How to Nourish the Mind

In a few short days I will be leading a group of 38 students and parents on an international trip of a lifetime. We will visit seven major cities in twelve days: London, Paris, Florence, Rome, Pompeii, Sorrento and the Island of Capri. Needless to say, we are all excited.

At a recent group meeting, one insightful young man asked a valuable question: Do you have any tips for slowing down time? How do we remember the details when we are constantly rushing around?

While the answer I gave was specific to the trip, I think much of what I communicated can be applied to life in general.

Slow down. Recognizing the problem is always the first step. Since we know life is speeding by, we can now become more conscious of the world around us. Rather than always looking straight ahead with laser-lock focus, glance to the left and right to see what lies next to you.

Occasionally lift your head to the heavens and marvel at the color of the sky, the shape of the clouds, the warmth of the sun. Scan the path beneath your feet and notice the texture of the ground and the smell of the earth.

Allow your imagination to wonder who else traveled this same road. What did they experience? How was their life the same or different from yours?

Engage the senses. Don’t just walk around on automatic pilot, looking but not really seeing anything. As much as possible, try to notice specific elements, particular smells, distant sounds, unusual textures, and mouth-watering tastes.

The more we engage all five senses, the more likely we are to remember the moment in vivid detail.

Prior to writing his chef-d’oeuvre, Remembrance of Things Past: Marcel Proust wrote, “The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it … but … as soon as I had recognized the taste of the piece of madeleine … which my aunt used to give me …. the memory suddenly revealed itself.”

Monsieur Proust then went on to write more than 3,000 pages of memories. Do not underestimate the power of the senses.

Journal. We are far more likely to remember events or information if we write them down.

In her book, Writing Down Your Soul, Janet Conner reminds us, “When you write, you use several modalities at once: visual – you see what’s on the page; and you also see the events you are writing about in your mind. Auditory – you hear yourself talking about the events you are writing about; kinesthetic – you feel the pen, the paper, the whole physical experience of writing. That alone – using all three modalities – makes writing very, very powerful.”

When dealing with the hectic pace of an international tour – or everyday life – we don’t always have blocks of time to sit and write. In fact, we consider ourselves lucky to grab a spare minute here and there. But that is plenty of time to quickly jot a note, a thought, or a fleeting emotion.

The act of writing is what matters, not the perfect prose or the elaborate description.

At another time, when life is less chaotic, we will have the opportunity to review the journal entries, relive the experience, and add specific details as they come to mind.

When we take time to slow down and savor the moment, we are living in a state of mindfulness. It is in this space that routine tasks can become a source of joy.

For example, rather than grumble about the sink full of dirty dishes, shift the paradigm. We can be grateful for food to eat, colorful pottery on which to eat it, and indoor plumbing.

Rather than stand at the sink, mindlessly pondering our task list, we can emerge our hands in warm water, feel the bubbles tickle our forearms, and gently scrub away the grime.

Mindfulness is holistic, meaning, it focuses on life as a whole rather than the specific goal of the day. The latter emphasizes tyranny of the urgent, whereas mindfulness helps focus on life’s priorities – deliberately choosing what will bring long-term peace and joy.

Mindfulness also means living in the present. If we focus on the here and now, we have no time to think about the past, regretting things we cannot change; and we have no time to think about the future, worrying about things that may or may not happen.

This present moment is really all we have. And it is enough.

While present in the above context means the here-and-now, another meaning of mindfulness is gift. Imagine a large package, wrapped in colorful paper and tied with a festive bow. Excitement builds as we carefully remove the pieces of tape to discover what lies within. Such an exquisite package always contains a precious treasure.

This image is nourishes the mind. It helps us remember to never take a single day for granted. It keeps mundane chores in proper perspective. And it slows our steps so we can vividly live in the moment.

©2017 Molly Totoro for GateWay of Hope

Molly Totoro is a writer who has a heart and passion for authentic living. She firmly believes “Everyone has a story to share.” Molly helps others write their stories to impact future generations. Follow Molly’s new blog series, “How to Journal” at Revising Life after 50.

Hope for the Unknown

“Mom, what’s so funny?” I asked as she walked down the hallway to rejoin us. Having exited the bathroom, I anticipated a variety of funny scenarios.

“I’m wearing two pairs of pants! Isn’t that silly?” Her laughter was contagious and I joined in, but all the while thinking, This isn’t funny.

I caught my sister’s eye. Our laughter couldn’t mask our deep concern and growing suspicions.

When Mom began forgetting to take her medicine, we thought it was just old age settling in. When she got lost driving home on a familiar road, we excused it as too dark to see the road signs clearly.

But the day she wore two pair of pants we couldn’t find an excuse. It was something more than silly.

How can someone put on a second pair of pants and not realize it?

The answer to that question wasn’t funny at all. It’s called Alzheimer’s.

A myriad of questions ran through my mind. What caused this? What can be done to stop it?
How long before she doesn’t remember me?

The unknown answer to that last question haunted me. I begged God to be merciful and allow Mom to always remember me. Her condition was the focus of many prayers. Her physical health was in steady decline. Diabetes had left her legally blind and with unpredictable blood sugar levels extremely hard to regulate. Mini strokes required hospital stays, weakening her ability to care for herself. Growing more forgetful and confused necessitated 24 hour care.

I pleaded with God to take her home before she had to experience her biggest fear – a nursing home.

Although my mother was a woman of faith, sometimes anxiety got the best of her. I inherited that tendency. I was anxious about her health and fearful she would forget me.

One day while crying out in prayer, I felt God answer in a surprising way. Forming as thoughts in my mind, I felt as if God said, “You’re praying like you have Alzheimer’s… spiritual Alzheimers.

This realization hit me hard. I had been praying like I’d forgotten all God had done for our family in the past. Reminders of his faithfulness flooded my mind.

I recalled:

…unexpected monetary gifts to match a need
…return of a wayward child
…protection of my in-laws attacked in their home
…depression lifting after months of suffering

…broken relationships restored
…comfort when loved ones died
…emotional and physical healing
…guidance in parenting

As the list grew in my mind so did my resolve to trust God. Recalling his faithfulness infused me with hope.

Alzheimer’s was definitely a journey into the unknown. As I began to trust God, I no longer worried about my mom forgetting me. I found peace despite the temptation to be anxious. Fresh hope even found joy as we walked together into the unknown.

©2017 Cindy Richardson for GateWay of Hope

Cindy Richardson seeks to encourage, challenge and inspire women in their journey of hope through Bible studies, speaking and writing. Cindy weaves God’s truth and shares her faith with kindergartners at St. Joseph Christian School.

Residing in St. Joseph, Missouri with her husband, Tom, she enjoys the friendship of her three grown daughters and loves being Nana to six grandchildren.
For more inspiration, visit cindyrichardson.org.

How to Move Toward Your Dream

During the GateWay Pastor Appreciation Breakfast, we were privileged to hear a presentation from Phillip Kelley, chaplain of the Kansas City Chiefs.

Using an acrostic for DREAM, Phillip presented some inspiring ideas for how we can move toward our dreams. Although we’re adding some nuggets of text in this blog post – information we share with our GateWay women – we give credit for the original acrostic to Phillip Kelley.

D = Desire – the WHAT of your dream

Knowing what we truly desire helps us focus on the details of our dreams. Then as we focus on what the dreams entails, it can also expand into new territory.

As we focus also on God and the desires he has for us, we begin seeing him show up everywhere. When we are more aware of God and his presence all around us, it helps us confirm our dreams and move forward.

We also realize our dreams DO count for something. As the Psalmist wrote, “Take delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4 TNIV).

R = Reason – the WHY of your dream

Sometimes we may wonder why we are so focused on an idea or why we feel a particular nudge in our hearts.

That inner voice is definitely worth listening to, because it might be the Holy Spirit urging us to listen and obey – to march forward and accomplish our dreams.

Michael Hyatt wrote, “When you know your why, you’ll know your way.”

Our “why” – the reason for our dreams – gives us the motivation we need to keep moving toward the goal.

E = Experience – the WHO of your dream

Each of us owns a personal experience story, the bumps and bruises along the way as well as the joys and exciting events that have happened to us.

God can use each one of those experiences to move us toward our dreams. Like stepping stones advancing us toward the next experience and the next goal.

How we own those experiences and how we react to them determines how successfully we navigate. We can become bitter or we can learn and grow better.

The Bible also confirms the importance of our experiences, “God comforts us in all our troubles, so we can comfort others with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:4 TNIV).

As God comforts us and teaches us, we learn. Then we can pass on that learning to others and use it as a springboard for our own dreams.

A = Abilities – the HOW of your dream

We have each been given talents and giftings unique to our personalities. Often, we take these abilities for granted.

For example: the stay-at-home mom who organizes birthday parties has a gift of administration and detail-orientation. She may not realize how important she is to the family unit, but that gifting becomes the ability to get everyone to doctor appointments on time, to plan for meals and to make sure everyone in the family has a fun time on their birthdays.

Think of all the things you do in one day’s time. How do those activities line up with your abilities? When you feel energized by a certain activity, that’s a good sign you are operating out of your strengths and specific abilities.

Then those abilities become the action points for moving toward your dream. Lean your life into the abilities that strengthen you.

M = Maturity – the WHEN of your dream

Throughout our lives, God is in the process of growing us up. We become mature by moving through experiences and using our abilities to make progress.

Even though a dream may be realistic and so very important to us – we may not yet be ready to see it happen. God does stuff in us before he does stuff through us.

For example: it is rare for a person who carries the dream of writing to sit down and put together a best-selling novel. Writers learn how to write by practicing the craft of writing. That dream of writing and publishing a novel may come true, but for most writers – the dream becomes reality only after many hours of trial and error, rejections and starting over.

Are we defined by our circumstances or will we allow God to refine us because of our circumstances?

We may often feel as if we’re going backward instead of forward, but we need to remember that failure does not define a person – it is only an event.

As we learn from our failures, we become more mature. Then time determines the when of our dreams.

A good exercise would be to think about your current dreams, then journal through this acrostic. Check to see how you’re moving forward and perhaps what your next steps might be.

If you need help, call us at GateWay of Hope – 913.393.4283. We help women transform their lives and find that hopeful place where dreams come true.

©2017 GateWay of Hope – Hope, Healing and Wholeness for Women

How to Develop Self-Care

Everywhere I look this month I see reminders of the upcoming holiday: bouquets of red, pink or yellow roses, heart shaped boxes of chocolate or other sweet confections, expensive greeting cards declaring love to a perfect valentine.

While I’m not necessarily cynical about this holiday (and will probably enjoy a nice dinner out to mark the occasion), I plan to celebrate a bit differently this year.

My word for 2017 is “Nourish,” and in that spirit I plan to focus this month on Self-Care.

The saying goes, “You can’t love others without loving yourself,” but I like Joyce Meyers’ expansion of that thought: “If you don’t love yourself, you can’t love others. You can’t give away what you don’t have.”

For me, the first step in learning to love myself is to accept God’s love for me.

I grew up in a legalistic society, where a good Christian girl followed all the rules and “Thou shalt nots” and never voiced any contrary thoughts. To me, God was a big accountant in the sky, keeping track of my debits and credits in his ledger book of life. No love or grace survived in this equation. Only harsh judgment and the wagging finger of shame as I continually fell short of heavenly expectations.

It has taken a long time to erase this warped view of my heavenly Father. And I must confess, at times it still comes into clear view. But over the past two years I have focused my Bible study on His Love for me, and His Grace and Mercy extended to me because of the blood of Jesus.

I now carry two verses of scripture in my heart at all times to remind me of this powerful love.

The first verse is found in John 10:10 (NIV) “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that you may have life and have it to the full.

Jesus did not die on the cross so I will feel defeated, despondent and hopeless. That is the voice of the enemy beating me down with his lies.

And Jesus did not die on the cross so I can merely exist or simply go through the motions. He came that I might experience the joy, excitement and adventure that life with Him offers.

A God who desires I live a full, rich, abundant life is a God who truly loves me. I can trust Him. The fact that the God of the universe chose to create me and desires to fellowship with me, means I am lovable.

The second verse is found in Matthew 23:12. I particularly relate to The Message translation: “If you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.”

All God asks of me is that I be who He created me to be. I don’t have to be someone else. I don’t have to compete with others. I don’t need to change my temperament, physical appearance, or personal interests . I only need to accept myself (my strengths and weaknesses) and my life will have purpose. What a wonderful way to show love to myself as well as to my Creator!

While I continue to meditate on these scriptures, I have also adopted some pragmatic methods of promoting Self-Care.

How do I love me? Let me count the ways:

Treating my body and mind with love and respect.

  1. Drinking more water to stay hydrated
  2. Eating more nutritious foods that feed the body and the soul.
  3. Staying disciplined in an exercise routine. I want a strong core to help me overcome physical, mental and spiritual adversity.

Taking time to relax and rejuvenate in a purposeful way.

  1. Relaxing in a hot bath
  2. Reading a good book with a hot cup of tea
  3. Writing in my journal at a local coffee shop
  4. Taking myself on a date … window shopping, the library, the local museum, a movie
  5. Meeting a friend for lunch and sharing life stories
  6. Taking a stroll through the park – not a cardiovascular walk, but a leisurely stroll to admire nature and allow my thoughts to wander
  7. Purposefully spending money, rather than buying what I don’t need in an effort to fill a void
  8. Learning a new skill (like speaking Italian) rather than watching mindless television re-runs
  9. Keeping a gratitude journal – focusing on one positive event for each and every day
  10. Lighting a candle and enjoying its fragrance
  11. Playing soft music in the background (or loud music and dancing)
  12. Breathing deeply

Taking control of internal self-talk.

  1. Choosing to be joyful despite the circumstances
  2. Focusing on what is going right rather than solely what is going wrong
  3. Replacing critical thoughts with positive affirmations
  4. Acknowledging my effort rather than focusing solely on the outcome
  5. Thinking the best of myself (and others) rather than the worst
  6. Forgiving myself for making mistakes and being imperfect.
  7. Forgiving others for their imperfections

Eliminating unhealthy thought patterns

  1. Stop caring about what others think; focus on what God thinks of me
  2. Stop trying to please everyone. It is an impossible task.
  3. Stop comparing myself to others
  4. Stop fearing failure; the only real failure is not trying
  5. Stop taking everything personally; sometimes it isn’t about me
  6. Stop taking care of everyone else at the expense of my own needs
  7. Stop worrying about the future and instead trust God
  8. Stop squelching my dreams and instead believe Psalm 37:4 “Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

What about you? What are some practical ways you can develop more self-care? Accept God’s Valentine to you this year and show yourself a little Self-Love.

©2017 Molly Totoro for GateWay of Hope – Hope, Healing and Wholeness for Women

Molly Totoro is a writer who has a heart and passion for authentic living. She firmly believes “Everyone has a story to share.” Molly helps others write their stories to impact future generations. Follow Molly’s new blog series, “How to Journal” at Revising Life after 50.

Hope in Unfailing Love

I imagine he loved me, but I don’t recall those words ever being spoken.

My dad taught me to ride a bike, roller skate and snow ski. He bought a camper and took us on summer vacation for weeks at a time. He taught me to swim in the ocean and how to catch crabs in the bay. I loved my dad, and when he was relaxed, I enjoyed being around him.

He wasn’t relaxed very often.

As a workaholic, my father was very demanding. He had quite a temper and I never knew when his anger would erupt. The sales clerk who moved too slow and the repairman who failed to fix the lawn mower were unlucky recipients of his anger.

So were older siblings when they didn’t complete their chores to his satisfaction. I witnessed my mother enduring his verbal abuse, and I made it my goal to never be the object of his wrath.

I lived most of my childhood trying hard to be perfect. It was exhausting and brought unspoken shame.

I was embarrassed by the way Dad treated people but I would never have whispered those words to another living soul.

Even writing them now seems a small betrayal of our family. But words left unspoken, when truth is at stake, can be devastating. Family secrets can be dangerous.

The truth is, fathers are supposed to treat their families with love and respect. If their anger results in sin, they are to apologize and ask for forgiveness. If they are unable to control themselves, they are to seek help.

Fathers are not expected to be perfect. They are however, designed by God to be an earthly representation of a perfect heavenly Father’s love.

Dads are supposed to build up their families, not tear them down. They are to provide for and protect those they love.

Unfortunately, not all dads understand their role. And many do not rely on God to help them love their families well.

My experiences with my dad affected how I viewed God. One day as I was sitting at a conference, the speaker asked the audience to close their eyes and picture God.

We were asked to think about Bible verses that spoke of his love. Not a single verse came to mind. Instead, a startling image emerged – my dad, standing with a pen and a clipboard, ready to critique my performance.

No wonder I had held God at arm’s length. I believed in his existence, but didn’t believe he cared about the details of my life. I thought he was harsh and demanding, waiting for me to mess up so he could point out my faults.

That weekend I discovered God was nothing like my Dad. I learned he loved me regardless of my performance.

He patiently waited for me to ask him to heal the heartache of those early years trying to measure up to unattainable standards. He longed to speak words of love to my soul.

The Bible speaks of God having unfailing love; without error or fault. God’s love is reliable, constant, and everlasting.

Imperfect people will fail. Dreams of perfect relationships will shatter. But God’s love can be there to help pick up the pieces.

God proved his love when he gave his only Son to rescue me from my self-centered love and my sin. There isn’t anything I can do to make God love me more than he already does.

Since God’s love is a gift, there isn’t anything that I can do that will cause him to take away his love.

I don’t have to earn his love, or prove I’m worthy of it. He proved I’m worthy of his love when he exchanged places with me on the cross.

This unfailing love satisfies my need to be known and valued for who I am, not what I think I should be or what someone else wants me to be. God’s love faithfully brings peace and joy when I trust him to work in and through me, that which I cannot work in myself.

God’s unfailing love is also there for me when I am the one in the wrong. When my anger lashes out, it enables me to humble myself and ask for forgiveness, instead of withdrawing in shame.

When I fall short of loving others, and others fall short of loving me, I can put my hope in God’s unfailing love.

©2017 Cindy Richardson for GateWay of Hope

Cindy Richardson seeks to encourage, challenge and inspire women in their journey of hope through Bible studies, speaking and writing. Cindy weaves God’s truth and shares her faith with kindergartners at St. Joseph Christian School. Residing in St. Joseph, Missouri with her husband, Tom, she enjoys the friendship of her three grown daughters and loves being Nana to six grandchildren. For more inspiration, visit cindyrichardson.org.

How to Detox Holistically

Because we are connected – body, mind and spirit – what affects one part of us affects the whole. During a recent Intensive workshop at GateWay, we talked about the process of detoxing the body, the mind and the spirit.

Detox the Body – presented by Lorraine Oberholtzer, RD, LD

Numerous methods are available for a chemical and physical detox of the body, but each of us has to know what is good for our own body. The idea of a healthy and effective detox is to free the body from anything that may be causing physical stress.

The best detox involves a two-pronged approach:

  1. Remove toxins
  2. Strengthen the body’s own defense mechanism

Toxin removal may include water filters, air filters, fasting from certain foods, buying organic foods, avoiding GMOs, cooking more meals at home and avoiding food additives.

Most toxin removal begins by reducing inflammatory foods such as processed sugars, dairy and gluten products.

We can begin to detox the body by simply eating less. This lightens the load on the digestive system and the all-important gut which contains immune strengthening properties.

Other important tips include:

  • Drink more water
  • Add a good probiotic
  • Increase the omega 3s with fish oil, salmon, mackerel, tuna and trout
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables
  • Choose healthy fats such as coconut oil, nuts, avocados and extra virgin olive oil
  • Increase exercise time and fiber consumption

Detox the Mind – presented by Kiersten Adkins, LPC, MA, Exec Dir of Pathway to Hope

The way we think determines our behaviors and can also affect us spiritually and physically. The mind truly regulates the flow of energy and information we receive and pass onward.

As we become more comfortable with who we are, our mental health is underscored by fulfilling relationships, well-being, healthy energy and a more impactful life.

Our basic functions such as eating, sleeping and breathing affect the feeling parts of the brain which also determine how we think about ourselves and our lives.

So our behavior is determined by how we emotionally respond to a situation. If we continue to think about something negative and feed that negativity, we will respond negatively. This can lead to self-sabotage and additional stress – which also affects the body.

Our goal, mentally, is to reduce the chaos and stress and become a more balanced, synchronized individual. The idea of balance, aka moderation, can help keep our emotions in a more steady, healthy place rather than swinging all over the place from despair to disgust to shame to fear then back to happiness and joy.

Some of the important questions to ask ourselves include:

  • Am I mindful of myself?
  • Who am I made to be?
  • What am I going to be?
  • How will I achieve this goal?
  • When will this happen?
  • Why will I invest myself in this goal?

As we determine to be proactive with our minds, we protect ourselves from emotional bankruptcy. Then, a healthy mind leads to a healthy spirit.

Detox of the Spirit – presented by Rebecca Thesman, CLC, BSE, GateWay Program Director and Life Coach

We know we need a detox of the spirit when we are out of alignment with God. For some women, that means they will feel directionless, unable to pray and/or feel as if they have no peace.

One way to return to alignment with God is to focus more on him than on ourselves and our problems. Keeping a gratitude journal is an effective way to discipline ourselves for more thankfulness.

But we also need to detox ourselves away from harmful attitudes such as:

  • Self-doubt – based on fear and focused on the “I can’t” or the “I’ll never” statements
  • Self-sabotage – when we procrastinate or feel paralyzed with no joy
  • Stress – when our energy is drained and we no longer set healthy boundaries
  • Settling – for what we don’t truly want – for what is second best

Some practical tips to help us avoid these dangerous “S” words might include:

  • Ignore the “shoulds” – when other people or even our own minds try to “should” us into doing something we don’t want to do
  • Set healthy boundaries, especially around the things that drain our energy
  • Plan for a day of play and/or a special retreat away from everything
  • Fast from anything that takes us away from God
  • Increase more of the stress-relieving activities: coloring, singing, walking
  • Remember we are made in the image of God – body, mind and spirit
  • Pay attention to the inner nudges of the Holy Spirit
  • Realize who we really are and appreciate our true value

As we work on these issues, we can move into more balance with our bodies, our minds and our spirits. Then we will be healthier and able to use our giftings to impact the world and make a difference.

©2017 GateWay of Hope – Hope, Healing and Wholeness for Women

When Grief Comes Unexpected

As I walked through Kohl’s, searching for the best Christmas gift for my niece, I passed a shelf full of the cutest little dolls. I stopped to pick one up, then held it to my face – the soft, cuddliness of a little girl’s toy.

Suddenly, I realized I never had the joy of buying my daughter a doll.

Fierce and unexpected grief crushed me. Overwhelmed me. Paralyzed me. Right there, in the middle of the toy section of Kohl’s, I found a corner – alone – and wailed out my grief.

No one came to help me, but that was okay. I could not have spoken to anyone or stopped my grieving.

After a while, I sat there in the corner, unable to move. The wailing was over, but I still held that little doll and wondered what it might have felt like to wrap it in a box, put a pretty bow on top and watch my baby girl open it.

I would never know.

My Rachel slipped out of my womb too early for life on this earth. At only twelve weeks, she could not survive. In fact, the doctor performed a D&C (dilation and curettage) to remove any leftover “tissue.” The remnants of my daughter’s body collected into a petri dish for further study, to find out what happened – why she was born and died so early.

No easy answers. No way to prevent its happening. In fact, two years before, I lost my little boy, Ryan – also at twelve weeks.

The most surprising thing about my grieving experience in Kohl’s was that it happened 33 years after my little girl died. You would think after 33 years, all my grieving would have been completed.

Evidently not. Something about that doll triggered the pain and the remembrance of losing my Rachel – something I could not anticipate or prepare my heart for.

Grief is a most amazing and scary thing. Immediately after the loss, as we begin to grieve, we think … well, I’ll cry and just get over this. Then I’ll move on.

Our society teaches us this is the correct way to deal with grief.

But not necessarily. Everyone grieves differently.

No one can tell you how to grieve or how long it will last. I certainly didn’t think I would be grieving 33 years after the event.

Some of us hope to avoid grief by seeing a counselor, joining a support group or praying our guts out. All these methods may help us deal with the grief.

But we can’t avoid it. We can’t just hope to get over it.

Grief is something we have to go THROUGH.

It’s sort of like puberty. We can’t jump from age eleven to age eighteen without experiencing pimples, hormonal changes and myriads of mood swings.

But as we go through puberty, we grow and learn who we really are. Then one day we realize…okay, I’ve finally grown up.

Grief may come in the stages Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross described: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

But even those stages cannot be predicted. No one can tell us how long a particular stage will last – or if it will ever completely go away.

Most of us don’t grieve in nice little bundles of time. The grief process is messy, weird and hard to figure out. We can drive ourselves crazy trying to figure it out.

Grief will always, always change us. Hopefully, for the better – to make us kinder and more sensitive to the griefs of others, to keep us from becoming hard and bitter, to enable us to grow up a bit more.

That’s why I knew I couldn’t just leave Kohl’s and forget about my grief. I had to give it a voice and work through it – even 33 years after my baby died.

When I finally did leave my corner in the store, I drove home and journaled for a while. Then I felt better. I knew I had moved through another piece of my grief.

Even though I never had the chance to buy my Rachel a doll, I know my daughter still lives – somewhere in heaven where I will someday meet her. I’ll wrap her in my arms and tell her how much I missed sharing earth with her.

And then…I’ll move through the final stages of grief and feel the joy of total healing.

©2017 GateWay of Hope – Hope, Healing and Wholeness for Women

Finding Hope Within Disappointment

The holidays have come and gone. I didn’t get the white Christmas I was dreaming of.

Unseasonably warm, it rained most of the day. Ironing my mother’s tablecloth reminded me of holidays gone by; highlighting the fact she is no longer with us.

As the morning wore on, I received texts from my three daughters each stating that someone in their family was struggling with a health issue. It seemed we would prepare our Christmas feast, only to make deliveries to our children instead of enjoying their presence at our table. Certainly not the “merry and bright” experience I had hoped for.

Memories are made every holiday season. Some I cherish, others I’d just as soon forget.

Like most, I started the season with great plans and good intentions. Then an ice storm canceled the annual cookie baking day with my daughters. I was sick and had to make two visits to urgent care.

The Christmas cards I planned to send early? They’re still in the box, ready for next year; I hope. My budget wasn’t quite enough to meet my expectations and disappointment threatened to hijack my holiday spirit.

Trying to create the perfect experience often leaves me short on hope and long on disappointment.  By Webster’s definition, to disappoint means to “Fail to meet the expectation or the hope of something.”

Unfulfilled hopes and unmet expectations often do me in, wasting energy in what should have been, instead of seeing the new potential in what could be given new circumstances.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. This year I decided to enjoy whatever came my way.

My father used to say, “Nothing is as good or as bad as it first seems.”

Trying to apply his wisdom to my holiday plans helped turn the disappointments into new appointments for memory making and holiday fun. Trying to see things from God’s perspective instead of my own, helped create hope for something better than my original plans.

The ice storm prevented my daughters from gathering together but my grandson was iced in with me. We enjoyed baking and decorating Christmas bears; not the beautifully decorated cut out cookies I’d hoped for but fun none-the-less. While we didn’t end up with 10 different kinds of cookies to share, we did make extra shapes to send home with him for his siblings to decorate.

My month long illness racked up unplanned medical bills. My disappointment in my budget turned into a divine appointment. I was humbled and surprisingly humiliated when I unexpectedly received a check in the mail to cover the cost.

Trusting God’s plan and provision came with a lesson for me on pride. Once dealt with, I was grateful beyond expression. A burden lifted created space for unexpected joy.

When the texts from my daughters came in I began to ask the Lord if there was someone we could encourage by including them at our table; a lonely shut in perhaps? Or maybe God would have us make other deliveries, not just to our family.

However, within the hour, more texts came to inform us that each family would be able to make it after all. Wishing I would have thought of opportunities to bless others before we were faced with an empty table, I tucked the idea into next year’s holiday plans.

Another year is on the horizon. Disappointments can cloud our vision for the future, or we can turn to God and find fresh hope.

The Bible speaks of a time when God’s people were taken captive.  The prophet Jeremiah lamented their troubles, disappointments, and unmet expectations. Then, he as he recalled the Lord’s faithfulness and mercy, he was infused with hope.

Alexander Pope, an English poet said “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.”

At first glance if seems like good advice; a way to protect ourselves from the harsh realities of life. Yet as we learn to trust God with unexpected and unwanted circumstances, like Jeremiah, we are infused with hope.

Remembering the Creator of the universe as the lover of my soul gives me fresh hope for a future filled with good things. God takes my disappointments and turns them into divine appointments with him.

©2017 Cindy Richardson – for GateWay of Hope

Cindy Richardson seeks to encourage, challenge and inspire women in their journey of hope through Bible studies, speaking and writing. Cindy weaves God’s truth and shares her faith with kindergartners at St. Joseph Christian School.

Residing in St. Joseph, Missouri with her husband, Tom, she enjoys the friendship of her three grown daughters and loves being Nana to six grandchildren.

For more inspiration, visit cindyrichardson.org.

Unique Women of Christmas

In Hebrew, her name “Elisheva” means God’s oath or God’s promise. In the Greek, “Elizabeth” is further described as God’s abundance.

Cousin to Mary and wife to Zacharias, she played a pivotal role in the pre-Christmas story.

Elizabeth is listed in Luke chapter one as a righteous and blameless woman yet she suffered with infertility. In those days, barrenness was considered a curse from God.

But what Elizabeth did not know for many years was that God had not denied her request for a child; he just delayed the answer.

Until the perfect time…until Yahweh was ready to send an angel to Zacharias and plant His seed within a virgin.

We aren’t told how old Elizabeth was when she suddenly conceived a boy child who would become John the Baptist. But she and Zacharias were both old enough to consider their answered prayer a miracle.

During Elizabeth’s sixth month of pregnancy, her young cousin Mary became pregnant through another miracle – a conception through the Holy Spirit, prophesied for centuries and containing the Divine.

Mary’s Magnificat, also called the Song of Mary, declares her praise to God for his indescribable gift:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.”  – Luke 1:46-55

Mary traveled to Elizabeth’s house to spend time with her. What conversations they must have had – both of them pregnant, one with a Messenger – the other with the Messiah.

Elizabeth no doubt mentored Mary even while she protected her from the wagging tongues of gossips. Mary no doubt blessed Elizabeth who felt her child leap in the womb when Mary entered the house.

After Elizabeth gave birth, she supported her husband in the choice of their son’s name. “John,” she said. “His name shall be John.”

From the beginning of the Christmas story, God included women and their giftings to pave the way for His Son’s ministry.  He designated Elizabeth as a main character and a parallel element in the greatest story ever told.

We can imagine Mary and Elizabeth spending countless hours together as they watched their sons grow, taught them proper manners and showed them how to appreciate godly women.

And in the candlelight at day’s end, Elizabeth and Mary no doubt prayed together for their boys who they knew would have a major role in the salvation of mankind.

Each woman bore a son, then gave that son back to God, trusting in Yahweh’s divine purpose.

©2016 GateWay of Hope – Hope, Healing and Wholeness for Women

11 Tips for Dealing with Holiday Grief

The lyrics from a famous Christmas song suggest December and Christmas as the most wonderful time of the year.

Yet for women who are grieving, the holidays represent fresh sorrow. They do not feel joy nor do they want to find enjoyment at such a difficult time.

How do we survive the holiday season when everyone else acts like cheerful elves while all we want to do is curl up in the fetal position and forget?

Perhaps some of these tips will help:

Express Your Feelings.

It’s okay to grieve, even during Christmas. Others may not understand but you are not responsible for how they feel. You are only responsible for yourself and your own reactions.

Allow yourself the time and space to grieve – in whatever way is best for you. No one else can tell you how to grieve or how long to grieve.

Be with People You Trust.

Although it IS okay to grieve, it is also important not to isolate yourself too long. Surround yourself with a support group that encourages you and helps you through the grief. Choose friends and/or family who allow you to be real.

Embrace the Memories.

Hanging ornaments on the tree often brings back special memories. Or baking a special Christmasy treat may trigger the smells and textures of Christmas past with that wonderful someone.

Go ahead and make that special holiday food or play that favorite Christmas song. Remember the good times and be grateful for the time you had together.

Re-examine Your Priorities.

You do not have to do everything you once did to make the holidays special. This is the time for self-care, so eliminate any unnecessary stress.

Set realistic expectations. Simplify. You don’t need to finish thank you notes from the funeral and then send out a bunch of Christmas cards. Do only what feels right for you.

Take Care of Yourself.

It’s easy to eat too much of the wrong foods, drink too much and miss out on rest. Especially during the holidays and especially while you are grieving, take care of yourself.

But maybe you need to have a toast of rum-filled eggnog to best memorialize Grandpa. Or maybe you need to make some fudge to remember Mama. Enjoy the treats of the season – within moderation.

Self-care might also include getting away. Plan a trip to the mountains or the beach. Use your Christmas money to escape from the craziness all around you and the constant memories. Whatever you need to do, give yourself the grace of self-care.

Exercise.

This tip follows the idea of taking care of yourself. Perhaps this is NOT the time to schedule an intense workout at the gym, but what about a brisk walk in the cool air? Or a few minutes of yoga stretches?

The movement will clear your head, boost your endorphins and help you deal with the holiday stress. Just the movement of walking can keep us from diving into depression.

So grab a friend you trust and take a quick walk.

Remember, Christmas is just one day.

The holidays will soon be over and you can launch into a new year. This difficult season will be past and everything that happened to you will be a memory – part of your history.

Keep looking forward. Keep trusting God to complete the good plan he has for your life. Think about tomorrow and be grateful for the days ahead when everything won’t hurt quite so much.

Do What Feels Comfortable.

Set boundaries around your life. You do not have to meet everyone’s expectations. You do not have to be involved in the same activities as before. Do what you want to do – whatever feels comfortable to you.

Eliminate anything that feels stressful or too overwhelming to deal with now.

Create New Traditions.

Your world is not the same as before, but you still have the freedom to do whatever you want. Try something new and create a new holiday tradition.

A writer friend of mine lost her daughter to brain cancer. Every year, on the anniversary of her death, my friend takes a gift to the children’s hospital and gives it to the first little girl born on that day. She memorializes her daughter and blesses the new parents. She has created a new tradition around the holidays that helps her deal with her grief.

Do Something for Others.

One of the best ways to move beyond our grief is to consider the needs of others – just as my friend does every year. Think of ways you can bless someone else.

Visit a nursing home and adopt one of the residents for a few hours of joy. Make a treat for your neighbors – maybe something your loved one especially enjoyed baking and eating. Go caroling at a hospital and bless those who can’t leave for the holidays.

Move beyond your own grief for a moment and offer hope to someone else.

Consider Counseling.

If you’re feeling as if you can’t cope with the holidays, consider counseling. We have licensed, professional counselors at GateWay and we also have a Grief Recovery Program. We can help.

Take care of yourself by doing whatever is necessary to make it through the holidays and move forward with hope.

What about you? How do you cope with holiday grief?

©2016 GateWay of Hope – Hope, Healing and Wholeness for Women