Celebrating Christmas When You Are Grieving

Christmas is different this year. While I have celebrated past Christmases without my brother present (he did live out of state of many years, after all),this year is different. I know I’ll never see him blow into my parents’ house, a bit late with his presents not quite wrapped, wearing that leopard trimmed Santa hat.


During this month, it seems every time I turned around, I was reminded of my brother. I blinked back tears when I hung that little plaque he made me in the bathroom.

Wrapping gifts reminded me how much care he took with finding just the right wrapping paper for each person – down to what he used for tissue paper.

His name was glaringly absent from my Christmas list, and I had to remind myself not to visit the pet store to buy something for his dogs.

I cried while I made fudge because my brother loved chocolate.

Going through this first Christmas, knowing that he is no longer here – not just somewhere else but no longer anywhere on this earth – has been hard. I’d be lying if I said it’s been easy.


Yet, there have been moments of joy this Christmas season, too. Because as much as I enjoy spending time with family, and as much as this holiday has become synonymous with gatherings and family and friends, that’s not really what it is all about.

I was reminded of this when I went to a memorial service that was held at the funeral home that handled my brother’s service. This particular funeral home has a memorial service every year at Christmastime for families that have lost a loved one that year.

As I sat waiting for the service to start, I looked around and was struck by how many other people had suffered loss that year. The room was packed and overflowing. I wondered how I would make it through this Christmas season, how I was going to make it special for my family when I really didn’t feel like celebrating at all.  Not celebrating really wasn’t an option for me though. My oldest son is a senior in high school. This is the last year before our family changes, and I was determined not to flake out for it, but I knew it would be difficult.

Then the speaker got up and he shared how when he was younger, his dad had shared the news of his parents’ divorce with him on Christmas Eve. It had shattered him and ruined the holiday for him.

From that time on, he hated Christmas – wouldn’t celebrate it. Until one day, his college roommate told him, “Christmas isn’t about you.” Those words sort of echoed over and over in my mind as I drove home.

Because here’s the thing, as much as I enjoy the outward festivities of Christmas – the baking, the visiting, the gifts, the time with family – Christmas isn’t really about that at all.


It’s about a young teenage girl giving birth in a cave while her equally young, scared husband looked on helplessly, hoping he could deliver this baby that was supposed to be the Messiah.

It’s about lowly shepherds hearing the news of the Messiah’s birth from a choir of heavenly angels.

It’s about a God, who in all His goodness and His love, stepped into this world – not as a king or some powerful figure – but as a helpless baby born to a teenage girl and a poor man.


It’s about Emmanuel – God with us.

I can have joy with my tears because God has truly been with me in these past few months. God could have just offered us salvation and that would have been an indescribable gift we don’t in any way deserve.

But He offered so much more. He offered to dwell within us. Does that give you goosebumps, like it does me?

I can celebrate Christmas because it is a time to remember that God didn’t just step into this world as that tiny, helpless baby so long ago. He still continues to bend near to us, still does not flinch away from all the messiness of our lives.

He is truly Emmanuel. He is God with us. And that is something I want to celebrate because, in this time of grief, I have never felt His presence in my life more.

God may call us to the hard road, but He never asks us to walk it alone. That, in itself, is why I can celebrate Christmas while grieving, why my tears can mingle with joy.

I hope that, even if you are experiencing hard things – the loss of a loved one, an illness, a broken marriage or some other type of suffering in your life – you can still allow yourself to celebrate the wonder of a God who came down to us, not just to save us, but to have an intimate relationship with us. A God who is Emmanuel – God with us.


Merry Christmas, Rosanne


Accepting the Size of Your Plate

breaking bondage button

Every year, we have this reunion with the Coach’s side of the family, and last year, I brought plates that were WAY too small.

See, a large portion of my father-in-law’s side of the family are German Baptists, and these people are known for their wonderful cooking. Last year, I kind of forgot how awesome and plentiful the food would be, so I brought my typical 8 inch paper plate.

As my family and I walked through the line of fabulous food, I quickly realized that if I wanted to sample everything that looked good, I was going to have stack stuff pretty high. I looked over at those people who had the forethought to bring those big tray-like Styrofoam plates and felt a bit envious. It seemed so effortless for them.

As I went down the tables of food, I quickly realized that I was going to have to just pick my very favorite things because everything just wasn’t going to fit on my plate.


When I went up for dessert, everything looked SO awesome that I stacked brownies on top of pies, and topped it all off with cookies teetering precariously.

Now, I am not the most graceful person under the best of circumstances, and wouldn’t you know, that before I got back to the table, my cookies had toppled off. In the process of trying to catch the cookies, my other desserts almost slid off the plate, too. I only just righted my plate in time!

Why am I bringing up a reunion that happened in the summer? Well, as I was thinking about this particular post, it hit me that life is a lot like going through a reunion potluck. How much you can put on your plate is determined, in part, by how big the plate is. Sure, you can try to cram more stuff on that fits, but usually that ends in some of it ending up on the floor. Or worse, everything is so smushed together, you end up not being able to taste the individual dishes with all their flavors. The boundaries of what you can fit is determined by the parameters of your plate.

In our lives, we each have a figurative plate that can be filled with dreams and aspirations and goals and projects. The thing is, only so many things can fit on that plate.

If we try to cram too much on, we end up with things dripping off the sides, or we can’t really fully enjoy anything on our plate because it is all mixed up together. Or worse, everything can end up sliding off onto the floor and making a big mess.

No matter how productive or organized I am, the parameters of my life circumstances dictate how much I can take on and still keep my sanity. The same is true in your life, too.

Unless we fully accept the size plate we’ve been handed in this life, we’re destined to keep overfilling it and not even being able to enjoy the best things.


Not only do we need to accept the size of our plates, we also have to realize that the size of our plates change as we go through life. If you have babies or toddlers or both, your plate is probably smaller than the mom whose kids are in college. If you are taking care of school aged kids and aging parents, then you aren’t going to have as big a plate as your single friend. It can be really hard when we transition from one sized plate in life to another. We often find ourselves trying to cram in what used to fit, only to find everything overflowing.

We can greatly reduce the amount of stress in our lives and cut back on the crazy busyness if we just accept the plate we’ve been given at this particular time. 

If yours feels a bit small for all that you dream about and want to do, be encouraged. Plate sizes change throughout life. My plate is considerably bigger now that my boys are teenagers than it was when they were tiny and constantly needed me for the basics.

Not only does your season of life affect your plate size, but individual things do also. If you are the type that needs a lot of sleep, you might have a slightly smaller plate than your friend who is bright-eyed with only 6 hours of a sleep a night.

I have a friend who has chronic health problems. She is bright and talented and a really wonderful person, but sometimes for days, weeks or months at a time, just getting out of bed and getting dressed is an achievement. She really struggled with this for a while because she was a doer. It felt somehow like it was her fault that she was sidelined when she wanted to be going. When she finally accepted that this was the plate she’d been given, it took a big burden off her shoulders. She could see things to enjoy and be grateful for because she wasn’t always feeling defeated by what she couldn’t do anymore.

She has learned to give her energy first to what is most important to her. Even though I don’t have a chronic illness, I’ve learned a lot from her example. How many times do I waste time and energy on things that aren’t really important to me, my family or my calling.

How many times do I fill in my plate with the mediocre pie when I could be using that valuable space for triple chocolate cheesecake?

Have you accepted the plate you’ve been handed in this season of your life? What things are taking up valuable real estate on your plate that need to be scraped off to make room for the best stuff? I’d love to hear about it!

Blessings, Rosanne


Tripping Over the Bar of Our Own Expectations

breaking bondage buttonI have a confession to make. I’ve never done Advent with my kids. They are 14 and 17, so my opportunity of opening cute little doors to an Advent calendar are probably gone.

I did try. One year. I went out and bought this little festive ring and the purple and pink candles. I set it on my kitchen table, but the candle kept getting knocked over because the little ring was kind of flimsy.

Early in the process, one night ,as I forced invited my little family to sit around the table to read this devotional I had printed off and light the candles, one of the candles fell over and set the little ring on fire. Fortunately, the Coach still had half a glass of water that he had the presence of mind to throw on the flames.

That was the end of Advent in my house.

I’ve always felt vaguely guilty that I never did Advent with my kids. Every Fall, in the back of my mind is the idea that I really should get my act together and do that with them. Or maybe do a Jesse Tree. Every year it doesn’t happen.


I’m not sure why I feel so guilty. I didn’t grow up doing Advent and our church denomination doesn’t do Advent either – but the idea of slowing down and anticipating Christmas seemed like a good one. After all, I wanted my boys to know that Christmas was more than presents and treats right?

The other day, after I asked my boys for about the eighth time (somewhat rewording the question each time) what Christmas tradition and/or memory stands out to them, they got someone impatient with me.

My oldest son said something along the lines of, “Why is this such a big deal to you? We hang out with the grandparents and eat good food and celebrate Jesus.”

And really its that simple isn’t it? For most people, Christmas is about celebrating Jesus’ birth, spending time with family and enjoying good food and maybe a few presents. Yet, we can make Christmas – and really every other thing in our lives – complicated and fraught with the guilt and stress of our own failed expectations.


By the way, I have nothing against Advent. I still think it is a great tradition (and I’m reading a great Advent devotional right now by John Piper), but the truth is, starting in November, our family enters into our busiest season – basketball begins. My husband has been a coach for a couple decades now, and even before my boys were old enough to follow him onto the hardwood, those weeks leading up to Christmas were filled with practices and long hours for him, and dinners squeezed into available time slots for all of us.

This year, my oldest son asked if I could take the money I’d normally spend on him for Christmas and use it to buy his friend’s basketball shoes, since that friend’s family couldn’t really afford it. So, despite the fact that we didn’t do Advent or a Jesse Tree or anything specific, at least one of my kids managed to take away the meaning of what Christmas is really about.

There are so many good things we could be doing that sometimes, we can get caught up in the idea that we have to do them ALL. Even if we can’t get to it, that expectation hangs over our heads and adds unnecessary guilt and stress to our already bursting at the seams life.

Add to this the numerous mommy blogs and craft blogs and DIY blogs and healthy eating blogs and Pinterest (which could be its own post!), and suddenly what we do for our families, our homes and our churches is never enough.

I am hoping you will humor me and do a little exercise with me. I want you to take out a piece of paper and a pencil (or whatever writing tool you happen to have handy). Now take a few minutes to write down every single thing that is hanging out in the back of your mind as something you should be doing.

Go ahead – write it all down. Every little thing that quietly nags at you to get done – someday. Take your time – i’ll wait.


Okay – do you have your list? Now I want you to look at each item on your list and ask yourself a couple questions.

  1. Is this item on your list something that absolutely needs to be done for the well-being of you, your children, your husband or your family as a whole? An absolute need might include learning to cook in a new way because your child was just diagnosed with a severe food allergy, or it might be making spending time with God a priority in your daily life.
  2. If the item is not an absolute must for your family’s well-being, is it something you or a family member is passionate about and brings joy? I am one of those people who likes to try new things. I knit. I love to try new craft projects. I like to garden and do photography. I adore reading and learning new things. You can see what my problem is – I have hobby ADHD. I have to limit myself to a few things or I end up with all these projects hanging over my head and a mess!
  3. Is God asking you to do something specific? Recently, I felt God prompting me to invite my neighbor to go to the grocery with me because she doesn’t have a car. At the time, I didn’t really want to because I felt like I was “too busy” and it would be weird and uncomfortable. Instead, I’ve found that it really doesn’t take more than about 10 minutes of extra time, and I’m developing a friendship with my neighbor. Please understand, I am talking about what God is asking YOU to do – not about every need that is out there.

Now, I want you to let everything else on the list go. Yep – just let all those things go. Go ahead – tear up the list, burn it, or make it into a paper airplane and sail it into the garbage.

There are probably a few things on the list that don’t fall under the above three categories but you still feel you want to do them (say, you feel like you should clean out your basement or organize your pictures), then do yourself a big favor. Schedule the time to do it, get it done and cross it off your list.

But please be realistic. If you’ve just had twins, you can probably wait to clean out the basement and organize the pictures until life gets a bit more normalized and you are sleeping more than 20 minutes at a time.

I’d love to know what things that were on your list that you let go, so please feel free to share in the comments.

Blessings, Rosanne

p.s. If you want to read the first post in the series Breaking the Bondage of Busyness, head over here.

A Different Kind of Thanksgiving

I know I’m not the only one. There are numerous people, just in my own church, who will be sitting down to a Thanksgiving table this year with an empty chair.

This is not the first year when my brother has been absent from the Thanksgiving table, but it’s the first year where his seat is empty and I know he will never sit in it again.

Beautiful, brown leather armchair shot from the floor with bright lighting.

I wish I had some great words of wisdom to make it easier for others who are in the same boat in which my family finds ourselves.

But I can’t.

I wish I could impart some piece of advice that will stem the pain and give you joy instead.

But I can’t.

I wish I could tell you how to make it seem just like always.

But I can’t – because it isn’t.

What I can do is tell you do what you need to do. Please don’t let anyone make you feel guilty or ashamed because you want to do something completely different this year or nothing at all.

If that means you aren’t up to making a big Thanksgiving dinner like you always do, don’t let anyone bully you into it.

If that means you want to have everyone over and feed them, don’t let anyone tell you that you aren’t up to it.

If that means you want to go away, then do it.


The thing is grief is a process. It can’t be rushed and it can’t be avoided. And the firsts are always the hardest – the first Thanksgiving, the first Christmas, the first birthday, the first anniversary – each one comes with its own unique difficulties. Those first special days are filled with little booby traps that spring up and hit you when you least expect it.

I’ve been doing pretty well the last month. I can feel myself healing. I no longer feel like I’m a walking, bleeding wound. God has been good to me, tenderly stitching me back up.

But it’s still hurts when something or someone brushes up against that wound.

I saw an ad for dog beds, and I immediately was thinking how I could buy several for my brother – and then it hit me like a slap in the face. He no longer needed dog beds or any other gift.

I walked through Hobby Lobby and saw a leopard printed Santa hat and burst into tears right there in the aisle.I could see him bouncing through the door, the bell at the top of his hat jingling. He was usually running late and half the gifts he brought were still in the car or unwrapped. But his smile was usually wide and there was a light in his eyes.

It hurts to know that light is forever gone.

Here’s the thing – this Thanksgiving will be different. It can’t be anything but different. That doesn’t mean that I am not thankful. Despite my brother’s death, God has blessed me in many ways this year. I am keenly aware of that.

It doesn’t mean that I lack faith, either. Without the hope I have in Christ, I could have never gotten through this in anything approaching one piece. That hope is what anchors my soul.

But our Thanksgiving this year will look very different. My parents will be going away. They just need different scenery – and that’s totally okay. My family will be hanging out at home. I’m making ribs, and I’m sure I will cry just a little bit when I put on that Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce – my brother was sort of a connoisseur of barbecue sauce. We both agreed Sweet Baby Ray’s was kind of the bomb.

I’m sure my kids and I will remember and laugh about the time my brother dropped practically an entire gallon of BBQ sauce on my carpet. If I look hard enough, I can faintly still see the stain. Somehow, I’d be more sad if I couldn’t.

So, if you have lost someone this year and you are facing a holiday season for the first time without that person, do me a favor, and yourself too. Give yourself permission to go through it the way YOU need to, and don’t let anyone make you feel badly about that!

Blessings, Rosanne

Do We Really Need to Be MORE Productive?

I don’t know what your Mondays looked like this week, but mine started at about 7:30 a.m. (I let my oldest drive so I could sleep in a little – thank you driver’s license!). We had a band concert, so by the time I got home and could relax for the night it was about 9:30 p.m. (of course, that doesn’t include BOTH of my boys coming to me to look over their papers they had written.)

Between 7:30 a,m. and 9:30 p.m. I exercised, put meatloaf in the crock pot, washed 5 loads of laundry, wrote an article, did marketing research, outlined a story, walked the dog, served dinner in shifts and went to a band concert. I also happen to have an infected tooth from a partial root canal (don’t ask!), so I did all that sort of drugged up.

If I wanted to be really productive, I’m sure there were other projects I could have worked on instead of taking a 30 minute nap. I could have used all the minutes in my day. I could have worked those margins so there was no white space left.

But why?

While I am a fan of using my time wisely (I am the ultimate putter-er and can waste a day like nobody’s business), I’m not sure how wise it is to be constantly trying to be more productive, to squeeze one more thing onto plates that are so full they are teetering.

Lady Looking At Books Showing Education

Where did we get the idea that more is always better?

I recently got an email entitled, “Make the Most of All Your Minutes.” While I don’t think it is a bad thing to be intentional with your time, this kind of thinking can definitely trap me into always feeling behind.

The other day, I was working on cleaning out some cabinets and realized I was experiencing a vague sense of guilt. I couldn’t put my finger on it, until I realized I tend to walk around with a constant, nagging anxiety that I should either be doing something else or working faster at what I am doing or am somehow behind before I even began.

I hadn’t thought of the story of Mary and Martha for a long time, but when it came up in my Bible study just this past week, I was struck again by how much the productivity gurus would have been all about Martha who was “busy doing many things.” I’m sure they might have even sniffed a bit in disapproval to see Mary sitting. Sure, she was sitting AT JESUS’ FEET, but she wasn’t DOING anything.

When Martha pointed out that she was doing all the work while Mary wasn’t doing anything, Jesus gently chided her. “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things, but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

Every morning, I spend time with Jesus. I read my Bible and spend time praying. My goal is to begin my work day at about 9 a.m., but I often find myself going over that. Maybe I got started a few minutes late, or maybe I get into a really good conversation with God, but I look at the clock. I see that it is closing in on 9:30, and I feel like a failure. Like once again, I am starting out behind.

I also tend to get sidetracked. When a friend calls me and has a problem, I’ll spend 45 minutes on the phone. I look at the clock when I hang up and realize that, once again, I’m behind schedule.

But whose schedule am I worried about really?

I work from home. I don’t have set hours, except when I have an interview scheduled. The only person who is disappointed in me is, well, me. Clearly, I have issues.

But here’s the deal, here is what Jesus has been showing me. Relationship -whether with Jesus or a person – can only happen when you are present. And to be present, sometimes, you have to still. 

So, maybe it’s time we stop reading productivity tips and start working instead on being present. I’d love to hear how you make space in your life to be present.

Blessings, Rosanne

Why Do We Apologize for Grief?

For some reason, lately I’ve had a need to declutter and organize my house, so last Saturday, I did my boys’ bedroom. When I tackled the closet, I found that for some reason I couldn’t fathom, we were storing textbooks from elementary school, along with all the worksheets that went along with that. As I was pulling out notebook after notebook, I was checking to see if they were used or could be saved. I opened an OSU notebook and my brother’s distinctive handwriting leaped out at me. For a moment, I froze. It felt like I had been sucker punched.

The notebook had been a birthday gift to my son Brock. My brother was a rather rabid Michigan fan, and my boys are rather rabid Ohio State fans, so he and the boys always had fun trash talking about each other’s teams.

It’s strange how you can be hit with a wave of grief in the midst of something as mundane as cleaning out a closet. I wasn’t expecting to have my brother’s words, his scrawling handwriting to appear that afternoon.

So, I sat on the floor of my kids’ bedroom and cried.


That’s the thing about grief – it hits you out of nowhere. I stopped at the Habitat for Humanity store the other day, and I had to leave because I started crying. (You wouldn’t believe how uncomfortable it makes people when you are dripping tears all over the used sewing machines).

Why, you might ask did a thrift store reduce me to a blubbering mess? See, my brother was a huge thrift store shopper, and we had talked about finding a sewing machine there and sharing it. I went in looking for a curtain rod, but what I found was painful reminder that my brother was irrevocably gone.

My grief has found me in the pet aisle at the grocery store. It’s hit me at Ollies (another store my brother loved). It’s felled me at odd, unplanned moments, reducing me to tears that I try to hide.

And I always find myself apologizing to anyone who happens to be around me. I feel badly for bringing their day down or making them feel uncomfortable. When my grief catches me out in public, it kind of feels like my I am trailing toilet paper stuck to my shoe. It feels awkward when others get uncomfortable in the light of my raw emotions.

I’m not sure why this is. After all, it wasn’t that long ago – probably in your grandparents’ generation – when there was a structure and a respect for the grieving process.

People didn’t expect someone to pick up the week after a loved one died and jump back on the merry-go-round of regular life.

Up until the 1950s, wearing dark colors for the first six months or so after a loss was pretty common. It wasn’t until the 70s and onward that these sorts of rituals started dropping away.

While I’m kind of glad I don’t have to wear black for a year (black makes me look an unflattering pasty white), that outward symbol was a sign to others that the person was grieving someone. It made things like tears at odd times understandable. Nobody expected you to have it all together – you were in the process of mourning.

Usually that process lasted for at least a year. Nowadays, people look at you funny when it’s been a few weeks since the funeral and you still seem sad.

Part of that is probably because our society is squirm-in-your-seat uncomfortable with death. We don’t really want to talk about it, and we certainly don’t want to see it when we are out buying our groceries or walking to our Sunday School class. Unlike our grandparents, death is something that is alien and foreign, something that happens in a hospital with professionals around. Gone are the days of funerals in the front living room and loved ones preparing the body. I suppose other people’s grief brings the reality of death a little too close for comfort.

We are actually pretty uncomfortable with most negative emotions – anger, fear, sadness. Want to bring the mood in the group down a few notches? Tell someone, when they ask you how your summer went, that your brother killed himself. Now that is a conversation killer. It’s like loudly passing gas in the middle of a cocktail party.

It’s why, when people say, “How are you?” I generally answer with, “Fine”  – even if I’m not because I feel guilty for making people uncomfortable.

It’s why, even in our Churches, people feel alone and isolated in their pain – we wear our positive, smiling mask when we are dying on the inside.

Because we have not learned to mourn with those who mourn, we force people to put on that plastic smile. We pressure them to say they are fine when they are anything but because their pain makes us uncomfortable – maybe for the simple reason that we don’t know how to fix it or what to say.

The thing is, you don’t have to fix it. You don’t have to have the perfect thing to say. Just giving someone a hug or squeezing their hand or simply saying, I’m sorry you are having a hard time is comforting. Your presence in the face of someone’s pain is often enough.

In fact, sometimes more words aren’t even helpful – especially when you try to talk someone out of their grief, like they shouldn’t feel it or that it somehow means they have a lack of faith.

Denying sorrow isn’t even Biblical. The shortest verse in the Bible is, “Jesus wept.” He was weeping before the tomb of Lazarus – you know, the guy He was going to raise from the dead in just a few minutes. Jesus wept because He saw the sorrow of those around Him. He was mourning with those who mourn – even though He knew they would be reunited with their loved one shortly.

The Bible says that Jesus was acquainted with sorrow and grief. Maybe we should all take a leaf out His book and acquaint ourselves with the pain and grief of others – even if it makes us uncomfortable.

Blessings, Rosanne



7 Things You Can Do If Someone You Love Talks About Suicide

It’s been six weeks since we got the call that my brother took his own life. It’s been six weeks since my world was turned upside down and I lost my only sibling. The pain of losing someone to suicide is a different kind of grief. It is a grief tainted with the taste of regret, what ifs and if onlys.

The thing is, my family is not alone in our pain. According to statistics, 104 other people took their life that day; 104 other families are walking this same painful road with more added every day (105 Americans take their lives every day according to the CDC).


I’m a little late posting this, but yesterday, September 10th, was World Prevention Suicide Day. After what happened in my own family, I don’t feel like I can let this day pass without marking it in some way.

Unfortunately, my brother has not been the only person in my life who has threatened suicide. At least two other people have told me they wanted to take their lives. Each time, I felt sort of helpless and unsure of what I should do. All I knew to do was to keep them talking, to get them to promise to call me in the morning (it always seemed that it was in the evening when these things happened). With my neighbor, who loved her dogs, I kept telling her she had to take care of them – what would happen to them if she followed through? That sounds really lame, but at the time, it was the only thing I could think of, and I guess it worked because she called me the next morning.

The truth is, suicide kills more Americans than car crashes (CDC), so the chances of coming in contact with someone who is suicidal isn’t as far fetched as you might think. I know it isn’t really a fun thing to talk about, but knowing what to do can save a life.

According to the AFSP, over half of people who take their lives, tell people beforehand. This is why we need to talk about suicide and arm ourselves with the knowledge to help those who often can’t see their way to help themselves.

In the hopes of sparing another family the unique anguish of losing a loved one through suicide, I’m sharing seven things you can do if someone shares their intent to harm themselves with you.

  1. Ask them if they are suicidal. Sometimes, people make vague mentions of life not being worth it, or how they wish they weren’t here anymore. Asking if the person feels suicidal will not plant the idea in someone’s head. I know it’s kind of awkward to ask, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
  2. Take them seriously. It’s easy to brush it off because we don’t want to really believe the person we think we know is actually serious. If the person has threatened before, it’s even easier to brush it off as dramatics or even manipulation.
  3.  Offer to take them to the nearest emergency room for evaluation. Most people who are truly suicidal will not take themselves to the hospital. They need someone to go with them. Offer to be that person.
  4. Call 911 if they refuse to get help on their own. In most areas, local authorities have to take a person in for at least a 24 hour psychiatric evaluation if their threat of suicide is reported. Yes, they might get angry with you, but the alternative is certainly much worse!
  5. Make sure everyone is safe. People who are truly suicidal might also feel desperate. Be sure that everyone in the situation is safe, even if you have to leave the immediate area to call 911.
  6. Don’t get angry with the person. Suicide seems like such a selfish thing on the surface, but for the person who is contemplating it, their thoughts are twisted. Often, people who are suicidal will say things like, “Everyone will be better off without me,” and really believe it. Sometimes, their mental and emotional pain is so great, their only thought is relief and suicide seems like the only way to get it.
  7. Don’t lose hope. According to an article in Relevant Magazine, 80% of people who seek help for depression feel better within six weeks of getting treatment. Just because someone is suicidal now doesn’t means that they will always feel that way.

Suicide is not something anyone wants to think about, never mind actually deal with, but there are probably people you know who are struggling. By being aware and arming yourself with knowledge, you might just save a life.

Blessings, Rosanne

What Mental Illness Stole From my Brother

On August 5th, we memorialized my brother. I never really thought I’d say that, especially when I am only 42 and my brother not quite 46.

Scott family pic

I can honestly say that July 30th was probably the worst day of my life. It was the day I found out my brother had died and how he had died – he had taken his own life.

My brother suffered from mental illness, and he had a lot of ups and downs. I had always known this was a possibility, but you never think something like this will really happen to someone you love – because you love them. You can see, even if they don’t, how much people care.

The thing about mental illness, though, is that it steals people from you because it lies to you. It makes you believe you are all alone and nobody cares.

As I stood and received hugs and condolences from a stream of people, I realized just how much mental illness had stolen from my brother.

Neighbors came through the line – people I had never met – that told me about how much they enjoyed talking to and knowing my brother. One gruff older man, with tears in his eyes, told me how much his grandchildren miss my brother because he would walk by with his dogs all the time, and he would take the time to interact with them.

I can’t tell you how many people, some I knew and some I didn’t, that said the words to me, “I just loved your brother,” or “he was such a special guy,” or “he had such a big heart.”

My brother had no idea the impact he made on those around him. On Wednesday, as we remembered how much my brother was loved, it became clear just how much mental illness had stolen from him and from my family.

I have lost other people I loved – all of my grandparents, a good friend – but there is something different about the grief that comes when someone takes their life.

There is the almost irresistible temptation to start asking “what if.” What if I had called him more? What if I had gone over to his house during that last week? What if I had reached out more or invited him to dinner more or to lunch more? What if I had made him get help?

What if and if only leave the bitter taste of regret in my heart.

At my brother’s memorial service it became very clear to me that no matter what I did or didn’t do, mental illness deceived my brother. It twisted his reality so he felt hopeless and helpless.

The saddest, yet also comforting thing to me is that as a believer, my brother was never truly alone – not even in his last, darkest moments because he was a believer. God promises that He will never, ever leave us. Even at the moment my brother took his life, God was right there. Even though my brother felt completely alone, he wasn’t.

I hope and pray that my brother’s death will have meaning and purpose. I hope that it will start a conversation that must be had in our churches – how can we support, encourage and help those with mental illness? How can we help their families?

We have to stop avoiding the topic and hoping it will go away. We have to stop guilting people into thinking if they were just more spiritual, they could overcome their mental illness.

No amount of Bible reading and prayer will cure manic depression. No number of church services will cancel out clinical depression. You can’t spiritualize your way out of being schizophrenic. And we need to stop making people feel guilty because they can’t overcome mental illness on their own.

Yes, God can certainly heal – just as He does in cases of cancer or other serious illnesses – but if He doesn’t, then we need to walk with those people who are suffering, just as we would if that person had a disease that affected his body instead of his mind.

At the memorial service, we remembered who my brother was and that he was so much more than his mental illness. I pray we can continue that conversation.

Blessings, Rosanne

Blessings, Rosanne

Saying Good-Bye to My Brother

Today was my brother’s memorial service. In his honor, I thought I’d share the eulogy I read today.

Scott 1Nobody ever wants to find themselves in the place my parents and I find ourselves in now. Anytime someone dies young, it is a tragedy. When that person takes their own life a whole new layer of grief is added.

However, I am, by nature an optimist and an idealist. God says in Romans 8:28 that He works all things for our good. I truly believe that through God’s grace and mercy, even in the tragedy of my brother Scott’s death we can find meaning and purpose.

The truth is, my brother suffered from mental illness, and if his death can open up a conversation about what it means to have mental illness, it is a start. In our society and even – maybe even especially – in our churches, mental illness is something nobody really talks about. It is associated with shame and the person suffering is often stigmatized.

If someone gets diagnosed with cancer or heart disease or another serious illness, we rally around them. We bring meals, send cards and offer our support and encouragement.

The person who suffers with mental illness too often suffers alone. Perhaps it is the fear of the unknown. Despite so many medical advancements, the human brain still remains mostly a mystery.

But if my brother’s death will cause one person to reach out to offer comfort, encouragement and support to a person with mental illness, or if will cause one person to realize they are not alone and their illness is nothing to be ashamed of, it is a start. If we can begin the conversation of what it means to have mental illness and how we can support and help people who deal with this on a daily basis, then my brother’s death will have purpose and it will have meaning.

The truth is living day to day with mental illness is difficult. You and I take for granted getting out of bed in the morning, going to work and all the myriad of daily tasks we do, almost without thinking. For the person with mental illness, those mundane things are a struggle. It is like strapping a 50 pound weight on your back and trying to go through your daily routine. It can be overwhelming and exhausting. Most days are a battle. Winston Churchill called the depression that plagued him much of his life, the black dog, always on his heels.

Mental illness is also a liar and a thief. It twists the person’s thoughts so they are overwhelmed by fear and despair and helplessness. It steals a person’s potential, his dreams, his relationships and in some cases, like my brother, his very life.

Just like someone suffering from cancer or diabetes, though, a person with mental illness is so much more than their illness. The biggest tragedy to me today is if you left this place and only remembered the end of Scott’s life.

My brother was so much more than his illness. He was and always will be my cool older brother. When I was a little girl, my brother seemed to me to be this shining light. He had all this energy and he was so much fun.

If you knew him at all, you will remember how he sort of came into a room like a mini-tornado. His energy and enthusiasm was infectious. If it was Christmas, he had on his Santa hat – usually the one with leopard fur trim. When we were kids, he was definitely the risk taker out of the two of us. He spent a whole year in a cast because he broke the same arm three times. He’d get one cast off, and something else would happen. I was beginning to think his graduation pictures would feature that cast!

I remember one day, he was doing wheelies on his bike and the tire got caught in the drain, flipping him over the handle bars. My Grandma McColm happened to be visiting at the time and she put baking soda on his arm, which was skinned from wrist to elbow. I could hear him hollering all the way up in my room.

I remember another time, when Brock was turning 4, Scott – who lived in Michigan at the time – came swooping in on his birthday with this giant blue bear. The kids loved it. Well, Brody loved it after he realized it wasn’t going to eat him or anything. Hanging out with Scott was always an adventure.

He did everything with enthusiasm and with his whole self. When he came to the boys’ basketball games, you better believe he was decked out from head to toe in Temple gear. He was their most loyal (and loudest) fan. When he went to Brody’s free throw competition, he started to clap and whistle. I had to tell him you couldn’t do that until it was over. He was somewhat disgruntled that he couldn’t show Brody his support from the stands.

Scott was a people person. I have never met someone – with maybe the exception of my friend Amber – who knew everyone everywhere you went. He even met the guy who owned the Animal Planet channel and house sat for him. I’ve lived here for 28 years. My brother didn’t really start living here until 2011 but he knew way more people than I did.

He was also crazy smart. I think he probably had a photographic memory – at least he’s one of the few people I know who could ace a test he never studied for! He could take apart something mechanical, fix it and put it back together. I remember we were having trouble with this recliner and he came over, took it apart and fixed it.

Scott was also very compassionate. His voice mail encouraged callers not just to leave a message, but to make a difference by serving at a homeless shelter, adopting a pet in need or donating to a cause. You could find him on Thanksgiving and during the holidays serving meals to the homeless or needy. My brother and I shared a love of animals. He volunteered at the Humane Society often and he couldn’t pass up an abandoned animal. He always had a pack of dogs and cats that he rescued. He specialized in the hopeless cases, the dogs or cats that nobody else wanted. Scott had a real heart for rescuing the abandoned. Sometimes, I think by rescuing those four-legged friends, he was rescuing himself a little bit at the same time. Despite his own struggles – or maybe because of them – he wanted so much to help others.

Scott could also be amazingly thoughtful. He loved to buy gifts for people and really made it into an art form. From the gift itself to the wrapping and even the tissue paper, he worked hard to give not just a gift but something meaningful to the recipient.

He noticed what you liked and what your interests were. He found this vintage book about sheepherding collies for me once. I still have that book. He would buy OSU things – despite being a rather rabid Michigan fan – for my son and my husband. He haunted Hobby Lobby for art supplies for Brody.

One time, he even put in newspaper that had an Ohio State football game story on it in one of my husband’s gifts because he knew Bruce was a big Buckeye fan. Now, sometimes, he didn’t quite hit the mark, but even the misses were meaningful because he put so much thought into those gifts.

Scott had the ability to not just look at someone but to really see them. So many times, we are so busy and we rush from one thing to another, not taking the time to really see the people around us, but not Scott.

I remember one time I had to have this surgery on my ear. Now, you need to know I used to be deathly afraid of needles. I still don’t like them, but at least I don’t pass out anymore at the sight of one. But at the time, the thing I was dreading the most was the IV they would have to put in my hand. The nurse came in with all of her equipment. Everyone was kind of chattering away, but my brother saw the petrified look on my face. He came over and squeezed my hand hard. “Look at me, Rosi,” I remember him saying.

Yes, my brother was like a shining light, and now that he is gone, my world is a darker place, as I think it probably is for many of you here today. Although he didn’t really realize it, Scott made a difference in a lot of people’s lives. I will always miss him – his compassion, his energy and his enthusiasm. It will always make me sad that he lost his battle with mental illness. But even though his battle here didn’t end in victory, he still won the war. In I Thessalonians 4:13, Paul tells the Thessalonians that they don’t grieve as people who have no hope. And the thing is, I have that hope. I know my brother was saved and that today, he is at peace in the presence of his Savior. His struggle, his daily battle – it’s over.

The same God that my brother is with now is the same God that has shown up for myself and my family in so many big and small ways since last Thursday – from how the officer told my parents, to reconciled relationships, to encouraging phone calls and messages. It’s because of that hope I can say today that God IS good. He IS faithful and He IS kind. Quite frankly, I don’t know how anybody can get through something like this without that hope. It’s because of that hope that I know, even though I didn’t get to say goodbye to him in this life, I will say hello to him in the next.

When God’s Call Doesn’t Include a Platform

There is a lot out there right now about following your dream and fulfilling your call. Don’t get me wrong, in many ways, I think all that is great, but one thing I notice about it is those dreams and those calls are often big and public.

They often involve tweeting and Facebook updates and blog posts and boosting traffic and sale funnels. Obviously, I have nothing against those things because I post on Facebook, and I definitely blog. I’ve even tried to tweet. (I’m still not entirely sure I’m doing that right!) I think sale funnels are pretty cool, too.

But nobody talks about the small call. The call that isn’t glamorous or cool or big.The call that means getting up at midnight with a fussy baby or showing up every day to a job you don’t like so you can provide for your family or working in the nursery every week so others can take in the sermon.

There are millions of people nobody’s ever heard of that are quietly, faithfully answering the small call every day – day in and day out.


I’ve been studying I Thessalonians the past week or two, and the few things that stood out to me were the great suffering and trials Paul had to go through just to share the Gospel in one place. He did it – even though he knew he would suffer because those people needed what he had to share.

The other thing I noticed was that it was all about the people Paul served – not about him. With cyberspace, there is so much potential. We can reach people across the globe with a blog post. We can connect with someone who doesn’t even speak the same language as we do through a video or podcast or picture.

We stand on a global stage and it gets really easy to expect every call to be big and loud and sweeping. It can be really easy to make it all about us instead of the people we’re called to serve. It seems the struggle is worth it to reach so many, to do something big and important where everyone can see us.

But what if what God is calling us to is small and quiet and immediate? Are we still willing to suffer without an audience? Are we willing to sacrifice without applause for doing so?

God’s timing is always so interesting. The small call is something I’ve been contemplating. The idea of God fulfilling our dreams is also something I’ve been thinking about – mostly because it seems, well, a little too happily ever after sometimes.

I hate to be a downer. I tend to be an optimistic, look-on-the-bright-side type of person, but those who answered the call in the Bible didn’t exactly get happily-ever-afters. They had to do hard things that involved scary leaps of faith. After all, they didn’t know the ending of the story like we do.

Look at the apostles. The best ending for any of them was John’s and he was exiled to an island all by himself. Not exactly a pot at the end of the rainbow, is it?

God used him – gave him Revelations – but it wasn’t a trip to Club Med. John didn’t know that his words would be read (and argued over) by thousands of Christians for millenia. Instead, he died a lone in the middle of nowhere. Probably not how he’d always dreamed his life would end.

The other apostles were run through with swords, beheaded and even crucified upside down. None of their ends were anywhere near what we would consider happy. Their happy ending came AFTER this life.

I don’t mean that God doesn’t use us. I don’t mean that He doesn’t call us and equip us to fulfill that call. I’m not even saying God doesn’t show us His goodness right here on this earth. I’m just saying I’m not sure it is quite like all the gurus would have you think – working out all neat and tidy in the end with a big bow.

Many times the things He calls us to are hard. They don’t come with applause or accolades. They are not performed on a global stage, but quietly behind the scenes.

Are we still willing?

In November 2013, my dad was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Despite the statistics, it still rocked my world. Cancer is something you expect to happen to other families. My dad got chemotherapy and a great doctor, and he did well.

Until recently. When the chemo stopped working and his numbers rose at an alarming rate.

In a very short time, he wasn’t doing so well. He also got shingles at Christmas and came down with pneumonia. It was a difficult winter for him and an even harder spring.

Instead of a monthly visit to his specialist an hour and a half away, he now has to go twice a week. When he first started going to his specialist in 2013, I went with them the first few times. After that, he and my mom have been making the trips on their own or with some good friends of theirs. This last trip, though, I felt like I should go with them.

I’m glad I did. It was a long day for my dad, and he was really too tired to drive home. I’m glad I was there to do it for him. (Did I mention big city traffic is crazy at rush hour?) I was glad I was there to lend the support of another person’s presence. It was a long, grueling day for both my dad and my mom.

For the foreseeable future, until the cancer is back under control, I plan on going with them for most of their upcoming trips, as well. Right now, that’s my calling. It’s not easy with a family and work. I am in the process of expanding my freelancing, and I usually have a long to do list every day.

But, as my friend Kayse Pratt said in her post today – my parents don’t really need my productivity. They need my presence.

It’s not glamorous or cool or global – but it’s still a holy calling. And you know what? It’s rewarding in a way the out loud, flashier things are not. To quietly be present, to lend a helping hand and a supportive shoulder is a gift – and I don’t mean to my parents either.

Throughout my life, my parents have been there for me. They have supported me and believed in me and answered my frantic calls as a new parent with a spewing child. They have stepped in and stepped up more times than I can count.

Now it is my turn to do the same for them, and it isn’t some kind of burden either. It’s an honor and a privilege to do the same thing for them that they’ve always done for me – and that’s simply be there.

I don’t know what the future holds. The early numbers look promising that the chemo is working for my dad. I hope that means I’ll have years left with him. I pray he can see his grandsons (he’s always bragging about them) graduate and start their own lives.

But regardless if I have years or not, I plan on being present.

How about you? Has God called you to something small and quiet? I’d love to hear about it!

Blessings, Rosanne

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