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What to do the morning after…

What to do the morning after…

I cried myself to sleep last night.

And then woke up this morning still carrying the crushing weight of grief and worry. It sits in my gut like an anvil. It makes my hands shake when I try to type and my eyes water over at a kind word or gesture.

As I pulled the covers up over my shoulder last night I remembered the last time I had cried myself to sleep: when our son Tony was taken from us. This crushing weight, this mind-numbing worry, this panic for the future, it all feels very familiar.

So what did I do then? How did I get up and go about life? How did I not lock my doors and shut my windows and keep my family safe inside this bubble that I think I control?

Here’s what I did then:

  • I was very tender towards myself. I didn’t rush to get dressed or put makeup on or get back to business as usual. I let myself grieve. I sat on the floor and sobbed. I laid on my bed and shouted at God. I let myself feel.
  • I dug into Scripture. Into the truths found there. I spoke them aloud even if I didn’t believe them. I let friends speak them to me, even if they made me mad. I knew that ultimately hope and healing would be found within, so I kept going back to those words.
  • I prayed. Sometimes with words, most often with tears. I prayed for my son and for the family he left behind–especially the sisters who didn’t understand his abrupt departure. I prayed for the family he joined. I prayed for the social workers and the people who worried for me. And I prayed for my enemies: for the ones who took my son and scrutinized my actions and told me I wasn’t a good mother.
  • I nourished my body when I could. I gave it long walks and good cheese and the best chocolate.
  • I looked for God’s faithfulness. And when I looked I found it in big and in small ways. I opened my eyes to the wonder that is God’s constant care of me and I was renewed by the gratitude it brought about in me.
  • I answered my children’s questions with the best honesty I could. I let them see me sad, grieving what in no way was right or fair. I showed them a mother daily fighting to choose faith over fear, confident that someday I wouldn’t have to fight anymore.
  • I scrubbed my kitchen floor on my hands and my knees. I gave myself work to do. I sweat it out. I was proud of my labor.
  • I let my people love me. And when I was ready, I got to the work of loving them back.


Here’s what I’m going to do now:

  • I’m going to be tender towards myself. I won’t be rushed to get dressed or put on makeup or get back to the business as usual. I will let myself grieve, to cry and wail and sob and feel what I need to feel.
  • I’ll return to the Book that gives life and hope and healing. I’ll speak its words aloud, even if I don’t believe them right now, because I know I will again.
  • I’ll pray. I’ll pray for my friends and my neighbors. I’ll pray for Holy Spirit power over my fears and panic. I’ll pray for those who lost and those who won. I’ll pray for my enemies, and ask God to grow in me a tender heart where I do not see anyone as such.
  • I will nourish my body with movement and with good food. I’ll let myself rest. I’ll drink a Starbucks without regret.
  • I will continue to look for God’s faithfulness and proclaim it when I find it. Because I know it is here.
  • I’ll sit with my children in their feelings too. I’ll show them a woman grieved and grieving, but a woman who will use this grief to fuel her actions. I will answer their questions and hold them tightly. I will remind them of what I know: they are loved fiercely by the God of the universe and the parents to whom God entrusted their care. We will work together to choose faith over fear.
  • I’ll find work to do. Laundry and sweeping. Cooking and crafting. Reading and writing. This is holy and I do it not to distract myself from my pain, but to work my way through it.
  • I will look for love. Always. It is there, it is here. It is all around.


When we lost Tony a friend shared these words with me. They comforted me and challenged me in the way Scripture seems to: inspite of everything, keep doing good.



In her gracious and humble speech today, Secretary Clinton invoked these words from Scripture, and in a similar way my friend had, reminded us to keep doing good. “My friends” she said, “let us have faith in each other, let us not grow weary and lose heart, for there are more seasons to come and there is more work to do.”



So dear ones, if you are grieving with me today let us grieve and cry and work through our pain. Wallow. Sit in it. Wail if you need to. You have my permission to feel whatever it is you are feeling. But at the end of it, we must get back up. Let us not give up or run away. Let us continue to do the good work that God has called us to. Let us together promise to choose faith over fear, to love with abandon, and to look for God’s presence and care because I promise if you look you will find it. It may be in unexpected places and unexpected faces, but it is there. And together we will not only find it, we will become it.

opening the box

opening the box



I have this box on a shelf. It’s been there a while. It holds some feelings, dark and ugly feelings.  Packaged away and hidden high on a shelf, those feelings remained for a long time.

Until they didn’t anymore.

Until one day this spring as I’m chatting with my spiritual director about a recent event, and suddenly I am overwhelmed with emotion. “I don’t know what this is,” I cry. “I don’t know what is making me respond like this to a situation that really isn’t about me at all.”

[Maybe tears when I’m talking about one thing are actually about something else. Maybe those boxed-up feelings aren’t as secured as I hoped. After all, I couldn’t figure out how to get a lock on that box—just a lid.]

“You’ve got to sit with God in your grief,” my spiritual director tells me. And then reminds me that “ungrieved pain will turn into bitterness” and I realize that I need to open that box. That I am going to have to sit in grief and bitterness, and even more: loss and abandonment. I wanted to say that there was an unexpected life circumstance that caused my box to slip from its secure location and fall at my feet, but in reality I know it was God pushing it forward.

Even after the revelation that I was going to need to open the box I wasn’t ready to do it, I wasn’t ready to sit in the yuck. While the box no longer sat high on a shelf, it now became comfortable on my bedside table—unopened. I promised God I would open it soon, and begged God’s patience, knowing God might deem I was ready before I felt ready. All summer long I glanced at it, asking God for a little more time.


This feels like a season of preparation in my life. Going to seminary, leading a local para-church ministry, resting and worshipping on the sidelines at church (yes, you could call me a “pew sitter”), God is doing deep and important work in my soul. I am more attuned to my inner life than I have ever been. As a leader and a do-er, this season of stillness and solitude has been marked with hard-fought growth. I feel like Eustace, with God peeling off my scales and revealing the true me underneath.

But I was still afraid of that box on my table.

In this time of work in the waiting God and I are dreaming big dreams together. I know something is coming. And I don’t want to rush. I want to be fully ready for it. I want all my scales to come off. I want to lead others into transformation through the power of Christ, and I long to find God in the context of my leadership rather than miss God completely in it. As Ruth Haley Barton writes, “the soul is a tender thing, and leadership can be very dangerous…we know that the leader is often the one who gets shot at or voted off the island. The savvy soul knows better than to run out into the clearing, thereby giving everyone a better shot!”* I need my tender soul to be healthy.


So today as the rain poured down outside, I lit some candles and sat in the quiet and solitude with God. It was time. I closed my eyes, quieted my breath, and opened the box. I was shocked at what I found: hiding in the corner, so small I almost missed her, was a little me. A tiny Deanna, sitting on the bottom, knees pulled up to her chest, arms wrapped around them, head weighed down.

What am I supposed to do with her? I whispered to God, who (I was not surprised to find) was standing there with me gazing into the box.

Oh Deanna, God lovingly responded.

You are her.

Let me open this box.


It took some time and some courage and a whole lot of trust, but as I looked up at God’s face I climbed inside myself, inside my box. The darkness was enveloping, the fear suffocating.

But as I waited, God’s light began to shine into the darkness. God didn’t take the lid off as I had, instead the light came in through a crack, small at first and then bigger and bigger until my curiosity got the best of me and I had to see what was outside—taking a peek through the crack and letting the light warm me.

And so the work has begun. But I am not the one doing it. I thought I would have to, I thought I would have to open that box and unpack all the contents and examine and study and I don’t know…fix all of it.

But instead I just needed to acknowledge the truth of that broken-hearted, tender woman, hiding in the darkness. I needed to crawl inside her, to feel her pain. And to let God to do the fixing.

So I am sitting here and letting God lovingly and tenderly and with the utmost compassion and patience do the work.

My soul might be feeling a little battered and bruised, but it is so happy to be under the care of the master surgeon and is reveling in the light.


*Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership by Ruth Haley Barton is a must-read for any Christian leader.

it happened to me

it happened to me

The last thing this world needs is another blog condemning gorilla mom, or a blog condemning gorilla mom’s condemners. (Because, honestly, my friend Rachel put it all to bed when she penned this amazing piece. Before anyone should call for a child to be taken into foster care, be careful to know that that means.)

But I’ve been sitting on the sidelines since this thing exploded, watching hurtful words being thrown casually around, and doing my best to keep my heart where it should be—in my chest and not my throat.


You see I loved a little boy once. He came home from the hospital with us the day Dani turned four so she happily declared to all who would listen that she got a baby brother for her birthday! Antonio was the name his mother had given him, but we quickly took to calling him Tony. And oh, did we fall instantly in love.

Tony was a charmer. He had the best laugh and such an easy-going personality. He had some health challenges with a set of bad lungs, but he weathered his treatments like a champ. Darin would hold him some nights while giving him albuterol through a nebulizer, and tell him that this all was just a part of the “compelling backstory” ESPN reporters would share one day as they discussed what a promising football career he had ahead of him.

From the beginning we knew we weren’t Tony’s forever family. We knew he had a biological mother that loved him and wanted him. And we knew the family adopting his older sister who hoped when the affairs were in order to reunite the siblings and adopt Tony as well.  We were standing in the gap, in a nearly literal sense—the gap between birth and forever.

But we loved that baby like we were his forever.

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When Tony was nearly 7-months old we had a visit to a lung doctor. Dani kept him entertained for the nearly 20 minutes we waited for our appointment, so when we were in the room waiting for the doctor and she asked for my phone, I agreed. I placed a hand over the roly-poly baby on the bed, and reached behind me to grab my phone from my diaper bag on the chair. By the time I turned back, I saw my baby’s head hit the floor. It happened in a split second. And it changed everything.

I scooped Tony up screaming and ran out into the hallway begging someone to help me. The nurses came running and calmed me down, looking Tony over. There were no visible wounds, and when the doctor arrived he pronounced Tony OK and gave me signs of head trauma to be aware of. After a short amount of crying, Tony was back to his happy self and after the rest of our appointment and with the doctor’s sign-off, we headed out for the rest of our day. I kept an eye on Tony but there was nothing of note to worry us.

At home that evening I filled out the incident report paperwork and turned it in, grateful that things were going to be OK.


Only they weren’t. I don’t want to go into all the details here, but a week later when we discovered that Tony had a skull fracture…well…the nightmare began.

He got removed from our care, placed with near-strangers, and never came home to us.

We found ourselves in the middle of a criminal and licensing investigation.

My children were pulled out of their classrooms by a complete stranger and asked incredibly invasive questions.

And then Darin and I were interviewed for over 2 hours in our living room, by the scariest woman I’ve ever met.

I will never ever forget the look in her eye or the tone in her voice when she looked up from her notes to ask me, “Now, Deanna, your daughter says you were on your phone when it happened.”

I saw and heard and felt the judgement: I was a distracted mom who cared more about her phone than the children in her care.

Which could not have been further from the truth.

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Yes, I was reaching for my phone. But not to answer it or to check facebook or send a text. My daughter had just spent 20 minutes entertaining her brother with stroller rides around the waiting room, books and songs, and toys. I was so proud of her and wanted to reward her with a “yes” when she asked to play on my phone. I knew my son was rolling, so I placed a hand over his stomach to keep him in place.

Only my phone was a smidge too far.

And my hand hovered for a second too long.

And my world came crashing down.

While I was judged by the police and foster investigator, I was not tried in the court of public opinion. I cannot imagine the things I would have heard had my story been splashed all over the news.

Actually, I don’t have to imagine, I can read them.

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I am so grateful that the women in my life rallied around me instead of questioning me. They told me their own stories and shook their heads at the insanity of it all. I cannot count the amount of friends who asked who they could call as a character witness for me. If I could have given them the investigator’s location there would have been a line around the block of those coming to the defense of us, but also to the defense of the sweetest boy who had suddenly and unexplainably lost the only family he’d known.

I remember a phone conversation early on where a staff member from our foster agency told me that it was an accident and that I’d need to forgive myself.

“I know, and I have,” I responded. “You see, my tribe is mothers of young children. And every day I hear the craziest stories: you’d never guess what little Johnny swallowed this week, or a whole flight of stairs Sally fell down, or I really don’t know how Billy is still alive but by the grace of God. Kids are kids. Kids have accidents. Yes, I screwed up. But it was an accident. In a normal world we would have all moved on by now. But this isn’t a normal world, and we can’t move on. Because this is foster care.”

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I am so grateful for the many ways God showed up with love and care during those dark days. I am beyond grateful my baby is alive and happy and loved so well by his sister and adoptive family. I am thankful that I get to see his smiling face and hear his precious laugh. I am thankful that Tony’s story goes on.

And mine does too. Even though that little boy will forever own a piece of my heart.

Today I just wanted to share a story, along with some kindness and compassion. I hope reading this inspires you to share compassion too.

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But by the grace of God go I…

In the Middle of It All

In the Middle of It All

*This was originally posted on my personal blog.

In the middle of it all, there He was. He wasn’t there to take it away. He wasn’t there to fix the problem. He wasn’t there to rescue.

But God was there.

He was there with gifts to remind me of His presence, of His care, of His deep love for me.


The day of TR’s accident we adopted a dog. We were people who swore for years and years that we weren’t really dog people, not really up for the challenges of dog ownership. And there we were in that pet shop signing paperwork and picking out toys and food and a kennel. And bringing a dog home.

It had started weeks earlier when we were moving into the new house at Camp and I just got a weird feeling. This house needs a dog. It took me by surprise and when I told Darin he just laughed. But a few days later when he learned about the neighborhood cougars, and saw the size of their paws in a patch of fresh-fallen snow, he was joining me in saying, this house needs a dog.

We set out some parameters: we wanted a rescue pup, we weren’t interested in a puppy, it needed to be big enough to not be eagle food, but small enough not to overwhelm small children. And what narrowed down our search even further: it needed to be hypoallergenic as Darin has a bunch of pet allergies. We researched breeds, narrowed things down, and checked the local humane societies daily, if not more frequently.

One day she popped up: a sweet Airdale Terrier, Australian Shepherd mix named Pretty Girl. She looked perfect on paper and the next day after church we headed to the Humane Society to meet her. Unfortunately, we were too late and she had already been adopted. We thought it might be fun to meet the other shelter dogs, but with all the barking and unfamiliar animals it turned out to be really stressful on Daisy and Dani. So Darin took the baby to visit the small dogs and us girls made friends with some kittens. Then we washed our hands well and headed home, disappointed but realistic.

Several weeks later, there she was again. Only this time she wasn’t called Pretty Girl, but instead listed as Adella. It was a Thursday night when Darin spotted her online and we made plans to check her out the very next day. I had a doctor’s appointment for the baby, so Dani and I took him to the hospital while Darin went to Petco to meet Adella.

He called me after about 20 minutes and told me that Dani and I needed to meet the dog. So after the appointment and some lunch, we all went back to Petco. Darin had spent quite a bit of time with the dog and had pet her like crazy, then rubbed his hands all over his face and eyes. He was not going to take a chance that he was allergic. She was a sweet pup, if a bit stinky, and turns out she was also very athletic. Her previous adoption had failed due to her jumping the family’s 6-foot fence, so the humane society volunteer was overly cautious about our potential adoption. But after several hours with her and another volunteer, they let us sign the paperwork, write a check, and take her home.

Turns out this dog, who we quickly started calling Gypsy, was the perfect dog for our family. She has just the right amount of energy and spunk, she adores the kids, she loves to run free along our beach, she is a gift. She gave us someone to love and cuddle and care for in the days and weeks following our loss of TR. She gave us a reason to laugh and to play and to get outside the house and away from our misery.

We adopted Gypsy on the day TR had his accident. I do not believe that is a coincidence. I believe that is our Holy and Loving God knowing the massive trial ahead for us, and giving us something to help us make it through. If you had told me 9 months ago that a dog would be a daily reminder of God’s provision, I would have laughed you out of the room. And yet, that’s exactly what this crazy bundle of fur became for us. And remains as well.


TR had his accident on a Friday. We filled out and submitted an incident report and kept a close eye on him. Four days later we hosted his social worker and our case manager for their regular health and safety visits. We met his new social worker for the first time that Tuesday afternoon.

Seven days after his accident we no longer had him in our care and our foster license was suspended. Nine days after his accident we found ourselves in the middle of criminal and licensing investigations. An investigator sat in our living room taking down the locations of our children so that she could pull them from their classrooms in order to interview them.

We were walking through the fire, we were watching our life burn up around us. And while the flames were licking at our flesh, we were protected. We were protected by all the people who had seen our TR after his accident. By a brand-new social worker who, after two hours in our home, believed we were valuable and trustworthy foster parents. If there was a side to be on, other than the side of truth, everyone around us was on our side.

There is no coincidence in the people who sat with us and interacted with sweet TR in the days following the accident. God was providing for us once again in keeping us safe.


Dani and Tony

The investigator interviewed our children several days before she came back for a crazy-intense and entirely stressful interview of Darin and me. As she gathered her notes before beginning, she smiled at a memory of sitting across from Dani earlier in the week.

“That Dani, wow,” she said. “Talking with her was like interviewing an 8-year-old. That is the most articulate four-year-old I have ever encountered.”

The investigator then continued on to share with us that at the conclusion of her interview she had asked Dani if Dani had any questions for her.

“Why yes, I do” Dani had responded.

Then the child proceeded to turn every question back on the investigator.

“How many people are in your family?”

“What is your favorite thing to do?”

“What happens when you get in trouble?”

“Do you have enough to eat at your house?”

And this one, the kicker, “Is there anything that scares you at your house?”

For the rest of her life, when I talk about our Dani, this is a story I will tell. She took an intimidating and downright scary woman, and made her a human. She took the opportunity given to ask questions, and asked them.

Maybe she thought it was a game?

Either way, for me, it brought some levity, some lightness. When I share the whole story of losing TR, with all the myriad of painful twists and turns, this moment in the story brings joy. It brings laughter. And anyone who knows Dani at all just nods right along with us. Yup, that is our Dani girl.

I thank God for her.

And for laughter.


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In the middle of the deep and dark grief, I wanted to stay in the dark. I wanted to board up the windows and lock the doors and keep my little family inside. Keep us safe. No one in and no one out and we might avoid this kind of pain ever happening again.

There were some phone calls. There were some knocks on the door. There were some meals delivered. There were people waiting and wondering, will she board up the windows or will she come into the light?

And there, in a block of 5 days on our calendar, was a trip. A trip that had been planned months before when I told my best friends that I missed them and needed to get some dates down in pen. A trip that was extended when Darin had a work thing happening that direction as well.

There are few people I know as well as Jen and Amy. Few people I trust my full story with the way I do these two. Few people who would sit with me and hand me tissues and just let me talk when I need to talk and sob when I need to sob. Who will wipe away their own tears when they can pull their hands away from the grip they have on mine.

My whole heart believes those dates set aside to be another of God’s blessed provisions. The three of us girls have busy schedules, but in the middle of the gathering dark there was the time and space for them to gently lead me towards the light. I wanted to hide, but instead I got to run to them.

And there was still more. Because in the middle of the drive home I got a text from Jen saying she didn’t feel like she’d been able to give me enough of her time that weekend and that her husband had told her to buy a plane ticket. So she was booking the ticket right then and wanted to make sure it would work for her to come spend a few days with us in Indianola. I tried to hold back the tears as I couldn’t type YES! fast enough.

I wanted to let the grief consume me. But instead God used these two women and their precious families to step in and remind me that there is so much beauty and goodness and hope and joy in this world. He is the source of it all, but He lets us speak it and show it to one another. He is so good.


When I first wrote about what was happening, I looked forward to the day I would be on the other side of crushing grief. On the other side where God’s faithfulness had won out and I was rejoicing once again.

Now I wonder if there is another side to be found at all. Instead, I am living in the “after.” I am a different person. I can’t tell this story without tears. I can’t look at pictures without grief. I don’t know if I ever will.

And that is OK.

I’m learning not to ask “why?” I’m learning to ask “what?” What is it God, you want me to take from all of this? What do you want me to learn about you from all of this? What do you want to do in me and through me because of this?

I am learning the first of the answers: God is faithful. He equips those He calls. He provides protection, and comfort, and joy, and community.

And while the storm rages, I will always, always look for Him.

He is there.

He is here.

My Heart and My Head

My Heart and My Head

*This post was originally posted on my personal blog.

This little blog of mine, though often forgotten; though often full of fluff and fun and cute kid pictures and stories; though mostly light; has always been a sort of sanctuary for me. Whenever there has been a hard thing, this is the place where I turn when I can’t possibly pick up the phone or speak the details. When talking produces tears, but writing brings healing. Where friends and family can read and understand and offer their comfort.

I’ve written about plenty of hard things here before.

But this. This time I come to this sanctuary and this blinking curser, and while my fingers hover over the keys I can’t tell the story. This time my heart is heavy with more grief than I’ve experienced in years, if not ever. And the words won’t come. The words can’t come. There are rules and there is timing.

And the cursor still blinks. And my heart still bleeds.

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My friend Rachel is this very week grieving over her fourth miscarriage and has already written several blog posts as part of her process. My sister’s best friend lost a teenage son earlier this year and I have read the most honest and heart-wrenching facebook posts as she pours out her grief onto the page. And then there’s sweet dear Sasha (whom I love to say I knew *when*) who eloquently shares the deepest feelings of her heart without sharing the details of every situation.

And yet my cursor blinks. And my heart overflows through my eyes.

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With every thing I feel I want to retreat. This is too much. This pain is too hard. I want to shut my doors and lock my windows and shut out the world. I want to protect my little family and my wounded heart from ever feeling this way again. I thought I knew the pain this calling would bring. I thought my heart was prepared for hurt. But then this.

Minute by minute I move from loneliness, to anger, to betrayal, to crushing grief. And sometimes I don’t know how I will ever get around this. This thing I can’t talk about, can’t write about.

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Lately I’ve started snapping pictures of favorite lines from books when I don’t have a highlighter or notebook with me. So in between pictures of one darling little boy, I find this picture:

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And now when I see it I want to cry out, “BS Mother Theresa. B *freaking* S.” (Yes, I’m still a good Christian girl.) There is no way I can love that much. Because I thought I was doing it, but there is definitely still hurt. So much hurt. I’m not sure there is enough love that can ever make this hurt go away.

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I have this moment that happened over 10 years ago now, that is one of those touchstones in my life. A moment I will never forget; a moment that comes back in times like these. I was sitting in my friend and mentor’s car and the tears were pouring as I was lamenting a job I believed God had called me to but that was not turning out not at all like I had planned. And in fact, was full of pain and heartache.

And then she turned to me, and she held my hand, and she asked me if what I was saying was the truth. And since my head knew that God equips those he calls, I told her it wasn’t. And then she made me do it: she made me say it out loud. She told me to claim the Truth. So there in that car while I wasn’t feeling any of it, Truth was spoken from my lips. And my feelings eventually caught up. And there was a new day, and a new way to go on.

So today we do battle, this head and this heart of mine. My head, which knows and loves and is grateful for Truth, clashes with my heart, which is overwhelmed by feeling all the feelings. I hide in bed and I wail and then my head whispers. It whispers of Truth from the Word. It whispers Truth from my own life. It whispers Truth from the testimonies of others.

And there is a new day, and there is a new way to go on.

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But here’s the thing about this battle of head and heart and powerful weapon of Truth. You well meaning Truth-tellers don’t help. Nope. Truth from your lips feels like condescension and platitudes. It feels like dismissal of these feelings of mine that are insanely overwhelming.

I don’t want your words.

Nope, I want your space. I want your time to listen. I want your dinner deliveries and flowers and hugs and offers to watch my children. I want your tissues and your tears shed in empathy.

That Truth you know, that you trust and believe, I don’t want to dismiss it. Because I do want it, I just want it without words. I want it in the silent prayers you whisper as you make me a casserole and hold my hand and offer a tissue. Those prayers you say, they sustain me. And someday…someday…when we can look back in victory, then you can share your words with me. Those ones you said so long ago when we wondered how we could possibly ever function again, let alone love again. And we will rejoice that the Truth found in our ever-loving, ever-forgiving, ever-redeeming God won out once again.

I KNOW we will rejoice. Today this Truth will win.

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This is not at all where I wanted to go with this post, but this is where we have landed. So I hit publish and I hope and pray that someday I will be back to share the Truth I have been reminded of as I walk through this fire. And you and me, we will rejoice.