As soon as I said it, I wanted the words back.
Even now I wince at my blunder. I’d had such good intentions to minister but I was pretty naïve about these situations. As a young 20-something mom fresh out of grad school, I just had no experience dealing with that degree of suffering.
Our music minister’s wife had end-stage breast cancer. When the list was passed around the choir room to bring meals, I signed up. I was fine cooking the meal and delivering it. But now standing at the door with my casserole in hand, I suddenly felt unprepared with what to say.
The minister’s adult daughter took the meal at the door without inviting me in. The house was dark and quiet behind the open doorway and my cheerful smile sobered as I handed her the dinner.
That’s when I added : “And I’m sorry the radio license was denied,” thinking my words were helpful but immediately sensing it was not the time or place.
In my defense, her father had been working to open a Christian radio station and our church was praying with him that a license would be awarded. Earlier that day, we’d learned it’d been denied and, of course, I was sorry for this disappointment.
But now it felt like heaped on hurt as I mentioned it. Really, Lisa? Her mom lay terminally ill in another room and I realized how out of place my words sounded.
That wasn’t the only time I blundered when I was trying to help. Or missed signs altogether that help was needed.
I think we’ve all probably been there at some point — wondering what to say and what not to say. Wondering whether we should go or whether we might be intruding. Wondering how to really give the kind of help that’s needed and not just a general, feel-good prescriptive.
I have wizened over the years and — especially in the last few years of our own deep grief — learned from the receiving end what’s really helpful. I’ve learned so much watching those around me who really love their neighbor well and are comfortable doing it.
“We are meant to be part of the physical, human illustration of God’s power. We are meant to help, heal, minister to, and love someone for His sake. And in the midst of brokenness, there’s no better time to love our neighbor than the present.”
Those words are from Sarah Beckman, author of Alongside: A Practical Guide for Loving Your Neighbor in their Time of Trial.
And this book is most certainly a practical guide. I was delighted to find this book is not all fluffy platitudes but chock-full of hands-on advice and ideas for how to really help our neighbor, our friend, our co-worker who finds herself facing a diagnosis or death or real difficulty.
I have dog-eared, underlined and made copious margin notes in my copy of Alongside. Sarah writes from her own experience both receiving help when she needed it and walking through terminal illnesses with several friends and family members.
She shares lists of online sites to coordinate help; guidelines when giving help; how to respect the recipient while helping; how to listen, what to say and what not to say; gift suggestions for men, women, teen, children and families; how to pray; how to look for special needs and long-term needs and more.
Alongside is more than a general why-we-should-help-others book. Sarah has pulled together a well-researched, deeply-resourced book with practical steps we can use to reach out and love others well. And I'm so excited, not just to now have this resource on my shelf, but to help celebrate it's release.
I have been fascinated with This is Us. I stopped watching at one point because of some content, but I kept getting pulled into the primary storyline — Jack’s death and its impact on his family.
If you’re not a This is Us viewer, the show follows three 40-year-old siblings, interplaying scenes from their current lives with their growing up years. Their father, Jack, is a phenomenal dad and husband. The show’s only revealed that Jack died when the kids were teens and though Jack’s death impacts nearly every substory, we’ve not yet been told the full story.
I’ve watched This is Us like I’m watching a documentary. How will they handle Rebecca’s grief? How does the family absorb such shock? How do his children get from there to here?
It’s not just Jack’s death. This is Us has spent whole episodes on the dying and death of William, another on Dr. Katowski’s grief after his wife died. The show unfolded the grief of losing one of the triplets and the death of William’s mother.
Unlike any other show in recent memory, This is Us is laced with grief – and surprise, surprise — has gotten so much right. So far, here’s what This is Us gets right about grief.
Let people grieve at their pace
Tuesday’s show opened as Beth assured Randall he didn’t have to do anything with William’s things just yet. This is such grace. Everyone processes grief differently. Some need to move forward quickly; others need to process more slowly. Some need to be with people; others need more alone time. Instead of imposing arbitrary timelines and expectations, we need to give grace to let people grieve at their own pace.
Share your stories
So many tears Tuesday but especially when the postman asks about William. Sure, it felt a bit personal and awkward but did you see how healing it was when he shared memories of William that Randall never knew? That is pure gift — unearthed treasures of how your loved one impacted others.
Say their name
The postman also got this right – he said William’s name. We tend to think saying the name of a child who died in a car accident or the wife who died of cancer will make it hurt worse. But it’s actually a healing balm to hear the name of someone we love. Even when it brings tears, they are good tears that bring with them a flood of warm memories.
Celebrate the things they loved
Randall’s daughters chose to celebrate their grandfather’s life with the things he loved — his favorite breakfast, a walk down the street wearing hats like his. What a way to cherish the life that was. Maybe it’s buying the coffee he always bought or a yearly trip to her favorite restaurant. When we remember “Daddy would have loved this” and “this was one of Dad’s favorite places,” it stirs up rich memories we want to hang onto.
Little things are missed most
When Beth “toasts” William, she notes the little things – hearing his humming every morning as he brushed his teeth. “I can look all over this house and see the memories we shared.”
In grief, you realize the little things are big things. It’s not the nice vacations or fancy dinners out that are missed. It’s hearing him walk through the kitchen door each night, seeing his grin across the table, cleaning the shaving cream left in the sink each morning. Grief is a thousand daily losses.
Death forever divides time
“We’ll remember things as before William and after William,” Beth says. Loss is a hinge on which one door closes and another opens. It forever alters the trajectory of life. It separates not just people, but a way of life. Life is divided and defined as before he died, and after he died.
Stuffing grief won’t prevent it
We’ve seen hints that Kate is stuck in her grief. Randall wisely tells her to let her feelings out. The depth of sadness, despair, anger and fear in grief is physically painful and emotionally wrecking. And while I’m no grief counselor, I’ve seen that if we don’t allow ourselves to fully feel grief, we will not process it. Stuffing and ignoring don’t eliminate grief; they postpone it.
The impact is forever
There’s not a season of grief that’s over and done. It may look different, less intense, but the impact of loss will be felt forever. Jack’s death hangs over the entire storyline in This is Us because grief changes who you are. Grief is the last part of a love relationship.
Of course, what This is Us never addresses is Christian grief. Grief for the believer is always hemmed with anticipation and hope. Though we grieve deeply, we do not grieve as those without hope.
For the believer, death may have altered the trajectory of this life, but it points us to the direction we’re ultimately headed.
While grief may feel like a forever impact, it’s a momentary loss on eternity’s line.
And the loss that cuts so deeply here is incomparable to the fullness that waits for us in heaven.
This post first appeared at LisaAppelo.com. You can read our story here and have new encouragement delivered straight to your inbox by subscribing here. I’d love to send a free 100 Days with Christ Bible study and journal.
This would be the year he’d learn to swim.
Getting my toddler ready for his first day of lessons, I calmly met each anxious question.
Thing is, with a pool in our backyard and summer highs hitting triple digits, learning to swim is a necessity.
As I walked him to the pool, I convinced him enough just to sit at the pool’s edge with his classmates.
The instructor started slowly – teaching the kids to blow bubbles at the surface and progressing to skim boards powered by energetic kicking. Finally, one by one, she took each toddler underwater as they held their breath.
Matt took one look and ran – past me and out the gate.
I knew his fears were unfounded. As a parent, it was so easy to see that he could do this. In fact, if he could get past his fear, he’d actually love it.
But his fear stopped him from seeing any of that.
Finally, one evening, I got in our pool with him. I held him tight and reassured him that I’d go underwater with him.
“Ready. Set. Go!” We sucked in our breath and ducked underwater and then back up.
See? You did it. Again and again, down and up, down and up, me holding him underwater and then back up together, Matt learned there was nothing to fear. In fact, he actually liked it.
Most of us have fears that keep us just as paralyzed. We hold onto anxieties of what-if’s as we sit on the edge of unknown tomorrows.
Some of my fears are those tasks that seem impossible — so far outside my comfort zone I don’t even know where to start.
Some of my fears stem from things outside of my control. Will the economy tank? Will something happen to my health?
I have fears regarding my children. What kind of choices will they make out on their own? Will she be okay driving home on the interstate?
Even when I step out in faith, I’m surprised at the fear I can often take along with me, wondering whether it will all pan out.
We may live in a world of unknowns but God does not intend for us to walk through it scared.
But you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear but you received the spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba. Father.”
Fear keeps us bound up — sidelined so that we never take the plunge God has for us. It keeps us wrapped up so tight we’re unable to freely and fully live out our days.
Fear takes up residence in places where peace and joy belong.
But how? How to root out the fearful thoughts, the angst that awakens and settles in the dark hours, the paralysis that would keep us stuck on the edge?
We can trust His love.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear. 1 John 4:18
The opposite of fear is not faith. The opposite of fear is love.
Only when Perfect Love has come into every corner of our thoughts and emotions and tomorrows can we realize there is no room left for fear.
And so we wrap ourselves in God’s perfect love rather than wracking ourselves with unproven fear.
Living enough years gives perspective to look back and see: not one of those fears that I ever conjured up has come to be.
Interestingly, the one thing I never, ever thought would happen – never gave it a thought or had one second of fear over – has happened.
And yet, even in this, God has held us tight. Even as it’s ushered in all new fears, God pulls me to Him, to allow His Perfect Love to crowd out any space for fear.
We can trust His love.
This was originally posted at LisaAppelo.com. If you'd like to know when new posts are up, subscribe here and I'll send the free 100 Days with Christ Bible reading plan and journal.