Naming the Losses – Embracing Hope

“I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process.” ― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

From my art journal

The word I chose for this year is embrace. I want to be mindful to take hold of what is in front of me be it change or grief.

One of the tangible things I’ve begun as I process my grief is to name things I’d lost. My hope is that specificity would help me name what my feelings represent.

Two specific areas have impacted my life: frequent moving and the loss of parents.  Here’s what I wrote several months ago.

Loss (as it pertains to moving)

  • Schools
  • friends
  • familiar place
  • doctors and dentist
  • hair salon
  • stores
  • knowing where you’re going
  • belonging
  • culture of place
  • sense of history
  • knowing where you’re from

The loss of a parent:

  • confidence
  • cheerleader
  • shared history
  • teacher
  • one who has known you all of your life
  • family stories
  • wisdom
  • encouragement
  • stories you’ve yet to ask them

Recently I’ve added these losses:O

  • Youth
  • position
  • titles
  • recognition
  • job
  • pets
  • home

Moving has had as much impact on me as my parent’s divorce. Perhaps it’s because their divorce created and accelerated the moving to once every 6 months during my high school years.

Moving, no matter the circumstances, is considered one of life’s major stressors. By the time I was 17 I had lived in 13 cities, 7 states and attended 13 schools from grades 1-12.

I think there is value in naming our loss. I believe it helps validate our feelings. It reminds me there is a legitimate reason for my feelings. I don’t have to stay in mourning but there are reasons grief looms like a shadow in my life.

If grief is going to be my faithful companion I’m going to do my best to learn what it has to teach me.

I’m going to let it move me to the point of tears but I’m also going to let it move me through the tears. 

Yes, grief is the process of sorrow. People will say you’re so brave to go through this. Grieving isn’t the brave part. Having hope is brave

Feel your way through the grief and embrace the hope of a new beginning.

My Faithful Companion

My husband is a dog guy. We’ve had several in our 40+ years of marriage but the last was the best. He was a young pup when we got him from the shelter. He liked to get himself around Henry’s feet as if to say “don’t leave me”. We named him Tripp because he couldn’t walk without tripping over him. As Tripp grew to over 70 pounds he remained at Henry’s side. He was his constant and faithful companion.

Over the last dozen years grief has been my faithful companion. It will leave for months or even a year at a time but it always returns.

In these 10 years or so we’ve lost all of our parents and a dear uncle. That is enough to cause the feelings of loss and sadness to come in and out of my life. Add to that realizing more and more the loss of youth and working in the unpredictable world of addiction. Actually, addiction is predictable: some will die.

It only hurts when you care and at times it seems I care too much. Of course that’s not true but those I love, I love deeply. The family I’ve lost have all left lasting imprints on my life.

The ones we’ve lost to addiction are the most painful, yet, where I guard my heart the most.

I’ve been public with my grief in hopes it’s helpful to those who are struggling or just haven’t found their voice to sing the chorus of lament.

I write to dispel any shame associated with sorrow or sadness.

In the church, we have a habit of celebrating death. We try to avoid the pain of loss by jubilantly celebrating their eternal life in heaven. We talk about the suffering that is no more. Yes, I believe that. But let me feel their loss. Let my soul mourn their absence. Let me express my sorrow.

Grief has also become a teacher. I’ve learned that it’s not only associated with physical death but it also arrives on the heels of change.

It’s not that I don’t like change. If I’m the one creating it I’m all for it. But imposed change like getting old(er) or moving or retirement? My faithful companion is at the door of my heart again.

Grief shows itself in different ways to each of us. For me, it looks like a combination of anxiety and depression. It often means unexpected tears for apparently no reason like a commercial. Or a fictionalized story of a family going through a hard time. It was a good book but I was bawling as if they were real people!

My anxiety also showed up with physical symptoms like lack of concentration, excessive worry, change in sleeping patterns and, at times, what felt like heart palpitations.

This was the point I realized I needed help beyond caring family and listening friends.

A quick Google search will tell you there are 7 or 5 stages of grief. I’m choosing 5 because who needs two more stages!

You’re probably familiar with them but here’s a reminder: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

I’m pretty sure I breezed through denial and went straight to anger and then completely skipped bargaining. Our lives aren’t text books. Sometimes we’ll repeat a stage and feel like we’re on a hamster wheel of grief.

Recently, I’ve sought medical help for the second time. I’m fortunate to have been directed to a psychiatrist I’m comfortable with. After consultation she’s put me on medication to help alleviate the anxiety. I’m also going to start therapy, which will be a first for me.

I think I’m moving out of the depression stage but I’m not sure if it’s because of the meds or I’m moving into acceptance. I don’t know that it matters. I do know my balance is still wobbly. I also know I’m loved, cared for and I have hope.

Hope is what I want to share. Sometimes it starts with a phone call to a doctor or a stranger writing a blog.

Yes, pain is real but so is hope.

Hope of All Hope

“Even when there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping—believing that he would become the father of many nations…” Romans 4:18a NLT

Our Advent celebration begins with hope. Hope is that thing that doesn’t make sense. It’s the thing that keeps us alive when all else seems lost. Hope keeps us searching. We breathe it in slowly, praying even these small breaths will sustain us one more day.

When God’s people haven’t seen a hint of light or hope of day, God will do something new.
Preface to Isaiah 9 in The Voice

God’s story, as recorded in the Bible through lives of men and women, is a story of hope. The stories of Abraham and Esther take twists and turns but are examples of unfailing hope. When people feared the worst the prophet Isaiah assured them a Savior would come. 

Hope of all hopes, dream of our dreams, a child is born, sweet-breathed; a son is given to us: a living gift. And even now, with tiny features and dewy hair, He is great.  The power of leadership, and the weight of authority, will rest on His shoulders. His name? His name we’ll know in many ways—He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Dear Father everlasting, ever-present never-failing, Master of Wholeness, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6 the Voice

When that Hope came in form of a baby many didn’t believe. They’re still searching. We are searching. We’re desperate for hope so we place it in money, status, family, politics. We grab at things we can hold.

When we hope in the tangible and temporal we discover more emptiness.I can’t explain this hope I have. For me hope looks like getting up when part of me wants to bury myself deeper under the covers of a comfortable bed. I might only make it to the couch but it’s a declaration that I haven’t given up.

Even with tears filling my eyes and fear stirring within there is a glimmer that relief will come. Somewhere, when things seem to be at their worst, I have hope. 

There was no hoping that mama’s dementia would improve or be cured. As dementia took more and more of her I was reminded that while we lost the essence of our mother, we held to the hope that pointed to her restoration in eternity. 

When I stare at an uncertain future and feel lacking in every area it is the One who is my Hope that assures me of his unending care. Hope isn’t answers. I don’t have them. Hope is the expectation that God will fulfill his promise of unfailing love.

This isn’t wishful thinking. This is God’s promise. His Son. Our Wonderful Counselor, MightyGod, Master of Wholeness and Prince of Peace.

This is the Hope of all Hopes. 

God’s Economy of Hope

Our audience is a group of 1st through 6th graders. They’ve asked us here to tell them about what we do. They’ve asked us how they can help. 

It’s been a while since my audience has been children though at times some of the adult groups I’ve spoken to have me wondering if there’s much difference. I’m not the main attraction. I was asked to come to share a little of the history of the Salvation Army. I think that mostly, I was asked to come for support. This is Lee’s first time speaking as one of our representatives. Usually he’s speaking in recovery meetings. Talking to kids about this is a first for him and I notice a hint of nerves. 

I go first. Talking in any setting has rarely been a problem for me. When the subject is the mission of The Salvation Army I’m at my best. I start by asking them if they know what we do. Hands go up and one little girl says, “You help people”. We’re off to a great start.  It’s apparent these children are sensitive to the plight of the homeless and hurting. 

When one little girl notices my uniform her mouth drops wide as she says, “a real soldier!”. Another asked, “do you fight for us?” This gave me the opportunity to tell them that we’re called the Salvation Army because our founder said we are fighting the war against sin. Yes, I told the girl, we’re fighting for you. But our weapon is love. This program that helps men battling substance abuse is an all out war as we fight with them and for them to live a life in recovery and attain the gifts that God has to offer – gifts of restored relationships and integrity. 

I introduce Lee and he starts by saying, “You know the people she was talking about? The homeless and addicts? That was me.” There is an audible gasp and the mouths of little ones literally drop open. 

He has their full attention as hands shoot up with questions. 

What kind of drugs did you take?All kinds

What was it like being homeless?It was lonely. Very lonely. 

What did they give you?They gave me hope

The children brought donations to help us help others. They brought clothes and shoes and items we can sell in our stores that fund our residential program. Things others no longer want are just what we need. Funny how that works, especially in God’s economy. 

In a week’s time we can visibly see the difference in a mans life. We’ve given him fresh clothes, good food, a safe place to sleep and a hot shower. These are outward signs. Lee reminds me that the most important thing we give anyone is hope. 

Here’s the thing, you can’t give hope if you don’t have it yourself. It’s another way God’s economy works. He is our hope and when we have Him we can give hope to others. It seems that’s just what our world needs most.

Pinterest Isn’t Always Right

Pinterest has taken the place of magazines. It’s Better Homes & Gardens, Bon Apetit, In Style and Reader’s Digest all in one. I’ve saved recipes, fashion ideas and quotes. There are how-to’s from building a backyard cupola to a science project. It’s an encyclopedia offering information you didn’t know you needed.

I like good quotes and have collected quite a few but I ran across this one that made me wince.
“This will all make perfect sense someday.” I liked the style of it. The background was a bold yellow and the words looked like they were handwritten on white paper and pasted in the middle of the yellow. There was a lot of white space which we know draws our interest.
I wondered how many people saved that being comforted by the words.
Wouldn’t it be nice if someday it would make perfect sense?
Mental illness
I can’t make sense of any of it but I believe there is hope. And hope is more than a verse in beautiful calligraphy on Instagram.
Hope is crying with the co-worker just diagnosed with cancer and hope is my friend who volunteers at a pregnancy crisis center. It’s teaching our children and grandchildren about respect and showing it to one another. Hope is smiling and holding the door open and making room for the person who doesn’t look like you.
I haven’t been able to make sense out of hope. But I believe it’s where we find God.

Five-Minute Friday {hope}

We’re back from our trip to London. Back physically, mostly, but mentally….working on it 😉 Kate Motaung‘s Five-Minute Party link-up is a good way to get back in the groove of sharing from Grace-land. Today’s prompt is hope.


Out of the hundreds of men coming through our doors at our Adult Rehabilitation Center, I’d guess only a small percent coming looking for hope.

They come looking for rest, for a safe place, for a chance to clean up and get some regular meals in their body. They come for the ‘3 hots and cot’ so they can recharge to go back out ‘there’.

They don’t come looking for hope. Not most.

Hopes have been shattered when the marriage fell apart or the job fell through.

Hopes placed in others devastated because others will fail too.

pain hope

“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him.” Romans 15:13a

If we can stop long enough, be still and quiet enough we will know that hope comes in rest. Hope comes in clarity to see the grace God gives not because of us but in spite of us.

Hope comes when we accept we can never be more than because we are always less than Him and that is why He wants to be our hope.

He is our completion.

He is our Savior.

He is our mercy and grace.

He is our hope. The hope of glory. Living in us.

“To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles [the nations] the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Colossians 1:27 NIV

The problem isn’t…..

The problem isn’t guns.

Or abortion

Or gay marriage

Or divorce

Or terrorists

Or democrats

Or republicans

Or global warming

It isn’t the education system

Or affordable health care

Or Facebook and Twitter

It’s a heart problem.

Hearts that refuse to share, care, give and open.

Hearts that would rather blame and name than accept and forgive.

Selfish hearts whose vocabulary seems to repeat a single word over and over: Mine.

Too simplistic, this notion the problem is in our hearts?

“Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts.” 1 John 521


Forgive us, O God.

Forgive your people who have let pride, selfishness, hate and greed take your place in our hearts.

Forgive our motives that are marked by political jargon and self-advancement.

Forgive our church talk that sounds like ‘we’re in and everyone else is out’. 

Forgive our complacency.

‘I’ve searched the land and found this David, son of Jesse. He’s a man whose heart beats to my heart, a man who will do what I tell him.’ Acts 13:22

“Don’t keep looking at my sins—erase them from your sight. 10 Create in me a new, clean heart, O God, filled with clean thoughts and right desires.” Psalm 51:9-10

Soup, Soap, Salvation

Over 4 years later and Jeff’s words are still clear. “I never would have listened if you hadn’t fed me first.”

He wasn’t like most of the men who have come to seek shelter. They all come broken whether they admit it is another thing.

preach the Gospel Booth


There is no one type who comes. They aren’t all homeless as the assumption goes. Homeless only in that we’re the last stop on the proverbial block. Family and friends have tired of their empty promises or learned they can’t trust them not to steal and hock their widescreen t.v.

But Jeff had been living under a bridge. An overpass of I-95 to be more exact. He’d been out there sometime and I’m not sure what brought him to our doors. A moment of clarity, we say.

When we have an open bed and the most basic of criteria is met, men are accepted into our 6-month program. Most promise to stay but fewer than half will. We know that. We hope anyway.


Most of the time, the first thing the men will do after some filling out some paperwork is eat a good meal. We serve three meals a day to over 100 people each meal. Rare is the man who checks in and doesn’t gain 40 pounds during his stay. Rarer is the man who doesn’t need to regain some healthy body weight.

Serving FDNY during 9-11

Serving FDNY during 9-11



Upon intake, each man will get a voucher for clean clothes from our Family Store. He will be provided with all of his basic needs. A hygiene kit will be given so he can shave and have his own tooth-brush before the day is out he’ll enjoy a hot shower a be assigned a clean bed.

What person can give attention to instruction if he is hungry, dirty or tired.


There are no surprises here. Each man is made aware we are a faith-based program and there will be a Sunday chapel service and a bible study class he’ll attend. That is the extent of what we can require: attendance. Some will sleep through all classes including recovery groups. Again, we know but we hope.

Soup, Soap and Salvation is one of the early slogans of The Salvation Army. It continues to fit much of what we do, but it particularly is fitting to the Adult Rehabilitation Program. A program for men who have lost their way, often due to substance abuse issues, to receive guidance, purpose, meaning, and education to learn new ways to live.

Our desire is while they are with us they will come to a relationship with Jesus. We pray for them and with them. But our love isn’t conditional on their choices, just as God’s love for us isn’t.

SA poster


This year The Salvation Army is celebrating 150 years in existence. Often times, this week in May is celebrated as National Salvation Army week. I’m surprised I haven’t seen Willard Scott give us a shout out as he often does.

There is a lot to celebrate in that at the core of who we are, is this:

The Salvation Army, an international movement, is an evangelical part of the universal Christian church. Its message is based on the Bible. Its ministry is motivated by the love of God. Its mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination. – Mission Statement

We can’t do any of this alone as it takes an Army to reach a village. This Army is mobilized in over 100 countries and we’re on wheels in the US (and many countries) to meet disasters with the first responders, serving up soup, soap and salvation.

For more information on beliefs and practices of The Salvation Army, or locations of service, go to

M is for memories

She is okay. We are still being tossed about in the waves of a grief that is going on 7 years now.

Mama is as okay as anyone with Alzheimer’s dementia can be. She is being cared for. She lives in a safe place meaning the doors have alarms so no one can wander outside without alerting staff.

She is clean because staff sees to her well-being.

She is visited by family and friends and she still smiles and laughs at times though she sleeps more.

She is content and we have come to value that word, that state of being.

The grief is more gentle these days. It’s felt strongest on birthdays and mother’s day. The cards that won’t come and cards sent to her and signed “your daughter” still carry a whisper of a hope the words will have meaning.

Tears come more on these days. Tears for dreams once held of more time spent together with her. Tears for a mama who is more gone than present.

I find myself talking about her in the past tense at times, as though she has passed. The part of life where we knew each other as mother and daughter has passed. And it is sad.

For a moment I will allow myself the sadness of that loss but I want to remember more what she doesn’t. I want to remember the time we met on her side of the country. When we drove a little Nissan from Ft. Lauderdale to Yellowstone National Park packed with two kids in the back seat in the days before electronic entertainment devices.

At her son and daughter-in-law’s ordination
With her kids in 2009
Her ordination photo 1959

Or the other time we met in the middle, them driving from Yakima, WA and us again from Ft. Lauderdale to meet at a house outside Branson, MO.

There would be more cross county trips for us and even more flights for her to be at graduations and weddings and just to be with her kids.

Her sacrifice for us was always there. She is my Proverbs 31 woman. The one who was up before the rest of us to cook breakfast, and serve it and clean up after.

The one who sewed dresses for me and patched many a knee on my brothers jeans.

The woman who made sure the family money was spent wisely, shared generously and saved something when there should have been none left.

She loved people and her life’s work was to help those in need. She was living the calling God had placed on her life to serve and this is what brought her joy.

Mama would be the first to tell you her limitations. She didn’t like being overweight and she could have a harsh tone if warranted. She suffered a broken heart when daddy divorced her but she found love again, much to her surprise I think.

Knowing her imperfections, we still praise her and recognize the depths of her love for God.
What she doesn’t remember we proclaim and celebrate.

These words from Proverbs describe her well. A woman who never set out to charm or to be anything other than “neat and clean”. A woman whose beauty was heard in her laugh and shared with her smile. A woman who loved and served God above all else. Thank you, mama.

Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last;
    but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised.

For the Wanderers

He was sitting crouched in a chair, the blue hoodie over his head. He stood to give me a hug as I walked toward him, this skinny kid with a talent for rhyme and a bent for drugs.

His voice is soft as always but the silence he used before gave way to quick words of It’s good to be back. It’s hard out there.

The night before we’d all sat in the chapel. I’d heard that maybe he’d come back and maybe that was him curled up on a cot, the 100th person in a 99 bed facility. Let him stay I said to Gavin. We know when anyone first comes in their body is a shell and their mind a sponge that has dried hard from the toll of addiction. He didn’t need a bible class. He didn’t need to try to make himself listen or sit up. He needed rest.

Our gathering that night was different. Rather than two bible study groups we joined together to recognize the Lenten season. For some, to learn what this kind of lent is and for others to be reminded of the symbolism. For all of us to understand it’s personal how we do this giving and receiving.

Some sat with open hearts and I suspect some sat with unwanted yearnings for the poison that wants to claim their life. The magic cure alludes them because it isn’t magic but it’s work and surrender which is a lot like work.

The closing song lingers, its words echoing in my mind from the moment I woke.

Oh wanderer come home, you’re not too far

And he did. This wanderer whose face can’t even grow a decent stubble has come home.

He is just one but there are so many more. Some will come home to peace, to hope, and some will wander still.  But no wanderer is too far.

I’ve done my wandering and still do. I wander from gentleness and gratitude to cynicism and complaining. Both are equal poisons that threaten to steal what God wants me to have and to share. They won’t cause me to lose my family or a job like an addiction can but they can cause me to lose who God wants me to be.

Come sit at the table, come taste of the grace

I carry my burdens refusing to share and on days when they weigh me down I become that dried up sponge thirsting for grace.

It’s important to me not to think of how we’re helping these men who come through our doors but to consider how they are helping me. How alike them I am in wanting my will rather than God’s.

God uses the humble to confound the proud, perhaps.

We sit at the table together, he and I. This man-child who hasn’t given up. Who is ready to stop wandering. He has come home to grace and hope.