Those first difficult years after Mikail passed away, we lived in southern Ontario, and often on those days where the pain and sadness would feel like it was too much, I’d look out the kitchen window and a red cardinal would have landed on the birdhouse just off the deck.
This kept happening and eventually I looked up the symbolism of a red cardinal and found that sometimes people have said that they generally appear when a grieving person needs or misses the person they lost—a messenger of comfort and hope. Does this hold actual truth? I don’t think it matters. What matters is that for me it was a gift during a time when I needed it so much.
When we moved back to Northern Alberta I knew that my visitor wouldn’t be coming to see me anymore because cardinals don’t fly this far north. However, my friend Sunny, who had a cardinal visit her deck for years after her Mama passed away, would send me a picture of the cardinals visit each time it came, sharing her gift with me. What a beautiful gesture.
When designing the cover of the A Thrill of Hope devotional I tried to find a way to incorporate a cardinal into the cover design–a small way to share my unexpected gift of comfort with you, the reader.
Seven years ago we were deep in the throngs of grief. We were coming up to the first Christmas after Mikail passed away and I was dreading the Christmas season. It was supposed to be joyful–filled with family, laughter and fun. I didn’t feel joy, our family was incomplete and I had no energy for laughter or fun. I knew that the only way to get through it would be to cling to God. I was weary and hope felt distant.
That year I looked for a simple devotional that would encourage me, but still acknowledge the various types of grief that were heavy on my heart. I didn’t have the attention span or capacity to read anything long or theologically deep, but I knew I needed encouragement and daily time with God.
I never found that devotional book and although I kept looking for it, year after year, it just wasn’t out there–at least not one that went through the whole season of advent. In the meantime I had started journaling thoughts and scriptures throughout each Christmas season. A couple of years ago I realized that this devotional book that I had been looking for, was right there on my computer. Perhaps not in book form, but with a bit of editing, a manuscript was born.
Late this summer Jason and I both felt God saying that this was the year to get it published. Other years I would get discouraged at the process and complexity of the process. This year it was clear that it didn’t have to be complex and it didn’t have to be done in the conventional route I always thought I would need to follow. So, with a whole lot of prayer, nudging from loving friends and the support of my Prayer Warriors Group, this has become the year that the devotional will become available to others who are grieving.
A Thrill of Hope: Finding Hope, Peace, Joy and Love in the Minor Notes of Christmasincludes 28 devotionals I have written keeping in mind various types of grief may of us have experience throughout life. Whether you have experienced the loss of a loved one, the loss of relationships, career, expectations or dreams, the season of Christmas may be difficult. This devotional is designed to help encourage, inspire and draw you nearer to God during the season of advent as you reflect on
amidst the grief you may be experiencing at this time.
The devotional journal is beautifully designed and includes:
· An introduction to the topic of advent and grief.
· Recommendations on how the devotional can be used.
· 28 short devotional readings.
· A reflective question following each reading.
· An author’s note inviting you into a closer look at how grief has impacted my life.
· An appendix of recommended resources that have helped me in my grief journey.
I invite you to check out the book. Perhaps it is something that would encourage you or someone you know, this coming Christmas season:
I thought it was Tuesday all day today…until about 3:30 p.m. and then I thought it was Thursday, but in reality it is Wednesday. Oh grief brain, you are messing with me today! But they say: Some days are like that–even in Australia.
It started this morning…missing Sunny in a tangible way. I needed to hear her voice. So, I downloaded the Marco Polo app onto my phone again, and logged in to hear old video messages. For a good 15 minutes it felt like she was still here. But then reality hit and the tears came. I miss her so much. It was one of those days where I needed a red cardinal to land outside my window like it used to do on hard grief days when we lived in Ontario, but there are no cardinals this far north. After we moved here, Sunny would always send me a video or text if a cardinal landed in her tree because she knew it meant so much to us both. I miss those texts and videos.
I went on with my day, going through the list of errands I needed to run. One of them was to bring bags and boxes of items to the thrift store. Since I was there anyhow, I decided to go in and check for milkglass. There was a short line-up outside of the store and even though I was wearing a ball cap and a facemask (my I don’t want to interact with anyone uniform), the elderly gentleman behind me didn’t take it as an I’m hiding from the world today, please don’t talk to me. He started talking about how he couldn’t wait until this pandemic was over. How it’s nothing like what his parents went through in Germany during WWII, but it sure would be nice if it were over. We chatted a bit and were let into the store in no time. He continued to talk and told me about his wife who passed away in 2017–that they used to love thrifting together. He talked about his “honey” so sweetly. We talked for a few more minutes and continued on our way.
I didn’t find any milkglass, but did stumble across vintage coasters with a red cardinal on them. God knew. Just as I stumbled across them, the elderly gentleman was in the same aisle as I was and we stood there and talked about his “honey” and all the wonderful people he met and was able to help during his career as a taxi driver. I told him about Mikail. We talked about God (or the Big Guy up there as he called Him), comforting signs and angels. Suddenly I realized that I only had a couple of minutes to get to Olivia’s school to pick her up, and apologized that I needed to run. It felt like I should give him a hug and just as I thought that, he held out his elbow to me and we touched elbows. I paid for my cardinal coasters and went to the truck and cried ugly tears.
God is so amazing. He gave me my red cardinal and He gifted me with the opportunity to chat it up with a stranger in a store…just what Sunny was famous for…connecting with everyone in her path. This is something that does not come natural to me, but I love how God gifts me with the opportunities to keep Sunny’s memory alive.
I may not know what day of the week it is, but that’s okay. Some days are like that–even in Australia.
As I write this, it’s been exactly a year since the pandemic began and one thing that I have thought about a lot this past year, is how we reach out to one another. How we care for one another. How we step out of our comfort zone and listen to those quiet nudgings. In the past I often felt that when someone was going through a difficult time and I didn’t ‘know them well’, someone else–someone closer to them would reach out and do something nice for them–bring them a coffee, a meal, flowers, sit with them, or send them a card. I made an assumption that I am finding, is often a false assumption.
When I was diagnosed with cancer, many years ago, many people in my friend and family circle reached out and I was so grateful, yet the person I remember the most in how they reached out was someone I didn’t expect it from. It was the Dean of Education at the University I went to. She reached out and checked on me, she sent an elaborate bouquet of roses following surgery, and ensured that I was able to finish my year of schooling by giving me four months of extension on all of my assignments. She didn’t truly know me. I was one of hundreds of students in her faculty and we didn’t have any sort of relationship, yet her kindness meant the world to me.
Decades later when our son passed away unexpectedly, it was the unexpected kindnesses that have stuck with me. The ladies who packed up our home and cleaned it so we didn’t have to go back there; the family whom we didn’t know, who didn’t have time to make us a meal, but felt the Holy Spirit’s nudging to reach out, so they had pizza delivered to us for dinner one day. The car dealership who had just bought a house that was to be torn down to make room for more cars–who allowed us to move in (rent free) while we looked for a house to buy–so we didn’t have to return to the house where Mikail died. The children’s ministry pastor who came to visit and was willing to sit in the awkwardness of grief and emotions and silence with us. The dozens and dozens of cards that were sent from strangers all of North America just to let us know we were in their thoughts. None of these people needed to or were expected to do these things, but they listened to the nudging and acted on it.
These unexpected moments of kindness from people we didn’t know well or didn’t know at all, were everything. They still are, when they happen. They taught me to listen to the nudging within when someone comes to mind. It is easy to reach out to those we know–our family and our friends, but do we reach out when it’s someone we don’t know or don’t know well? Do we make an assumption that ‘someone else’ will step up? To reach out when a need is made known for a person I don’t know well, doesn’t come naturally, but from experience, I know that it can make all the difference. Yes, it can be weird and awkward, but it could mean the world to the person on the receiving end.
Has someone come to mind for you? Has a need been made known? Have you acted on it? It could make all the world of difference. I would love to hear about it.
Scripture says that God cares for us so deeply that he keeps track of all of our sorrows, to the point that he collects all of our tears and keeps them in a bottle and records each one in His book (Psalm 56:8). Isn’t that amazing?
We live in a society where we are encouraged to hide our sorrows and our tears; to be tough and ‘suck it up’ and truthfully, this does us little good. It has been nearly six years since Mikail passed away and sometimes it feels like I have shed as many tears in 2020 as I did the year he passed away. They have been different types of tears. Tears of gratitude, tears of exhaustion, tears of anxiety, tears of excitement, tears of motherly worry, tears of loneliness, tears of pain, tears of hope, tears of grief, and the list goes on. The thing with tears is that often they come with guilt…that we shouldn’t be crying because somewhere out there someone is going through something even more difficult. Yet, our compassionate Father does not judge our tears or make us feel that our sorrows are not valid. He simply allows them to fall, collects them in His bottle and offers us comfort.
In Psalm 56:8 David is sharing his sorrow and fear with God. He is being hunted by Saul because Saul wants his own son to be king and wants David dead. He is constantly on the run and fears for his life. In this Psalm he is pouring out his heart to God and finds comfort in the fact that no matter what he is going through in life, God is there for him. He doesn’t need to feel guilty about his sorrow or his tears–he simply comes to God and pours out his heart. This holds true for each of us as well.
As 2020 comes to an end and we each reflect on the past year, know that your tears are not cried in vain. They are lovingly collected by our heavenly Father who loves us more than we could ever imagine.