Finding Divine Markers in the Midst of Grief

March 31, 2019  |  Craig St. John

By Megan Lamy

The reality of life is that no one is immune to trauma and grief; all of us have either experienced trauma and the resulting grief at some point in our lives, or it will most likely be a part of our future. The word trauma has intense associations, but it can be any event that causes psychological, physical, emotional, or mental harm, and grief is the normal and natural response to trauma. The tendency of our human nature can sometimes be to charge through life wearing a badge of trauma checkmarks and constantly carrying our umbrella of grief, so-to-speak, that we can hide under, which is often mistaken as our true identity, and we unconsciously compare it with others’ lives (“they don’t have it as hard as I do”). Yes, grief deeply impacts who we are, how we view life, the way we relate to people, and what we do with our gift of time. However, grief is not a competitive sport, and the depth, breadth, and level of transparency of other people’s grief is often unknown to us.

We may also have an expectation that there should be a limit to the grief we experience in this lifetime when we feel like a significant quota has been met and we can’t seem to take any more heaviness in life. Yet, God’s mercies and loving presence in the midst of trauma and grief are limitless. He reminds us of this in his Word: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

What if we were able to look back at our timeline of traumatic experiences through fresh eyes to see the golden thread of God’s goodness, unending love, and timely mercies woven in with our grief? If we see the traces of him in the midst of processing our grief, do we offer gratitude and thanksgiving for those goldmines and testify of his presence?

I am no stranger to grief, but through all of it, the Lord has been a source of comfort, joy, and refreshment. Part of my grief timeline includes the following traumatic milestones; yet, coinciding with the grief I’ve experienced are these divine markers, where the rich presence of Jesus in my life was my saving grace. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

An excerpt of my grief timeline…
& associated divine markers:

>SPIRITUAL ABUSE: During my pivotal adolescent years, I was immersed into life with a seemingly normal small group of Christians that proved to be a very exclusive, authoritarian, and unhealthy church (read: cult). My life decisions were at the mercy of controlling, manipulative, and misled leaders who acted as spiritual puppeteers, leaving their puppet people in a heap on the floor when the strings were cut during an ugly fallout. The detriment of this spiritual abuse was that the control and manipulation were all under the guise of the Holy Spirit, which was being interpreted through spiritual mentors; biblical truths were tainted and intertwined with deception. The damage I both witnessed and experienced when this church “split” (a.k.a. exploded) was more far-reaching, painful, and scarring than I could ever express.

*I experienced a long, rough patch of grief (masked as other issues) in this stretch of life; but it became a season where my faith was whittled down to seeking a relationship with Jesus alone and leaning on the Holy Spirit as my guide versus other Christians who let me down and I no longer trusted. Over the course of many years, God brought healing to my jaded sight of Christians and the church. Today, I work on staff for Redemption Tempe (this is a true heart miracle) and, by God’s mercies, have been able to worship alongside those with whom I’ve experienced spiritual abuse.

>LOSS TO CANCER: A month before our first child was born, my husband and I witnessed the brutal theft of my father-in-law’s healthy life by stomach cancer, in a life-robbing matter of 5 months. We walked through the agonizing pain of impending death for a loved one (my husband’s hero) and seemingly unanswered prayers for healing by his faithful family and friends. There are so many levels of grief from going behind the scenes with cancer, but one that sticks out is the mental images of what it can do to your loved one’s physical body by the time of their last breath.

*I’ll be honest that this experience challenged my faith more than any other. I’ll never fully understand why some people are healed and others aren’t, and I desperately wish the outcome had been different. Yet, I can say that during this time I witnessed some of the most beautiful moments of prayer that I’ve ever been a part of (they changed me), and I still trust in the power, love, and sovereignty of God, even in dark hours of suffering. Cancer changed my whole view on the value of life, my time, and those around me that I love. The massive loss it brought gave me a newfound hope for the restoration (described in Rev. 21­–22) of this broken world.

>CHILD WITH EPILEPSY: Seeing your precious baby girl hospitalized over and over again (5 times over) and facing moments in time where you fear you are going to lose her, or her healthy functioning, is a trauma that rips apart a mom’s heart. [I only have a tiny glimpse into the heartache and loss of actually losing a child, but can’t imagine that type of searing loss that some of my friends have gone through.] When our sweet second child, Sage, was between the ages of 12 months to 3 years old, we watched her experience 5 long seizures (which felt like an eternity when their length of time was 10–15 minutes versus the typical 3–5 minutes, and they usually needed immediate drug intervention to stop them). I was tasked with trying to keep her seizure triggers—illness/fever and lack of sleep—at bay while also caring for an energetic older brother and becoming very sick myself with a surprise third pregnancy. I began transferring my trust in Jesus to doctors, medications, my ability to respond immediately to an episode, and the seizure-stopping shot I carried everywhere, as if it was my fourth child. This journey felt like an eternity, as grief and anxiety-wreaked havoc on my mind, body, and soul on a daily basis, not knowing when these were going to hit.

*I wish I could share the many moments of God’s sovereign presence during this time, but her confirmation of healing was the most powerful, by far. After 5 years of epilepsy grief, I became very frustrated and worried when Sage got a concussion from her sister running in to the side of her head. This turned out to be a life-changing blessing in disguise: during her follow-up neurological appointment at the same office where we went after seizures (and where they had confirmed three years prior that IF she outgrew her seizures it would be closer to 11–12 years old, but she might never outgrow them…the biggest dagger in my mom heart) it was medically confirmed at age 6 that she was now seizure free! That appointment was one of the sweetest moments of my life and was chock-full of blessings, including the neurologist randomly speaking to my burdened soul that there’s nothing I could have done during my pregnancy to cause these seizures (a heavy belief I had been carrying for so long). When I got in my car after that appointment, the Lord used the words on the radio to confirm: “I hold your healing in my hand.” I thank God nearly every day for his protection over my daughter’s brain, organs, and functions, and I’m amazed at how he continues to unpack the anxiety and fears that crippled me for years.

>CHRONIC PAIN: I’m sensitive to the fact that there are horrific physical traumas that others have experienced that I may never know of or understand, which is why I kept my experience with physical pain mostly to myself—cueing a very lonely blip on my timeline. While in the thick of caring for 3 kids 5 and under (including a toddler with epilepsy and a baby), I went through an 8-month period of having internal pain, being dizzy, and having no energy on the daily that no type of doctor I went to (I exhausted them all) could explain. It left me feeling extremely depressed, hopeless, and honestly wondering if I was dying a slow death…I was seriously at the verge of creating goodbye letters and videos for my children and husband. I didn’t know that my blood was pooling in my veins and my blood flow was being restricted. When I was finally diagnosed with two obscure syndromes (Pelvic Congestion Syndrome & May-Thurner Syndrome), I went through a five-month process of multiple procedures, because the first one failed, and a slow healing with phases of high-intensity pain that, at times, felt like childbirth (I’ve felt 100% of those effects three times).

*God orchestrated a miracle during this time: my obscure health issues, that I rarely talked about, came up in conversation with a friend that I see only a few times a year. She happened to be in the percentage of women who were successfully diagnosed with this same syndrome and had recently been treated by an incredible interventional radiologist. He ended up identifying my health problems quickly and performed my vein implant procedures to help my veins remap themselves. I will never deny that God is sovereign! 

>SUDDEN DEATH OF A LOVED ONE: None of these grief markers on my timeline hold a candle to the devastating loss of unexpectedly and prematurely losing one of my favorite, most influential people in my life—my Dad—without warning or a goodbye. It’s the kind of grief I’ll be processing, confronting sadness over, and learning from for the rest of my days. This seemingly healthy hero of mine, incredible father who taught me through his actions so much about Jesus, and well-loved baseball coach in the community dropped dead out of the blue on September 17th, 2017.

*I am so very thankful for this true gift amidst the tragedy of my Dad’s death: my entire family was all together the night before celebrating his birthday, enjoying each other’s company, laughing as usual, watching him love on his grandkids, and even taking an idyllic walk around the neighborhood together. Yes, the painful loss that hit the next day rocked my entire world, which no longer felt safe. However, I witnessed overwhelming beauty amongst the brokenness of our lives in the form of being carried by our community, experiencing what felt like a little bit of heaven at my Dad’s Memorial Service, hearing the ways my Dad lived out his faith to impact lives, and seeing love outpoured to my family in too many tangible ways to recount. God’s faithful presence was strong even from the moment I learned my Dad had died suddenly from a heart attack or stroke. As I lay in bed that night a complete wreck, repeating out loud through tears and adrenaline, “I can’t do tomorrow! I can’t do tomorrow!” because I didn’t want to know life without him, God sweetly and immediately gave me a song in the moment I most needed to hear from Him:

Because He (Christ) lives, I can face tomorrow
Because He lives, all fear is gone
I know, I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living just because He lives

God’s love, compassion, and faithfulness has overwhelmed my grief timeline. While I admit that I am a “glass half-full” type of person, naturally speaking, I do believe that the beauty of God’s presence and mercies in our lives can always be seen in the midst of brokenness, if we look for them. For those whose “cup” (condition in life) feels completely drained from the impact of ongoing grief and past traumas, or feels merely “half-full” from the constant battle of functioning in life amongst inevitable brokenness, or feels full but, perhaps, it’s at the expense of your own independent striving and lack of dependence on God: we are reminded in Psalm 16:5 that, “The Lord is the portion of my inheritance, my cup [He is all I need]; You support my lot.”He upholds and preserves us in the midst of our enemies, griefs, and hardships. God’s powerful presence fills our most aching moments of emptiness and his light shines into the darkest corners of our lives.

When my “cup” in life feels drained, I’m often reminded of an old hymn that I love:

Fill my cup, Lord, I lift it up, Lord

Come and quench this thirsting in my soul

Bread from Heaven, feed me ’til I want no more

Fill my cup, fill it up and make me whole

It’s a true gift to be able to look back on your life and see how God has always been there and has interjected his love, miracles, and reminders of all he is. Looking back, do you see God’s interjected goldmines of his love, mercy, and unwavering presence? I pray that God would give you eyes to see HIS markers on your timeline as you consider how grief has shaped your life, who you are, and the ways you approach your faith, this world, and the people around you. Take time to discover the milestones of is faithful presence, the overlap of is deep love for you amidst grief, and the often unseen (and sometimes gradual) change in your heart and life that he has orchestrated through it all.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13). May he use all that he has shaped you to be from your up-and-down life experiences to be a goldmine in the timelines of those around you.