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How To Handle Grief And Loss During The Holidays

The topic of how to handle grief and loss during the holidays might not seem to be a good fit on a blog dedicated to encouraging people to live a more abundant life and go after their dreams. However, if you have experienced the loss of a loved one between November and January, you know that the pain can be a setback for more than one area of life.

While living an abundant life does not mean that you won’t face pain – sometimes even excruciating pain – if you want to continue on the journey, you can’t be mired in the past.

At some point, you need to heal.

My story

Fourteen years ago, on December 18, my father passed on. While it was overall a relief to his family because he had Alzheimer’s and no longer could feed himself, let alone recognize his own wife and children, it was still hard.

At the time, I lived in Texas whereas the rest of my family lived (still live) in Minnesota, so my mom told me she’d hold off on the funeral for a couple of days so I wouldn’t have to change the flight ticket I’d purchased for my annual trip home for Christmas.

It was a hard trip home.

Harder still was what happened a week later, on Christmas day. The nursing home where my grandmother was living called my mom to tell her that my grandmother was “not responding.”

In other words, she could not be awakened from her sleep of the night before.

My mom encouraged my sister and I to go visit our grandmother, believing it would be our last chance to see her alive.

My mom was right. A couple of hours after we returned from the poignant visit, the nursing home called to inform my mother that her mother had died.

Exactly a week after her husband, my father, had died. Just a few days after his funeral.

It was my first glimpse into how many people need to learn to handle grief and loss during the holidays.

How I coped

It was a bittersweet holiday, because the very day my father died, I fell in love with the man I knew I would marry one day. In fact, I told my Grandma as much at that last visit with her. She’d always asked me, during my visits to Minnesota, if I had found anyone special yet, so I had to tell her.

I know she heard me.

Despite the two painful deaths that holiday season, I had fallen in love. And when I returned to Texas, the new “high” of being in love trumped the grief.

Or so I used to think. The fact is, I stuffed the grief for fourteen years.

Fourteen.

Years.

Going through the motions

My romance with the Christmas season had started to fall away the year that my family had our last Christmas together before my dad was put into a special home for people with dementia. It was the worst Christmas day ever.

Suffice to say, neither my youngest sister nor I handled grief and loss during the holidays very well that year.

Then my grandparents (my grandpa was still alive at the time) ended up in a nursing home. A huge part of our family Christmas tradition had been to visit with my grandparents at their house on Christmas Eve.

When they sold their house and went into the nursing home, those days were forever lost.

Obviously, I would still go home to celebrate Christmas with my family, but it meant less and less with each passing year. My middle sister no longer participated, wouldn’t make the three-hour drive. (Long story, issues I’m still not certain of. Let’s just say her absence was both a blessing and a loss.)

 By the Christmas following my dad and grandma’s deaths, I was married. Those first two years J and I flew to Minnesota to celebrate with my family. But it started to feel more like drudgery than a celebration.

My reasoning then was that, thanks to my youngest sister, we couldn’t talk about Jesus. It frustrated me to no end. The year our son was to turn two, I told J that I couldn’t celebrate Christmas if I couldn’t celebrate the birth of Christ. So I called my mom and told her we wouldn’t be coming to Minnesota for Christmas that year.

She said, “Oh, I understand. You have your own family now and want to start your own Christmas traditions.”

 I didn’t bother to correct her.

The year B turned five, I had a bunionectomy right before his birthday in late November. Long story short, I felt like a cripple in those early weeks following the surgery, and could do nothing – nothing – to help decorate the Christmas tree that year.

So I handled grief and loss during the holidays as badly as I ever had – by wallowing in depression.

 I thought the depression stemmed from two sources: first, my inability to be active; and second, the fact that my worst Christmas nightmare had come true: for B, the holiday had become all about getting presents. Despite our best efforts to prevent that mindset, despite our limiting the gifts he received.

Not that those situations didn’t have a real impact on me,but it never occurred to me that I had never fully grieved the loss of my dad and grandma seven years earlier. Which was the real reason that, for the past several years, Christmas had gradually lost its joy for me.

I didn’t recognize it anymore. And I didn’t like what it looked like.

Not only had I not reconciled with having lost two loved ones right around the holiday, but I was also grieving for the loss of Christmas Past. For almost a decade, I’d just been going through the motions of celebrating, ignoring the pain in my heart.

Fast forward to two years ago, almost to the day I’m writing this post

We had picked out a little pine tree on our property to bring inside and decorate. We decorated it.

And all the while, I had this feeling of dread inside. Like we were doing the wrong thing. I prayed, and felt strongly that the Lord was speaking to me that we were not to celebrate Christmas. I found a video about the “evils” of celebrating a “pagan” holiday, had J and B watch it, and we promptly removed the decorations from the tree and tossed the poor little thing into the ditch.

And my heart broke into a thousand pieces. Even though B didn’t seem too upset about it, I felt horrible for him. How dare I take those precious family traditions and memories away?

I also screamed inside, “Why, God, why?”

I didn’t realize He had work to do.

A few days ago, it began

A few days ago, snow was predicted. Then “wintry mix.” Then snow again. Snow in early December is not typical where we live, and I got excited. Why?

I despise cold weather unless there is snow.

So I usually tell myself. But, since I’m spilling it all here, let me go all the way: I like snow in December, because I want a white Christmas.

Even if I’m not celebrating it.

But as the day when winter weather was predicted drew nearer, the chance of it diminished. Then turned into plain-old boring rain. Then went back to a higher chance of wintry mix.

God used this ever-changing weather forecast, I know, because it made me start to think about Christmas. Did God really have us to quit celebrating it because He considers it sinful? Because Jesus never commanded us to celebrate His birth? If so, why, for the past two Christmases, have I longed so desperately to bring it back into our lives? Because I’m a rebellious child?

An internal nudging began persuading me that I had misinterpreted the Lord’s intention for us hitting “pause” on the holiday.

I got mad at the meteorologists for pulling my chain. I got mad at God for telling us to stop celebrating Christmas. But why should I care if I’m never going to see snow again?

Three days ago, the real reason for my angst emerged.

I had – finally – started to grieve, really grieve, the loss of my father and grandmother. Especially Grandma. I began to miss them both. My heart yearned with a deep ache for “the good old days.” For the way Christmas used to be.

Grief and loss during the holidays became a reality for me.

I began to wonder if my mom still feels this way, fourteen years later. 

And, I cried. I cried off and on for two days. I told J all of what had been going through my head. I told him that I think that God hadn’t had us quit celebrating Christmas because it’s evil, or because it’s not really about Jesus. As I type these words, I’m confident in saying that God had us quit celebrating because in my heart, I was desperate to somehow turn the Christmas celebration with my son and husband into what it was when I was a kid.

How I healed, and how you can, too

I’ve missed celebrating Christmas the past two years. Felt depressed each December. Felt like God was punishing me somehow.

No. He needed to bring me to the breaking point where I would release the grief I’ve stuffed for so long. And where I would realize that it’s okay for Christmas Past to look completely different than Christmas Present.

If you have lost a loved one during the holiday season, and years later are still struggling with it, may I suggest that you haven’t fully grieved. You haven’t fully grieved the loss of the individual. Or what the individual brought to your life during Christmas. You may have been harboring anger toward God, and not let it out.

Let it all out. Preferably in the arms of someone who understands. Let yourself grieve the loss. Scream and cuss at God. He can take it.

That’s the first step toward healing. The next step is the one I’m taking now: to realize that Christmas can be celebrated in a myriad of ways. That as our seasons of life change, so do the ways we celebrate.

Embrace the changes. Seek the good in them. Understand that the past is in the past, and that’s a good thing, because you’re a wiser, stronger, more courageous person than you were back then.

I pray these many words help you to handle your own grief and loss during the holidays, and that, like me, this time of year will once again become a time of joy and sharing.

P.S. – As for whether my mom still grieves? I’m going to find out soon…when I call to ask if she’d like me to come home for Christmas this year.

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When You Think Nobody Cares

Question on Quora:

How do I get out of the “nobody cares” mindset?

My answer:

There’s an old children’s book lying around out there, entitled (I think) Buzz, Buzz, Buzz. It starts out with a bee stinging a farmer, then the farmer getting angry and taking it out on his…mule? Wife? I don’t remember. But it goes on, with each angry/annoyed animal/person causing a bigger problem as the domino effect continues.

The crux of the story is that one little action from a seemingly insignificant creature can lead to dire consequences.

On the flip side, one little action from a seemingly insignificant creature can lead to wonderful consequences.

Somebody cares about what you say. Somebody cares about what you do. Because whatever you say or do will have at least a small impact on somebody else. That impact may cause that other person to have an impact on somebody else, and that next impact may be bigger than the one you originally made – without realizing it.

The ripple effect is alive and well, whether we’re aware of it or not. And even if you will never meet the people whom you ultimate affect by your thoughts, words, and behavior, they care. Because their life was impacted.

The question is, will you cause a positive ripple or a negative ripple? Think about it, because the answer will impact more people than you ever realize.

That’s how you get out of the “nobody cares” mindset.

That, and possible a magnesium supplement to help you with depression.

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Does Everybody Have A Calling On Their Life?

“Does everybody have a calling on their life? If so, what is my calling?”

The very word “calling” causes confusion, especially among believers, because for a long time it has been used exclusively to refer to a person being called into ministry, usually to some position of leadership in the institutional church. Therefore, if God hasn’t called you into the ministry, you don’t have a calling on your life.

I’m about to turn that idea on its head.

In the last post, I explained that every human ever born shares the same purpose: to create. Every human ever born also has a calling, but each person is assigned a unique calling.

Yes, all believers are called to share their faith. to share the love of God with the world. A small minority are called to focus their entire lives on that. But everybody else has a specific calling that God assigns to them. This calling helps to fulfill:

  1. the individual’s creative purpose, and
  2. God’s plan for the world.

Note number two. It’s crucial. Reread it like this: “The calling God has placed on your life helps to fulfill God’s plan for the world.”

Reverse translation: if you don’t follow your calling, you become an obstruction for God’s plans.

Not that God can’t work His way around a person’s ignorance or defiance. We’d really be in trouble if that were the case, because many people never answer God’s call on their lives.

Now, don’t panic if you’re not sure what your calling is. It’s not that much more complicated than figuring out your purpose (which is really simple, remember?).

Your unique calling is the where, when, and how of the overarching “why”, or purpose, of your life: to create. Where, when, and how are you to create? When you can answer that question, you’ve figured out your calling.

First, understand this

The first thing you need to understand is that your calling will not necessarily remain the same for your whole life. Or, it may remain the same but take on a variety of hues.

For example, God has called me to teach. For thirteen years the calling had me in an elementary school. Now I teach adults how to live a more abundant life, and eventually will teach children again by way of creating homeschool materials for both parents and their children.

Same calling, different hues.

The four basic types of calling

The first kind of calling is situational. Many, if not most, people experience a situational calling at some point in their life. For some, it will be their sole calling. The situational calling happens when you realize that you can do something to help the situation you are in. You can befriend someone, you can gather and lead a team to accomplish a goal, you can meet someone’s basic needs. It can be as easy as sensing that you’re supposed to help support that orphanage you just heard about and send it a monthly donation.

Basically, you pay attention to the needs around you and respond in love, and with God’s wisdom.

The second type of calling is pain-driven. A traumatic event or chronic difficult situation that you’ve experienced earlier in life now drives you to help others in similar situation. A rape victim teaches basic self-defense to teenage girls and young women. A man whose alcoholic father beat him as a child might now act as an advocate for abused children, or might help rehabilitate drug-addicted parents. A cancer survivor teaches people with a cancer diagnoses about the importance of nutrition and diet, or runs a support group for the cancer patients and their family members.

You get the picture.

The third type of calling is missional. This is a “Go out into all the world” calling. All believers are supposed to share their faith wherever they are. Some are specifically called to travel the world to do so.

But missional callings aren’t strictly about faith-sharing. If you’re a doctor, you might feel called to travel to Third-World countries and teach people basic personal hygiene skills while helping villages to set up simple water sanitation systems. If you’re an author, you might set up free webinars where you teach your craft to budding writers from around the world.

Any skill or knowledge base you have that could help make the world a better place could be set into motion with a missional calling.

Finally, there’s the passion-based calling. This is probably the most obvious type, because when someone is passionate about a certain issue, or they love using a particular skill or talent that they have, it shows. It consumes most of their waking hours. If they don’t involve themselves in their passion for even one day, they wake up the next morning desperate to get back into it.

If they have to back away from their passion for more than a day – say, they get sick or something – watch out! They are going to get crabby! Because it’s frustrating not being able to indulge in your passion.

I know. My passion is writing. Fiction especially, but any kind of writing. If I don’t write something for three days running, I start to feel empty and restless.

The call to create

If you’re not sure what your calling is right now, assume it’s situational. Look around at your circumstances right now and figure out what you can do to help the other people involved in these circumstances. What abilities do you have that could create something positive? Take the next step that you see to take. And pray.

Always pray.

You won’t miss your calling that way. In fact, after reading this you may realize that you are already walking out your calling!

Look back at all the types of callings. Each one, however uniquely suited to an individual, demands some level of creativity. In what ways can you create? How can you apply your creativity to your life right now, to be a blessing to others?

Answer those two questions, and you will eventually step into your calling. The important thing when asking, “What is my calling?” is to just keep on stepping and praying.

To your abundance,

Emily

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“What is my purpose?”

“Why do I exist?”

“What’s the meaning of life?”

All questions people have asked for thousands of years – and which most supposed gurus have failed abysmally to answer correctly. Even today’s theologians and motivational speakers usually miss the boat on this.

I understand why. I used to think discovering one’s purpose was a complicated business that could take most of your life. It’s not that I was ever taught that directly, but both the religious and educational systems have a way of obscuring the issue. Because if either system answers the question truthfully, it will set off a domino effect that will eventually lead to its implosion.

If you’ve been asking, “What is my purpose?”, I have fantastic news for you.

The answer is simple.

It doesn’t take a degree in theology.

It doesn’t take a motivational guru’s long-weekend, thousand-dollar seminar.

It doesn’t take a list of steps that you have to get exactly right.

Knowing your purpose is easy. And simple.

Because every single human being who has ever been born, and will ever be born, shares the same purpose.

Your purpose is to create.

In the beginning…

If you went to Sunday school when you were a kid, you very likely learned that you were created in God’s image. Most of the time, the explanation of what that means is limited to having a spirit.

God is a spirit being, He created people in His image by endowing them with spirits.

True though that may be, it’s only half of what is meant by being created in God’s image.

In the beginning, what did God do?

He created.

As He is the Ultimate Creator, so is each person a creator. God created us to create.

We are all creative beings.

With a caveat. As everything that God created He declared to be “good”, so it is His will that your creative endeavors be a blessing to others, to leave the world a better place than you found it.

We are created to create more good, more love.

“But I can’t -!”

You may be thinking, “But I’m not creative! I can’t write. I can’t paint. I can’t sing. I can’t dance. I can’t even build a house out of Lego blocks!”

You’re thinking that because we’re all taught that being creative has to do with the visual and performing arts. But the ability to create goes much farther than the visual and performing arts.

You can create a positive atmosphere in your home or the grocery store by speaking positive words.

You can create a better day for someone by encouraging them and smiling at them.

You can create a more productive environment at work by guiding others to seek solutions to problems.

You can create a love of learning in a child by being there for them, and sharing your knowledge and wisdom in engaging and interesting ways.

You can create a better life for an orphan on the other side of the world by giving. Because creativity is often a cooperative endeavor.

Most plays have multiple actors, not to mention the scene builders, the director, and the stage manager. A choir is obvious a cooperative effort to produce a performance.

Creative acts often occur via team effort.

If you’ve been confused about what your purpose is, it’s time to make a paradigm shift. You were created to create.

Your purpose here on earth is to create.

You are a creative individual.

“I get it, but…”

Having read this article answering the question, “What is my purpose?”, you are now in one of two places. First, you may be feeling relieved.

“Oh, it’s that simple? Wow! I totally know what my purpose is!”

Second, you may still be mentally floundering. “So…I’m supposed to create. Fabulous. But what am I supposed to create? How do I figure that out? Or does just anything go?”

And there, we run into the concept of calling. Your calling is the what, where, and when (and often with whom) of your creative purpose. We all share the same purpose of creating, but calling is specific and unique to each individual.

In the next Motivational Monday post, I will delve into how to discover your unique calling. It takes a little more digging than the purpose question, but again, it’s not nearly as complicated as we’ve been led to believe.

In the meantime, you might want to check out an awesome tool that I created in order to help you live a more abundant life. Here’s the link to it: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1727320212

To your abundance,

Emily

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