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What Grieving People Wish You Knew at Christmas

December 12th, 2017 | No Comments | Posted in Encouragement

Article by Nancy Guthrie

“Happy Thanksgiving!” “Merry Christmas!” “Happy New Year!” As the end of the year approaches, everywhere we turn someone is telling us we should be happy.

But for those who’ve recently lost someone they love, the holidays can seem more like something to survive than to enjoy. The traditions and events that can add so much joy and meaning to the season are punctuated with painful reminders of the person we love who is not here to share in it. Many have wished they could find a quiet place to hide until January 2.

While those of us who surround grieving people can’t fix the pain of loss, we can bring comfort as we come alongside those who hurt with special sensitivity to what grief is like during the holidays. Grieving people wish we all knew at least five truths, among others, at Christmas.

  1. Even the best times are punctuated with an awareness that someone is missing.

I remember a conversation I had with a friend as we prepared to head out on a holiday trip shortly after our daughter, Hope, died. “That should be fun!” she said. I sensed I was supposed to agree wholeheartedly with her.

What I didn’t know how to explain is that when you’ve lost a member of your family, even the best of times are painfully incomplete. Someone is missing. Even the best days and happiest events are tinged with sadness. Wherever you go, the sadness goes with you.

  1. Social situations are hard.

I have never been able to figure out why crowds are difficult when you’re grieving, but they are. Small talk can be unbearable when something so significant has happened. Meeting new people will likely bring questions about family. To walk alone into a room full of couples when your spouse has died, or into an event filled with children when your child has died, can be a soul-crushing reminder of what you have lost.

If you’ve invited someone in the midst of grief to your holiday event, let them know that you understand if it seems too hard at the last minute and they have to cancel, or that they may only be able to stay for a short time.

If you’re going to an event, give a grieving person a call and ask if you can pick her up and stick with her throughout the event for support. When you come upon a grieving person at a holiday social event, let him know that you are still thinking about the person he loves who has died, and invite him to talk about his memories with that person. Don’t be afraid to say the name of the person who has died. It will be a balm to the grieving person’s soul.

  1. Extended family can be awkward and uneasy.

Grief is often awkward — even, and perhaps especially, with those to whom we’re closest.

My husband and I host weekend retreats for couples that have lost children, and the difficulty of being with family at the holidays is often a topic of conversation among these couples. They know that some family members think they’ve grieved long enough and want them to move on. Others want to initiate a conversation about the person who died but aren’t sure how. What often happens is that the name of the person who died is never mentioned, and it feels to the person who is grieving that they have been erased from the family.

Do you know a grieving person heading to a family gathering for the holidays? You might ask about their expectations when they’re with family. And if they have a strong desire for their loved one to be remembered in a certain way, combined with a fear that it may not happen, you might encourage and help them to write a letter to their family in advance stating clearly what would bring comfort, rather than expect that their family will instinctively know.

  1. Tears are not a problem.

For most of us, grief tends to work itself out in tears — tears that come out at times we don’t expect. Sometimes grieving people sense that people around them see their tears as a problem to be solved — that tears must mean they aren’t doing very well with their grief. But it makes sense that the great sorrow of losing someone we love would come out in tears. Tears are not the enemy. Tears do not reflect a lack of faith. Tears are a gift from God that help to wash away the deep pain of loss.

It is a great gift to let grieving people know that they don’t have to be embarrassed by their tears around you — that they are welcome to cry with you. An even greater gift is to shed tears of your own over the loss of the person they love. Your tears reflect the worth of the person who died and assure them that they are not alone in missing that person.

  1. It can be hard to remember why Christmas should be so merry.

In “O Holy Night,” we sing, “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.” Grieving people around you feel the weariness of life and death in this world and wonder how anyone around them can rejoice. They are in desperate need of the reality of Christ to break through their loneliness and despair. While we don’t want to preach at them, we do look for the opportunity to share with them the comfort and joy to be found in the coming of God himself in Christ to rescue us.

The life of Jesus that began in a wooden cradle will culminate in death on a wooden cross. But it will not be a senseless, meaningless death. It will be a death-conquering death, followed by new resurrection life. The writer of Hebrews explains, “The Son became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death” (Hebrews 2:14 NLT). The power death has now, to bring so much sorrow, will not be the way it is forever. What Christ set in motion when he defeated death at his first coming will come to its full fruition when he comes again.

This is our great hope at Christmas, and the hope we have to share with those who are grieving at Christmas — that “yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.” The Christ who came as a baby and died as our substitute will one day return to consummate his kingdom. And when he does, “he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore” (Revelation 21:4).

Nancy Guthrie teaches Bible studies at her home church, Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Franklin, Tennessee, as well as at conferences. She and her husband host Respite Retreats for couples who have faced the death of child. She is also the host of the “Help Me Teach the Bible”podcast at The Gospel Coalition.

This Man Hangs Christmas Lights for Families Who’ve Lost Loved Ones

December 12th, 2017 | No Comments | Posted in Encouragement


After Stewart and Debbie Wilder lost their 17-year-old son, Cameron, to suicide in 2013, the last thing on their minds was decorating for the holiday season. ‘We haven’t put anything up in three years. It has all stayed boxed up,’ Debbie told KTVB in November 2016. ‘All of Cameron’s friends come home for Thanksgiving to visit their families, and we don’t have him.’

But in December 2016, the house was lit up like, well, Christmas, with strings of white bulbs cheerfully lining the roof and eaves. It wasn’t the Wilders who’d finally made the house twinkle, however. Instead it was a stranger, 30-year-old Carson Zickgraf, who hangs lights professionally through his business, CZ Enterprises LLC. The Treasure Valley, Idaho, man is on a mission to brighten the lives of families affected by suicide, especially during the difficult holiday season—and it works. ‘I started crying,’ Debbie says about seeing the lights for the first time. ‘It was really special.’ 

Zickgraf has been donatin his light-stringing services since 2015 and has decorated the houses of more than two dozen families so far. They are mostly strangers whom Zickgraf learns about from Not One More Suicide, a support group. When Zickgraf arrives at a home to hang lights, he’ll knock on the door to tell the family his plan, but if everyone is away, he’ll put up the lights as a surprise. At one of the surprise houses, he began to work without realizing the owner was home. When she discovered what Zickgraf and his crew were up to, she ran outside—and gave them all hugs.

Zickgraf started the project by chance. He was hanging lights on a client’s home when the owner mentioned that some neighbors were having a hard time that holiday season because their son had recently died by suicide. On the spot, Zickgraf had an epiphany. ‘I sent my crew there to decorate that house too,’ he says. The family was delighted.

Zickgraf realized that he’d found a kind of calling. In fact, he had two friends who had died by suicide, and he’d always wished he could ease the pain for their loved ones. Now, he’d found a way. ‘You can mow their lawn or take them for a meal, but you always wish you could do more,’ says Zickgraf. ‘There’s something special about Christmas lights. They warm the spirit.’

After he gets the names of families from Not One More Suicide, Zickgraf often hangs the lights himself with help from a friend, Sean Miner. When he sends his paid crew members to do the job, he doesn’t tell them the backstory out of respect for the family’s privacy, though the workers sometimes figure it out. ‘A few times when my employees have found out we were doing lights for suicide survivors, they stopped the clock and wouldn’t take pay.’

The lights go up around mid-November and are taken down after the New Year. Each job takes about an hour, though Zickgraf often prepares before arriving at a home. If he speaks to the family before starting, he asks what color lights the deceased would have liked. But when the job is a surprise, he takes the matter into his own experienced hands. He reads online memorials and obituaries to get a sense of the person, then picks the color he thinks would have pleased him or her. Zickgraf knows his efforts can’t completely lift the veil of grief from these families, but he can make the holidays a little cheerier. ‘I wish I had a bigger company so I could do more houses,’ he says.

5 Scientific Reasons to Attend Church

November 2nd, 2017 | No Comments | Posted in Encouragement

Photo by LOFTFLOW/
While church offers obvious spiritual benefits, did you know that studies have found it’s good for your physical and mental health too? Here are a few reasons why.

About two in five Americans report going to worship services on a weekly basis. But church isn’t always the easiest commitment to make on an early Sunday morning. While church offers obvious spiritual benefits, did you know studies have found it’s good for your physical and mental health too? Here are five surprising benefits of attending church.

1. Going to church boosts the immune system, lowers blood pressure and helps you live longer.

Tyler J. VanderWeele, an epidemiologist with the Harvard School of Public Health, conducted a studyof regular church-goers over two decades with his colleagues. He found that people who attend religious services at least once a week enjoy better blood pressure, healthier cardiovascular, immune and endocrine functions and less coronary artery disease than those who don’t attend at all. In addition, the risk of dying is 20 to 30 percent less in the 10 and a half years after they begin going to church regularly, the study found. “Something about the communal religious experience and participation matters,” as opposed to private spirituality or practice, VanderWeele wrote in USA Today. “Something powerful appears to take place there, and enhances health.”

2. Frequent churchgoers have a larger social circle and with more kinds of support than people who don’t attend.

That’s according to a study of attendees in North Carolina. Strong friendships and social support have a direct correlation with better health, writes T.M. Luhrmann, a Stanford anthropologist who has studied evangelical churches. And the support provided by church can be both emotional and practical. In a New York Times story, Luhrmann describes what happened at a weekly Bible study she attended: “One evening, a young woman in a group I joined began to cry. Her dentist had told her that she needed a $1,500 procedure, and she didn’t have the money,” she writes. “To my amazement, our small group—most of them students—simply covered the cost, by anonymous donation.”

3. People who go to services regularly are less likely to be depressed.

A survey of nearly 100,000 women over 50 who attended religious services found they were 56 percent more likely to have a positive outlook on life and 27 percent less likely to be depressed, according to a study in the Journal of Religion and Health. Eliezer Schnall, the study’s author and an associate professor at Yeshiva University in New York, writes that regular religious practice can help foster a “positive worldview, include calming rituals, and have other psychological and social benefits.” A separate study found regular churchgoers were five times less likely to commit suicide.

4. Teens who regularly attend church do better in school.

Photo by StockSnap/Pixabay
Researchers at the University of Iowa found that the GPA of teens who attend services on a weekly basis was .144 higher than those who never attended services, according to the study published in Sociological Quarterly. They studied students from seventh grade to seniors in high school.

The study identified several few factors that account for the academic boost, according to LiveScience. Churchgoing teens encounter adults of various ages who serve as role models and are more likely to talk with their friends’ parents. They also strike up friendships with kids who share similar values and are more likely to participate in extracurricular activities. But this only account for about half the effect.

“Surprisingly, the importance of religion to teens had very little impact on their educational outcomes,” Jennifer Glanville, a University of Iowa sociologist, noted. “That suggests that the act of attending church—the structure and the social aspects associated with it—could be more important to educational outcomes than the actual religion.”

5. Churchgoers are happier with their lives overall.

One study found that one-third of people who went to church every week and reported having close friends there said they were “extremely satisfied” with their lives, compared with just 19 percent of those who attended but didn’t enjoy the same tight circle. The key is building an intimate cluster of like-minded people, according to Chaeyoon Lim, a sociology professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison and the study’s author.

“We think it has something to do with the fact that you meet a group of close friends on a regular basis, together as a group and participate in certain activities that are meaningful to the group,” Lim told LiveScience. “At the same time, they share a certain social identity, a sense of belonging to a moral faith community. The sense of belonging seems to be the key to the relationship between church attendance and life satisfaction.” The findings were uniform across Protestants, Catholics, Evangelicals, Mormons and Jewish believers who attended regular services.

Bottom line: Church is good for you in a lot of ways. As VanderWeele told the Washington Post, “Service attendance is increasing social support. Through social norms, it’s also decreasing the likelihood of smoking. Perhaps through some of the messages of hope, it’s decreasing depressive symptoms. Perhaps self-discipline, a sense of meaning or purpose in life…”

To the Wife Wishing Her Husband Followed Christ More, Better, or At All

November 2nd, 2017 | No Comments | Posted in Encouragement
Dear wife wishing her husband followed Christ more closely, you are not alone. But the answer to the questions you are asking may look quite a bit different than you think.

It was a podcast discussing Minimalism that got my attention.

I have a weakness for these sort of things. I love fresh ideas and challenges, trying new things. Have a new paleo eating plan? I’m game. Want to train for a half-marathon? Why not. Want to talk about getting rid of half your stuff and simplify? I’m listening. 

There is something about trying out new methods, strategies and challenges that I find invigorating. I might not adopt them all for the long term if they don’t fit my priorities, but I’m certainly willing to listen and often game to give it a try, because new things are the spice of life to me.

So I was listening to this podcast on Minimalism and after the guest articulated her perspective, the host asked a question I’m sure many of the listeners were wondering – how do we get our husbands on board?

And the woman’s answer caught me by surprise. In so many words she said – you don’t.

Kind of a shocking thought, no? You simply don’t.

She didn’t leave the listeners there tough. She told of how when she got started with minimalism she didn’t expect her husband to jump on the bandwagon, she just did the best she could with the things in her control. Together she and her husband agreed on a couple spaces in the house that were super important to him – the garage and the master closet. When she began organizing and downsizing he would keep all the things that he wasn’t willing to get rid of in those areas.

He kept his spaces as disorganized as he wanted and she determined to never nag or complain about them (this is key!) as she was free to organize/simplify everything else.

After a couple years her husband began to notice the fruit of her minimalist organization strategies. He noticed the freedom and joy she found in simplicity, how that spilled into the rest of her life as a wife and mom and, over time, he chose to adopt a more minimalist way of life as well.

 Not because of her nagging, but because of her joy.

Over the past few years I have received many questions from readers that boil down to the same thing – a wife very much wishing her husband followed Christ more…better…or at all. It is a beautiful and heartfelt concern many Christian women have. The wisdom shared on the podcast is actually a biblical model and practical answer to that very concern.

In 1 Peter 3:1 we read, “In the same way, wives, submit yourself to your own husbands so that, even if some disobey the word, they may be won over without a word by the way their wives live.”

Won over without a word, simply by the way we live. Wow.

The opening of Peter 3 is referring back to chapter 2 in which he reminds us that we were once sheep led astray but have found righteousness only by His sacrifice. He opens chapter 3, with this simple idea of pointing our husbands toward Christ with our very lives by saying, “In the same way…”

In the same way Christ did.

This is the gospel.

What a holy calling. What a huge responsibility.

So often we are convinced that we can push, pull and coerce our husbands into a closer relationship with Christ. We somehow believe we can manipulate or guilt them there. And it doesn’t work. In the long term it is incredibly destructive to our marriages.

John 13:35 tells us the world will know we are His by our love. Why would this not begin with the person standing right beside us, our husbands?

Your husband will not move closer to Christ because of your criticism or your cynicism. He will see Christ in you, by your love.

This is not always an easy task, I realize. But loving well in difficult times, in moments when we wish our husbands led better or prayed more, read devotions to our family, whatever we have been wishing for, will speak louder than any words we can ever say.

Be committed to your own relationship with Christ. Let your joy and hope, your obedience and repentance, leak out into the rest of your life. Love your husband well right where he is, and trust God to do the rest.

It is our beautiful and brave responsibility, friend, and by His grace we get to keep doing it.

May our husbands, and the world, know Him by our love today.

You Never Know Who Your Kindness Will Encourage Today

November 2nd, 2017 | No Comments | Posted in Encouragement
Sometimes, all it takes is the kindness of another person to remind us all that someone cares.

Erin Bennett got that special reminder during her trip to Target on Wednesday.

She shared her touching experience in Facebook post written “to the man in line behind me at Target.”

“To the man in line behind me at the Gainesville Target, who saw that after hitting my grocery budget limit I decided to put back my Pumpkin Spice candle and the makeup I had picked out,

You didn’t know that I always save my stuff for last and usually end up putting it back.

You didn’t know that the two fussy kids I had with me, were only two out of four. 

You didn’t know that I have postpartum depression from the youngest babe and that I use scent as a way to boost my mood. 

You didn’t know that this week has been full of sick kids, parent teacher conferences, emergency dental visits and I was so looking forward to lighting that candle at nap time and just taking a minute to relax. 

Even without knowing that, you saw me.

You saw me as a human, not just the mom in front of you that was distracted and going way too slow. You heard me say that I’d like to put those items back and you said you were getting them. You didn’t take no for an answer. You told me I deserved it when I started to tear up.

You Sir, are the good in the world. You made my day, probably my week, and I WILL pay it forward. Thank you so much for your kind heart and words.”

Erin hopes in sharing her experience, her appreciation will somehow make it back to the man in line behind her at Target. She wants others to see it and know that even the smallest acts of kindness goes a long way.

We all have the power to let someone know that they are SEEN, they matter, and they are cared for. May Erin’s story be an encouragement to us all, to do something kind for someone else today.


Living in the Moment

July 31st, 2017 | 6 Comments | Posted in Encouragement
by Matt Charbonneau

With summer now in full swing, many people are taking advantage of much-needed vacation time.

Perhaps families are packing up their mini-vans and heading to a cottage or campsite. Couples might be touring exciting cities in or out of the country. Individuals could be planning adventures on their own or with friends to keep active and discover new experiences.

It’s a good thing people are so busy in the summer, as before we know it, the season will soon be over.

In fact, just as the calendar pages turn from July to August, stores are loading their shelves with back-to-school merchandise.

Soon, sunscreen and bathing suits will be replaced with binders and calculators.

Beach volleyball games and family barbeques will be a distant memory, thanks to resumed regular staff meetings and gridlock traffic.

Yet, as much as we can easily turn our attention to what lies ahead, we cannot forget to first enjoy what is still before us.

In today’s society, it seems we are constantly pressured to focus on the future, always planning for what’s next.

While this may be necessary, it is also important to appreciate who we are and what we have in the present moment.

Concentrating on today, we can better cherish our many blessings without diminishing their value by looking past them.

You see, God is in the present. His work of the past is complete and He no longer lives there. While He prepares our future, it is still very much unknown to us, and so we may only recognize God in the moment – right here, right now.

For instance, leaving a campsite at a particular time in order to beat the crowd of vehicles that will clog the highway certainly does matter, but thoughts of that lingering so much in one’s mind can easily spoil great conversation during a family picnic.

Stressing about a particular class or teacher you won’t have for another month could only get in the way of a budding summer romance or friendship forming in a summer sports league.

Scripture reminds us to soak up the many blessings we are experiencing now, rather than focusing excessively on what is yet to come (see Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 & Matthew 6:34 as two examples).

The more we turn our eyes to what we cannot control ahead of us, the more we will fail to see the many gifts God has brought right before us.

A long overdue coffee date with a friend, a leisurely walk with our dog in the park on a sunny day or an evening movie marathon with an open agenda for tomorrow are all examples of how God can reveal Himself and bless us this summer.

However, if we do not allow ourselves the time to unwind and celebrate such beautiful moments, August will turn to September and we will be left scratching our heads, wondering what happened to summer.

So enjoy that chance to sleep in. Eat that second ice cream cone. Admire that gorgeous sunset or freshly cut lawn.

Do all of that and more, as living in the moment will allow us to be fully present in order to embrace God’s gifts.

Matt Charbonneau is a high school Religious Education teacher who inspires his students to explore a deeper relationship with God. Applying uplifting lessons, engaging activities, and insightful experiences, he strives to demonstrate the powerful presence and unconditional love of God in everyday life. Matt and his wife live in Ottawa with their two sons and daughter.

Facebook: God’s Giveaways
Twitter: @Gods_Giveaways

16-Month-Old Spreads Joy Wherever She Goes

July 5th, 2017 | No Comments | Posted in Encouragement