Whether you or a loved one has bad health, confusion may mess with your head. You may ask, “What did I do to deserve this?” You may feel anger and despair and fear. Fear of invasive tests, fear of bad news, even fear of God’s disfavor.
Have you faced serious illness? What emotions coursed through your veins? Did you come out better for it? Or worse?
My Bad Health Story
No physical illness runs in my family. Mental problems do. Anxiety, depression, bi-polar disorder.
During my childhood, my dad walked in the shadows of depression. He rarely smiled. He shuffled and spoke in monotone. No one talked about it. I had no idea how to handle it. I thought I was the problem.
If only I got better grades. . .
If only I kept my room clean. . .
If only. . .
My mom devoured romance novels. Potato chips and French onion dip put on pounds on her frame. (For more on the stigma of depression in the church, listen to this clip from my online radio show.)
My brother managed, barely. In school he pulled Cs, Ds, and Fs, though his IQ topped 140. In eighth grade three classmates bullied him. They pushed him off the gym bleachers, made him kiss the floor, pummeled him, and threatened to kill him if he told anyone. Only when my mom found hidden bruises on his torso did he tell his secret. One of the bullies was sentenced to juvy. The other two were suspended. And we. . .moved. To Florida.
The Better Solution
Bad health may have an emotional cause or physical root. Heart disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis, lupus, fibromyalgia, diabetes, hypothyroidism, and other illness invades one’s daily existence. This is why you’ll begin finding hope when you acknowledge the reality of the changes and keep life as normal as possible.
Depending on the illness, there are physical changes such as bloating and hair loss. Medications come with nasty side effects. Emotionally, the ill person may feel helpless and hopeless. Fear saddles her. Spiritually, she may cling to Jesus or blame him for allowing the illness and wrecking her life.
What to Do
Here are three helpful things to say and do, and three things to avoid.
To say and do:
1. Say “I admire your courage.”
2. Ask, “Can I grocery shop, take you to the doctor, or clean the bathroom?”
3. Play an uplifting CD or make a delicious, healthy soup (see below).
1. “I know exactly how you feel.” You don’t.
2. Make a lengthy phone call to her. Stick to 10 minutes unless she asks to talk longer. Add another 10 minutes tops. Use a timer.
3. Pretend nothing is wrong, like my family did.
May I Share a Recipe?
This first appeared in my book The Vegetarian Child (Perigee, 1997). I hope you like it.
Creamy Broccoli Soup
A creamy soup with no cream? That’s right. The secret is pureed potatoes, which add extra nutrients to the soup without a smidgeon of fat.
2 cups chopped fresh broccoli
3 ½ cups vegetables stock or 3½ cups water with 1 vegetable bouillon cube
4 potatoes, peeled and cubed
½ onion, chopped
½ to 1 tablespoon fresh cilantro
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Place all the ingredients except the salt and pepper and ½ cup vegetable stock or water in a large pot. Bring to a boil, cover and cook over medium heat until tender, about 20 minutes. Set aside ½ cup broccoli to use as garnish.
Puree the remaining contents of the pot, a batch at a time, in a blender or food processor. Be sure to fill the blender or food processor no more than 2/3 full. Return the pureed soup to the pot. Add the remaining vegetable stock or water, season with the salt and pepper, and simmer 5 minutes. Pour the soup into individual bowls and top each one with the reserved broccoli garnish. Serve warm.
Serves 6. Per serving: 91 cal; 3 g prot; 0.2 g fat; 21 g carb; 0 chol; 368 mg sod; 2.7 g fiber
Is Mother’s Day hard for you? It is for me. And for three kids.
It’s tough for me because my mom (top photo, above) was my best friend and she died in the middle of the night. Too soon. Only 62. Sudden heart attack. I cried on and off for two years. Have you grieved deep too? Have you wet pillowcases with your tears and crumpled used tissues?
It’s tough for my kids because they have never met their biological mothers: Belinda, Nari, and Oksana. Two of the three have made a sort of peace with this primary loss, this absence. “Why did she give me up?” — their spoken words. Their deep, deep heart cry: “Wasn’t I good enough? Didn’t she love me?” I rattled the right adoptive mom lingo, “She made an adoption plan for you because she wasn’t married, didn’t have family support, or the money to raise you, and she made the best choice she could.”
These well-meaning words to my children fall flat. They don’t answer their deepest question. And they don’t answer mine.
Why, God, did you choose to take Mom to her true home the year I needed her most?
He showed me the answer in the Bible, an answer I didn’t like but over time accepted.
The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. Job 1:21
Did your mom or mom-in-law pass away this year? Or did your child die? Are you trying to get pregnant and each passing month your sadness deepens? Perhaps you have another reason for yuck on Mother’s Day.
You’d think a day of celebrating moms couldn’t hurt. For many, many of us it does. We have to find new ways to celebrate.
When my mom died 22 years ago, I selected a poem for her “In Memory of” card. I had little time to choose it, for no one expected her to pass on. . .yet. As tears wet my cheeks, I slow-motioned to my bookshelf to find Seasons of Your Heart by Macrina Wiederkehr. Years before, Wiederkehr’s way with verse had awakened my senses to seeing God in the ordinary: shopping malls and maple trees, teacups and Christmas lights, breadcrumbs and bare feet.
I needed her words now. I needed God now.
Life had become ugly. I ached for beauty and brightness.
Finding an Answer
As I read and reread the poetry, trying to find just the right verse, my broken heart started healing. Hope was returning. Oh. . .so. . .slowly.
Then I turned a page and found the one. Excited and happy yet fragile and sad, I carefully copied a part of the verse, perfect in its expression of my mom.
I looked for myself
in so many places
and then, in my weariness
I forgot about myself
and looked for You.
I found myself there
waiting for me
I am beautiful at last.
We women won’t find true beauty at work or in the cocktail lounge. It’s not at the salon or the PTO. You won’t even find it in the mirror.
True beauty, the kind that matters, is in Christ alone. He defines you. He says you are valuable and strong and beautiful, my sister in Christ.
A New Celebration
Ever since my mom died, I began a new celebration that soothes my soul. On Mother’s Day I plant bright and hard-to-kill flowers — no green thumb here! — tucking them by this maple and that birch, and in pots all around. It’s my living Mother’s Day card. As their roots grow deep and their petals unfurl, I remember. I remember the flavor of my mom’s spaghetti, the way she walked tall, the scratch of a match to light her cigarette. I also remember God’s faithfulness to me on the blackest of days.
My prayer is my children discover their own celebrations for their birth moms. One has spoken of a tattoo: “Love is patient, love is kind. . .It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.” 1 Corinthinans 13
Beautiful. Just beautiful.
You can heal after a child’s death. Or any loss. Your path is grief, messy grief.
Did you know that the world’s way of grieving leads toward hopelessness, while God’s plan for grief brings healing and draws you closer to him?
This is the fifth of eight posts in the blog series “Mending a Broken Heart.” My prayer: You’ll experience hope and healing as we journey through the pain of tough stuff like abuse and divorce and addiction and the death of a child. You can read the first four posts here. Please contact me with any questions, comments, and prayer requests. I’m here for you.
My Facebook buddy Kc Christman Hutter, author of A Broken Heart, grieved the death of her son Cam, who died of acute leukemia at age 32. See what happened during his last seven days on earth before he entered glory.
Grieve but How?
You’re familiar with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ five-stage model of grieving, based on her research into how terminally ill patients handle the news of their illness:
from denial (“this can’t be true!)
to anger (“why me? why my child?”)
to bargaining (“God, if you heal my child then I’ll be the best mom ever”)
to depression (“yes, me. . .yes, my child”)
and finally acceptance (“life goes on but how?”).
Is this the best way to grieve?
The widely accepted model of grief is world-based, not Word-grounded. It describes how people typically grieve; it fails to prescribe a better way. It’s normal to hurt when a child or other loved one dies. It’s normal to hurt when you face any loss: a job, a friendship, a pet, health. It’s necessary to grieve.
What is this Word-grounded grief, this godly grief? How do you begin?
The apostle Paul knew hurt and grieve and he shared candidly with the believers in Corinth. Listen for his honesty. “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life” (2 Corinthians 1:8).
The First Two Steps of Godly Grieving
Paul expressed truth of suffering and grief. No sugar-coating. No denial.
Kc Hutter didn’t fake it either.
I needed to grieve. My heart demanded it. The first night after his death, I took a sleeping pill and had a horrendous nightmare. In the vivid scene, I was myself being sucked out into the ocean. No boat, no Cameron, only a wooden plank. I grabbed the plank and hung on until my muscles hurt and my red, bloody fingers ached. Finally my body numbed. Blackness enfolded everything. . ..I knew I could drown in my sorrow. This grief for my son seemed never ending. I wanted to die. But as a Christian, I felt ashamed of those feelings. Rest came for a few minutes and only when I put myself under the wings of my heavenly Father. I have hope. But how can I make it though each day?
1. Candor. This is the first stage of biblical grieving, says Robert Kellemen in God’s Healing for Life’s Losses. If you’re stuck in grief, I highly recommend you read Kellemen’s book. It renews your thinking about suffering and guides the reader from hurt to hope.
I remember when I learned my mom died. A phone call. Horrid, blackened news from a police officer. My first response: “Is this some sick joke?” Once I grasped the truth — and this took several days, for others it may be weeks — I felt crushed, my heart heavy like boulder.
Kellemen invites us to honestly voice our pain like the psalmist David, fearless facing the facts: “I hurt.”
“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” (Psalm 42:5)
Denial doesn’t work. Candor does.
2. Complaint. Did I just write complaint as though I recommend you scream, “God, how could you allow this evil, this suffering, this horror?”
Biblical complaint is a lament, complaining to God not about God. As Kellemen says, “The Scriptures are clear–God invites lament, complaint. The Bible repeatedly illustrates believers responding to God’s invitation with honest words that would make many a modern Christian shudder” (God’s Healing for Life’s Losses, p. 32).
Can you guess Satan’s counterfeit to biblical complaint? Unhealthy, destructive anger, the type that accuses God of evil-doing, of lacking goodness.
I confess that after my mom died, I told God he made a mistake. My audacity!
What should I have said? What should you? What does a biblical complaint sound like?
A biblical complaint is honesty with God and expresses not only your confusion over how a good God allows evil and suffering but also your trust in him. You hide nothing from him. You tell him my pain. I wrote in journal after journal after journal.
I ripped up those journals because I never wanted anyone to read them. Ever.
My words, raw. My emotions, splattered, messy.
Kc voiced her pain too. She asked God for reassurance.
After I finished work one night, I walked into Cam’s office and fell on my knees with my face on the floor, pleading, ‘God, here I am again, needing a word of wisdom. Where did my darling son end up at the end of his earthly voyage? Tell me again, God, that he’s with You.’
Godly grief sidesteps bargaining and depression. Instead you and I cry to God for help and receive his comfort, ushering us to trusting with faith, groaning with hope, and engaging with grace and love. This grief is crazy-messy. Two steps forward, stumble, trip, fall flat-out and get up. And we choose.
As we grieve God’s way, we choose to entrust ourselves to God and to his larger purposes, this eternal perspective that gives hope.
About Kc and New Life
Kc was brought up in the church but did not have a personal relationship with Jesus until after her second divorce. She told the Lord in prayer, weeping and clutching her uncle’s Bible: “I’ve made such a mess of my life doing it my may. I forgot how much you love me. Forgive me.” God gave her the strength to pen a memoir and the hope to guide those who are hurting and without hope to the Mender of Broken Hearts.
Kc is married and lives in Washington State. She is the mother of two adult sons, one of whom died of cancer and is now with the Lord, and a grandmother.
A Few Questions
1. When grieving have you tended to draw near to God or pull away? Why?
2. After a loss do you tend to shut down, lash out, or talk with God?
3. How have you handled the question, Why does a good God allow suffering and evil?
Hope for You
Save me, O my God. The floods have risen.
Deeper and deeper I sink in the mire;
the waters rise around me.
I have wept until I am exhausted;
my throat is dry and hoarse;
my eyes are swollen with weeping,
waiting for my God to act.
(Psalm 69:1-3, TLB)
photo credit: ‘PixelPlacebo’ via photopin cc
Hope and Blessings!
Don’t you wish young ones always outlived their parents? Are you hoping for the day that the loss of a child hurts less? Especially the death of a child, whatever his or her age?
Here’s the fourth of eight posts in the blog series “Mending a Broken Heart.” My prayer: hope and healing as we journey through the pain of tough stuff like abuse and divorce and addiction and the death of a child. You can read the first three posts in this mini-series here.
My new Facebook buddy Kc Christman Hutter, author of A Broken Heart, has mourned the death of her son Cam, who died of acute leukemia at age 32. Cam and his wife, Susan, were expecting their first child when he received the diagnosis. Instead of picking out baby names, they huddled in a hospital bed and prayed for recovery.
Have you had a dramatic change in plans? Did you think life was going one way then turned upside down?
Kc recounts the week her son died. Listen and discover that you are not alone in your pain.
When death closes in, time refuses to stand still.
On Sunday, Susan called, ‘I’m a little worried about Cam. He had a teeth cleaning on Friday and his gums won’t stop bleeding.’
‘Susan, don’t worry, maybe Cam is anemic. He just needs some iron,’ I said, not at all concerned. ‘Cam’s strong. He has never been sick with anything serious.’
On Monday afternoon, Cam drove to a clinic and had blood work done.
On Tuesday, Susan called, ‘The doctor wants more blood work on Cam. I’m driving him to the hospital.”
On Wednesday, Cam was told he had acute leukemia. Walking into Cam’s hospital room, I said, ‘Hi, how you feeling?’ Cam and Susan were both lying on his small hospital bead. Instead of picking out baby names, they were studying charts about his recovery.
Lord, oh Lord, I know You are here with us. Cam needs to hold his baby. Susan and I love him and want to spend our lives with him. Hear my prayers!
I called everyone on my prayer chain list.
On Thursday, I met Pastor Miles in the hospital hallway. He was just leaving Cam’s room and said, ‘Cameron is on the fence, could go either way, heaven or hell.’
‘Mom!’ Cam said as I walked into his room. ‘I know the Lord and believe in Jesus.’ Tears rolled down his cheeks.
‘I know you do, my darling,” crying right along with him.
On Friday, Cam was taken by ambulance to another hospital, where Susan had medical connections to the best doctors to help Cam beat the leukemia.
On Saturday, Cam was in a good mood. ‘Mother’s Day is tomorrow. Please pick up something nice for Susan for me. I’d like to surprise her.’
‘Sure, I’ll pick up a couple cut maternity blouses for her. See you tomorrow, love you.’
On Sunday, beside his bed sat a large cardboard box. ‘Happy Mother’s Day,’ Cam said. ‘You’ll love what’s in the box.” Later, as we were leaving, Cameron’s blue eyes and my blue eyes blinked a good bye. It would be the last time here on earth I would ever see his eyes.
Quiet Deathly Quiet
The next day, Kc sensed something was terribly wrong and talked with God as she sped to the hospital. Why did you tell me to drop everything and go to Cam? Calm my anxious thoughts. Make this feeling of dread go away.
Kc looked at her son and knew death was approaching. She screamed for a doctor. In a flurry, doctors and nurses put an oxygen mask over his face and wheeled him out of the room for tests, then to the intensive care unit.
Quiet deathly quiet. Only the hiss, hiss, hiss from the ventilator pumping air into Cam’s lungs. His body made one last movement. Then he lay still. No one told me. I just knew in my heart his soul had departed.
Lord Jesus, was that the sound of angel wings?
Death forces us to face our own fears, even our mortality. This unwelcome guest disturbs family and friends, more so if it’s a young person robbed of life. So early, too early.
Can any mother survive such a loss?
The loss of a child dominoes into other losses of unfulfilled dreams. No prom or graduation, no wedding, no grand kids. Awkward moments when an acquaintance asks, “How many kids do you have?”
Thursday’s post at my website delves into grief and what NOT to say to someone whose child has died. Be sure to subscribe to my blog posts for more hope and healing. To order Kc’s book, click the “A Broken Heart” box on the right panel.
photo credit: faith goble via photopin cc
Hope and Blessings,
Aren’t you glad you can heal by grieving a DIVORCE?
Today is the third of eight posts in the blog series, “Mending a Broken Heart.” Read posts one and two, here and here.
As we talk together about tough stuff like abuse and divorce, addiction and the death of loved ones, I pray you’ll find hope and healing. We have the help from author Kc Christman Hutter, whose memoir A Broken Heart bleeds a beautiful story of life after mistakes.
Jesus made a promise that may bug you.
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV)
Loss fills life. Yours. Mine. Everyone’s.
Blessed Are Those Who Mourn
It’s normal to hurt after divorce. Divorce is death, the death of a relationship that was supposed to last until the death of your spouse. You know, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. . .until death do us part. But the statistics doodle a different picture.
What is the right response after a death?
Pretend you’re just dandy? Pop pills? Or mourn?
When you feel harassed, distressed, troubled, and crushed, mourn. Please.
Neither push down your pain nor fall for some common Christian-ized pabulum.
The pastoral counselor, in spite of himself, finds himself tittering out his usual jocular reassuring prescriptions, minimizing the problem, and thumping in optimism or the need for further effort. He has the ingrained professional habit of filling every unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of good advice.” ~ Frank Lake
If you get this kind of crappy advice, find another adviser.
Kc Hutter’s adviser: booze. Not recommended.
This describes what happened after she drank away her demons and risked getting help. Listen.
I don’t remember the psychiatrist’s face. He sat behind a big desk; I wiggled on a very small chair.
“Why are you here?” he asked coldly.
“I don’t know, I’m crying, just crying all the time. No one loves me.” Tears rolled down my cheeks.
“There are many reasons people come to me for help,” the psychiatrist stated matter-of-factly. He listed a few of them, and added, “Tell me if you have one of these problems.”
She had all nine he listed. Divorce topped her list. She never returned to his office. She turned to Jesus.
Oh Lord, how can I hang on? There are so many cards stacked against me; my life and body are crumbling. Can you mend my broken heart?
Joy in the Morning
The trek through the pain of divorce to healing is personal and messy. You can find God in the midst of suffering. You can know hope. You can choose it.
I turn to Bob Kellemen‘s amazing God’s Healing for Life’s Losses for comfort and understanding, and for sharing with my counselees who need biblical answers for their suffering. To find this joy, this real joy, you need honesty with yourself and honesty with God.
Forget faking it. Be real, be raw.
When have you found the courage to share honestly with yourself? with God?
When are you tempted to fake your grief, even the grief of a broken marriage?
Then cry and surrender all to God. This cry is a faith-based plea. It’s reaching, palms up, asking God for help because. . .
you cannot survive without him.
What happens after you cry and you’re spent? Your tears–they tell God that he has your attention, that he has you. Then what?
Receive the Comforter
After you’re honest with yourself — yes, rejection and fear, and you’re facing the facts of your new normal which doesn’t seem normal at all — and you’re honest with God, expressing your trust in our trustworthy God, you cry out and God hears and comforts.
“For he will deliver the needy who cry out.” (Psalm 72:12)
Just like Kc.
My new faith of trusting Jesus assured me that someone loved me! I’d forgotten that He loved me so much that He died on the cross for me. Unlike worldly love, God’s love is unconditional. . . .He lifted me out of one grotesque nightmare after another and placed my feet on solid ground.”
She grieved with hope.
When you’ve grieved a divorce, did you stumble into depression? Or did you embrace your scars? Do you see yourself as a survivor? Are you now thriving?
Kc was brought up in the church but did not have a personal relationship with Jesus until after her third failed relationship (two divorces, one live-in lover). She now guides those who are hurting and without hope to the Mender of Broken Hearts. She is married and lives in Washington State with her husband, Jerry.
A Few Questions
1. Have you talked to God about the pain of your broken marriage? Were you candid? Are you pretending you’re just fine?
2. Have you blamed God for your difficult circumstance or have you expressed confusion over how a good God allows pain? Remember, an ungodly complaint accuses God of lacking goodness, holiness, and wisdom.
3. Which parts of Kc’s story resonates with you?
Hope for You
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
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