By Penny A. Bragg—

In the spring of 2007, God orchestrated one of His most unprecedented moves of all time. After all, only divinity could uproot forty-three years of humanity so deeply planted in the California soil.

My husband, Clint, and I pulled out of the driveway of our home in California. 2,859 miles later, we pulled into a city just south of Daytona Beach. Although we purchased a home and tried to settle down, our work as marriage missionaries kept us on the road for most of the year.

Every few months, Clint would remind me, “I’m praying that you make some friends here.”

Because we were gone a lot, I lived inside a bubble of independence.

“Don’t do that.” I would quip each time he’d bring up making friends.

I wasn’t trying to be cold, but the idea of putting down relational roots in Florida didn’t interest me. My heart remained in California. Besides, as a relatively private person, I wasn’t willing to let down my guard and put in the effort required to cultivate deep friendships. For me, there’s no other option than going deep.

Five years passed. No friends. No family. No kidding. I was Ezekiel, sitting among the exiles at the Kebar River (Ezekiel 1:1) except there were no other exiles. Only me. That was, until grief came calling on December 11, 2011.

Death blew my privacy to pieces.

My brother’s suicide left me drowning in an endless sea of tears. On most days I lay crumpled by the side of the bed, resting my head on a roll of toilet paper between each swallowing wave of sadness.

In addition to the emotional pain, Jay’s death exaggerated the normal husband-wife differences between Clint and I. Clint was compassionate, but grieved very differently than I did. I don’t care what anyone says, sorrow can shake even the strongest marriage to the core. We “do” marriage for a living and have many communication tools under our belts. Now however, there were days when we couldn’t even convey our basic needs. Try as he might, Clint soon learned that he couldn’t take away my pain. In a way, when I lost my brother, Clint lost his wife.

Given what was transpiring, I soon realized that I couldn’t heal alone. That’s rather problematic when you’ve lived as an island. But, it was time to set aside my apprehensions and grab hold of the life preserver God was throwing me. A few weeks after Jay died, I reluctantly walked into my first Grief Shareclass.

Having served in a reconciliation ministry of for many years, I’ve witnessed astounding miracles of healing. But, I can honestly say that I’ve never encountered anything like the hallowed ground of grieving in community. As we sobbed out our stories from week-to-week, something holy happened. We walked into class as dry bones scattered across the valley floor (Ezekiel 37:1). But over the months we grieved together, God put tendons and muscles on us, clothed our nakedness with flesh, and blew His life-breath into our lungs.

“As I [Ezekiel] was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone…and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army” (Ezekiel 37:7, 10 NIV).

Given the miraculous rising of the dry bones, maybe my exile in Florida wasn’t so bad after all. To say that a group of strangers became friends over the weeks we spent together would be a gross understatement. God is the only One who can take death and through it, birth a bond for life. Surely my exile had become God’s gateway.

While each of us has progressed in our journeys, sorrow can still suck any one of us down into its deepest cavern. When those grief blowouts beckon, we rally. There is strength in numbers. During those times, we pass around yet another box of Kleenex. We weep together. We talk. We listen. And, we pray. Most importantly, we anchor our pain with God’s promises. Nothing sops up our tears like the absorbency of His truths. And, it is in those very moments of grieving and heaving that—amidst all our sniffles and sobs—we hear in the distance, a rattling sound.

 

 

 

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Penny BraggPenny A. Bragg spent the majority of her professional career in the California public school system as a teacher, principal, and district administrator. Through the miraculous reconciliation of her marriage after an eleven-year divorce and a distance of 3,000 coast-to-coast miles, God led Penny and her husband, Clint, into fulltime ministry in 2006. Together, they serve as marriage missionaries—sharing their testimony of marital restoration across the nation and abroad during their 40-Day Marriage Mission Trips. ThroughInverse Ministries, their non-profit organization, Penny and Clint have written extensively about the ministry of reconciliation including their most recent book, Marriage on the Mend. In addition, Penny ministers to those who, like her, have experienced traumatic loss and grief. For more information, visit her blog at www.ForThoseWhoWeep.com.

14 Comments

  1. 11-25-2013

    I am so happy that through your grief journey you have come into my life and the lives of Word Weavers Volusia Group. I love this post and the scripture from Ezekiel 37 that is included in it. May all our dry bones live again.

    • 11-25-2013

      Thank you, my sister in Christ. I feel the same way about meeting you. Definitely a divine connection! You are a rare gem.

  2. 11-25-2013

    I walked through similar emotions after I walked out of my first marriage. Just putting one foot in front of the other took every ounce of energy I had. The process of putting life back into these bones was a long process but well worth the effort to learn to truly live again, this time with the breath of God. Love this Penny.

    • 11-25-2013

      Karen, oh the process! God is so compassionate, but it is sure a long haul, huh? You are right…it is SO worth it all. He is worth it all. May the Spirit continue to speak life into all our dry bones!

  3. 11-25-2013

    Penny, I’m also a private person by nature, and the Lord has been showing me my need for other women with whom I can do life in community. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I’m enjoying participating in My Purpose Now! I’m so glad God connected us through this past year’s FCWC!

    • 11-25-2013

      Ava,

      At first, I really thought I could do it all “on my own.” It took me about two or three weeks to realize I was so very wrong. Grieving in community has been one of the most powerful experiences I have ever had. MPN is so blessed to have you. God has cyber-knit together quite a group.

      I look forward to possibly meeting together when Deb comes to Florida.

  4. 11-25-2013

    Penny, I related to certain bits of your story and I’m so sorry for the pain and loss you’ve experienced. But I sure am glad you found a God-group with which your heart connected. Friends coming together in need are often friends indeed! Thanks for sharing this article. It couldn’t have been easy to write and release.

  5. 11-25-2013

    Thank you, Kathy. I didn’t really realize how hard it was going to be to birth and release these grief articles. I don’t know what I was thinking haha. But, writing them has turned out to be such a huge part of my healing. Thank you for your compassion.

  6. 11-25-2013

    Penny, though I’ve never struggled with grief as you have, I know about loneliness. When we moved to Texas, my schedule was so overwhelming with travel and work there was no time for building relationships. It’s been nine years, and I’m blessed with a wonderful but small group of close friends. I’d rather go deep than wide, I guess. Those relationships have become more vital to my mental and spiritual health than I’d ever understood. Those of us who see ourselves as independent and self-sufficient are at risk! The writers in our group have become extensions of our lives. I’m grateful for each of them. Thanks for once again, sharing from the deep well of your sweet heart.

  7. 11-25-2013

    Thank you for the opportunity to express this journey, my friend. You have been God’s beauty in the ashes in many ways. And yeah, deep over wide any day.

  8. 11-25-2013

    Penny, your writing always cuts to the heart filled with transparency, wisdom and God’s handy work. No one can breathe life into our souls like our Father. Love and hugs dear friend…who God knows and loves so intimately to pick you up off the floor, out of your bubble and back into relationship. You are His workmanship! So blessed by you! Joni

    • 12-9-2013

      Joni…bless you for these kind and tender words. I was JUST thinking about you and Dick as I read Isaiah 60:1-2 this week, a passage you guys offered to me last year. It has continued to speak to my soul. Love you both.

  9. 12-2-2013

    My dear Penny,
    As usual, your words and way they are written go deep into my heart. You brought me back to the day you left California and to the day when your phone call came regarding the loss of Jay. God’s ways are not ours, and your article was a reminder to keep focused on Him even when circumstances don’t make sense. Thank you for this reminder. Love you.

    • 12-9-2013

      Love you dearly, my friend. We have both been on the other end of each other’s desperate calls. What a history, huh? God has woven us tightly through our tragedies. Blessed be this tie that binds us…

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