"How to Find Unexpected Gifts in Brokenness" by Sara R. Ward

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For weeks after my son’s death, I walked around in a haze. The funeral, and all the decisions surrounding it, occurred in a blur of grief. Neighbors and church friends dropped off casseroles and baked pasta at our home. My body didn’t feel hungry, it felt tired and heavy, like I was dragging a load of bricks.

“In this first year of grief, you might think you are going crazy,” a pastor told me. “But it’s all normal. Feeling like you are going crazy is normal.”

Learning that “crazy was normal” helped me, but it didn’t stop others from offering their well-intentioned, but typically unhelpful advice. They wanted me to move on and get back to normal, because they believed that normal meant happy. I did not even know what normal looked like anymore.

In addition, the world continued to make its demands. I stumbled through my daily tasks, clumsily trying to please everyone, while feeling like I was failing at most everything. Sometimes I left the house, but found that introduced another set of problems. On a regular basis, I ran into people who either avoided talking to me or tried to ask about my grief, but really seemed uncomfortable with the subject.

“How are you, really?” they’d ask.

I didn’t know what to say because I could barely get out of bed. I wanted to tell them, “My life just hit rock bottom, how do you think I’m doing?” Instead, I replied, “Okay.”  

But was I okay, really?  

After a few months of struggling through sleepless nights and taking care of all the final medical and funeral bills, I came down with a terrible flu, complete with fever, chills, and a pounding headache.

I sunk into the couch and fell into a deep, feverish sleep. Suddenly a hand tapped my shoulder and I heard my daughter’s gentle plea.  

“I’m hungry,” she said peering over my face as I slept.

It was dinnertime and Sam wouldn’t be home from work until late. I dragged myself off the couch to the refrigerator, where I found some frozen soup, and dropped it into a pot. It hurt to stand as I turned the heat on high and stirred the frozen pieces of broth. 

Even calling someone on the phone seemed overwhelming. My only goal was making the hurt stop—the pain in my body, the hurt in my heart, the broken pieces of my life.

The soup bubbled and sputtered. I poured it into a bowl, handed it to my daughter, and then collapsed on the couch, my body shaking with chills.

After seven days of fever and body aches, I started to imagine the worst. I must have a terrible disease. My family will have to go through a second death.

During that week of flu, in which I imagined some horrific news about my health, I longed for a sense of normal life, of the familiar, of the way life was before Silas died. In that moment, I learned we never long for normal more than when things are abnormal.

I was longing for heaven, not just because of the brokenness of earth, but because that brokenness had crashed into my life, taking my son and my health.

This longing for things to be made right reminded me that the world was not my home, and that someday, all the broken things will be made right. Until then, this world would not satisfy my deeper longing for complete healing.

After days of putting warm washcloths on my face to ease my pounding head, I began to understand that what I wanted wasn’t anything I could find on earth. My son had died. My body ached, walloped by sickness. My world was not right and I could not fix it.

When I finally woke up and my head had stopped throbbing, I realized I had lived through this awful week. The flu did not break me. My son’s death would not either. I needed to fight back against the dark hole into which I was being sucked, to do something that would counteract the physical battle of grief.

I looked at the dog and said, “Do you want to go for a walk?” 

Her ears perked up. I pulled out the leash and put on my shoes. I did not want to go for a walk, but I also knew I could not stay inside forever, where the memories threatened to consume me.

Outside the walls of my home, I noticed small things that surprised me: the way the sun reflected off the snow, the change of color in the trees, the soft flow of the river, the way the flowers cascaded over the fencerow. Learning to take care of myself was a lesson in learning to heal.

I knew my heart would be broken for a long time, but that didn’t mean that I couldn’t see God in my brokenness. When God made his creation and called it good, it was a reflection of his glory. Experiencing his glory each day, even in the midst of my grief, was changing me.

The revelation that gifts could be found in brokenness slowly unfurled in front of me. It didn’t fix the death of my son—nothing would do that—but it reminded me I had two choices: the choice to sink into bitterness, anger, and despair or to find God in this mess.

The more I did the latter, the more I began to see his gifts slowly emerging in my life. These gifts of brokenness soothed like a healing balm, but it required that I lean into him in my sorrow.

I began to hold on to what lay ahead: a place where the broken are mended, where I would finally understand what this great longing in my heart was all about.

It would be a new normal. The long-awaited healing. It would be as things were meant. A heart with no more ache in the deep places.

It would be for always.

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About Our Guest Writer

Sara R. Ward is an author and speaker who writes about grief, adoption, and faith on sararward.com. This essay was excerpted from her book, Made for Hope: Discovering Unexpected Gifts in Brokenness. She has been a regular contributor on Adoption.com and has been published in Focus on the Family and the Today Show Parenting Team. Sara is a pastor’s wife and mom to three, including a son who passed away from Leigh's disease.

Special Note: Sara’s writings will also be featured along with several author writers in the ebook Be Still: Leaning Into God When Everything Falls Apart (A 30-Day Devotional) that comes out on October 15. You can get your own FREE digital copy of Be Still the day it releases by subscribing to The Shelf. Click the button below to find out more.

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Available Oct. 15

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