Families With Grace

Helping Christian moms create homes filled with grace, love & faith

How to look back at a hard year

Learning to move on from the challenges

This year has brought challenges that most of us didn’t expect when we rang in the new year on January 1. My blog post published on January 2 talked about how I wanted to make sure I kept focused on the things that really matter in life like making memories with my family. I had no idea those memories would include months and months of being at home and helping my kids virtual school full-time.

Of course 2020 has been collectively a difficult and challenging year. Its challenges aren’t going to go away any time soon either. But, like all of us, I’ve had other difficult years. I’ve lived through years I thought really, truly might break me.

I recently went back and read something I wrote at the end of 2013. Even now seven years later, my husband and I still say the only good thing that came out of that year was the birth of our son — and that happened at the end of January.

The rest of the year included all sorts of difficult struggles. It was a year during which we survived. We certainly didn’t thrive. We dragged ourselves to Dec. 31, 2013 with hopes 2014 would be better.

Some years are like that. This year has been like that for many folks. We’ve survived the year, but we haven’t done a lot of thriving. I don’t think anyone is going to hate seeing 2020 finally come to an end.

Finding the good in the midst of bad

However, 2020 wasn’t only bad. Whenever I have a bad year, that’s what I’ve learned I must remember. Each year has both good and bad parts. For the years with more bad than good, we struggle to remember the good stuff sometimes.

Back at the end of 2013, I remember sitting down to write about it and deleting half of what I first typed. I didn’t want to focus on the negative. I wasn’t sure the positive would take many words. But I surprised myself with how many good memories I had from the year.

That’s the challenge for 2020. I know you have good memories from this year. I do. As we close out this year and say good riddance to it, what have been some of your best moments of the year? What are you thankful for?

I can’t speak collectively for all of us. Some moments this year were good for some and not for others. But I can speak for myself.

Good moments of 2020

My children have an early spring break, so we were able to have a spring break trip this year before things went completely sideways. We spent a couple of days at an indoor water park and then they went on a short trip with my parents. Those water park memories were good, but they are even better when viewed with the perspective of the rest of the year!

Being at home more, we did more fun things like playing games together.

We got creative in celebrating Easter this year and ate tacos for Easter dinner.

At the end of June, we spent a week at the lake with my parents and a few days with my brother and his family. My son caught his first fish. I delighted in watching my kids go tubing for their first time. My daughter and I pretended to be otters floating in the lake, completely relaxed. It was a restorative time and a bit of a break from reality. (We still only got food as take-out and made bathroom trips incredibly fast and masked up on the way there and back.)

My husband and I got to be a bigger part of our kids’ first day of school than usual, because we set up for school at home from the start of this school year.

We watched lots of movies and shows together at home.

Our family has laughed and come up with more inside jokes than usual.

We’ve had some great conversations as a family around the table and anywhere we are.

The puppy got in on the action with even more snuggles than usual, which has made all of us happy.

We’ve read through numerous books as a family and not only had more time to read them but also to talk about them.

We got creative for Halloween and hosted a party and Halloween hunt for our parents in lieu of trick-or-treating. We had such fun coming up with snacks and making decorations and games.

I played hostess for Thanksgiving this year with my parents and in-laws. We all contributed food and enjoyed each other’s company. Being together was a blessing!

The list could continue on of the good memories from this year!

Thankfulness in 2020

Along with good memories, the year has many things for which to be thankful. The first thing that pops into my head is that I’m thankful to end this year with a healthy family. My loved ones whom I have most been concerned for have had some other health issues not related to the pandemic, but we are all healthy overall.

I am also thankful for the strength God has given me to get through the year. We started out the pandemic with my husband completely incapacitated after having rotator cuff repair surgery. The first few weeks of quarantine and virtual school were quite intense.

This year I’ve become even more thankful for our new home and the space we have now to spread out for things like virtual schooling.

I’m thankful for our puppy as well. We celebrated his first birthday in May. He brought us lots of love, laughter and cuddles throughout everything this year has held.

I am very grateful for pick-up at stores. While I appreciated grocery pick-up before, I REALLY appreciate it now. I haven’t been inside a store to shop in months. I completed all my Christmas shopping online and had items delivered to me or picked them up without getting out of my car.

Above all, I am thankful for God. He has been faithful, as always, through every moment of this year. God wasn’t surprised or caught off-guard by anything in 2020. He remains faithful and good through every single moment.

Acknowledge the challenge

Looking back at a difficult year to find the positive doesn’t mean that we aren’t acknowledging the negative. This year has also held heart-wrenching moments. We do have to acknowledge those.

As we are doing so, though, we must also take note of what we learned and how we grew through those difficulties. I’ve learned some of the most important lessons of my life through hard times and difficulties. I’m thankful for those lessons, because they serve me well the next time a hard time comes around.

This year may also require mourning for what we lost. I am not even speaking of the loss of life. That is a whole other level of mourning and grief that doesn’t even compare to anything else. I know that. I pray for those who have lost loved ones this year whether because of COVID or because of other reasons.

What I mean by mourning in this instance is acknowledging what we missed out on this year. I think of family events that were canceled. Graduations that were different. Proms that weren’t held. I think of fun at recess that’s been missed. And school programs that were canceled. There were church services held online instead of in person.

So many things were challenging about this year. We had to change our way of life — and that doesn’t come without growing pains.

What I’ve learned, though, is that while we must acknowledge the hard times, we don’t want to get stuck there. Getting stuck in the hard stuff for too long is the problem. And that’s when we go back around to remember the good parts of the year. That’s when we start going through what we’re grateful for.

So let’s process what we went through in 2020 and look forward to what another year will bring.

Living in a new reality

Life during quarantine

The following post is all about my personal mental health experiences. For the latest information on COVID-19, please visit www.cdc.gov.

While life during the health crisis has been real for me over the last couple of weeks with the kids home from school and our contact with the outside world very, very limited, today the new reality set it for me even more. I’m processing information, which I best do through writing.

Life during quarantine

Right from the beginning today was different. My husband had an early morning post-op appointment with his surgeon. When he had his rotator cuff surgery on March 11, we received the paperwork that included today’s appointment time. I remember thinking that an 8 a.m. appointment meant we’d take the kids to school then go to his appointment.

Life has changed in those two and a half weeks, though. And it has changed dramatically for such a short time. Like all of us, I am off-kilter. The kids are no longer going to their school building and instead e-learning from home.

Venturing out

As we headed to the appointment today, we wondered why there were so many cars out. We assumed they were people headed to jobs our governor deemed as essential.

At the orthopedist’s office, I was turned away at the front door; only patients were allowed in. While I completely understood and respected the decision, it was yet another reminder of our new reality.

I don’t always go with my husband to doctor’s appointments, but he’s still in a sling and not allowed to drive. I knew he was having stitches removed, and I wanted to be there in support of him as he’s done for me so many times. Instead, I was sitting in the car. I wasn’t upset, but it was definitely a new reality.

Going to the grocery store

His appointment was pretty quick, so we made a quick trip to the store on the way home. We’re down to about half a pack of toilet paper. It should get us through this week, but it gets a bit dubious after that. We were hopeful that being early in the day would mean we’d find some.

However, no toilet paper was available. We did pick up a few other things, though. I happily noticed the shelves were better stocked than they had been on my previous visit about two weeks ago. I was thankful for that and relieved to see that things weren’t staying so dire.

I was thrilled to get some napkins since I’d just lectured my kids about how we needed to start rationing them since I hadn’t been able to find any to buy.

Many people were wearing disposable gloves. Most were careful to stay at a distance from each other. In the car, we used hand sanitizer. I even coated my phone with it since I’d used it in the store to look at my grocery list.

Different home life

When we got home, I pulled out items to stay in the garage for our deep freezer and pantry shelf. The rest came into the house where I wiped it down with bleach wipes, threw away the sacks and wiped down the countertops.

I used hand cleaner two or three times then washed my hands incredibly well. While I’m always vigilant about cleaning my hands after being in a public place, wiping down my groceries and cleaning my hands so many times is definitely a new thing.

I settled my kids at the kitchen table with schoolwork while I got to work on my laptop for my annual Monday morning deadline. Usually I work in my home office, but while I’m also playing the role of homeschool teacher, working at the kitchen table is easiest.

At lunchtime, my daughter and I moved to the home office so she could Zoom meet with her fourth grade class while I finished my last half hour of work. Many conference calls have happened in the home office I share with my husband, but this was the first one that was for my 10-year-old.

By dinnertime, my head was pounding thanks to the weather change and my delightful fibromyalgia symptoms. I made some food and we watched a science video while eating.

A public faith display

After dinner, we turned on our local radio station just in time to hear our pastor begin talking. This evening was a prayer event at our local hospital. We opted to stay home and pray. I was overcome with emotion as I listened to my pastor and heard him praying over the airwaves. I never would have imagined this local top 40 station would even be broadcasting a very Christian prayer, yet here we were.

My husband, children and I all prayed together. My son came over and snuggled next to me. Just as he did so, my pastor was praying for God to give us strength to take care of those who can’t take care of themselves during this crisis.

God reminded me that I am needed to take care of my children now more than ever. At 7 and 10, my kids no longer need me as dependently as they did as infants, but they certainly are not able to take care of themselves through this crisis. I am needed also to take care of my husband who is still not at full capacity from his surgery. I take all of those responsibilities very seriously.

Feeling all the feelings

This is the new reality. It isn’t forever or for always. We don’t know when life will start to get back to normal. We are talking about things like whether to keep the kids enrolled in their ninja and gymnastics classes that are now meeting virtually. We’re speculating on big events that might get canceled.

The current reality is challenging for its newness and suddenness. For me, it has less to do with not being able to get out and go places, though even an introvert like I am gets cabin fever. It has more to do with a total shift in my thinking and reality.

I find myself being careful to not waste food.

I find myself thinking about how long we can truly go before we need to get out.

I find myself rationing some items to last longer before I get to the store again. (I forgot to get more mouthwash, for example.)

I find myself wondering how this will affect my kids.

I find myself wondering if everyone I love will make it through this.

I find myself noticing when my neighbors are leaving and wonder why they’re getting out.

I find myself being thankful that my son’s good friend in the neighborhood lives a block away and not right beside us so they don’t see each other and want to play.

I find myself noticing full grocery shelves on television and in commercials and wishing that was still reality.

I find myself feeling raw sometimes for seemingly no reason and then realizing that it’s for all of these reasons and new-ness that I’m having all these feelings.

I find myself overwhelmed at the outpouring of love and prayer from a community that doesn’t always show respect for Christianity.

I find myself utterly exhausted more than I’d like to admit from trying to be mom, teacher, wife, homemaker and professional writer.

I find myself feeling God in the moments when I most need Him. I hear Him speaking through the prayer of my pastor as my son snuggles next to me. I am reminded of Him as I listen to a video lesson with my children. God opens my heart and eyes to His presence as I listen to worship music.

I remember that even though this is a difficult time of global proportions unlike anything I’ve lived through before, it is not the hardest thing I’ve personally lived through. The same God who has always been with me is still with me.

I have learned to trust in God and His faithfulness even when things don’t make sense.

I have learned that if I keep my hope in Him, I won’t be disappointed. Life may not go as I want it to. God may say no to some of my prayers, but He won’t change who He is and He won’t leave me. I just have to look for Him.

Want to read more? Check out these posts:

8 Ways to cope when holidays are hard

Dealing with grief during the holiday season

Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming. They can be times filled with family and good food. But, they can also be filled with grief, aching hearts and shattered dreams. Oftentimes, it’s a mix of both. You may be heartbroken over some things, yet work to enjoy the time with the family or friends you are with. Dealing with grief during the holiday season is difficult.

The older I get, the more I find the bittersweetness in holidays and other big events. It really is all such a mix. With that in mind, I’ve put together 8 ways to cope with grief during the holiday season.

8 Ways to cope when holidays are hard: Dealing with grief during the holiday season

1. Give yourself some grace.

I’m going to start with this one right out of the gate. Grace is what we need most when we are grieving or struggling with something. Other people often extend it to us, but we don’t always give it to ourselves. If you are struggling with grief during this holiday season, recognize that and ease up on yourself. Don’t beat yourself up for not cooking this year or crying in the middle of dinner because someone is missing. Do your best and accept that your best good enough, even if it’s different than usual or different than you want it to be.

2. Let go of traditions that are painful or impossible.

It may be for just one season, but if you have a tradition that is causing you much stress and anxiety, let it go for this year. Explain to others, if necessary, that you just aren’t up to it this year. Most of the time, they’ll understand.

3. Avoid social media.

Nothing is worse when struggling to make it through a holiday than logging onto Facebook or Instagram and seeing posts and photos of happy people with perfect holiday celebrations. Even if you know in your head that you are only seeing the highlight reel and nobody has a perfect life and family, your heart often can’t handle it. I remember during one difficult holiday season, I went dark from social media for a few days. I didn’t regret it for a moment.

4. Get creative.

Sometimes you have to find a new normal, even if it’s a temporary one. One of my most thankful Thanksgivings was 12 years ago when my dad was just released the hospital the day before after a two-month stay in which we weren’t sure he’d live. My husband, parents and I sat at their kitchen table and ate lunchmeat sandwiches and chips. We were grateful that my dad was alive and home. That simple meal was delicious.

5. Pray about it.

Praying for help and strength to get through a difficult holiday helps you remember Who to turn to and focus on. Prayer can help remind you that God is there, He is with you and He will give you the strength that you need. Don’t hesitate to ask others to pray for you as well. Sometimes we don’t even know the words to say or what to ask for when we are in the middle of heartbreak. The prayers of our family and friends can buoy and strengthen us so much during those times.

6. Utilize Bible verses and breath-prayers throughout the day.

Find a Bible verse that comforts you — maybe it’s your favorite verse or maybe not. Dwell on it. Memorize it. Repeat it. Use it! God’s Word is powerful. Find a verse you can turn into a breath-prayer. Breath-prayers are one or two sentences that you can say over and over under your breath, almost without thought.

A couple of years ago, we were facing an incredibly difficult situation with a loved one. I clung to part of my favorite verse, Isaiah 41:10, and prayed, “God, strengthen and uphold us.” Simple, yet powerful and needed. For so many years I’ve loved that verse for the first part reminding me not to fear. But the second part of that verse was just what I needed for a breath-prayer 25 years after I first learned and loved the verse.

I had no clue when I first started finding comfort in that verse as a child going down a dark hallway that one day in the future I’d need the rest of that verse so desperately, but God did!

7. Set realistic expectations.

Go into the holiday season with some forethought. Along with missing people or dealing with a major stressor over the holiday season, sometimes dealing with our family members can be incredibly difficult. I have had times where I’ve imagined conversations I’d have with loved ones and how we’d get along so swimmingly. And then I’ve been heartbroken when that didn’t happen.

Don't be so busy thinking of what you are missing that you overlook what you have.

When you plan ahead a little in your mind, you can manage your expectations to help your own self. For example, if you know someone isn’t going to treat you well but you can’t avoid being with them, do your best to prepare yourself for the situation and how you will react in love and peace. 

8. Count your blessings.

I know that can be challenging sometimes. Some holidays are just stinking hard. Grief is hard whether a loved one has died, is away by choice or is away due to other circumstances. But in the midst of the heartache, there is still good. Remind yourself of the blessings you have.

Start with the most basic of things like being thankful for the clothes on your back or the air you’re breathing. Work from there and you will usually be surprised by how many things you can come up with. Remember also the people who love you. Sometimes missing someone else can make you appreciate those you have even more. You don’t want to be so busy thinking of what you are missing that you overlook what you have.

Never want to miss any Families with Grace content? Sign up for our mailing list and receive a FREE devotion book, “The Acts of Grace Challenge,” as well as a tip sheet on 10 ways you can start living as a family with grace right now! It’s chock-full of good, practical ideas to help bring peace to your home. Don’t miss out! Go here now!

11 ways to help kids deal with the death of a loved one

In May of 2016, our beloved family dog had to be put to sleep after a short battle with an aggressive cancer that couldn’t be treated. In May of 2017, my last remaining grandparent — my maternal grandmother — passed away after a few months battling varying issues. A couple of days ago, my uncle died after dealing with kidney cancer over the last year. While cancer makes you think we’d be prepared, we weren’t. His treatment had actually gone well overall. When complications started a couple of weeks ago, even those seemed to be resolved. Until overnight everything changed and within 12 hours, he was in heaven. 

Dealing with these loses has been difficult. Each time, in the midst of my own grief, one of my first thoughts has been, “How are we going to tell the kids?” Because grief with kiddos is hard, and they were very close to each of these loved ones. I want to protect them and shelter them from every hurt that can happen in this imperfect world. I want to make it all better for them. Yet, that isn’t one bit how it works. I know there are articles and books written on grief with kids. I know there are actual experts on the topic. I am certainly not, but I do know what dealing with grief looks like in our family. And from that experience, I offer some thoughts.

Give yourself time to process the loss.
I have found it’s important to not tell my children until I’m ready to have a conversation without sobbing. My husband and I need time to process the loss first before we can talk to them. This has happened in various amounts of time based on the situation. But usually, it has been within 12 to 24 hours. 

Use the right words.
Once we are ready to talk, then we sit down together as a family without distractions and try to be as straightforward as possible using words like “die” and “death,” so they understand what we mean. Little kids, especially, don’t understand or know euphemisms such as “passed away.”

Talk about heaven.
We talk about how our loved ones, especially in each of their situations, are no longer in pain. We talk about how they can run free. As the losses have continued to accumulate, we even talk about our loved ones interacting in heaven. We talk about how good it is for them there. We talk about how we can be happy for them but sad for us and that is OK.

Discuss different reactions and emotions.
My son is the youngest of our family. He was 3 when our dog died, 4 when my grandma died and now is 5. He processes things very matter-of-factly and doesn’t quite get all the feelings right away. My daughter was 6, 7 and 9 during these losses and understands them differently. She immediately tears up. We talk about how it’s OK to cry and it’s OK to not cry. We talk about how sometimes we feel like crying when it surprises us or sometimes we don’t cry when we think we would. There is no wrong way to have feelings during losing a loved one. Sometimes sadness comes out in tears and sometimes in other ways. My older brother, for example, was almost 4 when our paternal grandpa died and my mom said his first reaction was anger. And that’s OK, too.

Let kids see your emotions.
I don’t often cry in front of my children. I have times of getting teary or choked up, but outside of these losses, I’ve not really cried in front of them. I think it’s important for them to see my tears and be reassured that any sadness they are feeling is OK and they aren’t alone. My husband usually displays his sadness without as many tears, because that’s more his nature and that’s OK, too.

Let them ask questions. 
After we give them the information, talk about heaven and emotions, we also make sure to ask if they have questions. I have been surprised sometimes at where their minds go and the things they wonder about. We are also honest when they ask questions that we don’t know like “Why did God want them in heaven now?”

We also reassure them that if they think of questions later or just want to talk about it or whatever, they are free to come to us any time. And we keep that open. It has pierced my heart a couple of times as they have brought up things later on that brings that grief coming back fresh, but I want them to have the freedom they need to process it in whatever amount of time it takes them or in whatever way they need to.

Address their fears. 
Sometimes our kids have brought fears up, but sometimes we have brought them up first. For example, we are quick to remind them that the kind of sickness our loved ones had was more than just a regular sickness and they don’t have anything to worry about if one of us gets sick with a cold or virus. Since I’ve had a few surgeries in these last few years, we are also careful about correlating a surgical procedure to death. It’s a pretty quick and easy leap for kiddos to start thinking sickness or surgery equal death. 

Follow their lead. 
Kids are so very resilient. Each time we have dealt with a loss, I am amazed at how quickly they shift gears from being sad to wanting to do something else. While my husband and I still need to deal with our grief in different ways, we do our best to move on with them to another activity. We have learned to plan something as a distraction each time that we can offer to get everyone shifting gears, even if it’s just going out to dinner. 

Talk about ways to be proactive. 
We try to also talk about how grief is hard. We don’t diminish that, because grief is really stinking hard. But we also assure them that we will get through this and it will get easier. And we talk about something we can do. For example, when my grandma died, we talked about how my mom and aunt would be feeling sad and maybe the kids could give them extra hugs. This week we’ve talked about coloring pictures and making sweet treats for my aunt to remind her that she isn’t alone.

Don’t push; just be there. 
While I have been surprised by my kids’ resilience and ability to shift gears, I have also been surprised at various times they bring up the loss and how they are sad. It pops out at odd times sometimes, just like it does for grown-ups. While my daughter has been older and tended to cry a bit with the information, she has moved on pretty well during the day. But then bedtime comes and she tends to struggle more. Last night, she crept back downstairs and was feeling very sad. So we just sat snuggled on the couch for a while, neither one of us talking. Sometimes sitting together in silence is the best. And then I gently helped her think of some other things to help her be able to move forward into going to sleep. 

Know when they need grace. 
This one can be a bit tricky to assess sometimes, but my kids get extra grace for their behavior and words when we are dealing with a loss. I need extra grace for my behavior and words. I know I’m not at my best and that sometimes I get grumpier much more than I would usually. I don’t expect them to be any different. So sometimes when they do something that would usually merit a strict punishment, they get off lighter or get a reminder that isn’t how we are supposed to behave. If it keeps happening, especially in one day, we stop and ask them questions about how they’re feeling. They don’t get carte blanche permission to do whatever they want to without consequence, but they do definitely get some grace along the way. 

Losing a loved one hurts. Each time, I have wished I could take the hurt away from my children and told them as much. But we’ve also talked about how it hurts because we had so much love, and love is a good thing. We have talked about good memories and how we’ll always have those memories. We have mourned together and even found some laughter in the midst of mourning. I really do wish I could take the grief for them, but I also want to do my best to prepare them for loss since hurt and grief is a part of the world.

I don’t have all the answers and am not an expert at dealing with grief myself. Sometimes I’m good at distracting myself and pretending if I don’t think about it that it will go away. (That never works, by the way.) But I have learned more and more through the years that sometimes I have to just let myself feel all the feels and be broken down in order to start healing. I have shared that with my children to an extent according to their ages. I have also learned, though, that no matter how hard and painful this stuff is that God is always there. He is always ready to comfort me. He hears me when I get a phone call with news and can only pray “Jesus” over and over because my heart is broken. In the end, as always, Jesus remains the answer to grief whether it’s my own or my children’s. I pray that they realize that and see me living that out, in spite of the times when I mess up.

Content © Written Creations, LLC 2023