My friend’s son passed away yesterday after a battle of doctors and care facilities and sorrow.

And my heart is so heavy for her and for her family.  I have been thinking about them so much.  They live close and every time I drive by their house I get a pang of sadness.  And now, this morning, someone good and kind and thoughtful tied ribbons around every tree along our street.  Ribbons that remind me of that sorrow, yet give me hope of all the love that surrounds this family.

I realize more and more how many people are going through sorrow. 

Sure there are good days.  Days that are light and bright and everything is going your way. 

But there are so many other days.  Things that happen that shred our spirits and knock our breath out.  We all have them.  Those secret sorrows.  That heaviness.  It comes in so many ways.  A troubled child, mental illness, separation, relationships mangled for one reason or another, silenced friendships, memories lost, darkness where sometimes we can see no light. 

And death that leaves such a gaping hole.

I was brought somehow to this post I wrote a couple years ago when another dear friend was suffering from loss.  And I’m reposting those words because they spoke to me again this morning, and perhaps they’ll speak to you too:

My heart opens wide and my throat tightens but I feel powerless.  Sometimes it feels like the whole world should stop for a moment of silence.

Often nowadays with so much going on in the world.

But of course it cannot.  And it does not.

And we go on with making dinner and propelling children to practice the piano and take the dog for a walk.

So it was fitting that I would come across some Sunday notes today from a lesson a few months back about finding “beauty for ashes.”  It is in Isaiah 61:3 and it says:

“To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.”

Those lines make my eyes well up every time I hear them.  Maybe it’s because my sister Saydi brings this thought of beauty for ashes up a lot, and she always makes things even more beautiful (she gave a pretty beautiful talk about this that I posted HERE).  

The thought of The Lord exchanging our ashes, all of them, for beauty speaks to me in so many ways.

If we hand over those ashes that make our hearts heavy…whether they be ashes of sorrow, of pain, of embarrassment or pride, and leave them at His feet, we find that He has already changed them.  They are transformed into beauty.  That’s what the Atonement is all about.

It is interesting to think that sorrow is the tool that can transform us into “trees of righteousness.”  I envision a tree with strong roots and protective branches.  They don’t grow that way without troubling winds and sorrows coming their way, forcing their roots to dig deeper, their branches to be unyielding.

In my lesson notes from church a few weeks ago I wrote down “sorrow creates holes to be filled with JOY later.”  Not sure if that was something the teacher said, or a quote from somewhere else, but it made me think.

And although in the depths of sorrow, the word “joy” seems so out of place to even be situated in the same sentence with sorrow, I love the thought of sorrow digging wells to be filled with gold later.

Maybe much later.

But sorrow makes a home for that joy to be planted and to grow. Because otherwise that joy may just slip by, unnoticed and unappreciated, nowhere to hold it and grasp it tight.

My prayer today is that the wells of sorrow riveting this family will be filled with love.  From Above.  From neighbors.  From me.  From my family.  And that all that love on those rocky riverbeds of sorrow can become a velvety home for joy and understanding in the future as those dealing with such loss transform into trees of righteousness.

We all have secret sorrows.  May we all remember to whom we can bring our ashes that blind our way and require us to heave our hearts forward, stumbling and staggering under the weight.  And may we find the beauty that God exchanges them for.  


  1. These are beautiful sentiments Shawni; you wrote here about sorrow in ways that are almost impossible to express. The thing I don't understand is how you see all this and teach Lucy, and all your children I'm guessing, that they are safe /secure because "Heavenly Father holds them in the palm of his hand." I mean, I guess you believe Heavenly Father did/does the same for this boy who died and his parents who are in searing pain? What does that "holding" really mean if it doesn't protect from unimaginable pain and sorrow. Maybe instead of "Holding and Protecting" God is in the love and connection we have with each other. That God is the power/presence that inspired folks to set up the ribbon memorial on your street? That God is the compassion and love you wrote about here? Maybe God is not a Father In Heaven who is actually deciding who lives, who gets into what college, who is has a baby and when etc etc.

    1. Not Shawni or a member of their church, but I'll respond how it was best told to me. Think of God as the parent sitting next to a child screaming in the carseat while driving down the highway. His heart breaks and he soothes you with his words and spirit, or, as I tell my kids, "I can't get you out of there, but I'm going to be right here with you the whole time." It's not perfect, but to me knowing God is near is a comfort. I don't expect him to shield me from hard or painful times. He's not my umbrella against the world; sometimes he's just the rock I throw myself against to cry out when things are going terribly. I'm heartbroken for the family that lost their child.

    2. I get that 100%! But I think Shawni's philosophy is very different. She's talked about being "thankful to Heavenly Father" and/or trusting HF's plan in regards to things as detailed as what sports teams her kids get chosen to play on etc. In that version "He's"choosing to buckle up the kid in that carseat and deciding when and where to give out the snacks and deciding who is sitting next to them etc. Not just driving the minivan..

    3. Oh I love this question, sorry I've not been available to write back. You bring up great points. I think you (Jenny also) gave a beautiful description of how I feel about God…And I completely agree with "A" as well. I have not described my feelings very well if it has come across that I think God would keep us from hardships and pain and sorrow. I think that's actually what we learn the most from and that is part of the plan. Just like we as parents cannot (or at least shouldn't) stop our children from having to face failures, defeats and sorrow no matter how much we love them (that's the best way they can learn), I don't think God "holding us in the palm of His hand" means he's the "rock we can throw ourselves against when life gets bitterly difficult" and he can help us make sense of the pieces we are trying to put back together if we will reach to HIm.

      So many more thoughts about that, but I hope that makes sense for now.

  2. I think losing a child is the worst thing in the world. My heart goes out to your friend, you and your family.

    All we really have is this one day and I know for me it is so easy to spend it worrying about the future or replaying the past. I love your family wall paper with the giant reminder that Joy is the Purpose of Life.

    Sending all of you wishes to refind joy when you are ready.

  3. I tend to agree with Jenny on this. There have been times when Shawni and family ignored rules, like "strong rip tide, no swimming" because they are blessed and HF has their backs and would NEVER let bad things happen to them. And when bad things do (of course) happen (like Lucy's disease, children dying), it is predestined by HF, on purpose, to allow this person/family to learn a lesson in their time on earth, and those people should be thankful, not sad, since HF provided them with these trials. I don't get how this philosophy jives with the overwhelming sadness in Shawni's post. It's really sad that the child died, but HF gave this fate to him and to his family for lesson-learning, right?

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