It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
Rita A. Schulte is a licensed professional counselor in the Northern Virginia/DC area. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology and a Master’s in Counseling from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. She is the host of Heartline Podcast and Consider This radio programs. Her show airs on several radio stations as well as the Internet. Rita writes for numerous publications and blogs. She resides in Fairfax Station, Virginia.
Visit the author’s website.
Shattered explores how unidentified or unresolved loss impacts every area of life, especially our relationship with God. The long-range impact of these losses is often obscured, buried beneath the conscious surface in an attempt to avoid pain. This book calls the reader to “notice” the losses of life, and fight the battle to reclaim and reinvest our hearts after loss through faith-based strategies.
List Price: $10.11
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Leafwood Publishers (September 10, 2013)
AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?
I have come to bind up the brokenhearted.
The Winds of Change
It was a rainy Virginia day, warm enough to sit outside with a cup of tea but too dark and dreary to really enjoy it. Just the kind of day that surrounds one in melancholy. And that morning I had a reason to be sad. My faithful companion—my dog Spanky—had died the week before. Wait . . . Am I really going to open a book about grief and loss by talking about my dog? I am. In the pages that follow, I will share more of my story, about the seasons of heartbreaking loss that led me to write this book. But loss comes in many forms, and that morning on the porch, my sadness was about more than the loss of a pet. Spanky’s death represented the loss of an era, a snapshot of my life that I would never fully reclaim.
Sometimes we don’t notice how loss affects our hearts. It can happen slowly; yet before we realize it, the effects of our grief have become catastrophic and the death of our hearts inevitable. Loss throws us offbalance, sometimes causing us to lose our way. If too much time goes by before we repair the distance between what we know intellectually about our grief and what we feel deep within our souls, we’ll find that along the journey we will have sacrificed something precious in order to protect ourselves from pain. That something is our heart.
The closing of one chapter of life gives way to the birth of another, offering us hope and promise—but not without cost and certainly not without a glance backward and a twinge of sorrow. Which brings me back to Spanky.
We brought Spanky home as a puppy, a gift to our son on his seventh birthday to comfort him after the death of his grandmother. Michael is grown now, a young man beginning his own journey. Our home is quiet, void of the cacophony of children’s voices and the sense of security provided by my parents’ presence. Another twinge of sadness. There was a time not so long ago when my soul was in mortal agony over the very thought of losing them. Where did the years go, and how could the pages of my life turn so swiftly?
Telling the Story
Everyone loves a good story. Stories are full of adventure, passion, love, and mystery. But the stories of grief and suffering aren’t usually happy, and they are not always easy to tell. So we don’t. We bottle them up, push them down, and close up shop. And our pain sits, sometimes for decades. We don’t pull it out or look at it, and so we miss the opportunity to really understand the event or series of events that were responsible for breaking our hearts.
Yet we must tell the story to walk the healing path. That is why I wrote this book—to help you understand your own story where loss and grief have affected your journey and, more importantly, to show you where those losses will help you find and connect with the heart of God. The choices you make will be difficult ones, but if you stay the course, freedom is possible.
How do I know? Because I have walked a journey of loss myself that has spanned twenty years.
The first real tragedy in my life, the one event that broke my heart, started one morning when my children were still young. The day started as usual with my morning devotions. I opened my Bible randomly, as busy moms are prone to do, and I read John 11:25–26, where Jesus says to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” For some reason, I kept thinking about it all day.
The phone rang late that night—always a bad sign. My dad said something was wrong with Mom; it seemed like she had had a heartattack. At the hospital, the doctors said it was a massive seizure brought on by a malignant brain tumor; she wouldn’t live through the night. My mother had been battling cancer for four years at that point. There was nothing else they could do. So we prayed.
My mom didn’t die that night in the hospital. God granted us two months with her, calling her home on my son’s birthday. Holding her in my arms as she lay dying felt like someone was pouring boiling acid over my soul. Tragic events do that. Try as we may to come up for air, we often find ourselves drowning in fear and overwhelming sorrow, questioning everything we believe.
That verse in John 11 haunted me, gnawing at my soul and pushing me to find answers. Did I really trust that “he who believes in me will never see death” (John 8:51)? I thought I knew the answer—but this loss brought me to a crisis of belief, hammering me to the core of my faith.
Over the next twelve years, the losses piled up. My children suffered a near-fatal parasail accident. Close friends and family died—eight in just one painful year. My father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer. And then my dad was diagnosed with bone cancer—and that was when the bottom dropped out.
My parents were a secure and comforting presence in my life. After my mom’s death, my dad became an idol. And God will have no idols in our lives. He would use my loss to begin a process that would ultimately shape and redirect my life, but not without even greater suffering.
Caring for my dad in our home for two years was difficult—not because he was difficult, but because so much happened to him. I couldn’t ever leave him alone. His illness consumed my life, and as I watched him stripped of what he once was, it broke my heart. My world became very narrow and isolated. So many dear friends and relatives I loved were dying, and in the process I was losing heart.
The Place of Brokenness
If we are honest, we know that suffering and sorrow are inevitable parts of life. Loved ones die. Dreams crumble. We lose things that were once important to us. The happily-ever-after life we dreamed of is often a far cry from the reality we live.
How we respond to loss and change determines what happens to our hearts. It also determines if we live—really live—the life that Christ has called us to. If I am honest, I will admit I let a lot of living go by trying to make life work, struggling to figure out, make sense of, and answer all the questions. Perhaps loss was a necessary part of my journey; it certainly caused me to see suffering as a necessary ingredient in my life, whether
I had all the answers or not.
As I mentioned, God will have no idols in my life. The place I tried to avoid—the place of suffering—was the very place he led me to so that he could evidence himself right in the midst of it all.
Brokenness must have its way in each of our lives in order to move us from death to life. Every spring, tree leaves come to life as tiny new shoots; they grow and flourish, showing us signs of life and hope, only to die each fall. Life gives way to death, but from death something wondrous occurs. The leaves produce a majestic display of bold and resplendent color. They become most vibrant as they are dying.
Jesus makes a similar analogy in the Gospel of John when he says, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24; italics mine). This is the power of rebirth through the process of death and dying. Jesus, the immortal seed of the Father, chose to take on mortality. His glory, hidden and buried beneath the earth, like the seed, breaks forth from the dust of death to display a bold and resplendent life.
Shall we expect the Master to work any differently in our own lives?
While most of us won’t be fighting for a place in the suffering line, I hope there is comfort in knowing we can move through this journey of brokenness to find healing and wholeness. We need only to change our perspective on loss and suffering. If we are willing to allow them to become our tutors, they can and will produce in us that same bold and resplendent life that Jesus is calling us to. If we have the eyes to see, we will come to know and understand that brokenness purifies our vision and chisels away all that keeps us from fully knowing the heart of God.
Brokenness is not only a necessary process in the life of the believer—it is a gift. I bet that’s not an easy line to swallow, as you read this book ravaged by the effects of loss. I certainly didn’t accept it easily. Early in my Christian walk, surrounded by pain, the idea that God was offering me gifts through my suffering made me angry. Maybe there was something wrong with me, I reasoned, because I didn’t have enough faith to want to walk through a towering inferno with a smile on my face and a song of praise in my heart.
But somewhere along the journey of loss, I began to consider that if God was good, he was not out to break me. Instead, he was out to break my confidence in all the ways I was trying to make my life work apart from him. Loss was simply the vehicle he used to get my attention.
It was then that I began to see suffering and pain in a new light. I could accept this process of brokenness as a gift from my heavenly Father, much like adults who grow to appreciate the discipline they received as children from their parents. Discipline is not pleasant at the time it’s received, as the author of Hebrews reminds us, but it is necessary in the molding and shaping of character, producing righteousness in all who are trained by it (Heb. 12:11).
If you and I want to recover from the losses of life, we must catch a vision for the greater role that we were designed to play and see a bigger purpose beyond ourselves and our losses. In other words, we must slowly begin to see with eternal eyes that which is so difficult to see when loss first assaults our hearts—the story isn’t finished yet. This is a journey, not a race.
How to Use This Book
In many ways, the chapters in this book have written themselves, as the pages of my own life and the stories of others around me have unfolded. To live again, really live, we all had to find the courage to reinvest our hearts into what stirs our passions. The heart of that passion flows from our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is not a traditional book on grief. Our time together will focus on the heart and the phases it must traverse through this journey. We won’t explore the process of dying, nor will we formally address the traditional stages of grief. I won’t list tasks the griever must accomplish to achieve closure or provide a nice, neat formula for recovery. That’s all important information, but “stages” can suggest a sequential order to our movement through life and loss that for many is not experientially true.
The heart can’t always follow rules, so instead many find themselves revisiting these stages or experiencing them in a random order. My own journey with loss has shown me that still, many years later, I have not moved beyond the struggle with some of these feelings. In fact, there are some days I actually feel as if I am falling backward. I don’t understand the “whys” of some of the things that have happened, and some days
I still find it hard to accept them. But through the years, the stages of grief have helped guide me toward the path of acceptance. Anger has thankfully given way to forgiveness, and depression is now an infrequent guest. Sadness, however, still remains, forever standing guard at the doorway of my soul and reminding me that to love deeply always requires something of the heart.
But in order to experience healing, we must be willing to pass through these stages of grief. We must be careful that our work doesn’t become intellectual, mechanical, or task-driven. This is a very real possibility if we are not willing to examine what lies beneath—how loss affects our hearts.
Being sensible or practical about loss will not accomplish this. Attending to the matters of the heart is elusive and abstract, sometimes barely visible even to the griever. Therefore, somewhere along this journey we must develop an awareness of the heart by learning to notice it. We must shift our focus from being rational and intellectual about our losses to practices that will sustain long-term healing. For such healing to be accomplished, we must be willing to crack open the hard shell we have built around our hearts, explore our brokenness, and expose our wounds. Only after that difficult work is complete can we allow Christ to revive our hearts through his healing power. Just as the sculptor carefully chisels through layers and layers of stone to uncover a precious form, so the griever must lend careful time and attention to rediscover the music of the heart buried under the weight of grief.
Our work will not be without task or toil. In the following chapters, we will attempt to find strength and meaning in the midst of our pain.
Part One of the book will help you identify your losses, consider their affect on your heart, look at the defenses you’ve built to protect yourself from pain, and evaluate your concept of God. Part Two will help you fight the battle to reclaim your heart by exploring the healing tasks necessary to move forward: dealing with anger and unfinished business and learning how to surrender. Part Three will help you to rekindle the desires of your heart and reinvest them into the grander redemptive story God is telling.
You will find various exercises throughout the book to help you uncover and process your losses so that through thought, prayer, and meditation you can press into the heart of the Savior.
Be intentional and deliberate with your work, and set aside a time each day to be alone with God, for it will be in those intimate moments that the real healing work of grief will be accomplished.