I became acquainted with grief twenty-two years ago when I was pregnant with my second daughter. There were clues that things weren’t right, but no one would say it out loud because even the doctors were unsure of what to expect. But my instinct was that my baby wasn’t growing and thriving. I began grieving my daughter even before I saw her.
Her birth confirmed all our worst fears, and after many days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, we took her home with tubes and wires and a fatal diagnosis. We were told to make her comfortable until the time came to let her go. And so, I began my journey with grief. It settled itself into our home like a member of the family. We learned to live with it. We laughed, we celebrated holidays and birthdays, we had friends over, played games, and went on vacations. But grief was always with us. It lurked in the background, uninvited and unacknowledged but ever present. It hung around like a dark cloud on a sunny day threatening to burst upon us at any moment.
For nine years we lived like that, teetering on the edge of some abyss that we knew was there but couldn’t see. And then one day our sunshine was gone, and the dark cloud of grief burst open and poured itself on us in a constant, torrential rain. We fell into the abyss and even though we had known for so many years that the fall was coming, no one could have prepared us for how long and deep we would fall.
Thirteen years have passed, and we have experienced much joy since then. We have been given the gift of a third daughter through adoption. We have watched our oldest daughter graduate high school, graduate college, and move to Africa to work with families who, like her own, face difficult diagnoses and even death. We have a strong and healthy marriage. We pastor a church we love and have friends who have stood with us through the struggles of life. God has been truly good to us.
And yet, this grief still lingers. It has taken up residence in my heart and is a constant companion. I have fought it. I have ignored it. I have medicated it. I have read every book I can find to learn about it. I have treated it as something I need to overcome, some flaw in my character. Every time I face a loss of any sort it is magnified and threatens to overwhelm me again.
It was for this very reason I recently made a trip to Florida to see my parents. Wounds, old and new, had piled up in my soul and left me feeling tired and dead inside. I felt I had reached the limit of how much grief one person can bear. I needed to rest. I needed to be with people who knew me before grief had entered my life. Maybe they would remind me of who I was before the grief.
My parents live in a retirement community, and their life is filled with routine. Every evening we took a ride on their golf cart and checked on the alligator in one pond and the birds sitting on their nests in another. It was what my heart needed. One evening my dad pointed out some beautiful flowers growing amidst a pile of dead plants. He said he had tossed them on that heap of debris because he thought they were dead. But there they were, blooming beautifully, in the debris.
That night I couldn’t stop thinking about that plant. I asked my dad to take me back, so I could take a picture. It reminded me of a poster that hung in my room as a girl. It said, “Bloom where you are planted.” I realized that even now those words had become a message I told myself over and over. Each time something happened I reminded myself that my job was to bloom where I was planted. No matter the hurt, whatever the cost, I believed my job was to bloom. I had denied my own grief because I wanted to prove that I could bloom in every circumstance, and here I was standing in a pile of debris because of all that trying.
Looking at that flower blooming on the pile of debris, I realized that there wasn’t anything the plant had done to bloom. It just sat there. Waiting. Looking dead. Soaking in the sun and water. And slowly, its roots had taken hold of the soil and planted themselves. And then it bloomed.
Maybe that is exactly the picture of what blooming where you are planted looks like. Maybe we need to quit trying so hard and just wait. Maybe it is okay to let grief linger. Maybe it is when we look dead that we are soaking in God’s love, grace, and truth. And in His timing, our roots will be planted in the good soil beneath all this debris, and we will bloom.
For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?
I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.
Isaiah 43:19 (NLT)