Freedom Reigns Jan 2018

Jim’s Blog (From the Director)

It is believed that the Babylonians were the first to make New Year’s resolutions around 4,000 years ago, and people all over the world have been breaking them ever since!

The ancient Babylonians made promises to their gods at the start of each year, which began in mid-March, that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts.  March was a logical time period for the New Year because spring begins and crops are planted.  But the Babylonians had a greater motivation to stick to their promises than what we have today, because for the ancient people of Mesopotamia, keeping their promise would mean that their gods would bestow their grace on them throughout the course of the following twelve months, and breaking them would put them out of favour.

The practice carried over into Roman times with worshippers offering resolutions of good conduct to the two-faced deity named Janus, the god of beginnings and endings, who looks backward into the old year and forward into the new. 

In the Medieval era, knights took the “peacock vow” (les voeux du paon) at the end of the year to re-affirm their commitment to chivalry, while early Christians believed the first day of the new year should be spent reflecting on past mistakes and resolving to improve oneself in the new year.   At watchnight services, many Christians prepare for the year ahead by praying and making these resolutions.

There are other religious parallels to this tradition. During Judaism’s New Year, Rosh Hashanah, through the High Holidays and culminating in Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), one is to reflect upon one’s wrongdoings over the year and both seek and offer forgiveness.  The concept, regardless of creed, is to reflect upon self-improvement annually.

Today, the only thing that has changed (for some) is that, rather than making promises to gods, we make promises to ourselves.  And since we cannot possibly rain thunders and lightning on ourselves as punishment for not keeping our promises, it need not surprise us that sooner or later we fail in staying true to our words. 

A 2007 study by Richard Wiseman from the University of Bristol involving 3,000 people showed that 88% of those who set New Year resolutions failed, despite the fact that 52% of the study’s participants were confident of success at the beginning

Some of us may have made New Year’s Resolutions this year. They generally focus on some change related to health, activity, or breaking a habit seen as bad.

In some ways these are minor Vows that depend on I to accomplish them. When we do it that way we are not including our Lord in the process.

Are the things that we focus on changing really based of God’s leading or our own idea of self-improvement? Just as we sometimes blame God for not doing something like preventing some tragedy, I wonder if our self-improvement ideas are based on false beliefs as well?

Many of us have a distorted view of grace that is something like this. There are things I should control and fix that I am ashamed of or feel guilty about. After I take care of those things I can hope for God to be gracious about the things I don’t seem to have control over.

Unfortunately, the core of sinful nature is independence from God. Most of our lives we struggle for independence.  First from the direction or demands and rules of our parents, and then for finding our own way in the career and financial world.  We spend huge effort of our own idea of being secure and comfortable. The American dream is the RIGHT to peruse freedom and happiness.  Down deep I think we still believe If I’m good, good things will happen for me. Therefore, if I see not good things in my life, I need to fix them, so I get the good things.

That may be the unconscious basis for New Year’s resolutions.

There are many verses that seem to be saying something like this.

Gal 5:19– 23

¶Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

So shouldn’t we try to stop the first list and work on adding the second?

2Ti 3:17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

In that same passage it says that we who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.

For a long time I saw this as some work I was to do. But, it is not possible to crucify ones self. Gal 2:20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.   It is coming to believe that my sinful will is dead, it died WHEN Jesus died with MY sin in His own body. So I am free to live by faith in the Love that Jesus won for me.

So how can I even identify what needs to be changed in my life? TWO of the profound truths in the 12 step journey is FIRST admitting that I am POWERLESS to change, and SECOND That ONLY God can restore me to sanity.

What I see is even Jesus did not live His own design, plan, or will, but what His father told Him to say and do.

So, the first thing for God’s New Year’s resolution for me is to listen and listen and listen some more until I know what He is leading me to do and then allow His power to accomplish it. My self-inspection is clouded by my broken nature and the impact of a broken world around me. I would probably focus on changing the thing I feel most ashamed and guilty and unhappy with. But the Father may want me to start in a completely different direction.  2Ti 1:9 Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,  Phl 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. God is more likely to call me to focus on His presence, on His desire for me, on His nature, on being conformed to the image of His Son.

Back to the example of identifying counterfeit money, they are trained by looking at real (good) money and the fake then becomes obvious. When my focus is on God the things that do not fit with Him become obvious and Then HE moves us toward Himself and away from them. I don’t fix my problem or stop this or that, I am drawn to something good from my Father.

Recently as I was looking at areas of struggle in my life I realized that I had no idea of what healthy would be in that area. My earliest experiences had left me with a broken twisted view of intimacy and relationship. So how do I build healthy relationships? The Lord told me “I will restore you” He knows what healthy is and how to get me there. I really don’t have a clue. So if I try to fix the resulting behaviors rooted in my brokenness I’ll get nowhere. If I focus on leaning into Him when I feel small, lost, unacceptable, powerless, incompetent, His presence is none of those things.

So look at your resolutions and see what beliefs about yourself lie under the behavior or emotions that you were trying to change. Then consider what Jesus would tell you is TRUE from His perspective. Better yet ask Him when you are quiet and open enough to really wait to hear from Him.

God has a plan for your restoration. Restoration to the Design and image of you he has always had. In fact What he intended for you to be before creation. The great news is that you WILL be conformed to that design and live out of it for eternity. The what and how that process goes is so much better directed by a loving heavenly Father than out of my own awareness of brokenness, shame and guilt.

Phl 1:6

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

64 Tips for Coping with Grief During the Holidays

64 pro-tips for coping with grief at the holidays.  Why 64 things?  Eh, why not 64 things?  Take some. Leave some. Love some. Hate Some.  Then tell us what has worked for you in holidays past, or how you plan to cope with the holidays this year.  Because the holidays are tough for all of us, the least we can do are share our tips and tricks with one another to make the season just a smidge more tolerable.

  1. Acknowledge that the holidays will be different and they will be tough.
  2. Decide which traditions you want to keep.
  3. Decide which traditions you want to change.
  4.  Create a new tradition in memory of your loved one.
  5. Decide where you want to spend the holidays – you may want to switch up the location, or it may be of comfort to keep it the same.  Either way, make a conscious decision about location.
  6. Plan ahead and communicate with the people you will spend the holiday with in advance, to make sure everyone is in agreement about traditions and plans.
  7. Remember that not everyone will be grieving the same way you are grieving.
  8. Remember that the way others will want to spend the holiday may not match how you want to spend the holiday.
  9. Put out a ‘memory stocking’, ‘memory box’, or other special place where you and others can write down memories you treasure.  Pick a time to read them together.
  10. Light a candle in your home in memory of the person you’ve lost.
  11. Include one of your loved one’s favorite dishes in your holiday meal.
  12. Be honest. Tell people what you DO want to do for the holidays and what you DON’T want to do.
  13. Make a donation to a charity that was important to your loved one in their name.
  14. Buy a gift you would have given to your loved one and donate it to a local charity.
  15. If you are feeling really ambitious, adopt a family in memory of your loved one.  This can often be done through a church, salvation army, or good will.
  16. See a counselor.  Maybe you’ve been putting it off.  The holidays are especially tough, so this may be the time to talk to someone.
  17. Pick a few special items that belonged to your loved one and gift them to friends or family who will appreciate them.
  18. Make a memorial ornament, wreath, or other decoration in honor of your loved one.
  19. If you have been having a hard time parting with your loved one’s clothing, use the holidays as an opportunity to donate some items to a homeless shelter or other charity.
  20. Send a holiday card to friends of your loved one who you may regret having lost touch with.
  21. Visit your loved one’s gravesite and leave a grave blanket, wreath, poinsettia, or other meaningful holiday item.
  22. Play your loved one’s favorite holiday music.
  23. If your loved one hated holiday music, that’s okay! Play whatever music they loved.
  24. Journal when you are having an especially bad day.
  25. Skip holiday events if you are in holiday overload.
  26. Don’t feel guilty about skipping events if you are in holiday overload!
  27. Don’t get trapped.  When you go to holiday events, drive yourself so you can leave if it gets to be too much.
  28. Pull out old photo albums and spend some time on the holiday looking at photos.
  29. Talk to kids about the holidays – it can be confusing for kids that the holidays can be both happy and sad after a death.  Let them know it is okay to enjoy the holiday, and it is okay to be sad.
  30. Make a dish that your loved one used to make. Don’t get discouraged if you try to make their dish and you fail.  We’ve all been there (or, at least I’ve been there!).
  31. Leave an empty seat at the holiday table in memory of your loved one.
  32. If leaving an empty seat is too depressing, invite someone who doesn’t have family to spend the holiday with.
  33. Don’t send holiday cards this year if it is too sad or overwhelming.
  34. Don’t feel guilty about not sending holiday cards!
  35. Create a ‘dear photograph’, with a photo of a holiday past.
  36. Skip or minimize gifts.  After a death, material things can seem less meaningful and the mall can seem especially stressful.  Talk as a family and decide whether you truly want to exchange gifts this year.
  37. Put out a photo table with photos of your loved one at holiday celebrations in the past.
  38. Go to a grief group.  When everyone looks so gosh-darn filled with holiday cheer, sometimes it is helpful to talk with others who are struggling.
  39. Skip (or minimize) the decorations if they are too much this year.  Don’t worry, you’ll see plenty of decorations outside your house.
  40. Don’t feel guilty if you skip or minimize the decorations!
  41. Remember that crying is okay.  The holidays are everywhere and who knows what may trigger a cry-fest.  We’ve all been there and it is okay to cry (even if you are in the sock aisle at Target).
  42. Volunteer in your loved one’s memory.
  43.  Let your perfectionism go.  If you always have the perfect tree, perfectly wrapped gifts, and perfect table, accept that this year may not be perfect and that is a-okay.  I know this is easier said than done for you type-As, but give it a try.
  44. Ignore people who want to tell you what you “should” do for the holiday.  Listen to yourself, trust yourself, communicate with your family, and do what works for you.
  45. Seek gratitude.  I am the queen of holiday funks, so I know this is tough.  But try to find one daily gratitude throughout the holiday season.  Write it down, photograph it, share it on facebook.  Whatever.  Just look for the little things.  Here are some tips if you’re struggling with it.
  46. Watch the food.  Food can make us feel better in the short term (damn you, dopamine!) until we feel like crap later that we ate that whole tin of holiday cookies.  Don’t deprive yourself, but be careful that you don’t let food become your holiday comfort.
  47. Watch the booze.  Alcohol can become a fast friend when we are grieving. If that holiday party is getting to be too much, head home instead of to the open bar.
  48.  If you are stressed about making the holiday dinner, ask someone else to cook or buy dinner this year.
  49. If you are stressed about the crowds at the mall, cut back on gifts or do your shopping online.
  50. Splurge on a gift for you. Grief can make us feel a little entitled and self-involved, and that is okay sometimes (within reason, of course).  Splurge on a holiday gift for yourself this year, And make it a good one!
  51. Say yes to help.  There will be people who want to help and may offer their support.  Take them up on their offers.
  52. Ask for help.  If people aren’t offering, ask.  This can be super-hard if it isn’t your style, but it is important.  Asking others to help with cooking, shopping, or decorating can be a big relief.
  53. Have a moment of silence during your holiday prayer or toast in memory of your loved one.
  54. Donate a holiday meal to a family in need through a local church, salvation army, or department of social services.
  55. Identify the people who will be able to help and support you during the holidays and identify who may cause you more stress.  Try to spend more time with the former group and less with the latter.
  56. Make some quiet time for yourself.  The holidays can be hectic, make quiet time for yourself to journal, meditate, listen to music, etc.
  57. Practice self-care.  I know, how cliché.  But it is true – whatever it is that helps you recharge, do it.  You can find some self-care tips here.
  58. Support kids by doing a memorial grief activity together.
  59. Donate altar flowers or other holiday decorations at your place of worship in memory of your loved one.
  60. Prioritize and don’t overcommit.  When the holidays are filled with so many parties, dinners, and events, save your energy for those that are most important. Look at everything you have to do and rank them in order of importance.  Plan for the most important and skip the rest.
  61. Make a list and check it twice.  Grief makes it harder for us to concentrate and remember things.  When you have a lot going on at the holidays, make a list even if you aren’t usually a list-maker, and write things on the calendar.
  62. Skip it.  Really.  If you just can’t face the holiday it is okay to take a break this year.  Before you get to this extreme, consider if you could just simplify your holiday.  If you do skip, still make a plan.  Decide if you will still see friends or family, go see a new movie, or make another plan.
  63. Enjoy yourself! The holidays will be tough, but there will also be love and joy.
  64. Remember, it is okay to be happy – this doesn’t diminish how much you love and miss the person who isn’t there this holiday.  Don’t feel guilty for the joy you do find this holiday season.