indian blanket daisies that remind me of New Mexico, mounds of lavender and dark purple clematis – all of these and more give me pause and help me focus on what is truly important.flowers @ Lowes

The color of life blends in with God’s texture of hope. I constantly marvel at the way he so carefully details each stamen, draws tiny faces on pansies and outlines a yellow marigold with a bright orange border.

It is difficult to just walk through the aisles as an observer and not choose something to plant in my own garden, yet I need to watch my budget. On this day, I tried – really I did – for about two minutes. Then I could not ignore that bright coreopsis any longer and also found a sweet zinnia that raised its lovely head and whispered, “Plant me.”

Two purchases that I quickly planted in my yard, mounded the fresh mulch around their roots and prayed a blessing over them. These plants will give me pleasure throughout the summer and autumn months and one of them, the perennial coreopsis, will return next year to greet me when the snows of 2014 melt.

A trip to the garden center may seem like just a bit of retail therapy, but it so much more. For within those aisles of color, texture and beauty – I find not only pretty flowers but I am reminded of Who makes it all possible.

It’s more than just a planting. It’s a reason to worship.

A Magnet for Mom

Last Christmas, I drove to Oklahoma to visit my relatives and celebrate the holiday. At a rest stop, I filled up my mug with chai tea, then stretched my legs and browsed through the gift shop.

On a swivel display, several colorful magnets stood out – one in particular. It was a pansy, the purple kind with the yellow center, the pansy that Oklahoma grows so well in the early spring, a pansy like the ones in Mom’s flower garden.purple pansy

I knew Mom would love it. She could put it on her fridge next to the magnets that held pictures of the grandkids in their various growth stages.

But I hesitated. It was $2.50 for a tiny pansy magnet. Was it really worth that? No, probably not.

I decided to think about it and maybe buy it on the return trip, then mail it to Mom or give it to her for Mother’s Day.

But I should have listened to that inner nudge. I should have said, “To heck with my stupid budget and trying to live on pennies. Buy it now while you can.”

But I didn’t listen. In fact, I drove on down the road, sipped my chai tea and forgot about that magnet until four months later when I drove to Oklahoma for the Easter break. I stopped at the same rest stop, this time refilling my cup with iced tea, stretching my legs and browsing through the gift shop.

But of course, the magnets no longer decorated the display. No pansies, no flowers, no pretty magnets of any kind.

As I plan for Christmas vacation this year, I still kick my inward self for not buying that magnet for Mom. I know I will stop at the same rest stop and buy a cup of hot chai tea. I will stretch my legs and browse through the gift shop, because that is what I do on my trips to Oklahoma.

But even if the gift shop replaced the magnets, Mom no longer lives in her house. She has no refrigerator in her assisted living apartment. No place to put magnets that would have given her a few months of pleasure for just $2.50.

This year I will remind myself that gifts to others are never wasted. Life is short and it sometimes changes drastically from one day to the next. Although it’s important to keep a budget, a giving heart is even more important – especially for those we love whose time on earth is limited.

So…lesson to self. Next time, buy the stupid magnet or the plastic toy or a drink for a fellow traveler. Be a giver, because it’s easier to spend a bit of money than to forgive yourself.