Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas ~ Bitter and Sweet?

It’s sad to say, but loss and grief will be part of many people’s holiday celebrations this year. Holidays are supposed to be happy and fun, but grieving the absence of a loved one can turn this entire season into a painful time that blocks out happy memories of past Christmases. Certainly, the holidays will never again be exactly the same for you. With the death of a loved one, things change. That doesn’t mean, however, you’ll never be able to join in the celebration again or experience laughter and good times during the holidays. If you’re on a journey of mourning and healing, I recommend the book The Empty Chair by Psychologist Dr. Susan Zonnebelt-Smeenge of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Is there one less place setting at your Christmas table this year – one less chair where he or she always sat? Holidays usually lift us above the humdrum of life to renew and revive us, but the holiday after a loss of a loved one can have the opposite effect. Grief is tough enough to handle, but when Christmas comes it can be even more difficult. Zonnebelt-Smeenge understands; she’s been there.

She says, “Full resolution of grief is possible through a combination of time and intentional grief work.” Both of my parents died in the last five years, and I realize I didn’t come out of that grief and find my old self again; I came out a different person. Where do you find yourself in the grief process? You may accept the loss but feel as frozen inside as the ground outside. Some people cry when they look at their gift list or when they set one less place at the table. Your holiday spirit can be broken by death so that nothing sparkles but the tears. Others choose not to mention their pain or their loved one and numbly go through the motions, finding little joy in the usual holiday festivities.

Then there’s the less-than-ideal relationship you had with a deceased loved one. Zonnebelt-Smeenge assures us grief can be one of the great deepening experiences in life and maintains the importance of keeping the best aspects of loved ones alive to pass on. Celebrate the joy he or she brought into your life and try not to dwell on past hurts. Thank God you loved and were loved by this person, even if the relationship wasn’t always perfect.

In order to get control over emotions, we need to intentionally address our grieving. I’ve heard my friends say, “It’s my first holiday without my husband or child. It’s so overwhelming and no one really understands. In fact, others seem to go on and don’t even mention my loved one, much less that he’s not with us this year.” Zonnebelt-Smeenge stresses the benefits of exercise. Don’t scrap the whole holiday and deny yourself pleasure out of obligation to the deceased. Instead, buy a gift for him or her and give it to someone in need. Lay a wreath on the grave. If you’re alone at Christmas this year, consider volunteering at a soup kitchen or nursing home. Look to make new bonds out of shared losses within a grief support group.

What do you say to others? After all, this not only affects you and your holiday but how others treat you. Here’s more advice from The Empty Chair:
· Gently instruct people by expressing your needs; forgive them for not knowing how to react.
· Find time for peace and reflection. Your loved one is there in a sense, as a part of each of you.
· Lower your expectations for the holidays; be kind and gentle with yourself, and plan ahead so you’re not overwhelmed at the last minute. It’s hard to concentrate when you’re grieving, so make lists to keep track of what you have to do. To be easier on yourself, try to simplify your to-do list this year.
· Always keep in the forefront of your mind how God stepped out of heaven in the person of Christ to be among us at Christmas. He comes to us as a babe in a manger and takes on our flesh. He weeps with us over our losses. Christ was born to later die on a cross and then rise again to prove God’s never-ending love for us. Ask His Holy Spirit to dwell in you when you are lonely or sad. His grace can reach into loss and can transform grief from an ending into an entirely new beginning. If you want to talk more about this, e-mail me. I’m asking God to work with me through my own grief this Christmas season, too.

As you face the empty chair at the Christmas table, it’s going to be hard. I’d like to send you a booklet I’ve found helpful on my own journey through loss and grief. It’s called Take Heart in Your Grief. It describes how, even though it feels like your life has folded, there are ways to start up again. There are sections about what to do with a heavy heart, how to accept change, and how to overcome obstacles. To order your free copy of this booklet, call 888.988.2057.

Let me know how you cope with the bitter and the sweet this Christmas. Offering your ideas and resources can help other people who are going through the same thing and maybe lessen your own burden a bit. The “Merry” part may be diminished this year, but the “Christ” part won’t be!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Amy Grant

Here's a photo of me with award-winning recording artist Amy Grant! Be sure to tune into the show the week of December 21 to hear my exclusive Woman to Woman® interview with her.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


With social networking sites dominating our culture, we've joined in! Be sure to check out the Woman to Woman® page on Facebook!

Monday, December 1, 2008


On April 8, 2008, I flew to Michigan to celebrate Wally Bronner’s life, here and hereafter, at his memorial service. As a teenager, Wally started a sign-making business in his parents’ basement. This business grew to be Bronner's CHRISTmas Wonderland, housed in a building the size of five football fields and full of everything Christmas. Wally was “Mr. Christmas” to millions around the world as he traveled the globe looking for decorations for the world’s biggest birthday party. I hope you will have the chance to visit Wally’s legacy, his year-round celebration of Christ’s birth, in Frankenmuth.

His memorial service was held at historic St. Lorenz Lutheran Church in Frankenmuth with 1300 people in attendance. Pondering the faith and the work of Wally Bronner, this genius of celebration, I headed from the church to Zehnder’s lovely luncheon for friends and family. I noticed posters with Wally’s picture and the words “Wally Joins His CHRIST of CHRISTmas!” I look forward to seeing him at that joyful destination some day.

Wally’s son Wayne emceed the luncheon. Wayne observed that Wally’s mind was like a 500 gig hard drive, quick and able to retain an incredible amount of information. Even more importantly, his constant joy in the Lord was both irrepressible and inspiring. Wayne recalled that his father, reading the newspaper coverage of his illness and diagnosis, observed with gratitude, “How many people get to read their own obituary?” Retaining his sharp wit and his delight in his Savior’s birth, Wally attached some Christmas holly – the same kind he always wore in the lapel of his red jacket at Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland – to his IV pole. He’d laugh to medical staff and visitors, “Notice the holly and the IV!”

When he came home from the hospital, his prognosis was for an abbreviated life at age 81. Nevertheless, he welcomed visitors and prayed with and for family, friends, and staff. His organized, full-of-ideas self prevailed to the end, even suggesting how his family could most efficiently line up to receive guests at the funeral home, as well as how they could respond to each guest in 10 words or less. When giving this advice, did Wally sense that 1300 would come from far and wide to celebrate his faith, his earthly deeds, and his eternal life?

His esophageal cancer affected his voice, and when he could no longer speak, he had to use hand gestures. He’d make an X to say, “Enough of that, cut it out,” and he’d make the sign of the cross to bless people. At the very end, Wayne said, it was difficult to tell the difference between the two gestures. Wayne went on to note, though, that what had seemed confusing now made sense: “If Wally were here today and saw us weeping,” Wayne said, “he’d give an X – ‘cut that out, enough of this; pick up a piece of trash, decorate something, pray with someone. Tell someone about Jesus so you can bring a lot of people with you to heaven. You know how I love a crowd!’”

That day, I kept thinking, “Where there’s a will, there’s a Wally!” Who would have thought that a teenager’s sign-making business would grow into something so substantial and important to so many people? It makes sense, though, because, like those double-sided signs that Wally painted in his youth, his life was marked on both sides: “here and hereafter.” This was the mark made by His Creator and Redeemer, whose Life he served and celebrated.

Wally died on April 1, but he was no fool. As the late missionary Jim Elliot wrote in his journals, “He is no fool who loses what he cannot keep to keep what he cannot lose.” Near the end of his life, Wally joked that he was being “recalled” by his Maker; he knew that his life was a gift, and he used that gift to celebrate and rejoice in his Creator every day.