I love the holidays. I love the noise and the commotion of having our kids and their kids in the house. I love the anticipation, the twinkle lights, and the music. I love the memories surrounding the season. I love sharing a big family meal around the table enjoying lively conversations and lots of laughter.
But holidays can be hard.
The very nostalgia that makes your heart swell with tender memories can also make your heart break into a million pieces. Maybe you have recently been divorced, broken up with someone, or lost someone to death. Maybe you have an estranged relationship. During the holiday season the memories, broken dreams, and missing someone can sometimes hurt so much that you feel like you just can’t bear it.
Almost two years ago my older brother died suddenly from heart complications. It still hurts to say it. If I was to pick the one person who had the greatest influence on me as a child…it was my brother. Even though it’s been almost two years, the hurt is still intense. I don’t think that kind of hurt ever really goes away.
I have had the privilege of sharing this painful journey alongside my sister-in-law. She and my brother had a “happy ever after” kind of marriage – the kind that every girl dreams of having. Although her pain has been excruciating she has found a way to carry on with grace. I have watched in amazement as she has cherished her memories while at the same time learned to create a new “normal” for her life. Her courage and tenacity inspire me.
So today, I wanted to share with you a few things I have seen my sister-in-law do as she has walked through her pain. If you are hurting today, I pray that one or two of these might be of help to you.
#1 Take care of yourself.
My sister-in-law has a daily schedule of walking six miles a day. (yep – I said six!) I have imagined that there must have been days where it took that many miles to walk off the pain…and the loneliness…and the struggle. She also began to eat more healthy. Slowly and surely she has become more fit and she looks many years younger. Taking care of herself has helped to give her the coping abilities and determination she needed in order to walk through her grief.
#2 – Fill yourself spiritually.
My sister-in-law reads her Bible every single day. She reads a portion and then googles and studies so that she understands the history and the context. If something seems confusing she digs further. She takes a passage and carries it through her day.
Since her husband now resides in heaven, she decided she wanted to learn everything she can about Jesus. Filling herself up with God’s presence gives her supernatural strength to make it through each day.
#3 – Pray for others.
She has a little prayer book where she writes down the names of people and situations that need prayer. (She even has a list of every single person in Congress along with the President and Vice-President and prays over each and every one of them. Ohhhh…maybe things might change if we all did the same.)
She prays daily. Praying for others takes her eyes off herself as she turns to Jesus and lifts up the needs of others in prayer.
#4 – Accept invitations.
If at all possible, when someone invites her to do something her answer is – yes! She joined a few book clubs and a church group. She regularly hangs out with her daughters and son-in-law, friends, and family members. She goes to movies, plays, dinners, art classes, – you name it! Her calendar is busy and full. Maintaining strong relationships and doing fun things has helped her to press through.
#5 – Make someone else’s day better.
Never once has she brought up the fact that – it hurts. She is careful not to burden others with her burden. Once in awhile I can see the pain in her eyes and I ask her if she’s having a hard time…and then she shares openly. She’s not afraid of talking about it but never wants make it uncomfortable for people to be around her. In fact – she has a way of making your day better just by being around her. It seems that making other people happy helps her to find happiness.
#6 – Keep the memories alive.
My sister in law loves talking about my brother. We cry over the tender memories and laugh about the funny ones. We talk about my brother as though he was right here with us. I believe that keeping memories alive helps to keep him alive in our hearts.
#7 – Keep living.
Seek to fulfill God’s plan for your life. Remember that your life is not over.
My sister in law never says “why me?” but only “what now, Lord?” She decided right from the beginning to put one foot in front of the other and to carry on. She accepted this plan that she would not have chosen. She didn’t fight it and she didn’t whine about it. She simply trusted the Lord to fulfill His purposes in her life and relied on Him to help her.
Many years ago my mom-in-law lost her son when he was 29 years old. It was a terrible time. About 20 years after he died she told me something that I have never forgotten.
“Even when we hurt, God gives enough joy to help to carry us through.”
I know this is true. I have watched her, my husband, my sister-in-law, and many others walk through excruciating pain yet they still found – joy.