Y’all. Rachel’s heart is beautiful. She is one of those people I feel like I know already, even though we’ve never met in real life. The way she invites us into her journey is so warm, gentle, and compassionate. She creates space through her words to let others know that their stories matter too, and her approach to grief reminds us that we are not alone in whatever hard things we are facing.
Here is Rachel’s Freedom Story.
Self-help, independence, and productivity are the values our culture esteems, but what if I told you interdependence, vulnerability, and rest were more powerful? We’re not made to do this alone. We need one another. God has designed us to live in community with one another. There is power and freedom in authentic community, and my own grief journey has revealed this to me in surprising ways.
We never thought it could happen to us again. After losing a baby in early miscarriage, then burying our sweet son Clive, we never anticipated that we could lose another newborn. We welcomed a new pregnancy with joy and fears, holding fast to God.
Our darling Winnie was in our arms for 9 days before she unexpectedly died. We were thrown into the pit of grief again, and it was even deeper this time. How could we go on? Was this to be our life now—endless grief?
Somehow we survived, day by day, taking the manna as it came to sustain. We sat in the darkness, numb and broken, for a long, long time. We wrestled with faith, purpose, pain, and trauma. We processed.
I’d learned a lot from our previous losses, and I’d found a surprising freedom in my grief journey. I’d seen the power of authenticity and vulnerability and how it connected me to others, and I knew that it was worth the pain to share my pain. It wasn’t easy to press into this pain. It still isn’t easy to share my burden and pain with others, but I am seeing the reward of it beginning to unfold in my life. Through my faith and community, I found freedom in my grief.
I found freedom to stay in the darkness a long while, recognizing and allowing the broken world to just be. There is hurt all around us, but instead of granting time for lament we often believe we need to push through into joy, worship, and gratitude. God grants us freedom to lament. I found freedom to feel my emotions—not becoming controlled by them but by validating their place in my life. The Psalms and Job are full of honest lament that is disoriented and dark. With the outpouring of lament and a heart willing to feel pain, God meets us in our deepest hurt. He doesn’t push us past it, but sits with us.
I found freedom in not rushing into finding a lesson, a learning, or a purpose in the pain. If that was to be revealed, I would allow it to unfold with time. Some questions will never be answered on this side of heaven. Journals piled up, filled with prayers and questions. I wanted to find an answer to my pain, but I realized that put an undue pressure of performance into a sacred time of grief. My efficient and introspective bent had to rest and allow myself to learn slowly as God revealed truth in my grief.
I found freedom in being incapable. The Message’s paraphrase of Job 6:13 says, “Do you think I can pull myself up by my bootstraps? Why, I don’t even have any boots!” I laughed aloud when I first read this, but felt so validated. Self-help, productivity, and independence didn’t have a place in my grief. I couldn’t be on the giving side of relationships. I had to allow others to help me. I had to see my own brokenness and inability, and believe that God had granted me community to be His hands and feet to me.
In many ways, it’s hard to be on the receiving end of relationships. It’s easier to help others than allow others to help me. But I absolutely cannot do life alone, and I know we weren’t designed to. We all need friends and family. We need to be the ones to throw our arms around those that are hurting and we also need to be the ones to have arms thrown around us as we hurt. We need to recognize needs in others and we need to make our needs known so others can recognize our needs.
I found freedom in sharing my honest doubts and wavering faith. I was met with understanding and grace by my friends and family. I’d like to share one of the most powerful prayers prayed over me in my deep grief.
“We believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord. I say WE, because we know that sometimes you can’t believe alone. We carry you. Even when you can’t believe, we believe for you.”
This is the power of community. This is the freedom that community grants us. We learn from one another. We carry one another, sharing burdens and joys. We experience the heights and depths together, and we do not rush quickly into what feels comfortable but linger in the confusion together.
Recently, I had an image of someone running a race and becoming injured. As she stumbled along and fell, the other athletes ran by. Two paused, looked upon her with compassion, and lifted her arms upon their shoulders. They carried her, allowing her weight to lean upon them. She was a hindrance. She was hurting and broken. She was unable. But, they saw her and carried her.
As a community, we can do the same. We can look to those who are hurting and see what they have to offer—although it is not much in the way of practical help, it is much in the way of soul lessons. Their grief isn’t a burden, but a shared experience. Suffering connects us to one another and to the suffering of Jesus. It helps reframe our minds, fixing them on things unseen and eternal. It gives freedom to live connected in community, as God intended.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NIV)
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Rachel George writes at samandrachelgeorge.com, sharing about hope in the midst of life’s darkest moments. She believes in the power of stories and community, loves being outside, and is thrilled to own a coffee shop in her little Midwestern town. She’s working on her first book about creatively processing through grief with eyes fixed on Jesus, and views her life journey as an opportunity to help others through their grief. You can find her on Instagram @rachelgeorgewrites or on Facebook at Sam & Rachel George.
My body holds memories of its grief.
Sometimes it manifests as anxiety, bubbling up as a slow simmer. Sometimes it is triggered by the news, or hearing someone else’s story that brushes up against mine. That is the pain that feels sharpest. Sometimes it comes out as anger, when I haven’t taken time to just feel sad and I’ve pushed it down and down and down and then it lashes out with an angry tongue. But more often than not, it is an unexpected wave that comes over me–a surprising sadness on an otherwise normal day or week.
And then I look at the calendar and I realize what is happening. Every February, heartache swells over missing my grandfather–my dear Poppy. Sometimes in April, the anxiety of a particular trauma rises up in my chest as my body recalls an event that changed the course of my life. And in early October, there is a sadness over a wedding anniversary that is no longer celebrated, and a painful heartbreak that occurred years later in the same month.
One morning this week I woke up with a dull ache, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I received a message from my cousin, letting me know she was thinking about me this week. Her validation that this might be a hard time for me was so comforting, and gave me space to grieve. The tears that had been lingering below the surface finally came out. I let my body just feel the pain and grief it had been holding.
Sometimes it is a lot easier for me to extend grace and kindness to others than to myself, so my counselor and I have been working through a series of letters that I am writing to myself. Letters to baby Heather, little girl Heath, the Heather who has made mistakes in the past that needs to be reminded of grace. So this week, I wrote my body this letter. And I thought it might be helpful for someone else today too, so I am sharing it here.
To my body,
Hello sweet girl. I want to tell you something. I haven’t always been kind to you. I want to whisper kindness over you today. You’ve been so strong, and you’ve endured so much. You have danced across stages and smiled at strangers, but you’ve also been bruised and scarred. You ran a half marathon and bring me nourishing rest each night, but there have also been seasons where I neglected or criticized you. You once withstood trauma, but at another time you also birthed a beautiful baby boy into this world. You carry me to work, sit in the car for road trips, savor new foods, offer hugs to loved ones, and lead others in worship with strong breath against vocal chords. However, in the times when grief has arisen, I have not always given you the space you have needed.
So today, I am making space for you. I’m slowing down for a little while to just listen.
Is today hard for you? How are you feeling? I’m here and I am listening.
I have tried to rush you past those very feelings. I have gotten wrapped up in justifying thoughts or trying to be further along in processing your grief. There have been so many times when I have used busyness or slapped on a mask of “happiness” to try to push past what you were feeling. I’m so sorry for that.
To the days when you feel echoes of trauma… I trust you. I believe you. It breaks my heart to think of what you went through, and I’m so sorry it still hurts at times. It’s okay to still be angry or scared or sad when you think of that. It’s not okay that that happened, but you are not broken because of it. You are compassionate and tender-hearted, and it has given you a sensitivity to others in their pain. You are able to share your story with others and let them know they’re not alone.
To the seasons where the grief rises to the surface… I’m here. There is healing in tears. When the tears burn just below your eyes, let them come. In survival mode, I know that I have pushed those tears down or moved quickly past. But I’m making a safe space for you to let it out. I will try not to numb those feelings with busyness or other coping mechanisms. I will try not to minimize those feelings and brush quickly past. Today, I will let myself feel sad if I need to let sadness come.
I know you’ve heard me say things like, “I should be further along in processing this,” or “I shouldn’t feel sad right now when I have so many blessings!” Those simply aren’t helpful phrases, Heather. Grief takes time and space. And it is possible to feel joy and sadness at the same time. Yes, there are things to be thankful for and blessings to count, but they do not negate the parts of your life that carry wounds.
But Heather? Even though these parts of your story and your life and the wounds you carry are true, there is another TRUTH that stands with you in all of this. You have a Savior who is with you in every experience, every joy, every sadness, and every ounce of pain that occurs. I want to remind you of these words today, even in the midst of feeling your grief.
Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. (Psalm 38:4)
The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; He delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 38:17-18)
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3)
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:26)
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)
The Lord is WITH you in this. He can handle the grief. He can handle the sorrow. Bring it all to Him.
I’m proud of you. I love you. I’m here for you.
P.S. Special thank you to Lex Sirikiat, Autumn Mott Rodeheaver, and Aaron Burden for the beautiful autumn leaf/tree photos that accompany this post (all three photographers generously share their work via unsplash).
As I was reading Laura’s story this week, I kept wishing we were sitting together over a cup of coffee at a cute cafe in one of our cities. Which is kind of perfect, because she writes as The Caffeinated Woman and invites others to “live wide awake” through her writing and speaking. She has a beautiful heart for the Lord, and has found sweet freedom and healing from her grief through her relationship with Him.
Here is Laura’s Freedom Story.
National geographic wrote an article about the way some people groups in Africa handle grief. The part that stayed with me after reading it, was that when someone experiences the significant loss of a loved one the expectation is that for a year they are given space and freedom to grieve. A whole year.
Other cultures, including the one in which I live, do not offer much in the way of space and freedom to grieve significant loss. We hurry-up, plan and pull off a funeral in a matter of days. Some work/school environments offer benefits to have a few days off. Days. And not everyone can or will offer that. Beyond a couple weeks post loss there is a generalized expectation that we “should” move on. I mean life keeps needing be lived right? I deeply dislike the word ‘should’ yet it’s common enough to hear in the context of how friends and family speak of the bereaved, weeks after their loss. There’s a lot of opinion about what the grieving ones should or should not be doing after a certain (short) time frame.
Grief has a job, takes its own sweet time, and left to do its work will lead the grieving to a healthy new chapter.
Because I lived in this and through this I have the right to say, let’s offer all people groups the freedom to grieve. For more than a few days.
Most young kids have an answer or two or three for the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My answer was: to be a mom. I told my brand new hubby that. He said, how about we do ‘just married’ for a year first? That was a good life choice. A year later I brought it up again. He said, how about a puppy? Our darling golden retriever puppy Bailey was a great source of distraction for another year. We knew when the time was right, only our idea of good timing turned into a lot more time. Eventually a lot of time passed and we were introduced to the concept and treatment of infertility. And then the time arrived to be a mom, for us to be parents. Our first ultrasound showed us our insta-big-family. We were going to go from a couple to a family of five.
During the time of pregnancy we were middle school youth leaders. Each week I went to the doctor I was given an ultrasound VHS tape recording the growing babies. That movie was a highlight at our youth gatherings. During the time of pregnancy, there were some unexpected issues, days in the hospital, hours on monitors and eventual bed rest. One day, at my 23 week and 5 day appointment, I found myself on the way from my doctors office to a hospital with a level three NICU, via ambulance. Hours later JR and I heard the cries of Calvin, then Leah, and finally Andrew DeGroot. Each weighed in at one pound, with the tiniest fingers and toes. They were living, they were baptized, they just didn’t have enough lung development to live long.
It was the two of us there with our little ones, and a remarkable staff. Oh, and the Spirit of the Living God who made himself known right after we were told the babies would be born living but not survive long. We looked at one another and these were the words we said out-loud:
“I look up to the mountains — does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.”
There was more, is more to that prayer. We had all the words to Psalm 121 given to our minds to speak into that sacred and scary and sad, so sad space where we were alone. But not alone at all.
Thus began my African Year of Grieving. No one could have prepared me for being a mother that would bury her first three children. I didn’t want to be a grieving mother. I wanted to breastfeed, complain about not enough sleep, push a stroller, get puked on, read Where The Wild Things Are, rock babies to sleep. I won’t ask you to imagine what it’s like to bury a child though some of you reading already know. Others of you know similar unexpected and devastating loss. It unsettled every part of my being, including my faith.
Grieving was deep, grueling, exhausting, and long. A majority of the sympathies and sentiments are initially full of grace and shared sadness. Yet, there is a subtle undercurrent of ‘get better soon,’ which morphs into well-meaning words and expectations for you to be back to your old self by, say, a few weeks later. Certainly after a couple months.
But what they don’t get, I didn’t get either, was that the old self won’t come back. The old self wanted to get pregnant, have a baby, be a mother. This self, the one that did have the baby, that is a mother but doesn’t have children to raise will require the freedom of time, tenderness, tears, tantrums, tons of sleep, to find whatever self is next.
And what about God?
I knew about God. I grew up with healthy church experience, a mother who prays and taught us to pray. Youth group, camp, serving projects, Bible classes, were part of my foundation. But in this grief all I knew about God so far, really didn’t make any sense at all. Six months into the year of grief, I walked my dog, stopped in the middle of the field, released every fiber of my highly emotional self, and shaking my fist at the sky I screamed, “If you are for real God, WHAT DO YOU WANT WITH ME?”
Immediately God replied, “I want all of you.”
There in the field at the crossroad of bitterness or joy, I heard the very audible voice of God for the very first time. I was prepared to let go of believing. I was ready to live a dark, inward, hard-hearted, shut-down, imprisoned existence. But there must have been hope too, quietly pleading behind the pain. And because He spoke to my raw, honest self in such a tangible way I chose the path of joy. It didn’t begin with sudden feelings of happiness, it began with a hunger to Know God, the one that talked to me, not just know about Him.
In my African Year of Grieving, I was set free to know and love Someone. Jesus knows and loves me already. He knows all of me, wants all of me. He told me Himself. And so many years later, I deeply believe His words were not only for me alone. They are for you too — you who might be devastated, desperate, on the long road grief. You are not alone. The God who speaks, who loves, who heals, who has freed us, is present. He wants all of you too.
One year later, I can honestly say I was ready for something new. Good grieving work happened in many ways, with a few people who went the distance with us. We had a memorial ceremony then, acknowledging the loss and placing bulbs in the ground as a symbol of new life that had and would continue to come. I turned the page and began a new chapter.
My freedom story continues. Two years after the triplets, we were in a hospital room and said hello to Lyndsay and Lauren. They’re remarkable humans that I can’t believe are mine! I continue to be hungry for an ever changing relationship with Jesus and his loved ones. His Word has informed but is transforming me and I’m so thankful to have been set free to remain free to surrender my life and pursue life — the one Jesus wants to fill with healing, wholeness, hope, and love.
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Laura DeGroot is the Caffeinated Woman! She loves to laugh, live out-loud, drink good coffee, read good books, and eat great food. She is a motivated speaker, the mother of exceptional twin girls, and the wife of a loyal, adventurous, exemplary man.
Laura is a champion for caffeinated living. She encourages others to embrace their story, lean into rough patches, and be present to God’s healing and powerful Presence. She has lived with both significant loss and abundant blessing, sometimes simultaneously. Her stories come from the quotidian life of a strong-willed daughter, an appreciative wife, an often unconventional mother, and a challenged pet owner. Her posture and openness to life reveal that she is “never the expert, always the student.”
Howard Thurman said, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
Laura encourages others to live wide awake at The Caffeinated Woman.
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Special thanks to Christiana Rivers (with Unsplash) for the cozy image of the coffee to accompany this post!