Old Dogs and New Tricks

“Old dogs can’t learn new tricks.”

I’ve heard that phrase my whole life. Why do we associate this with people? Why do we use this term so we don’t have to change?

We as human beings hate change. But instead of resisting change shouldn’t we be heading towards change, constantly trying to get better and make better choices? I’ve had several older people tell me, “This is just the way I am. I can’t change” or “She’s not going to change and you aren’t going to change.”

Forgive me but I think that’s a bunch of nonsense. Becoming unteachable and unchangeable means nothing more than we have become “old and crusty”. I pray that I don’t become old and crusty but that I will be ever changing and heading towards my Jesus.

Now Jesus is a gentleman and doesn’t make me change all at once because that would be an overwhelming suicide mission. But He gives me little bit by little bit to work on. I will continue to work until the day I walk into His arms and wake in death to the after life with Him.

2 Corinthians 3:17-18

 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

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Favorite

A lunch with friends or family at Cracker Barrel.

A quiet afternoon floating in the pool.

Back to back (to back to back to back, etc) episodes of NCIS.

As Maria sung in The Sound of Music,
“These [were] just few of [your] favorite things.”

A 64oz cup of Coke (or later, Sprite) filled to the brim with ice.

A Florida Gators or a Miami Dolphins football game.

Getting your nails painted and your hair colored.

These were just few of your favorite things.

The family trip to Lake Tahoe.

Seeing the birth of both of your granddaughters.

Watching all your kids graduate high school.

These were just few of your favorite things.

Every time your tumor markers went down.

When you heard one of your kids (or your husband) come home.

When we sung of His faithfulness at church.

These were just few of your favorite things.

No longer held in a body wrecked by horrible pain.

Being able to run, breathe, jump, shout, and dance.

Seeing clearly with no need of contacts or glasses.

These are just few of your favorite things.

Seeing your dad, brother, and sister again.

Meeting the child, the one before me, who died in your womb for the first time.

Receiving the crown that was laid up for you for a race well ran.

These are just few of your favorite things.

Seeing the worship in the throne room with your eyes, no longer just a vision.

Casting your crown at His feet and worshiping with the multitudes.

Being overwhelmed with light and love all while being in His presence.

These are just few of your favorite things.

But after all of these things…

One thing overshadows them all….

Seeing Jesus, the One you loved for decades, face-to-face.

This is your favorite thing.

And when the dog bites and when the bees sting

When life gets hard, and the times seem cruel

When I’m feeling sad

Or mad

Or doubtful

Or weary

I simply remember your favorite things

And your favorite thing

And then I don’t feel so bad

Because I’ll be there, with you, one day too.

Until then mom, Happy Mother’s Day.

How To Help A Family Who Lost Someone

This past December, my mom died. I had the honor of doing her eulogy. The weeks and months that have followed since then have been a mix of heartbrokenness and yet of sameness. The lost of my mother still pains me and I remember her often, but I have not been left immobilized by it. While life is certainly different, our routines continue and life moves us on.

During this season, my friends and church family have been amazing supports. They have served and encouraged us more than I could of ever dreamed. They have cried with us and also have caused us to laugh. I could not think of better people (or pastors) than the ones at First Assembly DeLand.

As I was meditating on how blessed I have been to have such a strong church around me, I realized that there isn’t a guide or any helpful hints for people to help a family/friend through the loss of a loved one. I have read plenty of articles solacing the griever, but none about how others can help (and not hurt or frustrate) the grieving party. I thought that I would write this for people who will need it in the future. I am glad to say that for the most part (99%), my church was spectacular and nothing in this post is directed at them. It is written to help people understand how to best comfort friends and church family who are grieving due to a death.

Note: I am a ministry leader in my church, so much of what I write will have that in mind. Some of the things I will address are not so much personal help, but ministry help.

Paint a bigger picture of heaven.

In scripture we are told that our hope in this life is our home/life in the next. The apostles continually focus the Christian’s gaze to the glories that await us after this life. The problem lies when our view of the afterlife gets dumbed down to a heavenly playground where our loved ones are just chatting waiting for us. That doesn’t produce hope. That doesn’t satisfy our hearts that our loved ones are better than we can imagine. Neither do unbiblical, error-filled comments about loved ones turning into angels. Let me state this clearly: no human has become an angel after death. None. Not one. Though the comments may be mentioned as a sincere sort of comfort, they truly offer none.

Instead of focusing on the angels, or mansions, or gold in heaven, focus on Jesus. Focus on that their loved one is now completely satisfied worshiping their heart’s Desire. Focus on that their earthly struggle is over and that they are now pain-free, sin-free, depression-free, never more to hurt and never more to die. Talk about the joy they must be experiencing because of the beauty and goodness of God. That’s how the Bible talks about heaven, and that’s how it gives us hope.

Keep your grieving in check.

When my mom passed, there were one or two people who made a scene at her funeral. In truth, these people barely knew my mom. My thoughts about them were “I’m not grieving that bad, and she’s my mother.”

I understand that people all grieve differently and they are entitled to that. However, do it “in secret” (Matthew 6) and not in front of the family. Do you best to hold it together when you are with them. If the family is comforting you instead of you comforting them, then maybe there is an issue there.

Note: I understand that there are some cases where the family is estranged from the deceased and there are friends that were truly closer to the deceased than the family. I still repeat, keep your grieving in check. You may have lost a friend, but they have lost a blood member of their family and even if they are estranged, death has a way of bringing clarity to past issues.

Put a pause on your personal issues.

Much like the last point, the best way to comfort and help a family that is grieving is to not draw attention to you. Blessings and cursings can’t come from the same mouth. You can’t tell the family all about the positive and life-changing impact the deceased has had on your life and then the next day go all Jerry Springer on Facebook. That doesn’t encourage the family. If you are going to come forth as a testimony to their legacy, then make sure that you don’t act out during that time. Keep your issues in check. I understand that we all sin, but we can help and honor the grieving family by making right choices that show the positive impact that the deceased loved one has had on our life.

Also on a ministry side, be discerning. I understand that there can be “dark nights of the soul” and times of severe struggle in a Christian’s life as the Lord is refining them by separating the dross from the gold by using intense trials. I also understand that those times can’t be planned. However, I know that there is grace in those times to not be burdensome to another who is grieving. I know, personally, as a leader that the last thing I want to deal with is strife or bitterness in my ministry team while I’m grieving. In the midst of our personal issues and sin, press to get along and apply grace to overcome them instead of being a burden.

Do your job.

This one is almost solely a ministry-focused point. I have people often say that good leadership is when things don’t require you to be around in order to keep going. I agree with this. However, due to choice and our personal issues, the flow of ministry can start breaking down if people aren’t doing their job.

I had many people, particularly in our worship team, ask me if there was anything they could do to help out me and my family during our grieving. My mom’s death fell two weeks before Christmas and 10 days before our department’s Christmas production. What I wanted to tell everyone was that the best way you can help me, as a leader, is to simply do your job. Show up at practice. Be prepared. Have a good attitude. Be in unity with everyone else on the team. These things may not seem like much, but they kept me from dealing with issues and problems and instead allowed to process my mom’s death (and continue writing her eulogy).

Help with the basics.

That said, helping with the basics is a great way to practically help and bring comfort to the family. Offer to wash and fold their laundry. Offer to help clean and organize their house. If they have kids, offer to babysit during the day so that they can help plan the funeral, or offer to babysit a night or two so that they can get out of town to breathe. Many of my co-workers started a PTO donation. This was a big help for my wife and me. Yet, the best practical thing you can do is arrange meals for the family. Our family was a wreck before and after mom passed and not having to spend 1-2 hours each night preparing food was a blessing. We found the site “Take Them A Meal” to be quite helpful. It allows the family to give instructions and give directions without having to focus on organizing it. We were able to view a list and knew who was bringing dinner and what they were bringing. I can’t express how big of a blessing that was.

Don’t ask many questions. Give encouragements instead.

Finally, give encouragements more than you ask questions. Don’t ask a family member whose loved one just died “how are you doing?”. Rather, encourage them. Share funny stories and good memories about the loved one. Laugh with them. Cry with them. Remember with them. Remind the family of the loved one’s legacy, of how much they loved each member of the family, of the impact they made in other’s lives. This will not just help them at that moment, but months and years down the road.