I Want to Live Like That


JonandGingerThis week I lost one of my best friends.

Monday morning I woke to one of Ginger’s encouraging texts. That afternoon she slipped quietly off to heaven while she was at home. Her death came as a shock but not a total surprise. About a year and a half ago, she survived a deadly hemorrhagic stroke.

After making a miraculous recovery, Ginger invested her stroke and recovery to begin an endeavor called This is What After Looks Like, a line of clothing that opens up opportunities for people to tell their unique before-and-after redemptive stories.

Ginger served, loved, and gifted our large church with her sweet spirit for decades. During that time she influenced countless lives. I was always surprised to learn how many people in our church of over 2,000 people knew her and had been mentored and encouraged by her.

She was 100% servant, heaping love on everyone she met. 

Not just people at church. People she met in the community. People she sat beside. People she met at work. People in her neighborhood. People who often went unnoticed. Anyone she happened to meet on any given day.

Most of all, her family

Ginger used every gift and talent, every job, every day of her life to show Jesus’ love to others and point to Him. She lived with a vision every minute of her life. She knew who she was and what she was here to do–to point people to Jesus in EVERY breath she drew.

Even in her worst moments as she teetered on the brink of death. As she fought back from her stroke. As she and her husband walked through personal crisis. None of it was about her–it was all about God’s bigger plan.

What if we all lived like that?

If we lived with the clarity of vision my friend Ginger possessed, the world would be changed.

More than 600 people stood in line for nearly an hour to tell family members how she had changed their lives. Most of those people hope to carry on Ginger’s legacy. More than 700 attended her funeral the next day, not simply to pay respects, but to honor the role she had played in their lives.

During her life, my friend shaped an army of people more devoted to God, more like Jesus, more able to share Christ’s love with others. It may take a thousand of us to do what she so artlessly accomplished with such grace, devotion and love.

I want to be like my friend when I grow up.

Vision-driven. Unshakeable. Grace-filled.

She showed us all how:

By understanding what humility is and living humble lives.

By trusting Jesus to be all we will ever need.

By loving people with all our heart, soul, and mind.

By loving our neighbors and even our enemies the way we want to be loved. (That encompasses everyone. Ahem.)

By being an embodiment of Jesus to everyone who encounters me.

To see more about Jon and Ginger’s testimony following her first stroke, click HERE.  






Six Ways to Help the Hurting

LamentMost of us want to help friends who are suffering and grieving. The problem is, we often struggle to know what to say or do. And so we say things that make sense to us.

The problem is that we’ve probably never experienced the pain our friend is going through and don’t have a clue what their suffering feels like.

Most people who are hurting can tell horrifying stories about the insensitive and sometimes cruel ways people have responded to their pain. So what can you do?

1. Open lines of communication. 

Send a note. Mail a card. Express your love and concern without offering advice and let the person know that you care.

2. Be present.

Show up–physically and through other means. Keep the lines of communications open. People who are hurting, grieving, and suffering feel isolated and alone. It’s common for people to walk alongside them for a few weeks or months but seldom for the long haul, which could mean years or even a lifetime (imagine a widow raising children or someone diagnosed with chronic illness–their grief will overshadow the remainder of their life).

3. Listen with compassion and curiosity.

Don’t provide easy answers and solutions. Ask how you can show support. Don’t quote Scripture–your friend most likely is already clinging to those verses in ways you can’t understand, and they’ll sound trite. Your goal should be to listen 80% of the time and to speak 20%.

You may want to ask them what they miss most, grieve most, fear most. Allow them to express their memories and share their story.

4. Don’t be afraid of emotion and tears.

Many things are worth sorrow and tears. If your friend cries, don’t be afraid to cry with them. And don’t feel pressured into saying something intended to be positive–for instance, “Your husband’s in a better place” or “You can always have another baby” or “At least you look good.”

5. Ask your friend what support looks like to them and offer to help.

Be specific. Offer specific kinds of help–financial, home maintenance, errands/shopping, vehicle maintenance, etc. Or perhaps you can help with party planning for children or decorations for the holidays.

I live with chronic illness, and I’m still learning how to get dinner on the table at night. By 2:00 in the afternoon, it’s difficult for me to walk. But many people assume that because I’m diagnosed and under treatment that I no longer need help. But I’m not alone–many people with chronic illness live with challenges that healthy people do not understand–and those challenges can be isolating and discouraging.

6. Don’t stop checking in.

Dr. Benjamin Mast has written an insightful book titled Second Forgetting (Zondervan 2014). “Second forgetting reflects a spiritual forgetting experienced not only by the person with Alzheimer’s [or other illnesses or who has suffered grief or wounding], but more broadly by their family, friends, and even the church who seeks to care for them.” Birthdays and anniversaries are especially painful for those who have experienced loss.

I was brokenhearted when I was too ill to attend Easter services this past week. My body simply wouldn’t cooperate. And I was grieving the fact that I’d missed out on Christmas and New Year’s, due to emergency brain surgery. I’d looked forward to being with my church family at East with enormous anticipation.

Instead, I remained at home–ill.So I was particularly grieved when a dear friend of mine–a young widow–texted me late that night to tell me her heartache at others’ expectations about how she should be grieving.

Supporting others is a lifetime role. It does not involve placing our expectations upon them but, instead, being Jesus’ hands of mercy to them.

We always help the hurting most when we display gratitude and grace in our own lives as we remember God’s faithfulness, His presence, and His promises in OUR lives. We do not have to preach–living faithfully and loving others gracefully will point them to hope.

Lament: The Caregiver’s Chorus Book


Guest posting by Dave Beach, author, licensed counselor, ordained chaplain, and spirituality coach. You can find more information about Dave at Soul Seasons. Dave is co-author of The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms

When I was a boy, I learned so many nice choruses in Sunday school. One started something like this: “I’m in-right, out-right, up-right, down-right happy all the time.” Another went similarly, “I’m H-A-P-P-Y happy all the T-I-M-E time.” For most of the first 30 years of my life, I believed I should, would, and could be happy all the time.

So when my first wife was diagnosed with stage-four lymphoma, I kept trying to practice happiness all the T-I-M-E time. Finally, after six long years of caregiving and feeling powerless to stop the onslaught of disease, I began to feel keenly the need for a different chorus book in my heart.

At night, sitting in the St. John’s transplant house near a Mayo Clinic hospital in Rochester, MN, I met an old “new” chorus book – the Psalter. For the first time in my life, I felt my desperate need for new “songs,” songs that “give sorrow words,” as Shakespeare wrote so long ago. Words far more ancient than Shakespeare, words that have voiced the sufferings of the faithful for millenniums.

The language of lament.

Language of protest and faith together.

Language filled with questions that press through and grab a hold of God and pull.

“Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” Ps. 10:1 (NIV)

“Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” Ps. 88:14 (NIV)

These laments pushed my faith out into the deep, which felt congruent with my soul. And there I met the man of sorrows acquainted with grief; he’d been waiting for me there for a long time.

After my wife did not survive the bone-marrow-transplant process, I needed them even more.
I keep looking for collections of songs for caregivers. Collections that balance so appropriately lament with praise, like the Psalter. We need faithful people who have traveled the paths to the ICUs and cemeteries to write new songs, songs congruent with the suffering faithful, songs voicing the questions, the grapplings, the “whys” and “how longs.”

I can’t sing those old choruses anymore; I have an affinity for the blues at times. I often wonder, where is lament in worship; where are lament’s questions given voice in our churches today? I’ll keep looking, listening, hoping, and waiting. And I’ll keep following the man of sorrows, singing his songs.

What Writing My First Novel Taught Me

My thanks to Donna Winters for inviting me to guest blog for her at Great Lakes Romances. Visit her blog to find great books by Michigan authors.

*   *   *

Hallie stuck her head of tangled red curls around a corner of my mind when I was twenty-two years old. She was just fifteen, and for the next ten years she refused to leave me alone until I finally sat down and told her story in my first contemporary Christian novel, Hallie’s Heart and the sequel, Morningsong.

Hallie blames herself for the drowning death of her little sister. She accuses God of being a monster who watches his children suffer. After struggling for two years with her guilt, she steals her father’s Harley and heads off to the scene of the tragedy–her Aunt Mona’s Lake Michigan beach house to face her demons. What unfolds is her story of confronting God in the rubble of her guilt, anger, and feelings of abandonment.

Why did I write Hallie’s Heart and the sequel Morningsong?

I grew up in Muskegon, Michigan, alone the Lake Michigan shoreline. I wanted to write a novel that incorporated places and experiences that had influenced my life. The book is set, in part, on the grounds of Maranatha Bible conference and in other locations in the West Michigan area, such as the Cocoa Cottage bed and breakfast.

I was attacked by a serial rapist when I was nineteen years old. I wanted to write a book that honestly confronted questions about God’s goodness and sovereignty in tension with our suffering.

What would you like readers to take away from your book?

God is good, all the time–no matter what circumstances look like to us. Life is hard and sometimes just plain awful, but God’s love never fails, and his goodness never changes.

What did you learn writing Hallie’s Heart?

This book was my opportunity to ask God tough questions about my own abuse and horrible circumstances my dearest family members had struggled through. I found hope and strength through my characters. I learned it’s okay to question God and bring him our anger. That’s not something I was allowed to do when I was growing up and that I felt I was allowed to do even as a young adult Christian.

I also learned that faith often grows in the darkness and the silence, when we may not sense the presence of God at all.

What was your favorite scene in the book?

Hallie's Heart cover smallerIn one critical scene in the book, Hallie and her Aunt Mona are having an argument on the breakwater at Pere Marquette Park in Muskegon as a storm comes in. This key scene changes the course of the book. And I found that at the end of the chapter, I’d written a scene totally different from what I’d planned. Sometimes your characters simply take on a life of their own and surprise you.

What’s the toughest test you’ve faced as a writer?

Although I write fiction, I also write nonfiction. My writing always flows from my own conflicts and personal and spiritual growth. I’m a consultant on post-traumatic stress disorder. This means that my “research” has included painful trauma and PTSD treatment for a number of kinds of traumatic experiences. I’d rather do research that takes me to the south of France, but I love knowing that my writing has impact. Check out PTSDPerspectives.org. In June Love Letters from the Edge: Meditations for Those Suffering from Brokenness, Trauma, and the Pain of Life will be release with Kregel Publishers. I wrote this book with my best friend and colleague Wanda Sanchez.

Where do you write?

Typically, in my living room. Our house is small. I do have an office, but it’s crowded with bookshelves and office equipment. I prefer sitting in my living room so I can look out the front window at the bird feeder and the horses across the street.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Hallie’s Heart won the Christy Award for contemporary Christian fiction. I’m the author of ten books and co-author of a number of others. I served as managing editor for the Hope in the Mourning grief Bible (Zondervan 2013) and contributed to the Holy Bible Mosaic (Tyndale), as a contributing editor to David Jeremiah’s study Bible What It Says, What It Means, What It Means for You.

I’m a co-founder of two Christian writer’s conferences: the Breathe Christian Writer’s Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the Cedar Falls Christian Writer’s Workshop in Cedar Falls, Iowa. I’m also an expert consultant for Caring.com, writing to an audience of two million caregivers across the nation.

I have two adult children and live with my husband Dan in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area. shellyI can often be found in the nation’s prisons speaking to women with Daughters of Destiny women’s prison ministry with my friend and colleague Wanda Sanchez or consulting on post-traumatic stress disorder as the co-founder of PTSDPerspectives.org.

I’m also a proud Harley-riding grandma in search of the nation’s best cupcake and looking for the next place to tell someone about my great God.

Halloween, PTSD, and Child Loss


For most people, thoughts of Halloween and Trick-or-Treat come with positive associations.

Candy, costumes, and happy children.

But for parents who’ve lost children to death, Halloween is a trigger of things that once were or things that might have been. The holiday can be a nightmare of memories, shattered dreams, and lost hope.

Can the death of a child cause PTSD?

According to psychotherapist Carole Kearns, pioneer in grief and loss, the answer is “yes,” particularly if the parent has experienced intense fear, helplessness, or horror. Symptoms of PTSD include

  • intrusive and recurring recollections of the event
  • flashbacks and a sense of reliving the past
  • avoidance of things associated with the trauma
  • diminished interest in significant activities
  • sleep difficulties, anger outbursts, trouble concentrating, hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response

PTSD is a concern when symptoms persist for more than a month and cause disturbances in the parent’s ability to function. Families often become dysfunctional after the death of a child. Coping styles can vary, and one parent may withdraw while another cries often. Parents often struggle to handle wide-ranging needs of surviving children. Rates of divorce among parents who lose a child are high.

How can parents cope?

It’s important for grieving parents to connect with other parents who have been through the same process. The following organizations offer help:

Grieving parents should seek counseling and be sure their children are given needed counseling, as well. If depression is a concern, seek out a family physician for a physical exam and consultation.

It’s normal to experience triggers on holidays, anniversary dates, and special days. Prepare for those days in advance and consider commemorating them in creative ways.  Talk to close friends and family members about how holidays affect you and give yourself permission to grieve on your own timeline as you move forward in your healing.

1. Accept your loss, and give yourself permission to be angry. You loved deeply, and you hurt deeply, but refuse to get lost in bitterness and a victim mentality.
2. Recognize that you will grieve your own way, and family members may grieve differently.

3. Don’t put unrealistic deadlines on your mourning or the mourning of loved ones and family members.

4. Write your way through your grief. Writing has a way of helping your brain process trauma.

5. Seek out others who have suffered similar loss and talk to them. Glean from their wisdom.

6. Accept that you aren’t responsible for your child’s death and couldn’t have done something more or something differently. Determine to live again–to honor the life of your child and to honor the lives of those still with you.

Meditations on the Death of a Cat


God can use strange things to teach you how wonderful he is.

The other day he used a dead cat named Merlin to teach me a thing or two.

Merlin was a nineteen-year-old tabby who belonged to Penny, a woman who’d come to a writer’s conference where I was speaking. She’d signed up for a one-on-one critique session with me and had brought a devotional about Merlin, the cat she’d loved as devotedly as the child she’d never had.

One day Penny had come home from work expecting her usual loving greeting from Merlin at the door. But no Merlin. And no husband. Merlin had become gravely ill and been taken to the vet, who reported to Penny over the phone that Merlin would most likely not make it through the night.

Penny was devastated and spent the night grieving the cat she had loved so dearly for nearly two decades. In the morning, she headed to the vet’s office, where she was ushered into a room with Merlin. He lay unconscious and unresponsive, and she was devastated.

Penny told me how in that moment, she turned to God and cried out, begging him to allow her to see her cat one final time. As she told me how Merlin opened his eyes, rose to his feet, and marked her face as she heard the voices of a choir sing It Is Well with My Soul, I could feel myself struggling not to roll my eyes.

Merlin was a cat, for heaven’s sake. “Get a grip, woman,” I whispered silently to Penny as I smiled politely.

But as she spoke, something inside me shifted.



God knows our deepest desires. Our deepest longings. Penny and her husband hadn’t have a child. God had fulfilled Penny’s longing to nurture through Merlin. She’d loved her cat in many of the same ways she would have loved a child. God had honored the prayer she’d poured out in her grief.

Yes, Merlin was a cat. For heaven’s sake. And he’d helped Penny get a grip–on God’s love.

Suddenly I was ashamed of my judgmental spirit and in awe of a God who would stir a cat to its feet in answer to the heart-cry of one of his children.

Because he loves enough to feel our pain and meet us wherever we are.

A Gift of Hope for Those in Oklahoma


In the aftermath of the disaster in Oklahoma, Steve Siler of Music for the Soul would like to offer the following message of comfort from his project After the Storm. After the Storm was written in the days after Hurricane Katrina to offer comfort to survivors. The message is timeless, and Steve extends the words and music again as a message of hope, extended in the name of Jesus.

To listen to or download the song, click on the Music for the Soul link above, then the title of the song on the page.


Words & Music by Ty Lacy & Steve Siler

Somebody’s down to their last dime
Somebody’s running out of time
Not too far from here
Somebody’s got nowhere else to go
Somebody needs a little hope
Not too far from here
and I may not know their names
But I’m praying just the same
That you’ll use me Lord to wipe away a tear
‘Cause somebody’s crying
Not too far from here
Somebody’s troubled and confused
Somebody’s got nothing left to lose
Not too far from here
Somebody’s forgotten how to trust
Somebody’s dying for love
Not too far from here
It may be a stranger’s face
But I’m praying for your grace
To move in me and take away the fear
‘Cause somebody’s hurting
Not too far from here
Help me Lord not to turn away from pain
Help me not to rest while those around me weep
Give me your strength and compassion
When somebody finds the road of life too steep
Now I’m letting down my guard
and I’m opening my heart
Help me speak your love to every needful ear
Jesus is waiting
Not too far from here
Jesus is waiting
Not too far from here

© 1993 Shepherd’s Fold Music / Ariose Music (Administered by EMI Christian Music Publishing)

Lean on Me: Letting Go of the Losses

old-couple-holding-handsMany things about my mother’s Alzheimer’s broke my heart. Few things more than the toll the disease took on my father’s spirit.

In the more than twelve years my mother suffered with the disease, my father refused to leave her side. He cared for her in their home until the battle nearly broke his own health. Then he unflinchingly agreed to sell his beloved home and move in with his children, where he and Mom could receive more support.

Later, as Mom continued to decline, he relinquished his “right” to move into an independent living home, but chose instead to live with my mother in a small residential facility for those with Alzheimer’s. She was seldom out of his sight.

There were many things about Mom’s Alzheimer’s Dad struggled to understand. Why a “good Christian woman” who had scolded her children for saying the word “darn” had developed the vocabulary of a sailor in her golden years. Why a woman who had prepared beautiful meals for her loved ones began eating with her fingers. Why had a woman who had always dressed impeccably had become inclined to disrobe in public. No amount of explanation could answer questions like these in my father’s black-and-white engineer’s mind. The enigmas of neurological disease were not a sufficient answer.

All my father ever wanted during those years my mother was ill was to be at her side and ease her suffering. His greatest joy was to hold her hand as he sat or walked beside her.

Then came the day when a hospice nurse called me aside and told me what I already knew. My mother’s gait had become increasingly unstable. She had to be walked slowly and steadily, always in the company of someone who understood how to match her halting and wavering pace. But my father, in his unswerving belief that he could encourage Mom to get better, sometimes tugged her when she balked. Hospice nurses told us we would have to tell him that for Mom’s safety, he could no longer hold her hand and walk her.

I could barely hold back the tears as the hospice nurse broke the news to my father in the most gracious way possible. He stood silent and never asked a single question before he turned away.

For my mother’s safety, we tried to honor the request. But as family members, we also were compelled to honor my father’s commitment to his wife and our mother. Over the next months, caregivers walked my other each day. But as often as possible, dad also walked Mom with her too, clinging to her hand as he always had, while a family member steadied her on the other.

Thank you, Dad, for teaching us to lean into the arms of those we love in our times of loss.

Caregiving: Seeking Abundance in Desert Places


My caregiving has taken many forms over the past ten years or so.

God-mother, companion, and “foggy brain buddy” to a sweet child who endured forty brain surgeries before the age of eight.

In-home caregiver to my father-in-law, who died of Parkinson’s disease and my mother, who died of Alzheimer’s.

Advocate for an “adopted daughter” and young mother who lost her husband to cancer.

Close friend to a mom who lost her eight-year-old son to brain cancer.

Most recently, I’ve been a caregiving supporter to my brother, his wife, and his children and their spouses who are caring for my aging father. Each time my phone rings and I see my brother’s number of my nephew Brian’s number, I steel myself for the possible news that my dad is gone. Each time I talk to Dad on the phone, I remind myself that we could be talking for the last time. He’s ninety-one, and he’s already exhausted his options for heart surgery.

“I’m wearing out,” he tells me every time we talk. He doesn’t have to say it. I can hear it in his voice.

I know it’s coming, but still I struggle to prepare for life without parents. Even though my mother died four years ago, her pink robe still hangs on a hook inside my closet. Not a day passes that I ache to see her and hear her laugh.


Caregiving can feel like a wilderness experience. Many of us are walking our loved ones to the gates of death, and we’re not given a guidebook for the journey. Some of us wake up one morning to find ourselves navigating unfamiliar territory without supplies or sign of an oasis in sight. And like the cast on the Survivor television series, people around us can suddenly become motivated by self-protective instincts.

Apart from the grace of God, I could easily have spiritually perished in the desert of caregiving. But my dad helped teach me how to find abundance in desert places. For the past twenty years, I’ve watched him relinquish his freedom and give up what he could have claimed as his “rights.” Instead, he chose to release his past in order to embrace his future. The future my father embraced was a vision for the best possible good of his wife. He chose to live with my mom in a home for residents with Alzheimer’s, even though he was capable of living independently elsewhere and enjoying a lifestyle of relative freedom. I watched as my dad chose contentment out of devotion to my mother. His attitude gave him the ability to enjoy the time he spent serving my mother, rather than enduring it.

I’m grateful for a father who showed me how to seek something better than my own way. Through my caregiving experiences, I was ambushed by God’s grace and changed.

Thank you, Dad, for living a truth I could see.