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#Blessed: How my view of blessing shifted after my husband’s death

Posted by | death, finishing well, gifts, Pinterest, sharing faith, Stories, struggle | 2 Comments

A few years ago, I received a gift. It was a canvas that artfully displayed this phrase: “Thankful, Grateful and Blessed.”

I hesitated to display it in my home. You see, I struggled with the word “blessed.” About the time my husband Ericlee was diagnosed with melanoma cancer in 2014, a hashtag became popular on social media. On Twitter, Facebook and Instagram posts, people began to use #Blessed as a way to “humbly brag” about their lives.

Family Christmas photos with folks in coordinating Christmas outfits, Pinterest-perfect dining room tables, delectable meals at restaurants and announcements of fabulous job promotions were posted with #Blessed.

Ironically, my husband’s nickname during college was “Blessed Boy” because of all the amazing things he experienced. His friends teased him for the ways he excelled in sports, the gifts he received, and the way he seemed to sail through life.

When Blessed Boy was diagnosed with stage four cancer, I began to question it as his wife. At the time, all those #Blessed social media posts pricked my heart. I found myself wrestling with God and asking:

Are we still blessed on the hardest days?

Are we only blessed when life goes according to our plans?

Are we blessed even in the face of disease and death?

The dictionary tells me the word “blessing” means favor or a gift bestowed by God. In Genesis 1, we see how God blessed His people from the very beginning.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them.

– Genesis 1:27-28 (ESV)

Somewhere along the way though, the meaning of the word blessed has become skewed and overused. As American Christians, we often refer to material blessings and a life full of ease and privilege as #Blessed.

Is this really what blessing is all about?

Kate Merrick says it this way in her book, And Still She Laughs: “We throw around the word blessing haphazardly, as if God is a supernatural Santa Claus waiting to bring treats to good little girls and boys.”

Kate helped me set my theology straight. We do not receive blessing from God because we deserve it, because we have served him a certain way, because we have gone to church 3 out of 4 Sundays this month. In fact, we cannot earn His blessing at all. It’s a gift. Freely given. Undeserved.

Blessing is about being loved deeply by our Creator God. We are blessed when we possess that peace that surpasses understanding, when we receive the help of the Holy Spirit, when we feel the tender comfort of the Father.

Matthew 5 helps drive home this idea that blessing is not quantified by our possessions, but by the condition of our spirits.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

-Matthew 5:3 (ESV)

So let’s be clear. If you’re widow, a single mom, an orphan, a homeless family or a community in the path of a hurricane, blessing is still yours. In fact, you are smack in the middle of the blessing, according to Matthew 5:4-5:

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

-Matthew 5:4-5 (ESV)

Jesus concludes this section about what it means to be blessed with this encouragement:

“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

-Matthew 5:12 (ESV)

I have learned two things about blessing: We are not blessed because of what we acquire but because of what has been gifted to each one of us. The ultimate blessing is eternal life we receive because of Christ’s sacrifice and His daily presence with each one of us.

When my husband was battling cancer, God was with us in the waiting rooms. He was with us during the surgery. He was with us during the painful nights. We felt Him in the scriptures we read. We heard Him in the echoes of the worship music we listened to around the clock. His presence was profound as the days passed and the cancer coursed through Ericlee’s body. We were not alone. God was with us, and that was our blessing.

Second, we have the opportunity to bless others when we multiply a perspective of gratitude to God through hardship.

My dear sister-friends in Haiti have magnified this for me. I have visited and worked in Haiti for almost 17 years now. Every time I go and spend time there I am inspired by my friends who live in abject poverty with unspeakable challenges, but still see life as a blessing. They worship with such passion because they know God is with them through every storm.

After Ericlee’s death, I was challenged as a widow to daily look for God around me. I practiced gratitude to lift me from the heaviness of grief. When my eyes were on the swelling colors of the sunset or my daughters dancing in the yard, I felt blessed. When I filled my lungs with oxygen, I felt blessed. I was reminded that my Creator God was with me. He comforted me on the darkest days of grief. This was a profound blessing.

This past week one of my dear mentor-friends Eunie McEntee soared into Heaven. Although Eunie battled ocular melanoma cancer for the last several years, she modeled how to truly live blessed by blessing others.

The root of the word blessed in Hebrew means “to praise, to fill with strength, to adore.” According to these definitions, Eunie lived a blessed life. It wasn’t an easy life. It wasn’t a life that was pain-free. Yet her life pointed everyone she came into contact with back to Jesus. She was strengthened in her trials and used them as an opportunity to strengthen and bless others.

I remember her talking about how ocular melanoma cancer actually gave her new eyes to see from God’s perspective. She overflowed with grace and gratitude. I know her reward is great in Heaven today because of the investment she made in others for His glory.

We have to be careful about how we throw around hashtags and statements about blessing. If I scroll through #blessed on Instagram, I might confuse blessing to mean something it’s not. Blessing always turns the glory away from us and back to God.

 

I would love to connect with you more personally on your journey. Subscribe here for my weekly, Glorygram email full of encouragement, recommendations and resources.  

Photo by Kayle Kaupanger on Unsplash.

 

10 creative ways to honor a loved one’s memory (and clean out the garage)

Posted by | cooking, creativity, death, family life, gifts, grief, hope, Pinterest, Stories, transitions | 5 Comments

Have you recently lost a loved one? Do you know someone who has? Perhaps one of the biggest challenges after the funeral is figuring out what to do with all the stuff left behind. Last week I posted a blog about “Sorting through a loved one’s treasures.” I shared my personal story of sorting through my late husband’s belongings after his death. That sorting was much harder than I anticipated mostly because I had to make so many difficult decisions about what to keep and what to give away or donate.

While it was easy for me to purge my own excess clothes and my kids’ toys, it was excruciatingly hard to decide what things of my husband’s to pass on. Should I keep his T-shirts, his shoes, his journals? What about his G.I. Joe collection, his CrossFit equipment, his childhood photo albums? And all those boxes of books from his days teaching and coaching? What would be meaningful for my girls to have in our new home? What would we want in the future? My mind swirled with a thousand questions and angles to look at each piece.

Here’s the reality: I couldn’t keep everything.

Before moving to our new house, I did the bulk of the sorting. I cried a lot of tears. I shared a lot of items with family and friends. By the end of that month of sorting, I was exhausted physically and emotionally. The final items I packed up into about 10 boxes and brought them with me.

I have a confession. Those boxes are still sitting in my garage and we can’t park my car in there quite yet. It’s a work-in-progress. I’m giving myself grace today as the courage rises in me to tackle the sorting again soon.

As promised, this week I’m returning with some practical and creative ideas on how to preserve a loved one’s memory without having to put up with a garage full of stuff. There are hundreds of ideas out there if you search Google or Pinterest. This is a specially-curated list of unique ideas I completed or plan to create in the future.

If you know someone grieving the loss of a loved one, these also could serve as meaningful gifts you could help make or buy.

  1. Make a photo memory book. My husband loved photos. He had albums from holidays, sports events, memorable trips and teams he coached. Photos are difficult to throw away but albums also take up a lot of space. One idea is to scan some favorites and put them into a digital memory book. Think of it as a “Best of” album. I love to use Shutterfly or Picaboo. Once the photos are uploaded to one of these sites, you can choose your own layouts or have the program assemble the book using premade templates. This is one way to consolidate and preserve photos without having to store a lot of different albums. You can view the book online or order a printed copy.
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  3. Frame a recipe or letter. Recipes are not just instructions on how to make something. They also tell a story about the person who made the food. If your loved one left behind recipe cards in their handwriting, you might consider framing it as art for your kitchen. You can do the same with a special letter or card. This is a precious way to showcase your loved one’s handwriting. You never know when you might want Grandma’s secret sauce recipe or that favorite cookie recipe your mom made at Christmas.
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  5. Sew a Memory Pillow. I asked a friend of mine who likes to sew to help me make these special pillows using a pattern we found. You can take button-down shirts your loved one left behind and cut them to make into pillow cases. We each selected one of my husband’s favorite shirts. My friend sewed them and we slipped pillow forms inside. My girls especially loved this because the memory pillows are something to hold and hug when they miss Daddy. Some people put special tags on the pillows. We love the ones that say, “This is a shirt I used to wear. Whenever you hold it, I am there.”
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  7. Decorate with books. My husband had a large collection of books and combined with my own collection it was way too much for our new home. A recent trend in home decorating is the use of old books. I got this idea to select some of my husband’s special books like his Bible, favorite devotionals or even coaching books to stack around our home for people to peruse. Books tell a story of a person’s interests and loves. If you prefer not to have fingers staining the pages of the books, you might tie them together with raffia or twine and stack them on the mantel, place them in a vintage bird cage or in a glass case.
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  9. Download pictures and documents to a drive. We had pictures and videos my husband took stored on all different devices. One of my goals is to consolidate all these digital images and even documents written by my husband on to one hard drive or thumb drive. It might not sound very aesthetic but I know these may be important in the future as I am trying to share my husband’s legacy with my daughters and perhaps grandchildren. The devices can be disposed of or sold and the treasured files will be preserved.
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  11. Piece together a T-shirt quilt. My husband was an athlete and he had quite a collection of T-shirts from special races and sports events. As a gift, his mom had a T-shirt quilt made using his favorite T-shirts. This is something that can be used daily, or displayed, or even passed down to future generations as a memory of his athletic achievements.
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  13. Assemble a memory box. This is a great project to do with little ones. You can buy a wooden box, use a small vintage suitcase or even a shoe box to create your memory box. Some people decorate the outside of the box with the loved one’s name or paint it a favorite color. The box can be filled with special items like photographs, keepsakes like a yo-yo, a medal, jewelry, a ticket stub, a favorite pen or cologne. I hope to work on this with my daughters so they each have some things that will remind them of their dad and time they had together.
  14. Order a piece of handwriting jewelry. I recently ran across this idea of taking something handwritten by a loved one and making it into jewelry. A quick search for “handwriting jewelry” on Etsy, for example, results in a lot of options of vendors who can artfully complete this project for you. I think these would make beautiful gifts with a message “written” by that loved one or even their signature.
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  16. Share the wealth. Many people have collections of certain items from china to figurines to baseball cards to other items. If you don’t want to keep an entire collection, you might select a few items and then divvy up the collection to family members who can display them or appreciate them in their own way. For example, my husband had a large collection of Christmas ornaments. Our first Christmas without him we invited over some close friends to help decorate our tree. We let all of the kids select an ornament to take home to remind them of my husband. I can still see the delight on the little boys’ faces as they held tightly to their Superman, G.I. Joe, Spiderman, Luke Skywalker and other ornaments.
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  18. Create a time capsule. As mentioned in my article last week, there were some items left behind by my husband that I just couldn’t decide whether or not to save. Give yourself a gift in the future. Pack these things into a box labeled with your loved one’s name and the words “time capsule.” You might have more energy at a later date to make those kinds of decisions and discover then something you really wanted to keep. This was a reminder I didn’t have to complete all the sorting in one season. It was very freeing for me.

 

Do you have more creative ideas you have seen or used to preserve a loved ones things without filling up your whole garage or storage unit? I would love to hear about them. Please leave a comment below or feel free to come back and share if one of these 10 suggestions works for you!

Last month I did a series on “Navigating Grief When Life Moves Forward.” In case you missed it, I encourage you to check out some of the articles or share with a friend who is grieving:

The Garden – an introduction to the series

Grieving Together – an article on grieving with children

Choosing Joy – a guest post about a spouse choosing joy even on a long cancer journey

When a Grandparent Dies – a guest post about how one mom is navigating her own grief and grief with her kids

Facing Triggers and Trauma – an article about steering through grief when triggers and trauma color the journey

When You are the Caregiver – an article about navigating grief and feelings of guilt when you have a front-row seat to a loved one’s decline

When You Have to Say Goodbye to the Place Your Heart Calls Home – a guest post exploring the idea of “good grief” we experience when we are uprooted from a place or home we love

When You’ve Experienced Pregnancy Loss – a guest post sharing a first-hand experience with miscarriage and stillbirth.

Navigating Grief When Someone You Love Dies Suddenly – a guest post sharing about the sudden death of her mother.

Would you like a copy of my FREE resource for “Grieving with Kids“?

I’m passionate about meeting people in their grief and sharing a message of hope and glory. Let’s connect!