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Monday, September 18, 2017

This Undeserved Life by Natalie Brenner

Today I'm bringing you a new non-fiction book that looks fantastic if I'm honest. It's on grief and God. Before you say that doesn't apply to you, I urge you to think twice. If it doesn't apply now, it will someday, because we're promised hardship (John 16:33).

The first thing I have for you today is an excerpt from Natalie Brenner's book This Undeserved Life. Natalie has quite the story and you get just a glimpse of her heart in this passage.

   “I hope you’re not mad at God.” Helen’s words were expectant, thoughtful even, as we sat on the giant rock staring out over the ocean. Her eyebrows were raised, her posture stiff, a question on her face, imploring if I was indeed mad at Him or not.
   In my stillness, I thought to myself about taking caution to respond. I sat in a slouched position with my hands firmly planted beside my legs so I could stare steadily at the ocean. Steady but relaxed, I gave a half shrug and said, “I don’t think I’m mad at Him, so to speak, but I do think if I were He could handle it. You know? I think He can handle my anger. He seems pretty big.”
   She didn’t respond immediately. Our pastor’s wife was a dear friend in whom, for years, I had confided. A mentor and friend, we had grown close until my miscarriage because I had begun distancing myself. I found myself breaking away from many people since our miscarriage, even if they were gentle and kind; I immediately threw up protective walls around my heart at the sound of any invalidating statements such as this one. Grieving doesn’t have much room for you-should statements like this.
   She wasn’t the only human I loved and respected who said things like this, who tried to “lead me to the cross” or point me in the right direction or remind me how I should feel or think. Many people in our life responded to us with an array of cliché statements:
   “He doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” (I reject this—He allows more than we can handle; we are then driven to Him for comfort and grace).
   “It was God’s plan.” (Loss is never His plan).
   “Clearly there was something wrong with your baby, maybe it wasn’t healthy, and God wanted to prevent you from that.” (What?)
   “It wasn’t God’s time for you to be pregnant.”
   “He is in control.” (But what about free will and brokenness due to our choices in the Garden?)
   “Find joy in your trials.” (This often takes time).
   “At least you can get pregnant.” (This doesn’t help).
   “He gives and takes away life.”
   “Don’t be mad at God. Don’t blame God.”
   “It could be worse: think about Job,” said to me the day after I miscarried.
   The oxymoron of “he gives and takes away life” and “don’t blame God” are ridiculous to me. I get it, though. I had thrown those statements around in other peoples’ times of trial and suffering. I didn’t know how to respond to pain and assumed those words would help. Or did I? Was it for them or for me that I used those clichés in people’s true times of suffering? Was it to make me feel better like I had somehow spiritually pointed them towards God in their grief? I have learned to stop myself from saying much. I try to ask myself what the point is in whatever response I have loaded to release: is it to see their pain and validate or is it to show them I know where they should be emotionally? I don’t think we can ever really tell people where they should be.
   We sat on a rough, rocky ledge together with our legs and feet dangling high above the sand. Our eyes focused on the ocean’s vastness. I pondered these things and wondered why Christians felt the need to make such statements. I pondered why, even I felt the need to attempt salve with stinging salt to raw wounds of the heart. Why was there so much shame in just allowing ourselves to feel whatever demanded to be felt? To breathe in the reality of pain, grief, and sorrow? We give people the requisite day or two (or however long we feel is appropriate) to feel the sting of loss and then expect everyone to be “fine” and move on as though nothing was lost. Why is there so much judgement when we choose honesty through grief and grief takes time? Why are we shocked when someone is still sad about a loss years later?
   I decided again, there on that ledge, to continue to be honest. I would continue to find Him in the honesty even if it appeared ugly and “ungodly.” It was on that rock, staring out over the sand and the sea, I realized to the depths of me how different everyone is. People grieve, process, and heal differently. Which also means loving one person looks different than loving the next: we aren’t all the same. Our Christian (and quite possibly our culture’s) textbook liked to lay out a “10 Ways To Respond To Someone Who's Grieving” manual—but I was discovering maybe everyone is different. Maybe there isn’t a manual or a specific way to love people in grief: maybe the only way we can communally love people is by giving them permission to just be.
   I may not find permission from society to grieve and acknowledge our loss, but I am finding it in Him. I am finding a freedom in Him I had never experienced. The freedom of gut-wrenching, pain-filled, ugly honesty.
Today is the official release date for This Undeserved Life. The price will go up by $6 on September, 22, so purchase this one for your bookshelves now! :) You can find it on Amazon and Goodreads.

Haven't made up your mind yet? You can find out more about This Undeserved Life here.





Natalie Brenner is wife to Loren and mom to two under two, living in Portland, Oregon. She is the author of This Undeserved Life. She likes her wine red, ice cream served by the pint, and conversations vulnerable. Natalie believes in the impossible and hopes to create safe spaces for every fractured soul. She's addicted to honesty. You can love Jesus or not, go to church or not: she'd love to have coffee with you. Natalie is a bookworm, a speaker, and a wanna-be runner. Connect with her at NatalieBrennerWrites.com and join her popular email list.
What Christian living books have you read that tackled hard issues well or furthered your walk with Jesus?