Thursday, March 19, 2015

Guest blogger: Connie Stevens

Today I welcome Connie Stevens to the Writing the Heartache Blog. Good to have you here, Connie.


After my son died in 2006, my writing took a hiatus. I couldn’t find it within me to create anything, much less a happily-ever-after. So I fell back onto the profusion of Post-It notes stuck throughout my Bible on which I had scribbled down my thoughts, prayers, devotions, and those precious nuggets God gave me during the months of our cancer journey. These heart lessons became lifelines, pulling me from the depths of my grief, and for months I worked rewriting those notes. The compilation turned into a collection of devotionals that was rejected by every publishing house to which I submitted. Despite discouragement blending with my ongoing sorrow, I decided perhaps the writing of the devotionals was purely therapeutic—part of my own healing process. But I was still at loose ends, not only in regards to the direction for my writing, but also my own self-identity.

While I was comforted by God’s constant assurance that Jonathan was Home and safe and whole and cancer-free, there was a raw, gaping wound in my heart. Jonathan was healed, but I wasn’t. I wasn’t a mother anymore, I wasn’t a caregiver anymore, and it seemed I wasn’t a writer either.

The story I had begun at the time of my son’s illness languished in my files. When I pulled it up and looked over the storyline, it read as though someone else had written it—someone I didn’t know. The characters were strangers—Who were these people? Nothing about the synopsis felt familiar. I closed the file and stared at the blank screen.

I sought God’s face and asked, “Lord, where do I go from here? If You want me to continue to write, show me. How do I pick up the shattered brokenness of my heart and assemble the fragments back into a whole?”

Leaning on the Lord’s strength, I made myself pull that barely-started manuscript back out. If He was still calling me to write, He would give me the story and help me breathe life into the faceless characters. So I labored over the chapters, but no matter how long or hard I worked, there was still something missing.

Later that year I took my hollow story to a novelist retreat. One of the workshops, taught by the best-selling, award-winning author, DiAnn Mills, was about injecting more emotion into the opening scene. She started out by instructing everyone to take a sheet of paper, close their eyes and think of the worst thing that ever happened to them. Blindsided, I sat paralyzed for the space of several seconds. What could be worse than sitting at the bedside of my only child and watching him take his last breath? Then DiAnn did the unthinkable: she instructed us to write out the scene.

I stared at the blank paper. Could I actually craft the words to depict the events of that moment when I said my last goodbye? I had never considered writing it all out. Writing the devotionals had been different. They were kisses of truth God taught me during the darkest days of our cancer journey. But forming the words to spill my most heart-rending emotions onto the page—could I do that?

Oh God, how do I slice open my heart and lay it bare and vulnerable, throwing light on the hidden, secret places of my grief?

I pushed the pen across the paper and the words began to flow along with my tears. DiAnn stepped quietly to my side and gently whispered if the exercise was too hard, I didn’t have to do it. It was then I realized that, yes, I did have to do it. For more than three years since Jonathan’s Home-going, I had kept my deepest sorrow shuttered away when all the while God was patiently waiting for me to simply trust Him with my most private emotions.

Through the vehicle of putting words on paper—and some gentle prodding by a godly mentor—my imprisoned emotions found freedom. The scene spilled out, barely a trickle at first, but gaining momentum, until a waterfall cascaded forth. I wrote it all—the pain, the conflict, the bewilderment, the guilt, the anguish of my heart--until I was spent.

Then DiAnn told the class to use those same emotions and rewrite the opening scene of our stories, and give those emotions to our characters. For the first time, I saw my character breathe. Her pulse pounded in my ears, and her tears flowed down my cheeks. Her voice echoed from my heart when I infused her with those intimate emotions I’d kept sequestered for so long.

I had not considered my fiction writing as an outlet for the feelings I’d bound up. I had come to realize people didn’t understand the depth of my grief, and that was okay. I didn’t expect them to understand. I praised God they didn’t understand, and prayed they would never understand. But here was a way—cracking open the doorway to allow people to glimpse a shattered heart and perhaps in doing so, they could gain a new perspective into compassion.

2nd Corinthians 1:3-4 says, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. God does not comfort us to make us comfortable. He comforts us to make us comforters. If God can use my grief to minister to another heart, if He can use my writing to illustrate compassion, then I’m willing to let Him have all of me. He has made anew my perspective into the direction for my writing, and He didn’t waste a single one of my tears.

~ By Connie Stevens
Connie Stevens lives with her husband of forty-plus years in north Georgia, within sight of her beloved mountains. She and her husband are both active in a variety of ministries at their church. A lifelong reader, Connie began creating stories by the time she was ten. Her office manager and writing muse is a cat, but she’s never more than a phone call or email away from her critique partners. She enjoys gardening and quilting, but one of her favorite pastimes is browsing antique shops where story ideas often take root in her imagination. Connie has been a member of American Christian Fiction Writers since 2000. You can read more about her books at this Amazon link.

Connect with Connie:
Website & blog:
Twitter: @AuthorConnie

Latest releases:
Threads of Time Also at Amazon
A Place of Refuge

Monday, March 16, 2015

Quotes on love and loss

Here are some quotes I find true about love and loss.

Sorrow makes us all children again - destroys all differences of intellect. The wisest know nothing. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares. -Henri Nouwen

She was no longer wrestling with the grief, but could sit down with it as a lasting companion and make it a sharer in her thoughts. ~ George Eliot

I measure every grief I meet with narrow, probing eyes - I wonder if it weighs like mine - or has an easier size.
~ Emily Dickinson

We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey. -- Kenji Miyazawa

The deep pain that is felt at the death of every friendly soul arises from the feeling that there is in every individual something which is inexpressible, peculiar to him alone, and is, therefore, absolutely and irretrievably lost. ~ Arthur Schopenhauer

Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion to death.- Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

While we are mourning the loss of our friend, others are rejoicing to meet him behind the veil. ~ John Taylor

Friday, March 13, 2015

Easier than what?: A mother looks at life without

There's a part of me that died that winter's night.

Illusions. Myths. Platitudes. An old way of looking at faith and life. My future as I'd anticipated it. The ability to be "normal".

A part of me died when my child breathed his last.

I suppose that a part lived, too.

The hope that life can be okay again. That by treasuring my son and the memories of who he was, I can be his memory keeper. I share him and because of this, the world can be a brighter place.

Oh, I have learned the value of so many things. Yes, I can still see the glass half full. My Daniel lived; he loved. I keep all that in my heart.

But every so often this extroverted person I once was just wants to retreat and be alone with her pen and paper. Talk to God. Walk alone on the beach. Not have to play nice or join in the conversations about other people's children. Or other people's small problems that they get so worked up about.

Sometimes so much gets bottled up inside me and I have to let go.

I cry over simple things. Or just feel overwhelming sadness. Over the years, I don't struggle to "feel better". I know how to let these emotions run their course. It's okay to be sad. It's all right to step away from the crowd. And if I grow frustrated that I can't always participate like others can, that's fine, too.

I channel my frustration by writing. I write from the turmoil and as I do, I've been able to produce some beautiful things.

So the question is raised: Does it get any easier?

Easier than being woken to tapes in your mind that replay the horror of watching a four-year-old die and you are helpless to save him? Easier than aching for his hand in yours? Easier than shopping for everyone else and not being able to surprise him with a toy?

You can't erase love. Love remains just as strong and passionate as it was when he was with me on earth.

It's not easy to love for the rest of your life someone you can't see and can only feel in your dreams and memories.

Life does go on. Problems continue to find you. The other children you have have bad days and your mother's heart aches. Life ain't for wimps.

But you know that. It's chiseled in your core. You know a child can die.

And that when he is gone, it means forever on this earth. No more picnics. No more smiles. No more watching all your children grow up together.

Does it get any easier?



It depends on the day of the week, the time of the year. Some days you think you're strong. While other days, especially those insignificant days, you feel like a puddle.

It's all about adapting. Adjusting. Knowing when to bring the tissues.

Perhaps that's what becomes easier. Our ability to cope. Not our ability to live without. Just cope with the without.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Guest Post: Confessions of a Bottom Feeder

Today I have guest Sallie McDaniel here to share. Welcome, Sallie!

Psalm 77:1 says, “I cried out to God with my voice–To God with my voice; And He gave ear to me.” Have you ever cried out to God? Crying out is more than uttering perfunctory phrases in prayer for a better job, more income, or material things. To cry out is to lay one’s soul bare before God, to petition God with all of your heart, mind, and strength. It’s the humbling, tearful prayer that summons your last ounce of energy when you have reached rock bottom.

I married at the tender age of 19. After 8 tumultuous years, I relocated to Rock Bottom when I became a single parent. I felt like a trailblazer on a forbidden path, as the first person in my Christian family to become divorced.

In my book, Jesus is My Thesis, I compare the stages of divorce to the “5 Stages of Death” identified by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in On Death and Dying. Stage 1 is isolation. When you become divorced or widowed, you unwittingly change life categories. If most of your friends are couples, you may still be invited to dinner, but you feel like a third wheel tagging along. Some stop inviting you because they feel pressured to choose between you and your ex-spouse.

Stage 2 is anger. At age 19, I was deceived into thinking a premature marriage between two unequally yoked people could morph into happily ever after. I was angry when I learned God had been right all along. The most important thing a husband and wife can do is to invite a Third Person, Jesus Christ, to be the center of their marriage.

The anger stage ran concurrent with Kubler-Ross’ third stage, bargaining. There were space compromises when my son, a toddler, and I moved into my parents’ empty nest. There were scheduling conflicts between cooking, laundry, and custody arrangements. There were budgeting bargains, as we struggled to adjust to a new standard of living which covered little more than Ramen noodles and a bar of soap.

All of this led me headlong into stage 4, depression. I had to come to the end of myself, my fantasies, my compromises, and my will. At the bottom of that pit, with nowhere to look but up, I cried out to God. I admitted how my wrong decisions affected everyone in my family, and I repented of my youthful folly and willful disobedience.

The following Sunday, "It is Well with My Soul" was the invitation hymn. As I sang along, emotionally moved by the powerful words, God held my hand and carried me over the threshold of stage 5, acceptance. I started a new habit of meeting Him daily for prayer and devotion, and He began to replace loneliness, sadness, and fear with His peace, security, and joy. Life’s most difficult moments can work on our hearts like a spiky meat tenderizer, driving us to our knees in soulful prayer. But, the painful surrender from the bottom of the pit is where God begins to lift burdens and heals heartaches.

~ By Sallie Hite McDaniel

Sallie Hite McDaniel is a Bible study teacher and writer. She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a concentration in biblical studies in 2008. McDaniel and her husband live in the southeastern United States. They have three grown children. These days, Sallie spends her time working on her second book, her first attempt at fiction, when she’s not proofreading for others. Check out her book, Jesus is my Thesis, on Amazon.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Value of Sending Balloons Up to Heaven

[Post was first posted at Hub Pages 2012]

A balloon is not just a bunch of air contained in a casing and made to bob in the atmosphere. A colorful balloon can hold a deeper meaning. Balloons are significant for conveying messages and love up to Heaven.

When my four-year-old son died, I found a renewed beauty in balloons. By composing a message on a piece of paper, I could attach the paper onto the balloon string, tie a knot, and send the balloon into the air. What a way to convey my feelings to my son! And not only that, but by watching the balloon sail into the sky, up over the trees---where I could not go on my own---I felt comfort.

My messages always end with "I love and miss you, Daniel". Some parents write a message of apology or remorse, asking to be forgiven.

I like to go to the graveyard where my son is buried. Sometimes I hold a balloon memorial with friends and family on significant dates. On cue, we unleash a couple of balloons into the air. We shield our eyes from the sun and watch until the last balloon has disappeared from our sight.

Masses of helium balloons going into the air are both a profound and lovely sight. The volume of them lifting into the heavens speaks to the broken hearts remaining on earth.

Have you lost a loved one? Consider sending a balloon with a message into the sky. Watch your balloon soar and your spirits lift. Find the healing that comes with the release of a simple balloon of remembrance into the beyond.

Love lives on.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Understanding the Griever: How Others Can Help

Here's a post I found that I wrote back in 2002 and decided today would be a good day to reprint it here.


When I invited Martha to the gathering at my house, she accepted the invitation cheerfully. Martha was new to the area and so I thought this small potluck I was hosting would be a chance for her to get to know other women in our town. Martha stuck it out till the end, softly responding to each person’s questions about where she had moved from and the details involving her current job. It was not until the last guest left that night that she was able to utter her fears, “Oh, Alice, maybe I shouldn’t have come.” Then she fell apart in tears.

Martha’s son had died in a car accident in Tennessee a year ago. She had tried to hold it together during the whole evening, blocking her tears, until at last she had to let go. A private person, she hadn’t wanted to tell the others gathered about her son.

As she sat at my kitchen table with the tissues I supplied for her, Martha shared about her son Tony and her love for him. She needed to go over the circumstances which led to his accident that snowy night on a mountain road.

I well remembered how much my husband and I had needed to go over every detail at the one-year anniversary of our son Daniel’s death. We had to relive it all in order to get beyond the truth that we could not have prevented his death; we had not been in control.

To complicate matters, before coming to my house, Martha had just gotten off the phone with her sister. Her sister was excited over her upcoming marriage to John. Martha couldn’t muster up an ounce of happiness for her sister’s special day for the thought that her Tony wouldn’t be at the wedding was all consuming.

Then when her sister laughed and said, “If John’s dad wears that horrible toupee of his, I think I’ll die!” Martha felt her heart ache.

Martha was having a hard time dealing with what all of the bereaved must deal with – how a society can carry on as though we should be “fine” about the death of our loved one, especially after a year’s time and how we can keep on in a society which denies our grief and even pokes fun at death.

We do not live in a sensitive society, especially when it comes to understanding death and grief. Perhaps the use of certain phrases that have the word “death” in them, but don’t mean physically dying, proves that we are not “death sensitive.” One of Daniel’s oncologists answered my question of “Why do we make fun of death?” with “We often make fun of what we are afraid of.”

How many of these phrases that have to do with death and yet do not involve really dying have you heard this week?

Drop-dead gorgeous

A dead ringer


Dead in my tracks

Almost died

Scared to death

Dying to see

Died laughing

To die for

She looked like death warmed over

It was like I died and went to heaven

We aren’t really speaking of death when we throw out these phrases. The girl who wore the t-shirt to the museum that said she was “brain dead” during school hours didn’t really mean she was either. Yet, it offended me and anyone else who has had a loved one who was medically brain dead. She thought it was cute. I wanted to leave the museum and cry.

Do others “get it?” Do they care? Some days their words may help; other times, their words sting. They may be well meaning, but they are at a loss as to what to say. Some say nothing and some say the wrong thing. And there are days when the arms of a church or family member may encircle you and make you feel included and loved. There are other times when you feel isolated from your family and friends.

It was stated to me many times that I should tell others how to treat me. I needed to give them wisdom in knowing how to reach out and help me. In the early months of grief, this can be one of the strangest things to have to do. It is like having a broken leg and telling the doctor how to fix it. Shouldn’t he know? Likewise, we are the hurting ones having just buried a loved one, shouldn’t the rest of society know how to help us? Why do we, when we are already in agony have to show people how to treat us?

If we don’t, they will never get it. If we don’t let them know that we need permission to grieve, they will continue on in their lack of understanding. If they say, “Well, he’s in a better place,” and you let it go, they will not know how that statement tears at your heart. But if you can say without too much venom in your voice, “But he’s my son and I want him here just like you want your son with you!” then you have done a great service to that person.

I wish that we could all be as truthful and articulate as my friend Peg from Wisconsin. She says, even now, nine years since Ross, her 4-year-old’s death from cancer, “I miss what he would have brought to the rest of my life.”

For the truth is, death is all around us. We are born to death. From the beginning of time humans have had to deal with their own mortality. But instead of accepting this, we joke, tease and try to avoid death. We use the phrase that the only two certainties of life are death and taxes and yet, we pretend death won’t get us.

To speak about death has been called the greatest taboo. Yet, really, even more of a taboo is to admit that grieving over the death of a loved one is real and important.

We want to shove grief out the door. People don’t want you to make them feel uncomfortable or sad when you cry. They want to see you smile and be like you used to be before the death of your wife or sister.

When asked by a coworker how she was doing one mother, who had just lost her son said, “I’m not doing as well as I was three months ago.”

“Three months ago?” asked the coworker, puzzled by this answer.

“Yes, that was before my son died.”

There is nothing wrong with saying, “Not so good today” when asked how you are doing. Sure everyone wants to hear that you are “fine,” but if you’re not, why lie?

However, we all know the setbacks to telling the truth. We struggle because, while at times we want to let others know how we really are doing (not well today, thank you), we want to be careful that we don’t get an earful of unwanted cliches or platitudes that wrench our stomachs and torment our minds.

There are other platitudes people say in order for them to have something to say or perhaps in hopes that these will make them feel better about your devastation.

“Just trust God.”

“God needed another flower for his garden.”

“Life isn’t fair, you know.”

“You’ll grow stronger and better because of this.”

“God never makes a mistake.”

Whether these are true or not, the bottom line is that they don’t help we who are grieving.

In the words of Joe Bayly: “I was sitting, torn by grief. Someone came and talked to me of God’s dealings, of why it happened, of why my loved one had died, of hope beyond the grave. He talked constantly. He said things I knew were true. I was unmoved, except to wish he’d go away. He finally did.

Another came and sat beside me. He didn’t talk. He didn’t ask me leading questions. He just sat beside me for an hour and more, listening when I said something, answered briefly, prayed simply, left. I was moved. I was comforted. I hated to see him go.”

People want us to “get over it” and to “move on with our lives.” These do not know the first thing about grief. Grief is not an illness or an act of stubbornness or a desire to be difficult. Grieving the loss of a loved one is a deep complicated inexplicable truth.

Over the next months I tried to help my friend Martha learn the ropes we bereaved parents all must learn – gently teaching and guiding others to understand the heart of a griever.

Copyright 2002 by Alice Wisler

Friday, February 20, 2015

Write to Heal: Online Workshop starts March 30!

Are your thoughts muddled? Is your heart broken? Are you going through a difficult season in your life?

Learn to write poetry, essays, and letters to and in memory of your loved one. Pouring out your pain onto paper is cheap therapy and in this guided course I will show you how to use writing as a tool for healing. The course lessons will be sent to you via email each week.

The beauty of this workshop is that you can work at your own pace in the comfort of your own home. Each week, you will be instructed on how to complete your assignments. Once completed, send them back to me and I will critique your work, offer suggestions, and support.

I started this workshop in 2001 for those, like me, who lost a child to death. Others who had a loved one (not a child) die took the course and found it beneficial. Then, those who had suffered wounds in their lives (significant sorrow and losses) participated in the workshop and told me that this course is for anyone who has experienced heartache. The testimonies speak loudly---writing through anguish brings healing, no matter what path you are on. ~ Alice J. Wisler

Outline for Writing the Heartache Online Workshop
1. Week One: Introduction - Getting to Know You
2. Week Two: Introducing Your Loved One Through Poetry
3. Week Three: Writing a Letter to Your Loved One and to Others
4. Week Four: Writing for Change - The Essay
5. Week Five: Writing for Publication

Sign up today for the March 30th workshop. Click the link below to register or for more information:
Writing the Heartache