Do you know a child who’s grieving?

Waterbugs

The loss of a loved-one can be devastating to a child.

Some children travel through many years of their lives without experiencing the death of someone that they know. I wasn’t so lucky. One of my grandmothers died when I was four. Less than three years later, I lost one of my grandfathers – and two years after that, I lost my other grandfather.

It’s not easy to talk with children about death.

Children can have as many questions about death as we do. What happens to people when they die? Can grandma still see me even though she’s buried in the ground? Why does mommy cry so much, and why does daddy tell me to just leave her alone? Am I supposed to cry like everyone else? Am I going to die when I go to sleep tonight?

I have used Water Bugs and Dragonflies as a tool for many years. It’s a well-written story, and it’s a wonderful resource that can help adults to speak to grieving children. And now, it’s even available in an incredibly helpful coloring-book format!

If you know a child who’s struggling to make sense of the death of a loved-one, you may want to get a copy of Water Bugs and Dragonflies and spend some time reading a story, coloring, and talking about one of the hardest parts of life that we’ll ever face. 

When times are tough….

Jesus in Storm

When times are tough and storms arise,
I thank God that the path toward the future isn’t paved
with only my own inner strength and courage.
God is Mighty!
And the Lord who holds me in the palm of His hand
has the power to carry me safely
toward better days.

© 2017 Wayne G. Gillespie

 

God is Near!

Elijah

1 Kings 17:6-24

Life is filled with ups and downs, isn’t it?

We save money for a rainy day, and we invest our time and energy in relationships with other people. We plan for our future (often expecting the best) and we even go to church and pray – believing that God stands beside us.
But, life throws us curves, doesn’t it?

Children sometimes go astray when they grow up, and close relationships can end when people move to a different city – or even die. Today’s bad choices often shape tomorrow’s reality. Marriages crumble. Jobs can be lost. Sudden illnesses can bring us a mountain of unpaid bills. And, when any of those things happen, our faith can be shaken and we can even begin to ask hard questions.

In this week’s message, “God is Near”, we explore a brief moment of time in the life of a widow who experienced a roller-coaster of emotions. She watched the ground dry, crops wilt, and animals die after Elijah told King Ahab that God was going to withhold the rain because of Israel’s wickedness. The widow had seen her small barrel of meal and flask of oil provide more meal and oil that she could have ever imaged after she (in faith) baked Elijah a small loaf of bread and gave him a drink of water. She watched her only son die, and cursed the day she had met Elijah – because she blamed him for what had happened to her son. And then, Elijah wept and prayed and held the dead corpse of the widow’s only son; and, suddenly, he came back to life!
We experience a wide range of emotions as we travel through life as people of faith.

When everything’s going well and when we’re happy and prosperous, we feel like God is blessing us and we praise God from the mountaintop! But, when the pendulum swings in the other direction, we ask tough questions, don’t we? “Where was God when I needed God to be present?” “Why do bad things always seem to happen to good people?” “Why do little children face starvation and horrible diseases?” “Where is God when violence explodes at a local synagogue?” “Where is God when little children are being abused by priests?” Where is God when overdoses claim the lives of people that we love?” “Where was God when the widow of Zarephath’s only son got sick and suddenly died?”

We are reminded, in this week’s message (“God is Near”), that God is near to us in both good times and bad times. God was present as the widow of Zarephath wept for her son. God is present when people gather together to lift each other up and to stand beside each other in difficult times. Jesus promised us that He will always be found when we come together as God’s people to share gifts of Bread and Wine in Holy Communion. God will always be found in the love we receive from people who encourage us and hug us and whisper tender words into our ears, and God will be present every time we offer our love and support to other people – comforting others with the same kind words and actions that others extend to us during difficult times (2 Corinthians 1:4).
Our journey of faith teaches us to know that God is near in every circumstance.

It’s easy to see God’s presence when we experience times of blessing. But Jesus promises to be close to us even when the pendulum swings in the other direction – and when our lives become difficult.

Trust the Lord and know that God is near to you. Look for Jesus in every circumstance of life – whether it’s good or bad. And know that our God promises to draw near to us and to sustain us and to renew us in every situation that we face.

Hatred will not Win!

Pitts Pic

John 11:32-44

I was as stunned and as saddened by last weekend’s senseless massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh as you were.

I don’t understand the hatred that led to the tragedy; and I don’t understand the racism, bigotry and narrow-minded thinking that led to the senseless killing of eleven innocent people. I spent some time with Jews and Muslims and Hindus and other Christians at Temple David in Monroeville, Pennsylvania last weekend because I needed to witness people coming together as a “community,” and because I wanted to be a part of a small gathering of people who are committed to the fact that hatred will not win.

Hatred descends upon us like a thick and suffocating blanket. Hatred isolates us from other people. Hatred turns off the lights and leaves us in darkness. Hatred makes our hearts cold and angry and bitter toward people that we don’t even know.

We celebrate the Festival of All Saints as a “holy time” in our journey of faith. We take time to remember people that we’ve loved and lost, and we tell stories about their lives (sometimes with a sense of heaviness in our hearts). We remember those whom we have loved and lost through the years and we stand beside people who have experienced the same kinds of loss that we have. And, just like in the short story of Lazarus’ death and raising, Jesus draws near to weep and to comfort us. Jesus brings the “living presence of God” near to us as He dries the tears in our eyes and bears testimony to the fact that even in times of sorrow and loss, God is at work to do something new. John of Patmos bears testimony to the God who is active and re-creating everything in our lives and in the entire Creation (Revelation 21:1-6a). John talks about God dwelling with us and wiping the tears from our eyes. John speaks of a day when death and mourning and crying and pain will be no more. John of Patmos echoes the great promise of the prophet Isaiah who proclaimed, “God will destroy on this mountain the suffocating shroud that’s spread over all people, and God will swallow-up death forever.” (Isaiah 25:7-8)

“Hatred will not Win!” Christians proclaim that God’s at work to re-create the world all around us; and God’s at work to bring an end to the types of racism, bigotry and narrow-minded thinking that can end the lives of innocent people. Christians stand together in the shadow of a Cross where God binds people together and welcomes everybody with a warm embrace. Christians understand that, when God’s at work, the world that we share can begin to change and people really can stop killing other people simply because they see them as people who are “different” in some way. Christians are called to stand beside our brothers and sisters in the Jewish community and to cry with them as they mourn – always carrying in our hearts the promise of the great peace that we crave in solidarity, and clinging to the fact that the great peace that we desire for ourselves and for those who come after us will come – and, as Julian of Norwich once said, “All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.”

I don’t understand the hatred that led to last weekend’s tragedy. I don’t understand the kinds of racism, bigotry and narrow-minded thinking that led to the deaths of Bernice, Sylvan, Melvin, Daniel, Irving, Rose, Jerry, Joyce, Richard, Cecil and David. But I do know that the powers of good will prevail as long as Jews and Muslims and Christians and Hindus continue to come together and promise each other that hatred will not be allowed to win. The powers of good and of God will prevail as long as we allow God to draw us together into a “community” where what binds us together is stronger than what tears us apart.

But, now is a time to stop – to weep with those who are weeping – and to offer our love and full support to those whose lives have been changed in an unspeakable way.

May God’s peace be with you!

Always remember that, even in the face of tragedy, God is at work to re-create what we see all around us as we stand beside each other and share each other’s pain, and as we open our lives to God’s healing power that continues to work in our lives and in the world.

Tree of Life: Where Healing Begins

Tree of Life Pic

“We pray for healing of the body.

We pray for healing of the soul.

For strength of flesh and mind and spirit.

We pray to once again be whole.”

These are words that resonate deeply with my soul.

I’m sure that we were all both shocked and horrified when we learned that a lone gunman had walked into the Tree of Life synagogue near Pittsburgh, PA on Saturday morning and had opened fire on innocent worshipers who had gathered there on the Sabbath. The story of what happened quickly moved to the center of the daily news. Eleven of the worshipers, ranging in age from 54 to 97, were killed almost instantly as the police, emergency teams, SWAT teams and the FBI mobilized and quickly traveled to the scene. The gunman, who was later wounded in a shoot-out with the police, surrendered and was quickly removed from the scene. And our journey into the “unspeakable” began.

I learned, many years ago, that there are times when our words can’t fix things.

What do you say to a mother who has just watched her child die? What do you say to the loved ones of someone who decides that life cannot be endured for another day and who then ends it? What do you say to the families of eleven innocent people who were killed while worshiping in a synagogue by a man who ran into the building with guns in his hands and screaming, “All Jews must die!”? What do you say to a community filled with people who trusted in the fact that senseless slaughters always happen somewhere else?

I learned, many years ago, that God didn’t give me any magic fairy dust.

The events that unfolded at the Tree of Life synagogue near Pittsburgh dragged me back in time to a very different – yet hauntingly similar – event that I faced several years ago. I was preparing to begin another busy Wednesday in Lent when my cellphone beeped and alerted me to the fact that a young man had walked into the Franklin Regional High School (about five miles from my home) with two knives in his hands and had stabbed twenty people (click here to learn more) before being tackled. I was speechless. I felt both paralyzed and numbed as I stared at the screen of my television; and yet, I wanted to do something helpful. I suspect that many folks felt that same paralysis on Saturday. When senseless tragedies unfold, we stare blankly at our television sets and watch first responders rise to the occasion. We want to shut the news off and return to our more normal routines, but we can’t. Senseless violence changes us. We sense a solidarity with all of humanity when the lives of innocent people are ended by violent outbursts of anger. We, perhaps, sense our need for human community when violence drives us into isolation. But what then? What do we do in the days and weeks that follow senseless tragedies? How can we begin to take the first steps forward after we’ve been paralyzed by senseless violence?

Here are some things that I learned as I moved through the difficult days and weeks and months that followed the violent outburst at the Franklin Regional High School. And I offer these ideas hoping that they’ll be helpful to you:

  1. I learned that, in times of shock and horror, we need to take care of ourselves. In the Beginning, God said that it’s “not good” for us to be alone (Genesis 2:18) and that’s especially true when we’re struggling. We need each other, and we need to gather in community with other people as we try to make sense of violent acts that change our lives. I remember gathering with people at Christ’s Lutheran Church in Murrysville, PA on the evening of the incident at Franklin Regional High School. We sang hymns together and prayed. We listened to the words of Scripture, and we spent time together. My wife and I did the same thing yesterday. We attended a gathering of several hundred people at Temple David in Monroeville; and we mourned with Jews and Muslims and Christians alike. We were reminded that we must not allow hatred and bigotry to win. We were reminded that we are people who can make a lasting difference in our world by committing ourselves to the path of love and deeper understanding.
  2. I learned that, in times of shock and horror, we need to watch the helpers. I find it quite ironic that the violent outburst at the Tree of Life synagogue unfolded in the same neighborhood that once provided a home for Fred Rogers. I grew-up in the Pittsburgh area and Mr. Rogers was a part of my childhood. I still remember his friendly smile. I still remember him changing his shoes and putting his sweater on at the beginning of each show. But, perhaps even more than that, I remember Mr. Rogers’ kindness and embrace of others. Fred Rogers once said (or at least we are told that he said) that, when bad things happen, we need to watch and to focus upon what the helpers are doing. The world is full of good people. The world is full of people who care about each other and who want to help each other. Think about the first responders and the police officers who were wounded when they rushed into the synagogue. Think about all of the doctors and nurses who rushed to the hospital, so that they would be ready to treat the wounded. Think of the people who will walk beside the families of those who were killed in the weeks and months ahead – often unseen and unnoticed. We can all learn a lesson from Mr. Rogers; because, even in times of unspeakable tragedy, good people gather and help.
  3. I learned that, in times of shock and horror, we need to be willing to listen to what people are saying – even when we hear things that make us feel uncomfortable. I listened to stories from the lips of many young people who were being bullied at school in the weeks and months that followed the incident at the Franklin Regional High School – and it all began when I sat down with a small group of teenagers and said, “When I was your age, bullies flicked your ears and shot spit balls at you. I don’t know what bullying looks like today. Will you help me to understand?” When we listen, we learn. I’ve believed that those who are suffering are my teachers for a long, long time. I’ve been given a small glimpse of what it’s like to lose a child, to face a terminal illness, and to say goodbye to your spouse. I’ve learned a bit about bullying by listening to teenagers tell me about their lives. Perhaps, this is a time when we need to listen to people share stories about Anti-Semitism, racism, bigotry and hatred? Perhaps, this is a time when we need to allow people who are usually silent to speak? I was once told that God gave me two ears and one mouth for a very good reason. We need to remember that in times like these.
  4. And lastly, I learned that, in times of shock and horror, we can begin to turn the corner and step away from feelings of powerlessness by helping. In the weeks and months after the violent incident at Franklin Regional High School, the good and always-faithful people at Christ’s Lutheran Church collected money that was used to pay medical bills, to financially support parents who needed to quit their jobs to care for their teenagers, and to provide resiliency training for local teachers. We were told, yesterday, that the Muslim community is collecting money to help pay medical bills and funeral expenses and to bring financial relief to those who have already faced so much. I found that becoming a helper was even more empowering than watching helpers. If you’d like to help the families of those who have already faced so much because of the horrific attack at the Tree of Life synagogue

CLICK HERE

My wife and I joined hundreds of others singing powerful words of prayer during the gathering at Temple David in Monroeville yesterday; and, as I close, I’d like to lift those words before you:

“We pray for healing of our people.

We pray for healing of the land.

And peace for ev’ry race and nation,

Ev’ry child, ev’ry woman, ev’ry man.”

 

Grace Sufficient for Today

grace-e1531161089464.jpg

Having faith isn’t always easy, is it?

We’re pushed and shoved, and we’re disappointed when things go wrong. We face times in life when we’re pushed to the wall and when we don’t know where we’re going to get strength to face even one more day. We face difficult challenges. God doesn’t always take our problems away – even when we ask God to do it. St. Paul once described some sort of challenge that he faced as a “thorn in his flesh.” Do you feel like you have a “thorn” in your flesh? Is there something in your life that you would like God to change?

St. Paul was once a nasty man. He held the cloaks of the people who stoned St. Stephen and he did everything that he could do to destroy the early Church. Paul arrested people who believe in Jesus and had them thrown in jail. But, one day, St. Paul met Jesus face-to-face and his life was changed forever. In fact, Paul devoted the rest of his life to sharing the message of Jesus – the very message that he once had tried to destroy.

But, even though St. Paul was devoted to his ministry and to sharing the message of Jesus with as many people as he could, he faced a challenge. St. Paul called it his “thorn in the flesh.” And even though a lot of folks think that they know what St. Paul’s “thorn” was – we really don’t. And that’s OK.

“Grace Sufficient for Today” is a message that can help you to think about the “thorn” that you are facing in life, right now. Jesus once told us that we shouldn’t worry about tomorrow because tomorrow has enough worries of its own. St. Paul faced his own “thorn in the flesh” by living from day to day – trusting that God would provide whatever he needed to get through yet another day. And in that, there’s a wonderful message of hope and guidance for all of us.

Several years back, quite by chance, I had the opportunity to meet Billy Graham.

By the time that I met Billy Graham he was pretty fragile. I’ll never forget that he needed two men to walk beside him and hold him by the arms as he entered the room. But, even more than that, I’ll always remember the conversation that I had with Billy Graham as he shared his thoughts about his struggles with Parkinson’s disease. He said that throughout all of his struggles, the one thing that he had learned – over and over again – is that God’s grace is always sufficient to meet today’s needs.

That’s a powerful message; and it’s also a message that echoed inside of me when my own hands started to shake about five years later. “God’s grace is always sufficient to meet today’s needs,” I remembered as the doctor told me that I have Parkinson’s disease, too. “Don’t worry about tomorrow,” Jesus once said to us, “because tomorrow has enough worries of its own.”

Faith is a wonderful gift. The fact that God will provide whatever we need – just when we need it the most – is a source of great hope in challenging times. God is God who blesses us and strengthens us and supports us and cares for us in incredible ways! And God is a God who has promised us that we will be given the faith that we need to face each day.

How can that message bring strength and hope into your life, right now?

How can the fact that God’s grace is sufficient for today help you and encourage you as you face whatever you need to face this week with Jesus by your side?

 

When Grief and Easter Collide

easter pic 3

I shared the news of my father’s death with you three weeks ago.

My 95-year-old Dad’s health began to change rather quickly right after Christmas. We did our best to navigate through the ups-and-downs, and we put our heads together and we figured-out what to do every time life threw us another curve.  But three weeks ago, right in the middle of Lent, everything took a sudden and dramatic turn for the worse and my father died. I shared my tribute with you on the next day: “When Your Dad Dies”

The days that followed my Dad’s death were both busy and numbing. We needed to call the funeral home and give them some time to prepare my Dad’s body for the visitation. My sisters and I hosted a short visitation three days after our father died; and then, we had a short service, and a private burial on a cold and bitter afternoon. My Dad’s body was lowered into the ground right after I performed a short committal at the cemetery; and, right after that, my family and I faced what I’d call a “pregnant moment.” There’s that “pregnant moment” of silence when you’re standing at the edge of a grave and you realize that there’s nothing else that you can do. And, as much as you’d like to stay there a little longer, you know in your heart that it’s time to walk away. And then, you hop into your car and just drive….

One of the things that I’ve learned through all of this is that when people that we love fall into a raging river there’s not a whole lot that we can do. And so,  I returned to work and  continued to prepare for Easter. I wrote a short sermon about love for Maundy Thursday. I prepared a short series of meditations focused upon the “Stations of the Cross” for Good Friday and used those meditations to share some things I have learned about care-giving, compassion, forgiveness, and facing the moment of a loved-one’s death as I’ve shared my Dad’s final journey with him. But, I was still left in that “pregnant moment” where we all find ourselves right after we bury someone that we’ve loved and need to walk away. And then, right in the middle of Holy Week, it hit me….

This year’s Easter message, “When Grief and Easter Collide”, moves to the very core of hope in the Sacred Story that we share. Shortly after Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the very people who had shouted “Hosanna!” decided that He needed to die. In just a few short days, a man who appeared to be doing quite well was arrested and was put on trial. A man, who appeared to be doing quite well just a few days earlier, was swept into a raging river that led to a savage beating, crucifixion, and bloody death. And then, just a short time after Jesus died, His body was removed from the Cross and it was prepared for burial. The opening of the cold, dark Tomb was sealed as Jesus’ family and closest friends stood there in silence. And then they (just like myself and other members of my Dad’s remaining family) needed to walk away.

But, the Sacred Story tells us that the “pregnant moment” that occurs after someone is sealed in a grave isn’t the end. The women returned to the Tomb and discovered that the stone has been rolled away. A man dressed in dazzling white told them that Jesus – who once was dead – had been raised to new life. And in that moment, the Sacred Story takes us to that critical moment in life when faith and harsh realities collide. The Sacred Story is one that speaks a word of hope and peace “When Grief and Easter Collide.”

My journey from the sadness of Good Friday to the joyous celebration of Easter this year has, once again, reminded me that God takes care of us no matter what we face in life or in death. The Sacred Story has taught me that, sometimes, we need to slow down because God’s power can be experienced in new ways during pregnant moments filled with pain and loneliness. The Sacred Story that tells us about a glorious Day when God will wipe every tear from our eyes drew me to a place – to the Church – where people supported me and surrounded me and sang songs of great hope and faith that I’m not ready to sing yet. The Sacred Story drew me to a place – to the gathering of God’s faithful people – where I was reminded that I’m going to see my Dad again – in a place where we’re not going to have to worry about life throwing us curves, and in a place where we’ll finally find the peace and rest that we crave.

Easter is a special moment in time when life and eternity collide. Easter is a glorious day when we remember that when the raging waters of life sweep people that we love away from us, it’s not the end of the story!

Christ is risen! An empty Tomb bears witness to the fact that our tombs – and the tombs of the people that we love and have loved – will be empty someday, too. “When Grief and Easter Collide”, death and decay are swallowed-up in the victory of Christ!

The Great Liturgy of my brothers and sisters in the Orthodox tradition announces:

“Tonight, Hell groans: ‘My power has vanished. I received One who died as mortals die, but I could not hold Him. With Him and through Him, I lost those over which I ruled. I had held control over the dead since the world began; and lo, He raises them all up with Him to shine in glory.”

Christ is Risen! Alleluia!

 

When Your Dad Dies

Dad Picture

My dad died at the ripe old age of 95 this week.

My dad taught me how to throw a football and he was the first man that I called a hero. He was a veteran of World War II and he always referred to that war as “the one we won.” My dad was a man who loved his family and he was a man who devoted years of his life to helping children who were crippled or badly burned through his tireless devotion to the Shriner’s hospitals. He was a Christian who stood beside me on Sunday mornings to guide me through the worship service—never imagining that he was raising a future pastor. My dad taught me some of the great truths of life and he was a man of his word who often told me, “If I tell you that the sun isn’t going to rise tomorrow morning, you better take a flashlight to bed with you.”

But, my dad was far from perfect.

He taught me that parents do the best that they can when they’re raising their kids; and, sometimes, they make mistakes because kids don’t come with a set of directions. He taught me that, sometimes, parents need to work when their kids want them to be doing something else and that parents sometimes live to regret that. My dad taught me that people are like porcupines; and that they, sometimes, stick each other when they get too close to each other. But through it all, my dad also taught me that relationships are the most important part of life and that we need to be true to our word even when circumstances change, and when it would be easy to justify breaking a promise.

My dad also taught me some of the most important lessons I’ve learned about life in his last few years.

He taught me to live my life well because even 95 years pass quickly. He taught me that years pass in a flash and that I need to spend time with the people that I love because none of us knows whether tomorrow is even on the calendar. He taught me, many times, that the richest moments in life are lived during the interruptions that we experience at inconvenient times. A war story can be shared in a doctor’s office. A childhood memory can be shared during a trip to the hospital. A word of thanks and appreciation can melt your heart when you’re ready to spit bullets because your daily routine was interrupted again. My dad taught me that you’re never too old to enjoy cake—to share a beer with your son—or to eat half of a pizza.

It’s hard to journey with your dad when you know that the end is near.

I was always humbled by the fact that my dad trusted me to handle his finances and to make medical decisions for him when he no longer understood what was happening to him. My dad and I walked together through thick and thin; and, when life threw us a curve, we did the best that we could to handle it. My dad was blessed by some of the greatest doctors and nurses that I’ve ever met—people who never grew weary as I continued to ask them long lists of questions that I had about the words they used and the procedures they recommended—and those doctors and nurses taught me how important it is to trust in the gifts and expertise that other people have . My dad was truly blessed by the staff and nurses at the assisted living home where he spent the last years of his life—primarily because he didn’t know enough about cooking to boil an egg. And perhaps most of all, my dad demonstrated the importance of friendships as he enjoyed the relationship that he shared with the fine, young couple who lived beside him while he was still living at home and as he developed a close friendship with a dear man that he met in his early 90’s.

The end is never easy, but it always comes.

My dad reminded me once again, in the last few hours of his life, that the moment of death is one of the most holy moments in life. I still remember holding my mom’s hand and saying, “We love you”—knowing that those were the very last words that she would hear as she slipped into eternity. God draws near to us at the moment of death. I picture the moment of death as a sacred and God-filled space where we hold one hand of the person that we love, and God holds the other. It’s an incredibly intimate moment with God. In fact, I’ve come to believe that the sacred moment of death is the time when we’re the closest to God. It’s all about trust and hope. It’s all about knowing that God is in control of everything. And then, in a holy moment, we open our hands and we release the one that we love. And Christ whispers into our ear, “I am the resurrection and the life and those who believe in me will live even though they die.” And then, there’s silence. It is finished and the person that we have loved and cherished is left in the hands of God. My dad is in the hands of God and I can know that, even as I write these words, all is well.

And now, another journey begins.

Healing takes a long time. I deleted my dad’s telephone number from the contact list in my cellphone tonight because I know that if I call that number nobody will answer. I received a few cards from some people who want me to know that they care about me. I needed to work in the office today because I need to have a sermon prepared for the weekend. The silence is deafening. I sense that a chapter of my life has ended and that things will never again be what they once were. But I know that God is with me because my dad told me the story of Jesus and helped me to grow up to be a man of faith. I know that God is going to surround me with people at the church that I serve as a pastor–people who will sings songs on Easter that I’m not ready to sing yet. God has blessed me with a wonderful wife—a woman who is truly “bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh.” All is well.

My dad taught me how to throw a football and he was the first man that I called a hero. He was a veteran of World War II and he always referred to that war as “the one we won.” But my dad was also a man of faith who taught me that, no matter what we face in life or in death, God is going to be with us and God will raise us up. And that’s how I know that my dad’s OK tonight and that I’m going to be OK, too.

 

 

Facing the Holiday Blues

the pain by emilio gallori 1846 1924  siena palazzo publicco

Many different things can cause that rather depressed, stressed, agitated, and fatigued feeling that many of us experience during the Holiday season. The “Holiday Blues” can be caused by a variety of things, and we need to understand what stands at the core of what we’re experiencing before we can begin to address it. What is depressing and stressful for one person may not affect other people in the same way. And, what one person finds to be helpful during those stressful and “blue” periods may not work for other people at all.

It’s important to realize that the “bad feelings” that come during the Holiday season are not the real problem. Bad feelings are a symptom. We are most likely reacting to something that’s “not right” – or to something that we think isn’t right in our lives when the “Holiday Blues” strike. And so, one of the best things we can do when the “Holiday Blues” strike is look beyond those “bad feelings” themselves and focus upon what’s causing us to feel the way that we’re feeling. We may even be able to address the specific issues that are affecting our lives quite effectively once we clearly identify them. Take some time to simply think about what’s happening; and be careful that you are not overlooking an underlying medical problem, the side effects of the medications that you’re taking, or even Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Some common causes:

Most of us probably believe that the Holidays are “supposed” to be a time of happiness, cheer, joy, fellowship and optimistic hopes for the New Year. We all have “idealized” images of what the Holidays “should” be like. And that’s why we’re often bombarded with all kinds of negative thoughts and feelings when we’re moving through times of significant loss, unresolved grief, fears about the future, and disappointment. We can become very discouraged when we begin to compare what we think the Holidays should be like with what they really “are” like. “Holiday Blues” can also be caused by isolation and loneliness.

The Holiday season is also a busy and stressful time. We have more things to do and more things to purchase on tight budgets. There is more traffic on the highways and even parking our automobiles can become more difficult. Stores are crowded. Tempers are short. Extra demands and expectations are often placed upon our time, attention, energy and finances. This can all be stressful.

Some helpful ideas:

Many people begin to conquer the “Holiday Blues” by re-thinking their attitude and approach to the Holidays. There’s a big difference between what you “have” to do and what is “best” for you. Do you have to buy all of the expensive gifts you’re planning to purchase? Do you have to buy so many gifts? How does your understanding of God shape the purpose and meaning of your giving? Is it time for you to approach giving in a different way? Don’t forget to keep the overall picture in mind. Making the effort to get a gift (or to do something nice) for one person may be easy, but it gets more difficult and demanding as you increase the number of people who will receive your gifts and your time. Don’t just follow your past practices and traditions without thinking about them. Families and relationships change. Your financial situation may be very different than it was last year. Your understanding of “giving” can be greatly clarified as you allow your gift-giving to be shaped by your faith. Think about how your life is different than it was last year and accept the fact that a new approach to Holiday giving (and even celebrating) may be totally appropriate.

If significant losses are making the Holidays difficult, you may want to use some time during the Holiday season to mourn and grieve in a different way. You will most likely feel loneliness and sadness. If you accept the grief and feelings that go along with your loss, the intensity of those bad feelings will likely lessen. Remember that you don’t need to spend the Holidays alone – but remember that you, also, don’t need to accept every invitation that you receive. You may need to find ways to satisfy the needs in your life that were filled by the person you have lost. You may, also, need to spend some time alone. The Holidays can be difficult – but they can also be a time to celebrate the goodness of the relationships that continue to be a blessing to our lives in a healthy and balanced way.

You may also find the “Serenity Prayer” helpful during the Holiday season. When the “Holiday Blues” strike, remember that it’s sometimes helpful to: (1) accept the things that you cannot change, (2) change the things that you can, and (3) accept the fact that there’s a difference between the two.

The holiday season is, finally, a great time to celebrate the presence of God and to remember the promises of a brighter future in difficult times. Please don’t forget to include worship and prayer in your Holiday schedule. You may find a “Longest Night” service to be helpful. As Christians, we can find great peace when we remember that the Holiday season is REALLY about the God who loves us and who comes into our world – even during challenging times – to be an important part of our daily lives.

Waiting Well

bridesmaids pic

One of the things that drives me crazy is waiting.

I’d rather arrive 15 minutes early than walk into a meeting 2 minutes late. When I go to a show in Pittsburgh, it drives me absolutely crazy when the ushers are still seating people, with flashlights in their hands, after the show has begun. Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “Dost thou love life? Then, don’t waste time because that’s what life is made of.”

Jesus once told a story about ten bridesmaids who went to a wedding feast. The women were left waiting outside the banquet hall because the bridegroom didn’t arrive at the party on time. Five bridesmaids were prepared for the wait because they had brought extra oil for their lamps. The other five bridesmaids weren’t prepared, and they had to run to the local market to buy extra oil and they missed the bridegroom’s arrival. The reception started. The great feast was set before the guests. The music started and the great, big doors of the banquet hall were closed. And, when the five bridesmaids who didn’t bring enough oil for their lamps returned, they were sent away.

Have you ever had a time when you needed to “wait upon the Lord”?

I pray with a lot of people who are going through tough times; and, when I do that, I expect God to do something. I spend a lot of time with people who are struggling with a variety of illnesses; and I know what it’s like to pray and pray and pray, and to wait for God to do something. I (like many of  you) have traveled the lonely path of grief and I know what it’s like to long for better days. My granddaughter recently told me that her least favorite part of school is “waiting in line” – and I suspect that that’s true because she doesn’t like “waiting” any more than I do.

The psalmist once wrote: “Make haste, O God, to deliver me! O Lord, make haste to help me!” (Psalm 70:1). But the prophet Isaiah has also written: “Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall  mount-up with wings like an eagle. They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and they shall not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

And so, as people of faith, we’re left in a dilemma. The Bridegroom doesn’t always come when we expect Him to come. God doesn’t always arrive when we expect Him to arrive. Sometimes, we need to learn to “wait upon the Lord.” Sometimes, as people of faith, we need to realize that healing and better days don’t always come quickly even though we have been assured by God that they’ll surely come. And that’s what this week’s message, “Waiting Well”, is all about.

We can learn to “wait upon the Lord” by spending time with people who have learned to wait upon the Lord in their own times of struggle – in private conversations or in support groups. We can learn to “wait upon the Lord” as we continue to remain connected with the community of the Church as it gathers around a Feast of broken break and shared wine. We can learn to “wait upon the Lord” by reflecting upon the promises of God that we find in the Bible and by spending time with God in prayer. We can “wait upon the Lord” in tough times by remaining connected to other people who are building their lives upon the Rock of Jesus Christ and who are “Waiting Well” in the times when God’s arrival doesn’t fit neatly into their schedules either.

The longer I’ve lived and the more I’ve experienced the more I’ve realized that we all need to find ways to faithfully “wait upon the Lord” and to do that “Waiting Well”.

“Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount-up with wings like an eagle. They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and they shall not faint.” ~ Isaiah 40:31