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Joy and Grief and Motherhood




As I sat with my mom’s fragile hand placed in mine, feeling the kicks of life growing inside me while watching her life slip away into eternity, I felt heaviness and hope.

I’ll never forget the sunset that night she went to be with Jesus. The sky was painted with piercing pinks and purples. They were vivid, a simple reminder that beauty comes even in the most painful moments. As I fast approached having my second child, with just my oldest being 19 months old, I felt the reality of these words in the most literal form- He gives and takes away.

And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.
Job 1:21

In 2020, I lost my mom, Julia, to a long battle with cancer. It wasn’t part of my plan to have a grandchild she would never meet, but in the days since, I’ve learned much about living in the balance of grief and joy. That life means existing with both hurt and hope, sorrow and celebration.

God has taught me that there is a space for it all and that as the painful process of grief sanctifies, God is always simultaneously showing us the beauty of His goodness in our lives.

I never imagined life would be full of multiple layers of grief. As I write these words, we are approaching the 1 year anniversary of saying goodbye to our baby girl at 20 weeks. It has been a pain and sorrow that has brought me to my knees and to a place of desperation. The moments I held her lifeless body in my hands both haunt me and fill me with a longing for heaven and the day I can hold her again. On top of all that, we are navigating a lifelong medical diagnosis with our 5-year-old son that has left us with more questions than answers. There is no roadmap for grief. It comes for me in waves and isn’t confined to the schedule I prefer as a mother, daughter, wife, and friend. Time after time, the suffering returns, as it has for me it will for you. Take heart; there is grace for those moments when we equip our lives with a truth that will root us deep enough to weather any storm that comes our way. I am honored to bring you into this tender space with me in the hope that in your own season of heaviness, God will remind you of His truth.

God, my Provider

First and foremost, I have to remind myself that God doesn’t say life will be easy, but He did say He will give me what I need. As I have drawn near to him in my most painful moments, He has reminded me that I do not grieve without hope (John 16:33). I am rooted in truth, and I am given a peace that goes beyond my comprehension or understanding. Do not be mistaken, grief is both inevitable and necessary, but it’s in those places He meets me with a tender embrace.His Word has been a blanket in what felt like the coldest of winters of my heart. Some days, it is taking one verse and meditating on that. Others, it was digging into Acts with a group of women who could speak words over me that I couldn’t find myself.Lots of days, it is counseling, sitting with someone trained to help me see that my grief is real and my pain is normal. Some days, all I can do is be honest with God, cry out my hurt, and ask Him to do what only He could do in my heart. Whatever you can bring to the table in those moments, remember this truth, “Come near to God, and he will come near to you…” James 4:8

Not Perfect, but Present

As a mom who is learning to grieve well, the best thing I can do for my boys in this season is let them in on my journey, to see the humanity in their mother and my reliance on the only one who can meet me in my most broken spaces. I have by no means been perfect. I have gotten angry, and I have needed space. I have cried lots of tears, but I’ve welcomed these moments with open arms. My boys may be too young to understand it all now, but one day, I pray they see this modeled in our home:

We also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
Romans 5:3-5

The Balance of What Was and What Is

Over the years, gratitude has been one of my anchors in a season of grief. Looking back at this last year, I have had so much to celebrate. Moments of grief have been coupled with moments of joy. To be more practical, I have made every effort to remind myself of the things in my life that I must be grateful for. Having two beautiful boys, a husband who has shown up in the most heroic and patient ways as we process the loss of our daughter, fervent prayers prayed over me when the anxiety and fear creeps in, and friends who have dropped everything to meet needs I didn’t even know we would have. As I have worked the muscle of gratitude in my life, I have seen a change in my heart: less criticism, less frustration, and less pessimism. These are just a few ways gratitude has birthed the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in my life through grief.

God Will Use Me in the Middle of the Storm

I have been blown away by how God uses even the most painful seasons of our lives to bring encouragement to others and, in return, comfort to our hearts. It is a sweet reminder that NOTHING goes to waste in the kingdom of God. I have lived in the truth of these verses this past year:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.
2 Corinthians 1:3-5

I love how the Message translation puts it:

“He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.”

God’s promise is that He takes our pain and gives it great purpose. His grace is on display throughout our lives, even in our hurting. In His redemptive way, He heals the broken hearts of people around us and invites us into the story. We become the person who has walked the journey and can send a text or have a conversation with someone grieving. Whether connecting with other mothers through the loss of a loved one or any other storm, I never want to miss God’s gift of the Church sharing in one another’s suffering.

The Body of Christ

Grief gets a bad rap sometimes, but as i have navigated its murky waters, it has made me a better mother, wife, and friend. I pray as the body of Christ, we encourage one another to lean into our sufferings, root ourselves in what God says about them, and check in on those who may be walking through a season like our own. I promise you this: if you do these things, God will give you the kindest understanding of who He is, your own purpose, and hope in the midst of your circumstances.

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Scripture References

  • Job 1:21
  • John 16:33
  • James 4:8
  • Romans 5:3-5
  • 2 Corinthians 1:3-5
Jennifer Sheehan Director of Communications at Passion City Church