The Side Effects of Loss and the Gospel that Heals Them

Almost ten years have passed since my first husband died, and I’ve long left the valley of the shadow of death. I was almost crushed, but now I walk again bearing jagged and radiant scars. I’ve processed and processed and processed, and I know the beauty of a life restored. 

A second husband, three spunky children— life is rich and full again, and grief often seems like a distant memory. But even now some unexpected, long term side effects of loss remain: fear, worry, embarrassment, and shame to name few. 

Recently I needed surgery to have a painful, but (thankfully) benign ovarian cyst removed. Concurrently, my husband has an unexplained mass on his arm, and we’re waiting for MRI results and surgery. Medical concerns still raise a prickle of fear followed by its close cousin, worry. If you checked my phone search history, you’d find a list of symptoms. My fingers sought answers and my heart played “worst case scenario.” I was on the look out for that six letter word that should be a four letter word, cancer. 

Given my first husband died in an Emergency Department after symptoms were missed and mistakes made, it makes sense that I’m more cautious medically. That fear can still so easily overtake me is unexpected, however. It’s been almost a decade, haven’t I walked forward into a new, beautiful life? 

As I cried alone in my car, worry and fear spilling out, I was also surprised to realize I’m still responding to the trauma of death. Memories of emotional pain so intense it was physical still crouch in the corners of my heart…

The complete article was graciously published first by Revive our Hearts, and you can find it here.


I won’t shut them out.

Okay, let me be real with you. I am well. Life and ministry thrive. God has provided a sustainable, flexible career. I get to disciple others, be involved in Kingdom work, and I have deep friendships. My daily needs are met, and my emotions feel stable. I laugh often.

There is much beauty.

But there are moments when still his “absence is like the sky spread over everything,” and missing him is a little more poignant. Certain occasions still create the now familiar heaviness. It’s not debilitating pain of the early days, but rather a slow, dull ache. It’s an undercurrent of longing that shifts the tide and returns my heart to a place of introspection.


Let me set the scene.

“The past tense of three!”

Laughter erupts at the ridiculous clue. Past tense of three? A shouted answer, a round disc passed, voices intense, and an intermittent beeping creates a fever pitch as it hurtles toward the timer’s end. Groans mix with whoops, and the guys leap from their seats. High fives all around, one would think they won the Super Bowl rather than a round of Catch Phrase.

Laughter comes in rolling wave upon wave. It’s a perfect moment frozen in time. But Jon’s not there, and it feels like he should be.

I’m one of the “lucky ones” (though luck is truly a myth) who has always adored her in-laws. I fell in love with Jon’s family immediately. And in death they have still counted me their own. I am so very thankful.

But this time it was hard to be with them. To me his absence was a startling contrast to the laughing family around me. Lies crept in.

They’re done missing him.” 

I guess we’ve exhausted the storehouse of shared memories.”

He’s being replaced.”

Without realizing it, I retreated to the safety of my thoughts.

“Ames, are you okay? It seems like this trip has been especially difficult. Sometimes it seems like you hurt more when you’re with us.”

“I do hurt more.”

And given the opportunity to process aloud, my words came in a flood. “It feels like he should be here. When I look at Ben with Holden, I see what Jon would have been like with a son.”

“I’m so excited for another brother to come into the family. (My youngest sister-in-law is headed toward marrying a fantastic guy) “But sometimes I think–‘a new adopted son to replace the old.‘”

“We’re not done missing him. You know there are lies among those thoughts, right?


“We’re your family. You don’t have to put the walls up.” And then I understood she was right. I had begun to shut them out.

But I need them. And I have a sneaky suspicion that they need me too.

The heaviness lifted. I don’t have deep theological truth to share this time, just simple thoughts. An emotional wall is the opposite of grace.

  • Grace gives permission to handle things differently.
  • Grace remembers the dull aches of others.
  • Grace does not steel itself against hurt.
  • Grace loves and cherishes.
  • Grace does not believe lies.
  • Grace laughs.
  • And grace arrives with open arms.

So as long as they’ll have me, I’ll have them. I’ll keep my heart open. When the missing is more poignant, I won’t shoulder it alone. For grace recalls its family.

“I hold you in my heart.”thank

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace”

Philippians 1:3-7a 

For more about adoption, in laws, and grace check out these posts:

Sometimes I still have nightmares.

I was running. Fear coursed through my body, adrenaline pushed me forward. Terror. Maybe that’s a better word. I paused, making a split-second decision.

Seized from behind, arms from nowhere pinned my own to my sides. A hand clapped over my mouth. Kicking, fighting, biting, I tasted blood. My attacker cursed, reactively examining his hand. I heard myself scream.

Still fighting him, words registered.

“Lovee, Lovee it’s ok. I’m here. You’re ok”

Arms still held me. They were strong, but tender. And the voice familiar. Feet stopped kicking, arms stopped flailing. Desperately I turned toward him, burying my face in his chest. Shaking with great heaving shudders, heart pounding, and on the verge of hyperventilation, the fear was still just as real.

“Honey it’s ok. It was a nightmare. It wasn’t real. I’m here and you’re safe.” My husband stroked my hair, not letting me go. 

It took several minutes for calm to return. He prayed peace and comfort over me. He dried my tears and kissed my forehead. Finally I turned back over. And he kept me close, his arms still around me from behind.

Until I got married I never realized how prone to nightmares I am. Perhaps it’s because I don’t always remember them in the morning. Indeed when I’m awake, fear is not usually a prominent adjective. Sure, I don’t like scary things, but I don’t live dominated by fear. Yet my husband told me it wasn’t unusual for him to be awakened by my kicking and thrashing.

I do, however, remember the first nightmare after he died. Waking to the sound of my own voice screaming his name, touching his side of the bed and realizing he wasn’t there—just weeks from his death, it was too much to bear.

Sometimes I still have nightmares.

Just the other night I awoke with tears streaming down my face. I’d been crying in the dream. I was crying in real life. These days nightmares about Jon are infrequent, but they still rattle me. I don’t know why I still have them two and half years later.

I guess it’s because I still love him. I guess it’s because I still miss him.

Time has vastly lessened grief’s intensity. Truly, “grieving” isn’t often a way I’d describe myself anymore. Days are abundant and joy-filled. I’d use words like vibrant, content, growing, and excited. Even most nights are peaceful. So, these days a nightmare is a stark juxtaposition.

I recall a few things.


Nightmares aren’t real. But the God who keeps me safe is. He is present in moments of fear whether danger is real or perceived. He is safety. He is peace. He is refuge. I can say with the Psalmist,

“But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory and the lifter of my head. I cried aloud to the LORD and He answered me from His holy hill. I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me. I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.” Psalm 3:5-6

Ultimately, the psalmist’s declaration was fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus, the true Shield. Deliverance comes from the “holy hill” of sacrifice, the same hill upon which Christ laid down his life.

To be safe is to know that nothing can harm my soul. Nothing can separate me from the love of Christ. (Romans 8) He is the Shield that absorbed the fireball of the Father’s wrath. He is the Shield that blocks the enemy’s fiery darts.

He the Better Protector. Amen.

“In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone O LORD, make me dwell in safety.” Psalm 4:8

Seems like a good time for a nap.