I’ve been pondering how life is filled up with rollercoasters lately. One minute you’ll be on the top of the world feeling like you are really getting somewhere. And then suddenly there is a sucker punch and you feel like the world just might swallow you or those you love right up. You find yourself asking the age-old question: why do bad things happen to good people? This question has been asked over and over again in all the world and from every walk of life as people try to make sense of things I think. Why can’t things be wrapped up nice and tidy like in the story books? God has promised “I will not forsake you.” So why does it sometimes feel as if He is so far away?

Some Dark Days

Lately I have been covering the good stuff over here on the blog. The glossy. Sometimes it’s trickier to share the more vulnerable. But there have been some dark days sifted in with all the good.

A Big Loss

My darling niece had a difficult pregnancy. A mass in the baby’s lung necessitated an in-utero procedure and so much worry mixed in with awe at modern medicine. The baby came early and was taken straight to surgery. Oh that tiny girl fought hard but she wasn’t able to recover and we lost her.

I have marveled at this beautiful young mother and father who have rallied together with extended family as they have grappled with this huge blow and taken in the love all of us are trying to funnel in. I have watched my sister-and-brother-in-law, (the grandparents), morph into a rock for everyone to lean on. The holding of a family together when they lose themselves for a little while I’m sure is such a delicate balance. The beauty of a family buoying each other as they grieve. Pink bows as a symbol. A home filled to the brim with people who love this family and that lost baby for a memorial. Tiny handprints. The only tangible piece of that baby they can keep. But maybe the love intertwined really becomes tangible in hearts as well: the strongest gift that can be given.

Another Loss

My dear uncle was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last month and was given only a few months to live. Those “few months” went much more quickly than anticipated and we lost him last week. My heart is aching for his family he left behind. And for my dad who has now lost another brother.

And Another

My cousin’s eight-year-old daughter passed away unexpectedly from a rare heart condition. I cannot fathom how this feels for a mother. How it feels for her siblings. How can human beings go on after a blow like this?

We found out Lucy’s dear friend’s mom has breast cancer. The type of cancer that has already taken three of her sisters.

I have been pondering the stages of grief. Any ways to buoy those I love wading through the unimaginable. Trying to pour my heart into the things we have dropped off, trying to somehow transform mere objects or food into some kind of holy offering filled with all our love.

But mostly praying that they can somehow see God in the darkness. And hear the whisperings of angels in the trees.

Dark days at home

Already wrapped up in the sorrow of these things, there have been some darkest of dark days for Lucy. She is a fighter. But we are all struggling with the darkness creeping in under the doorways and through all the cracks. Oh we put on happy faces, but sometimes there are distorted, grief-stricken faces hidden carefully beneath. Dave and I are at such a loss as to how to handle all this. We are wrestling with God on this one. How can we step away enough to let her have the independence she wants? How can we help her find success? And the companionships with friends she craves.

In the midst of my pondering, my churning heart, in church during Sunday School our teacher showed this video:

It was somehow just the straw that broke the camel’s back. I sat there with giant tears quivering in my eyes, willing myself not to start bawling. Those words from President Eyring washing over me.

“The Lord has promised, ‘I will not forsake you’.”

Art by Caitlin Connolly

I do believe this. That He will not forsake us. And also that “the heavens weep with us” (the title of that beautiful painting). Even when it feels as if God is far away. There have been so many miracles encapsulated right in the heart of the darkness. So many sacred things wrapped into the hurt and the shadows. But we have to be looking for them.

Breadcrumbs to help me understand

Back to the question posed, which is really Lucy’s question in different forms on repeat these days: why do bad things happen to good people?

And so I am always looking. Picking up the bread crumbs to help her make sense. To help me make sense too. So when I come across things like James 1:2-4 I take note:

Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations [JST=afflictions]: knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work.

Or Peter 1:7 where it says:

That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.

Count it all joy? Afflictions more precious than gold??

Sometimes I think it might take time to feel that joy or to recognize the golden threads. Some dips in that rollercoaster ride seem to have never-ending track down there. Some of the difficult things in life will some day be in our wakes. And some will be permanently attached.

But as President Eyring said in the video, “He has promised angels to bear us up on our left and right. And He always keeps His word.”

And I love Father Richard Rohr’s thoughts on this topic as well:

“The primal howl of existential suffering holds within it the lesson that we all must learn at some time in our lives: To heal from our suffering—not merely to ease or palliate it, but to transform it into the source and substance of our growth and wisdom—requires a journey through it.”

Center for Action and Contemplation

God is in the details

I believe that even though terrible things happen in this life, often to such good people, God is in the details. He wants to help us transform beauty from ashes. Jesus, that little baby who was born in that manger all those years ago came to be “among us.” To help us pick up the broken pieces and work to lean in again.

And again.

He has gone through the deepest of the deep so that He can comfort our hearts when those inevitable “bad things” happen.

He has the power to heal us. Even if it takes a long, long time.

I believe God is a God of love. And we are praying each day that the holes left from all this loss can be filled with that power.

More posts about grief and “bad things”:

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  1. Shawni you have such a beautiful way of writing difficult topics. I am praying for Lucy, you, and you extended family! May they be comforted with the love of their Heavenly Father and may they feel many angels surrounding them!

    Lucy is a light to so many! She is such an example to me and many! May she always remember that she is a Daughter of God. When she pours out her heart to him he is there to listen and to hold her in his arms.

    I am sending hugs your way! Praying for peace for all of you!

    1. Thank you Tammy. I agree, Lucy is such a light. We are doing the tricky parenting work to tru to help her remember that. Love her so much!

  2. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but there are some great colleges out there with strong communities of students with different abilities — UC Berkeley being one of them — and I wonder how much Lucy might appreciate being around other people who understand the challenges of navigating this world with different abilities than the norm. I’m a middle school counselor and when I see students struggling to connect with their peers, I always reassure them that their people are out there (they really are!), they just haven’t found them yet. I hope things smooth out for you all soon!

    1. I love that thought so much. She has the best support, and so many people look out for her. She just wants to find where she belongs, you know? SO grateful for those who go out of their way to help her feel the love she is wanting, may she recognize it and internalize it. Thanks for sending the love!

  3. I have pondered this question many, many times in the past 3.5 years since I lost two of my sons. As a believer in Christ, I cling to the promise that He will never leave me or forsake me but oh, how I wonder why He allows some of the things He does. For me, the “why” comes down to two things. The first is that we live in a broken world with broken-world people. God’s plan was not that mankind would live with pain and sorrow but His created man and woman (Adam and Eve) were also given free will and sinned. Our world is a reflection of that original sin. While this fact is a mystery to me (the free will part) I can let myself fall into the peace of the second thing: I can trust Him. He alone is Creator, Author, Finisher, Omnipotent, and The Great I Am. His Word says in the book of Romans that He will make all things work together for the good of those who love Him. Because I can accept the mystery, I can embrace that all things will work together for me because I love Him. I may not see them working, but they will. In that, and in Him I can find peace.

    While you and I will probably never meet, I have followed your blog for years and pray for your family. My prayers for all of you-and especially your beautiful Lucy-will be more fervent.

    1. Oh I love this Janna. Thank you. I love what you said about “accepting the mystery.” I too accept that, and believe with all my heart that things will make sense some day. Thank you for sharing your heart.

  4. Recently, in a Sunday school class we were reminded that not only do we believe in the ministering of angels, but that we can actually call on those angels for help. They are waiting. I hope through all the heartache, heaven feels close for your family. As someone who buried a little baby 11 years ago, my heart aches for that sweet, young couple. Lots of prayers to you all. Long time follower, first time commenter. All the love to you and yours.

    1. Thank you sweet Kelsey. My heart aches for you and your loss too. I think we are always working on that “transformation” of sorrows that Richard Rohr is talking about: “transform [the sorrow] into the source and substance of our growth and wisdom.” Luckily we have a long time to figure it all out.

      Sending love your way! XOXO

  5. I’m so sorry about your uncle & other relatives. Thinking of you & your family at this sad time. x

    It must be so hard too to see Lucy going through all this. x

    1. Thank you Julie. It is hard. Some days are so dark. But I do so believe in that loving God who does so much not to leave any of us comfortless if we look for His hand in life. Hope you are doing well.

  6. Oh Shawnee. You are truly a beautiful human. You bring the honest. The real. The raw. You share and love and live your truth. I wish I was a person to make words sing within but it is not my strength. I just write to share that I care and pray for all your lossses.. I am so sorry. I know God has this. I will always pray during the storms. He loves us Abundantly. I pray for Peace and Comfort for these that grieve.❤️

    1. Thank you Cindy, I love what you said about how He loves abundantly. That is such a beautiful word. May we all see and feel and LOOK for that abundant love.

  7. Shawni, have you read “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” by Harold Kushner? Rabbi Kushner explains in a lovely way how God’s gift of free will often cause bad things to happen. God’s role is not to prevent these bad things from happening but to comfort and support us as we maneuver through this imperfect life on earth. God is not testing us or punishing us or choosing us for extra hardship (which seems to put the onus on the struggler ie be better and be healed!); He is helping us to navigate things even when they are harder than we would like. I’m simplifying it, of course, but it’s worth a read. It’s an older book and there may be other more updated options, but this one gave me comfort when I needed it.

  8. Thank you for this beautiful post, Shawni, and for your reflections on navigating the hard things in life as a woman of faith. I, like most of us, have been sucker-punched a time or two – with some stuff that’s permanent and some stuff that I can see in my wake, as you so beautifully put it. Sending lots of love to you and your family.

  9. I’m guessing you know about a book called “When bad things happen to good people.” A Jewish rabbi wrote it after he lost his young son to leukemia, if I remember correctly. It is an excellent book. What I took away from that is that the seventh day of creation may not be complete. I have relied on that book many times. Even so, I am sorry you are going through this.

    1. This was mentioned above as well, I’ll have to check it out. I am continually on the look-out for things that can help my girl (and so many others) make sense of the darkness that comes in this life. I think it’s easier for some to conceptualize than others. I feel as if I’ve been lucky enough to feel God’s love so much in my life and to believe that although there is so much I don’t understand in the darkness, I trust that it will all make sense some day. But when loved ones are faced with such seemingly unsurmountable sorrows it takes me back and I want so much for them to feel that love and comfort. So I really appreciate this recommendation and all the others to help make sense of this path we call life.

  10. I would not frame it this way at all if you really ponder it. How are you defining “good people”? It sends a message that bad things should only happen to “bad” people, but who is ever to judge and define good and bad people. If you define life in this way or try to “answer” this question, then the mind struggle of what anyone “deserves” begins. It’s called life, and appreciating and living in the present moment is the only thing we truly have. The present moment.

    1. I agree with this sentiment. I think it’s tricky because the church teaches that if you pay your tithing and keep the commandments, you are “good” and will receive blessings, so it must be confusing when your loved ones do everything they “should“ do, yet experience tragic death anyway. It must be very difficult for you and your family to have that core belief that doing all of these things is for a reason, and then have your faith shaken when it doesn’t work out as promised.
      It also brings up the question of who gets to decide who is “good” and who is not, and who “deserves” to suffer, and who does not. I know that you mean well and do your best to be respectful of your audience, but I really do implore you to be mindful of coming off as holier than thou or judgemental of those who may not share your faith and beliefs. I am, however, very sorry to hear about this tough time for your family and wish you all peace and comfort.

    2. Oh I so appreciate you two sharing these thoughts so I can clarify a couple things. In trying to figure out a title for this post I struggled. But I put that one up because it really is an “age-old” question. It’s one that has been asked over and over again (if you google that question, you’ll see every kind of variation coming from all walks of life). I’m so glad you asked this so I could clarify that I’m definitely not insinuating that “bad” things should only happen to “bad” people OR that “good” people should have a cakewalk either for that matter. Life is so much more complicated that that. I truly have a hard time thinking that anyone in the whole wide world is “bad.” I just think we are all at different stages of understanding and health.

      I’ve thought so much about what you said about what the church teaches, Sam, mostly because of Lucy. I love how she fights against what we sometimes subconsciously teach: the “transactional gospel” (we do good, we get rewarded, we make mistakes, we are punished). I just don’t believe that is true in any way, shape or form, so I’m so glad you mentioned it! There’s a post more about that here:

      As far as anyone deciding who is “good” or “bad,” I listened to a podcast this week where Father Gregory Boyle gives his thoughts about this very topic. I want everyone in the world to listen to it because it’s so good. It is exactly what you touched on: everyone has their own story, is coming from different vantage points, and honestly, everyone is inherently good. We can’t pretend to know where they are coming from and judge them from what we see. I’d love to hear what you think about his thoughts that I agree with 100%. Here’s the podcast: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/a-radical-strategy-for-dealing-with-difficult/id1087147821?i=1000634390843

      I apologize if I came off as “holier than thou” in using that title. It was meant to just link in to that question, phrased in so many different ways that I have heard so much from so many over the years.

      Sending you love and gratitude for sharing your thoughts.

      1. Shawni I want to thank you for always having such thoughtful responses. I know you always have good intentions and I appreciate that youre so willing and able to engage in discussions with your readers. There’s definitely no easy way to frame it especially when tragic deaths happen to babies and children. I will take a look at the resources you mentioned. Additionally, I would highly suggest full body scans if possible for your older family members. pancreatic cancer is a tricky devil and we would have lost a close family member had they not worked in the medical field and gotten a scan at work that caught it before it advanced. They’re often not covered by insurance and can be pricy, but they’re a resource so many don’t know about and are worth their weight in gold. Just thinking about the loss we avoided brings me to tears, so I can’t begin to imagine how you all feel. I know this can’t undo your beloved uncles passing, but I hope this can help avoid future terminal diagnoses in your family, as a % of pancreatic cancer can be hereditary.

        1. My mother will likely die within a few days from pancreatic cancer. It’s astonishing that it was just lurking under the radar for 7-8 years with no symptoms.

  11. Life is hard. How do you minister to those you love when they are so deep in the trenches? I’m keenly aware of my privilege (if that’s the right word? Or maybe ignorance?) of not knowing such hard mortal pains. I’ve had many life experiences that teach me a lot of things, but health and grief to that extent haven’t been them yet. I don’t always know what is actually helpful.

    1. I’m always asking that question as well. I cling to the advice from a friend of mine who has had her own share of personal tragedy: acknowledgement is sometimes the best salve for sorrow. Just holding space for someone who is suffering is such a beautiful thing. That could look like bringing a meal, texting to keep checking on them, praying for them, looking them in the eye and listening. I try to keep a quiet prayer in my heart to be guided as how to lift and buoy, because if I don’t know (which I rarely do), I know God does. I also think that when you are earnestly seeking ways to minister as it sounds like you are, you will find them.

  12. Perhaps this is against the grain, but I tend to think there is randomness in the universe that causes unexpected good/bad things to good and bad people. What might be divine is our resilience.

    My condolences on the loss of your family members and friends, Shawni.

  13. Shawn, my heart goes out to you, your family, and Lucy. When I had a miscarriage last year this quote from Aeschylus, a Greek tragedian which was quoted by RFK the night Martin Luther King Jr. died brought me some solace, “ Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until in our own despair,
    against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

  14. If Lucy decided not to have a relationship with God because it was causing too much pain, would you be okay with that? Does she know this? I only ask because it wasn’t until we left our church that our son felt safe enough to share that he didn’t want one. There is so much pressure to be at peace because of love the of God that when some times we manufacture that feeling just to keep our parent happy. This could not be the case with Lucy, just wanted to throw it out there in case you are trying to get her to feel a certain way using the tool of God and she just doesn’t feel it right now.

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