Grief is a difficult thing to write about. I was asked by a website to do an “online interview” on How Big is Your Umbrella on how one walks through grief. Here’s some more insight in what I wrote inside this book:
How did you come to write How Big Is Your Umbrella?
I’ve been writing for years about marriage, and parenting, and family life. The one thing I never seemed to touch very deeply was my own pain. Ten years ago I had a son whom I got to hold for a precious 29 days before he died. Such a thing changes you. But it was a very deep hurt, and I didn’t really want to reopen it to write about it.
However, I speak about Christopher a lot. He’s so much a part of my testimony that he seems to come up whenever I do women’s conferences. And his story is often what touches people most. I came to a place where I felt I had to share his story in print, too, so that others could benefit from what God taught me during that period of my life, and since.
Was it difficult incorporating such personal, painful stories in your book?
Let’s just say I was a real grump to live with while I was working through the book last year. It wasn’t that I learned anything new in particular–I had travelled that road before–it’s just that writing stirred up so much of the grief again. The feelings are always there, but usually they’re beneath the surface. Writing brought them to the surface, and definitely made me more emotional than usual!
At the same time, though, it’s so amazing to think that Christopher lived such a short life and yet he has been used by God in really neat ways. People have written me telling me what his story has meant to them, and one woman bought six books to give to friends who are going through a hard time. I often think of that verse Romans 8:28: For God works all things together for good to those who love God, for those who are called according to His purpose. God doesn’t say all things are good. My son’s death was not good! But the bad is never the end of the story with God. He can always bring good out of it. And it’s a privilege to be able to watch Him bring good out of what Keith and I went through with Christopher.
Why do you think our first impulse is to blame God when trials come into our lives?
God can do anything, so why doesn’t He help me? I think we have this mistaken idea that God is sort of like a gigantic Santa Claus, and His main concern in life is making sure that everyone who loves Him is happy. But God’s priorities are not our priorities, as much as we would like them to be, and happiness is not the end all and be all. That’s a hard place to get to, but what I’ve found is that my life is so much richer and deeper since Christopher died than before. It’s not happier, necessarily, but it is more joyful, and I experience a deeper joy in daily things than I did before.
God is in the transforming business, not the pampering business. There are times we’d all rather be pampered than transformed, but it’s amazing what God can do when we let Him.
What would you tell the person who seems to keep having storms in his or her life and is just barely hanging on?
It’s okay to admit that you need help. I remember the week after Christopher died, so many people phoned to ask how they could help. I had a 1 1/2 year old daughter at the time, my laundry was piling up, my floor hadn’t been washed in I don’t know how long, I didn’t have the energy to cook, but do you think I asked for anything? Of course not. I said, “oh, thanks so much, but we’re fine.” We seem to have such a hard time reaching out and asking for help.
God didn’t expect us to go through tough times by ourselves. He wants us to have help.
Pray for friends to come alongside you to give practical help, and spiritual and emotional support too. And don’t be afraid to say, “I’m not coping very well”. It doesn’t mean you’re not a Christian. It doesn’t mean you’re inferior. It just means you’re human, and, after all, that’s how God made you.
Does the grief get easier with time?
Grief is a funny thing. We often wait for a time when we will be “over all that”, as if grief is something you feel intensely at first, and then slowly diminishes until it disappears.
That’s not how grief works. Instead, grief is overwhelming at first, and then one day you wake up and you feel fine and you feel guilty for feeling fine. But a week later, or a month later, or even a year later, it hits you full force again. It just doesn’t hit you for as long. And this happens throughout your life: it hits almost randomly, and knocks you over.
The weird thing is, though, that this is actually comforting. What a terrible thought to imagine that one could actually fully recover from the death of a child, or a spouse, or a parent. We wouldn’t want to! What we do want is to be able to function normally again, and that is, indeed, possible. But the pain is always there, and in a way, that’s nice to know.
What is one piece of advice you would give to someone going through one of life’s “storms”?
It’s okay to yell at God! In fact, it’s good to yell at God! He’s got big shoulders and He can take it. Don’t hide from God; let it all out. Most of the Psalms, after all, consist of shouting matches that David seemed to hold with God, although we don’t hear God shouting back.
But once you’re all shouted out, just be quiet and listen. I think it’s then that God starts to minister to you. And He does it in a way we don’t expect. He doesn’t always give us answers, but He does give us comfort. And I would rather have a hug from God than an encyclopedia of answers.
What is your vision for How Big Is Your Umbrella?
I pray that God can use it to touch people who are hurting. But I also pray that it can be used when you don’t know what to say. So often we stand alongside people who are hurting, and we so long to help, but we don’t know how. That’s what this book is for. It’s short, because people who are going through tough times don’t necessarily have the time or energy to read something long. But it’s full of comfort and wisdom that I hope God can use to help people feel Him carrying them through their most difficult times.