Friday, November 18, 2016

From Grief to Grace: A Treasured Addition to My Bookshelf


As a mom of six, I’ve been privileged to hear many birth stories. In From Grief to Grace, author Jeannie Ewing recounts one of the most transcendent I’ve ever heard – the story of her daughter Sarah, born with a rare genetic condition called Apert Syndrome, characterized by facial abnormalities and fused fingers. Jeannie’s obstetrician told her, “It felt as if God’s hand, not mine, delivered your baby. … We all noticed how you and your husband responded to Sarah. We agreed that you both were either Christians or in denial.”

Despite the doctor’s consoling words, Jeannie felt plunged into a grief that lasted for months after the delivery of her baby. Her spiritual journey impelled her to write From Grief to Grace: The Journey from Tragedy to Triumph, which she characterizes as “a conglomeration of my life experience mixed with my understanding of human suffering.” In the book, Jeannie reveals insights from psychology and theology as she explores the meaning of grief, its common causes, and its ultimate purpose. She gives specific tips in dealing with grief caused by death, infertility, miscarriage, abortion, divorce, addiction, mental illness, and chronic disease. The book is enhanced by an essay by Jeannie’s husband on the distinctly masculine way that men process grief as well as achingly relatable meditations on the Stations of the Cross, the Sorrowful Mysteries, and the Seven Sorrows of Mary.

“We are all given a choice in the midst of grief: victim or victory,” writes Jeannie. “We are not called to despair, to give up, or to give in to the inescapable losses along our life’s journey,” because the Christian life is “a life of hope and expectancy, of earnest anticipation and resurrection,” she adds.
Sometimes God leaves us in our grief no matter how much we pray that he will take it away. It is then that we realize how joy and sorrow can coexist. “If we permit God to enter into our wounds … we find that sorrow contains inexplicable, inexpressible joy,” she writes. We don’t have to fully eliminate or ignore our grief in order to experience illuminative moments of joy.

God sometimes gives us purpose before he gives us healing. And that purpose is greater intimacy with God and with others. God wants us to do more than study or memorize the tenets of Christianity; he wants us to embody them. “Grief, then, is the impetus that inserts us into a realm of living these spiritual tenets instead of simply learning about them,” Jeannie writes. The raw power of grief draws us inexorably out of the ivory tower into the midst of the frail and impoverished human condition.

Grief empties us and forces us to face the reality that we cannot control everything in our lives. We “remember in our interior grappling that we are weak, and our weakness is a gift that leads us to the arms of our Heavenly Father,” she explains. Recognizing our weakness, our powerlessness, our dependence on God may deal a sharp and painful blow to our ego, but
[t]he difficulty of being Catholic is that our Church isn’t designed to make us feel good about ourselves. … Instead of an egocentric faith, we are blessed to have a theocentric one.

In providing us with incontrovertible proof of our vulnerability, grief opens our hearts to feel compassion towards others. Our brokenness helps us to understand another’s pain. And so, even in the midst of our own grief, we can minister to others who are suffering. Jeannie advises us that this ministry “will not be comfortable, so don’t expect it to be. Instead be at ease with the discomfort, and rest with the struggle the other person is experiencing.” The desert of our grief and emptiness is where we, like Moses and Jesus before us, will find our mission of mercy.

No one is immune to grief, although it manifests in different forms. My greatest grief has stemmed from my husband’s recurring brain tumors rather than from the illness of a child, but in reading From Grief to Grace I felt that Jeannie’s personal experience of grief closely mirrored mine. Her understanding and wisdom were spiritual life rafts when my prayers had deteriorated to unutterable groaning (Rom 8:26). From Grief to Grace contains eloquent, intelligent and deeply moving insights into the eternal question of why we suffer. It is a treasured addition to my bookshelf.

My thanks to the author and publisher for providing a free review copy of this book.

Image courtesy of Lil G Photography. Used with permission.

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