The Surprising Power Of Condolences (And How You’re Teaching Me to Be a Better Friend)

In about six years, cancer ravaged my mom’s body. Her sixty year old frame looked about ninety-five by the time cancer was done with her. And watching it unfold – watching the disease hunch and disable her was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

When finally, mercifully, she was allowed to leave her body behind, e-messages and Facebook condolences from friends and family – and from Mom’s friends and family - filled my screens.
I didn’t think condolences would mean so much. But they did.

Thank you for taking the time to say anything when it’s hard to know what to say.
Thanks for thinking of me and my family. For praying and sharing memories. It all meant so much.
I felt loved. We all did.

The funeral followed fast on the heels of Mom’s death. In two days, how would we notify everyone? With such short notice, who would even be able to come? We wondered if expecting 250 people might be presumptuous. We knew people were busy on Saturdays. It would make perfect sense they wouldn’t come. Oh well, what it would be, it would be.

To our amazement, on the day of the funeral, the church was packed with no room for more. Over five hundred people came to bid farewell, to celebrate with us, and to support us. So many came who we never imagined would come. Friends. Acquaintances. People who were connected to just one family member but thought it important to show their love and support by attending. People who ‘don’t do funerals’. People who were part of a church or cell group, and came to support their sister in Christ. People who weren’t particularly close. People who found out about the funeral just minutes before, and raced over to show support.

I didn’t think funeral attendance would mean so much. But it did.
Thank you for attending. Thank you for standing with us in our grief.
Thank you for going beyond words and showing your love by giving of your time and support.
You move me.

I had no idea showing support through words and even attendance could be so powerful.

Your support communicated so much:

* That you genuinely care
* That people genuinely care.
* That even simple words like, “I’m sorry for your loss” can be inexpressibly heartfelt and sincere.
* That you hurt too – for us, for your own loss of relationship with Mom, or perhaps from the memories all this crying and funeral attending drudge up.
*  That sharing memories, even if through tears, is healing.
* There is incredible power in being together, even if we’re sitting together listening to a message or eating raisin buns. To some degree, we are in this together. There is comfort in that.
*That laughter and tears are both completely appropriate and wonderful in our mourning.

How You’re Teaching Me to Be a Better Friend

You got me to thinking. If your words and funeral attendance are so powerfully moving to me, I definitely want to do the same for others.

I haven’t. I didn’t attend the funerals of your mom, dad, grandparents, cousin, or friend.
I’m sorry. I didn’t realize it would mean so much.

I thought it would be more respectful to ‘give you space’. I didn’t want people to think I was coming to a funeral for the free food or something. I didn’t want to burden you with the cost of my meal or take the space of a seat from someone else who might mean more to you. Plus, what if I don’t know any of your friends or family? It would just be awkward. 

Now I see how silly that all is. How all-about-me it is. I'm sorry.

You showed me what a powerful, moving thing it is to have friends support you by coming to a funeral, awkward or not. Ah, thank you. I’ll try to be more supportive of you that way too.

I also didn’t realize how deeply moving receiving a casserole could be.
One day, when Mom was still struggling, and sadness was weighing my arms down, you made me soup and casseroles and chili. You must have known how sadness can make it impossible to cook. Or do laundry. Or have a shower some days. Really didn’t see that coming.

As I carried that foil tray into the house, I was humbled. You thought of me. You understood. You knew my needs and lovingly helped to fill them. Tears of thanks fell on the foil that day. You moved me. Thank you.

You showed me what a powerful, moving thing it is to receive a gift of food in times of mourning. I haven’t done much of that. I haven’t thought of it or understood the need for it. I'm sorry. Now that I understand, I want to do that for you too. Thanks for showing me how to be a good friend.

You also showed me the power of touch to communicate love. The way you put a hand on my shoulder, or wrapped your arms around me, or just hugged me really long and firmly. I’m not a super touchy person, but those occasional gestures seemed to come at just the right times. Thanks. I’ll try that more often too.

Even the peripheral, invisible, behind-the-scenes ways that love was shown ,even before the funeral, spoke volumes about the thousands of ways to show love.

I’m learning so much from you!!

Those times when Mom needed someone with her around the clock, you were there, day or night, for hours. Even if you had to drive a long distance to do that.

Every time you brought what Mom called ‘real’ coffee, or chocolate, or barbecue-flavored peanuts. Every time you sang or prayed or read with her. Every time you even asked her what you could do or bring her. When you washed her hair or fixed a hospital door or did anything at all to make life a little more pleasant in that horrific limbo.

In all of it, you were not just loving her, but also loving us. Loving me. Every time I’d see a new thing you brought, I’d smile and make a mental note of yet another way to show others love.

In all these ways, you’ve not only moved me with your love and compassion, but also shown me how to be a better friend.

Thank you so much. For everything.

When Christians Burn Out

I have beaten my share of dead horses.

Most of the time, I hate quitting. Whether it’s a job, a friendship, a project, or a ministry, my commitment continues even past the point where it is profitable. I figure every horse has its ticks, so quitting isn’t an option just because things get a bit difficult.

It’s not just stubbornness though, that keeps me going when something is difficult. I desperately don’t want to quit something if God’s intention is to have me weather a storm. When that storm hits then, and whatever horse I’m riding at the time begins to wobble, I try to stay on it until I have the clear and unmistakable go-ahead from God to let the horse die.

God takes His time in letting us know it’s time to move on though, doesn’t He?

There’s a wrestling that needs to happen – with our attitudes, assumptions, even with God himself. It can take months or even years before He reveals the next step. The hardest part is not knowing, in the waiting, whether we’re hanging on for the sake of loyalty or stubbornness, or because we’re truly waiting on God’s direction.

While we simultaneously wait on God and continue weathering the storm, we can get tired. Exhausted. Burned out.

It is possible to burn out even doing what God gives us to do.
​(And we don’t need to feel badly about it when it does.)

I should clarify. When I say we can burn out doing what God gives us to do, I do not mean to justify fleeing from pain. Burnout is also not the fatigue one gets from holding too tightly to what God asks us to let go. I also do not intend burnout to mean tiring from relying on ourselves instead of Jesus' provision.

Think of Elijah hiding in a cave, or David becoming weak and sorrowful. Both men were doing their best to follow the Lord, but at some points felt like they couldn't take it anymore.

Part of the wrestling we must do is to sift our motives with Jesus.

In my own state of burnout, I had become weak and sorrowful. Exhausted, irritable, and easily overwhelmed, I revisited the passage that had once inspired me into ministry in the first place. The true worship outlined in Isaiah 58 had once compelled me to serve the poor and homeless. The Lord faithfully led me to a perfect opportunity where my children could also join in. But five years later, feeling drained and used up, I read the passage again and discovered something I hadn’t seen the first time around.

​“The Lord will guide you continually,
giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength.”

It is simply assumed we will, at some point, become dry and weak. For the Lord to give us water when we are dry we would need to first become dry. A strong person does not need their strength restored. No, this promise is for someone who, while serving the Lord and doing what He has asked, has become weak and dry and in desperate need of refreshing.

This promise is for the obedient, burned out servant.

In the Isaiah 58 motivational call to service, there is a built in caveat for weakness and dry seasons. We will become weak and dry, and not because we’ve failed, but because we’re human. And it’s okay. God’s got our back and will refresh us. He will restore our strength and we will “be like well-watered gardens, like an ever flowing spring.”

If you are in a dry spell or feel weak and empty and all used up, let this encourage you. 

You are not failing

You do not need to feel guilty or believe your efforts were wasted. You also don’t need to feel guilty or lazy for needing and taking rest.

Receive the gift of rest, using the time to refocus your thoughts on Jesus. Trust him to grow the seeds He gave you to sow. He’ll bring the results. The more we trust Him with our stress and junk and weakness, the more room we have for thankfulness. The more we practice thankfulness, the more joy and peace we will experience, even in our weakest moments.  

Do not worry about anything, instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need, thank Him for what he has done, and the peace of God will fill your hearts as you live in Christ Jesus.” ​Philippians 4:6

Beauty - Not a Matter of Appearance or Feelings

When I consider what's beautiful to me, I think of a dad putting his own project on hold to spend time with his children. 

I think of the time I watched a woman slowly inch across the church foyer, helping a crippled young man hobble his way around. It took them forever to cross that foyer. Her patience and tenderness was absolutely beautiful and touched my heart.

​I'm betting though that it didn't necessarily feel pretty to her in the moment. I'd also bet her journey to becoming patient was hardly easy or fun.

Then there was the time I had risked going to town makeup-less and with bedhead... 

I prayed no one I knew would see me, and off we went to quickly run a few errands. 

At the car wash, our son and daughter, nine and eight, wanted to help. It was the first time they'd offered, and I was glad to take the extra time to let them join in. (I was also glad we weren't in a hurry that day.)

Abby and I purchased some lemon wipes and made quick work of the dashboard while Ethan vacuumed. Then Abby waited inside the van while Ethan and I washed the outside. 

I showed him how to hold the wand, and I held the hose while following close behind him as he washed. 

"Top to bottom," I'd instruct. "And side to side too - all the way to the edges." I had to repeat this instruction almost the whole way around the vehicle. He slowly, methodically moved the spray of water across every last inch of the vehicle. 

It was in this moment that a staff member walked through the car wash bays. We were the only ones there, and he looked at us with admiration. It's a difficult look to describe. He seemed to be beholding something beautiful. 

It surely wasn't meMy mid-thirties face was makeup-less, and my hair oily and askew.

No, the beauty he was beholding was a mom patiently instructing her young son in a manly task, and a son lovingly helping his mom. 

In that moment I felt God's approval, like that's how He feels when He looks at us. He loves it when we're just being us, and it's beautiful to Him. 

Beauty isn't a matter of appearance or feelings. 

When we think about what touches our hearts, we think of courage, patience, and kindness. These sacrifices of self are truly beautiful.

To be beautiful does not necessarily feel pretty. It is usually inconvenient, takes effort - great and painful effort at times. It feels like wrestling and work. It can even feel tiring.
And that's okay.

Keep going. Keep wrestling and giving and trying and relying on God.
You're more beautiful than you know. 

"... the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit is of great worth in God's sight" 
1 Peter 3:4

CEO Sleepout - My Night On The Streets...

Okay, it was not exactly a night on the streets. We had coffee, companionship, and all-night access to a biffy. Still, 34 CEOs gathered in the park last night to sleep under the stars, contemplating the issue of homelessness.  The event, put on by Today House Inc, aimed at raising awareness about the growing issue of homelessness in Steinbach, and the dire need for affordable housing.

I'd love to hear the experience others had - was it deep, life changing, surprising...?  

I attended as a volunteer with Steinbach Community Outreach. My hope was to learn more about what local programs offer, and to gain a sliver more of understanding about the life of someone who is homeless or desperately poor. 

As I attempted to squeeze everything into a backpack (we would each carry our packs on the walk across town to various organizations), suddenly everything I owned became impractical or unnecessary.  

And yes, to me gum for fresh breath is a necessity :)

Here's what I took. The weather was mild enough that I didn't need the toque, and it was too dark and busy to journal. But the sweater and wooly socks saved me. Ten degrees makes for one chilly sleep!

Packed and ready to go, I couldn't help pacing through the house, scanning each room for that one thing I must be forgetting. I ended up taking silent stock of all the things I wanted that I couldn't have. Coffee. Pillows. Sudoku. Light. Heat. A book to read. 

My heart rate quickened as I felt the twinge of leaving. 
...What would this be like if I were doing this for real? 

20C when I left, but anticipating 10C at night.
How to layer without wearing it all at once?
Tie it on ... everywhere.
A brisk 1/4 mile trek (each hauling our packs) to the soup kitchen started off the evening. We arrived tired and sweaty, starting to glimpse another reality. Over soup and a slice of bread, we listened to stories of people who come to the Soup Kitchen, and why. Regular people like you and me. Often things happened beyond their control. Poverty and homelesness can happen to anyone; even community leaders.
After touring three facilities (Soup Kitchen, Community Outreach and the local food bank), - about 2 miles in total - we heard speakers from other organizations describe their services and experiences with the poor and homeless. 
Presentations ended at midnight, with a smile and wave "Goodnight!"

40 people wandered the park, scouting the best sleep spots. 
What a weird exercise. 
What makes a good spot? How can there be such a thing? (I never realized how well-lit the park is...) I chose a patch of grass, tossed and turned for an hour, and gave up, deciding to chat by the fire instead.

Around 3:00am I gave in and scouted a spot by a bed of flowers. Stars shimmered above. The moon glowed beyond tall dainty flowers and it was so... breathtaking. I needed to capture the moment. 

But I couldn't.  
So I tossed the camera into my pack and tried to memorize the moment instead. 

After a few hours of sleep, I woke to the chatter of CEOs cupping warm coffee in the gazebo. Over donated muffins and cheese, we compared notes about the night. While we smiled and rubbed our eyes, news crews milled about taking pictures (oh goody) and interviews. (Here's one article & photo)

My Take Away: 

- I loved seeing community influencers participate. Some were immediately compelled to action and brainstormed solutions on the spot. They seemed like a caring bunch of leaders who were said to be 'generous' and 'hand-picked not because of their big wallets, but their big hearts'. I look forward to seeing fruit from this seed.

-Sleeping outside is tiring. The ground is cold and unforgivingly hard. Traffic whirs by unstopping, ambulances scream, and yellow light spills around every corner leaving a person exposed. It's not at all like the cowboy movies would have us believe... 

- There are so many compassionate people with so much love to give. I'm humbled to be part of this community - this team of servants. I was made to see some of my invisible teammates last night. I hope to remember that the next time I feel alone in ministry. Or the next time someone else does. We are not alone. 

Thank you to the Today House team for initiating this - for speaking and standing for those who can not. Thank you for using your skills, knowledge and influence to affect positive change and motivating your peers to do the same.  Thank you for letting me be a part of it! 


A Note From Inside the Cloud

A grey cloud of oppression has surrounded me in recent months, growing thicker and thicker. I feel it may be about to dissipate. (Lord, let it dissipate!)  The cloud is still here and thick, but I’m starting to remember what hope feels like.

I usually don’t mention it until I come out on the other side, but I wanted to, in this brief moment of remembering hope, share it with you. Maybe you’re in a cloud too, and need to hear it as much as I did this morning.

The heart-wrenching ache can come from anything: Mourning a loved one, grieving this dark world, or tiring of perpetually screwing up and falling short and of trying.  
Whatever the ache, it can become too heavy to bear.

I tend to hide. Because surely I have to fix this before I can come to God and offer myself again, right? But of course I can’t fix it, which means I can’t yet approach God, which  means I keep on hiding. 
The cloud thickens.

The glimmer of hope today is this: I can’t fix this.

The bar is too high. The pierce of this pain is too intense. I can’t hide and I can’t change.
This is the end of the road.  (Are you encouraged yet?)

Precisely where this road ends though, is where a new one begins.

Where I stop trusting myself 
    is where I start to trust God. 

If I can’t fix this or free myself, there is only One who can. And finally my eyes turn away from self and turn toward Him. And I’m sprawled before Him, face down, offering all that I am which is not much, but I’m too worn out to hide anymore.
Finally a shaft of light pierces the cloud and I can praise the One who can help me.

"Why am I discouraged?
Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
I will praise him again—" (Psalm 43:5)

"My Savior and my God! You are my King and my God.
You command victories for Israel.
Only by your power can we push back our enemies;
only in your name can we trample our foes.
I do not trust in my bow;
I do not count on my sword to save me.
You are the one who gives us victory over our enemies;
you disgrace those who hate us.
O God, we give glory to you all day long
and constantly praise your name." (Psalm 44:4-8)

The ache is still there, but I’ll praise Him anyway. Practice trusting Him anyway.
And ask friends to join me in praying against this oppression. (thank you friends!)

And most of all, I will decidedly, intentionally, fiercely
fix my eyes on Him, the Author and Perfector of my faith
who is good and able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until the day of his return. (2Tim1:12)

“And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.” (Heb12:1,2)

May we be kept safe and encouraged, 
enduring to the end 
by His grace.