For those of us who’ve lost a parent or family member, particularly around the holidays, this time of year can have some rough patches as we remember our loved ones.
In December of 2015, I received the call from my sister that my mom
Mary Anne Thurman had breathed her last breath. As a Jesus Follower, I took comfort in the fact that I believe that when she took her last breath on this Earth, she took her next breath in Heaven. That being said, her death began a new journey for myself, my siblings, my dad, and my family.
Grief is not a neat, predictable process or orderly thing. It is messy, sometimes unpredictable, and rarely follows the handy, five or six-step path that some folks espouse.
It is also intensely personal and unique for all of us.
And while each of us processes the loss of a loved one is very different and unique ways, I choose to celebrate some of the good memories of mom.
One of the ways that I celebrate her is by preparing one of her favorite Christmas recipes each Christmas.
First, a little bit of a back story, I left at home to go to military school when I was 15, and apart from a few years in the late seventies and early eighties, I have lived away from my family.
Since I was the one who was not home most Christmases of my adult life, mom would always make sure that I received a care package close to Christmas. It usually included fruit cake cookies and Martha Washington Candy. (Here is a great link that gives the story of MWC).
Over the years, I would call mom and ask for some of my favorite recipes, and a few years ago, she sent all of us a box of handwritten recipes. The photo at the bottom is the one for mom’s Martha Washington Candy. (NOTE: Oleo is an old school name for margarine, use butter that is at room temperature instead.)
Every year as I begin to pull our that special recipe box gentle memories of my mom, dad, siblings, and Christmases past slowly trickle through my mind as I remember her.
At the same time, I think about the 47 Christmases with my wife, and thirty-seven years as a parent, and now a grandparent. I am thankful for the life I have.
May your Christmas be filled with joy and precious memories as we celebrate the first coming of Christ the King.
Recently America experiences a weekend was filled with horror, death, fear, anxiety, panic, and dread as news spread of the El Paso shootings and the second shock of the shootings in Dayton.
Even as this tragic news was breaking, I was anticipating being called to respond to the tragedy in El Paso. Early Sunday evening, I was asked to head to El Paso early Monday morning as a Grief Counselor for a business that was directly impacted by this tragedy. I chose to focus on El Paso, because I was there.
In those two days, I talked with 21 people who were directly affected by this event. Some had lost friends and family members, others had experienced prior violence. All were nearly immobilized with fear, and others were angry.
This article is a direct result of the freshness of this week’s response as well as 150 plus responses to disruptive workplace events in my work as a Crisis Response Specialist.
With that in mind, I want to share some practical steps you can take to deal with some of the potential toxic emotional aftermaths of such a horrible and tragic event.
When any mass shooting or act of terror occurs, it is reasonable to feel anxious, scared, and uncertain about what the future could bring. With time and appropriate attention, these strong, sometimes immobilizing fears, thoughts, and feelings can begin to fade as life begins its return to a new normal.
Returning to a New Normal
You can accelerate the process by doing the following:
• Limit media exposure! On a practical level, the half-hour evening newscasts will give you enough information to stay current. There is little added value to hearing the 24-hour pundit input.
• Ignoring your feelings about the event will dynamically impair your recovery process.
• Talking about what and how you are feeling may be difficult, but it will help you and others heal.
• Being proactive about you and your family’s situation and well-being (rather than passively waiting for someone else to help you) will help decrease the feelings of powerlessness, anger, anxiety, and vulnerability. Focus on anything that allows you and your family to feel safe, calm, and secure.
• Re-establish the routines of your personal and family life.
• Connect with others in your neighborhood, workgroup, and place of worship. For those who exercise spiritual discipline, one of best practices to enhance your recovery is to regularly attend worship services and be a part of a small group.
• If you work a regular 9-5 job, there is a strong possibility that you have an Employee Assistance Benefit which provides free, short-term counseling for you and your family. Be sure to check with your HR department or the benefits link on your company’s website.
• Challenge any thoughts of helplessness.
• Minimize media exposure
• Make stress reduction a priority. • Get out and exercise.
Tips for Helping Your Kids Cope
• Provide your kids with ongoing opportunities to talk about what they may be feeling.
• If you don’t know the answer to a question they might have, don’t be afraid to admit it.
• Restrict their exposure to media.
• Remember, children often personalize situations. They may worry about their safety or that of their family, even if the traumatic event occurred far away. Reassure them and help them understand the situation in context.
• Watch for the signs of stress: crying, insomnia, tummy aches, excessive fear, and worry.
Humans are designed to be resilient. In several studies, resilience and post-traumatic growth and hope are three of the critical components of healing as well as personal and spiritual growth. By resilience, I mean the ability to resist the manifestations of clinical distress, impairment, or dysfunction that are often associated with critical incidents, acts of terror, mass disasters, and personal trauma.
While we are still reeling from the events of the first week of August, I can tell you based on my years of work in the field that we as individuals, families, and Americans will honor the dead, and care for those who are injured with both visible and invisible wounds. Also, we, as a nation of immigrants (my ancestry is Northern Western European, Wales, and England) will support each other and experience positive, post-traumatic growth.
One of the most important things we can do in the days and weeks ahead it to comfort, console and encourage each other.
This passage from the New Testament Book of 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 have helped people for over 2000 years. Take a moment and read it for yourself.
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ.
A Personal Note of Preparedness
These are dangerous times in our country. I thought long and hard about adding this portion, and I would never want to promote fear, I do want to be crystal clear about what I am about to say.
You should know the drill by now. Flee if you can. If you cannot flee, Hide. If you cannot hide, Fight. I would add a fourth: know how to stop the bleeding. Incident after incident reveals that if a person does not immediately die from a gunshot wound, they will most likely bleed out.
Apart from these national tragedies, you and I still need to know basic First Aid, this video from FEMA is an exceptional training video on how to Stop The Bleed or hemorrhagic control.
If you are authorized to carry a concealed weapon legally, are you proficient in your use of arms? Are you prepared to engage the shooter if that is your final option? If you choose to carry these are some of the serious things you need to consider.
A few days after these mass shootings, an off duty firefighter who was authorized to conceal and carry a weapon stopped an armed individual outside a Walmart in Missouri.
The day of the shooting in El Paso, a young soldier, who is authorized to conceal and carry a weapon, drew his pistol and helped rescue several children when he heard gunfire; unfortunately, he lamented that while he asked people to help him evacuate the children, only one other man helped out. In my opinion, he is one of many heroes that day in El Paso—men and women who ran toward trouble rather than away from it. God bless our First Responders.
There will be lots of lessons learned from these recent tragic events. While many will attempt to use these events as political currency, why don’t you and I, regardless of politics, socio-economic background, ancestral heritage pull together and do what we can to make this country and this world a better place to live.
In closing, I’d like to take a quick trip down memory lane to some truths and principles that we need to remind ourselves of.
As a former Boy Scout, the oath and creed I learned as a boy is in my mind me today. For those of you who grew up in the Scouts, remember it with me.
On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.
The Scout Law has 12 points. Each is a goal for every Scout. A Scout tries to live up to the law every day. It is not always easy to do, but a Scout always tries.
A Scout is:
TRUSTWORTHY. Tell the truth and keep promises. People can depend on you.
LOYAL. Show that you care about your family, friends, Scout leaders, school, and country.
HELPFUL. Volunteer to help others without expecting a reward.
FRIENDLY. Be a friend to everyone, even people who are very different from you.
COURTEOUS. Be polite to everyone and always use good manners.
KIND. Treat others as you want to be treated. Never harm or kill any living thing without good reason.
OBEDIENT. Follow the rules of your family, school, and pack. Obey the laws of your community and country.
CHEERFUL. Look for the bright side of life. Cheerfully do tasks that come your way. Try to help others be happy.
THRIFTY. Work to pay your way. Try not to be wasteful. Use the time, food, supplies, and natural resources wisely.
BRAVE. Face difficult situations even when you feel afraid. Do what you think is right despite what others might be doing or saying.
CLEAN. Keep your body and mind fit. Help keep your home and community clean.
REVERENT. Be reverent toward God. Be faithful in your religious duties. Respect the beliefs of others.
Maybe we should thinks about what it would be like if we took some of these principles and integrated or reintegrate them into our live.
What if we spend less time in the blush’s screen and more time looking into each other’s eyes as we talk and live out lives.
Ancient Wisdom on day-to-day living:
So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Ephesians 5:15 NLT
Ancient Wisdom on dealing with fear.
For God did not give us a spirit of timidity (of cowardice, of craven and cringing and fawning fear), but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of calm and well-balanced mind and discipline and self-control. 2 Timothy 1:7 Amplified
Jerry Evans, a man who was admired by so many for his love of life, his expertise in business and ministry, his passion for encouraging those in ministry and for sharing the Gospel, died a few days ago.
During some dark days in my ministry life, Jerry was a quiet source of encouragement. I was going through a time of challenging my call to ministry, which in my mind was if you were called to ministry, then you should be on a church staff. (by the way, this is a lie) Jerry, through his dry humor and his gentle, brotherly encouragement reminded me that a “calling” does not necessarily mean a professional paid church staff position. Jerry himself was a successful builder and smart business person.
As a result, I was able to recalibrate my thinking and realize that in my case, my ministry, for the most part, is self-funded.
Jerry also helped me in many other ways, during that tough season. I was fortunate to know Jerry, he was an encourager in my time of need, and for that, I am profoundly grateful.
After coming out of a dreary season, Jerry and I did stay connected. I learned about his death through Facebook where Jerry regularly posted devotional thoughts. A pretty significant accomplishment for a gentleman who was 77.
When I learned of his passing, I mentioned to my wife that we’d be going to his celebration of life service. We both reminded each other of what a good and godly man he was, and we remembered his beautiful wife Becky in our thoughts and prayers.
In 2005, Mayor Rudy Giuliani penned the bestselling book, Leadership, and while the book gave some excellent insights to his leadership style, there was one poignant portion of the book that struck me in a profound way when I read it. Giuliani, reflecting on all of the funerals that he had attended as a result of the 911 attacks stated, “Funerals are mandatory weddings are optional.”
Giuliani, a Roman Catholic, grew up hearing the Scriptures and no doubt this, now famous phrase came from a recollection of Ecclesiastes Chapter 7 verses 2-4. NLT
Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties.
After all, everyone dies—
so the living should take this to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter,
for sadness has a refining influence on us.
A wise person thinks a lot about death,
while a fool thinks only about having a good time.
Until my dad died in early 2016, we would talk early every Thursday afternoon. Most of the time he would update me on the latest gossip in Fort Valley, talk about politics and who moved, whose kids or grandkids that I might know had married or divorced or had babies. One day, while he was musing about growing older, he made the following statement, “You know John as you get older, you go to a lot more funerals than weddings. People you know, people that you have shared life with, done business with people eventually die as we all do, and it is important to attend their funeral as both a way to honor their memory and support their family.”
Well, I am at that point in my life where I have embraced that am an older man, in February I hit the big 67, and I am beginning to be more aware of the importance of being present at people’s Celebration of Life services. The other day, both before and after the service Angie and I caught up with friends we’d known over the past thirty-two years since moving to our adopted home state of New Mexico. Another beautiful part of this gathering is the fact that we were able to catch up with a few of the young folks that grew up with our children in Albuquerque.
Jerry’s Celebration of Life service as a time to laugh, cry, reflect, and reconnect. It was a time to review a man who honored Christ is all that he did.
A service like this should always cause us to stop and pause and ask the question, “How am I doing as far as living my life’s values, what will my legacy be?
There is an old but true saying. Two things are for sure, death and taxes. And the Scripture says;
If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Romans 14:8.
Jerry, thank you for living this verse and being a wonderful role model for so many of us.
And for you, May God bless you and give you helpful, hopeful insight as you continue your journey.
My First Christmas without my Mama
by John Thurman
This Christmas will mark a first for me. It will be a bittersweet one because my mama went to be with the Lord on December 3, 2016.
Her death was not a shock or a surprise. For the past several years she fought off the effects of COPD until she was no longer able to breathe. That Friday, she took her last breath on Earth and her first breath in the presence of the Lord. She was surrounded by her family and her family doctor.
My mama loved this time of year! As a florist and small business owner, she enjoyed preparing for the Advent Season and was a joy-filled bundle of energy during the Holidays. I have many memories of some of the extraordinary things that she and my dad did for us during Christmas time.
Like many of you who have experienced a loss in the past year or two, I will rejoice at the memories from my childhood and adult years with my mom. I accept the fact we are born, we live a life in between the dash, our start date and out end date and then we pass from this earth. My mama had a great run between her birth and death. She lived a full and meaningful life, her dash between these dates touched many people and she gave my brothers and sisters an example of resilience and a positive attitude.
For those of you on this shared journey, I hope that this Christmas will be a hope-filled, joyful season for you while you both mourn the loss and celebrate the memories of your loved one.
While I love the story of the birth of Jesus and have had the blessing of visiting his birthplace in Bethlehem, I am reminded that his birthplace is only minutes away from where he died and rose from the dead.
While we celebrate the birth of the baby, Jesus let’s remember one of the earliest confessions of the church.
As a reminder, at this time, there was no New Testament, and very few people were literate. This confession was an instructional tool used to help early believers understand some fundamental doctrine about Jesus Christ.
The Apostle’s Creed or Nicene
This creed was first formulated at the First Ecumenical Council, held at Nicene, located in what is now Turkey, in 325, as a response to the Arian heresy, which denied the divinity of Christ. It was revised at the Second Ecumenical Council, held at Constantinople in 381 as a response to the Macedonian or Pneumatomachian heresy, which denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit.
The Nicene Creed
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him, all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit, he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary and was made a man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day, he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father. With the Father and the Son, he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
Special Note: The word “catholic” with a lower-case ‘c’ does not mean the Roman Catholic Church, but the universal Christian Church as a whole.
My hope, as you and I work through the losses that we have experienced, we will have a sense of hope, peace, and comfort
I love what the Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3: 3-4
“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others”.