Red Vine Spirituality

Taylor K. Arthur balances Bipolar 1 Disorder, marriage, and motherhood with a nitty-gritty faith inspiring a twisted, blissful life.

Tag: Finding joy after loss

When You Feel Alone in Your Pain

Then God opened up the hollow place in Lehi, and water came out of it. When Samson drank, his strength returned and he revived.
Judges 15:19

Crank it up with me this morning, friends: “Rise Again” by Need to Breathe

You looked at me the other day and you said, “I can’t find anyone like me.” What you meant, really, is that you can’t find anyone who has been through what you’ve been through. I nodded, because I get it. I get it not because I’ve experienced what you have, but because I, too, have been set apart by the events of my life.

I know what it’s like to stand in a room full of people and feel utterly, entirely alone. I know what it is to not be seen in broad daylight, to bleed loud and violent in the middle of a holiday and marvel at how they cannot hear me, how they walk through my blood and don’t slip.

I wondered why for years.

You spoke true words this week on the phone, and you took my breath away, “I don’t want this to be my life.” I knew what you meant. This isn’t the life I signed up for either, and every day I lose my breath in one small moment of clarity: yes, this is my life. I thought eventually it would sink in, but I’ve been swallowing lithium for a long, long time.

The word Bipolar still sticks in my throat.

Even just today, I missed the son we gave back to heaven. Surrounded by children, happy and free on a spring break adventure, there’s always some detail–their three to my two, another mother leading three little boys around–to prick this mother heart. I keep aching for my missing child. I do, and that’s the truth, and I hardly ever like to admit to it. Admit that some aches don’t leave. Admit to you that I just keep bleeding.

Admitting to you scares me, because I worry you don’t understand.

You asked me two springs ago, before the loss that changed your universe: “How can you stand to listen to someone talk about something so much less important than samkicker?”

I looked at you, and I knew you didn’t know yet: there is no hierarchy of pain.

True, deep pain has one Godly purpose on earth: to open us up. We get to choose: are we going to wall it off, cope, lie, freeze our pain into shards of glass we tiptoe around all of our days? Are we going to interview perspective friends and lovers until we find someone else who has been through enough atrocities to understand ours? Are we going to climb high up into an ivory tower and look down upon those who haven’t felt this much death? Are we?

True, deep pain opens us up to each other if we let it.

I see you, friend. I see you lonely, and I see you afraid. And I know that anger roaring when your pain gets compared, belittled, stepped over.

If I could tell you anything? View this chasmic shift in your heart–this breaking–as a chance at new life. See every redefinition, every bitter pill swallowed, as your way through.

Yes. I know what I’m saying, and I hate it as much as you do. But my pain unresolved is the piece of me that connects the best to others. It’s the piece of me that writes to you today.

Let your pain live out its life cycle. Don’t suppress it. And understand this: when you suffer chronic, when you live through the unimaginable and the unnatural, your life will look different. Like ground the farmer tills and seeds and plows and tills again, so are our hearts. So are our yields if we let Him work.

You are the holy ground, friend. Your heart bleeds and breaks and floods. If you allow it, your heart can yield crop after bountiful crop of beauty.

This brokenness that sets you apart was never supposed to be understood. It was meant to be given. So go give it. Flood it out into another’s barren waste land. Open it up for another’s nourishment. Stop trying to fix it, and start trying to share it.

True deep pain, like the stream carving a canyon into mountain, will find its way through to fertile ground. There, friend, as you water another? There, for one blink, your pain transforms into nourishing purpose.


He Resurrects Us: Guest post by Marlys Johnson

It is an honor and a privilege to invite Mrs. Marlys Johnson to the Red Vine table today. I first met Marlys my sophomore year in high school, where she fearlessly taught me and my classmates about geometry and Jesus (who knew they went together so well?!) We have stayed in touch over the years, and now she has written a beautiful book, Embracing Grace: Experiencing Joy in the Journey of Life, from her own faithful walk with Jesus through many seasons of life, both ecstatic and heartbreaking. Today, Marlys talks about how God faithfully resurrected her and her husband after the sudden loss of their daughter, Bryna.

I Cor 6:19
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price . . .

Easter is my favorite time of the year. It is a time of hope and a reminder of God’s presence.

Before the Resurrection of Christ, the Holy Spirit came upon people at certain times and then left. As believers, we have the continual indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. What a comfort! We will never be alone. Never. Even in our dying, the Holy Spirit will be at work in us, ministering to us. When life throws its curve balls, the Holy Spirit will not leave or forsake us. He will guide us, instruct us, give us the love, joy, peace, gentleness, kindness, goodness, patience, faith, and self control that we need.

I can’t imagine what it would have been like for a perfect Christ, who knew no sin, to bear all our sins and have God the Father turn his face away from Him on that rugged cross. Jesus did not have the comfort of the Holy Spirit, but suffered like we will never have to suffer, experiencing the depth of hell. But the story does not end. He conquered death, was risen from the dead, and lives today. He gives us certainty that we too will pass from life on earth to life in heaven.

Some of us have gone through some very dark times: maybe overwhelming depression, substance abuse, abused as a child, losing a loved one in death, eating disorders, divorce . . . lots of bad stuff. Maybe some of us have made wrong choices that we feel bad about, have confessed, but wallow in shame. We feel broken; a hopeless mess; lower class.

Somehow we can apply confessing our sins and believing mentally that we have been forgiven, but not feeling like we have been forgiven. Shame runs deep. We feel like not only have we done something wrong, we are something wrong. Let us remember there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Jesus came to seek and to save those who are broken. His Holy Spirit dwells within us if we have received Jesus as Lord and Savior. The blood of Christ cleanses us and makes us white as snow. He wraps a white robe of righteousness around us so that God covers up our brokenness and sin. Our picture is on God’s refrigerator door. It is!

We no longer have to raise sheep and bring them to a priest to be slaughtered for our guilt offerings and sin offerings. Can you imagine each of us raising sheep in our backyards? We can confess to Jesus anytime, anywhere. We can talk with him without going through call waiting. He is for us; not against us. He convicts, but He does not condemn. He understands our hearts like no other. He brings healing and joy. He is our Loving Heavenly Father.

Even more importantly, the Holy Spirit dwells within us all the time. He will never leave us. We can shut down his voice and go our own way, but He is with us, urging us to come back into fellowship with him. He continues to resurrect us from our own bents toward selfishness and destruction.

Jesus used cats to “resurrect” my husband and me. Strange, indeed! Bryna, only 28 years old, struck with a heart attack, died suddenly March 27, 2009 early in the morning. Dave was home alone in Washington State while I was in North Carolina with my daughter who was in labor with her fourth child. The chilling phone call arrived in her hospital room.

Dave called and in a state of shock simply said, “Bryna died.”

“What did you say?”

“Bryna died.”

“Bryna died?”

“Bryna died.”

A black screen popped into my brain with white shaky handwriting that said, “Bryna died.” It looked like a black PowerPoint screen with vibrating white letters. That visual pursued me throughout the day. I saw it while I talked to people; I saw it when I tried closing my eyes. Thirty six hours later, after a sleepless night and plane trip home, with no sleep, fatigue took over, and Dave and I fell into an exhausted sleep. Way too early the following morning, our two cats decided of all days to rouse the comatose with a cat fight.

“Seriously, God? A cat fight, which never happens, on this morning?”

It was Sunday and the question confronting us was, “Do people attend church two days after their child has died?” We couldn’t answer the question, but acting like robots, we found ourselves mechanically moving toward church. God’s resurrection process was not over. While singing one of the worship hymns, I saw a vision of Bryna standing so tall and straight, with a beautiful smile lighting up her face. Her feet hung loosely and were about a foot off the ground. Jesus’ arm was wrapped around her waist, so tightly that she was lifted off the ground, while his other arm was raised above his head, as if to say, “Praise the Lord.”

The black tormenting PowerPoint slide was replaced with this beautiful visual of Bryna with Jesus. That visual was with me all the time. As I talked with people, the visual was always in front of me. I could be talking about tuna fish and carrots, and the visual was there. It was several weeks later that the visual would come and go. Now it is essentially gone, except when I want to remember it. But God resurrected me from my bed, sent me to church, and then resurrected my heart by giving me a visual I will never forget. How I thank God for his deep love in the hardest of times.

Heaven is incomprehensible. I want to see the glassy sea, to place a crown at Christ’s feet, to sing with the heavenly choirs, and to live life however it is lived in heaven. Bryna knows that life now; I am filled with questions. I wish Bryna could send a postcard with her adventures, even though I actually have a whole book of God’s promises. Our lives on earth are a pinpoint of time in comparison to eternity. Soon, we will be joined together with our loved ones who have passed on ahead of us; forever and ever.

Today, we have God living within us in the person of His Holy Spirit. Incredible! Christ Jesus is our forever priest, making intercession for us. Hallelujah! We are never alone, for God has chosen our bodies as temples for His Holy Spirit. That is amazing! Christ Jesus, alive yesterday, today, and forever. Glory hallelujah! Praise God!

Heavenly Father, thank you for placing your Holy Spirit within me. I am such a flawed vessel for your Holy Spirit; yet, there you are dwelling within me. Thank you for all the times you resurrect me from my selfishness. I confess that I don’t do such a great job with listening to you, especially when I feel stress overload. Teach me, Lord, to listen to your quiet voice, to obey your promptings, and to walk step by step with you. Thank you for never giving up on me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

In Pursuit

It was right then that I started thinking about Thomas Jefferson on the Declaration of Independence and the part about our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And I remember thinking how did he know to put the pursuit part in there? That maybe happiness is something that we can only pursue . . .

-Christopher Gardner, The Pursuit of Happiness

We never count on good weather when we go to the beach in March. We’re not necessarily there for weather. Rather, we come for the roar of the ocean, overwhelming and larger than anything we will ever hold. We go to feel the salt on our faces and the whip of the wind, to know our footprints still hold weight. We write Caleb’s name in the sand, hoping that maybe — just maybe — the same waves that will wipe his name clean from this beach may write our names on the shores of heaven for him to see. We bring our grief, our living hope, to spill out like a bucket of seashells upon the shore. We return to the sea to feel it all and wash it away and return home clean.

This past March was our 6th year. I can’t remember another year when the sun has shone as brightly as it did that day, right in the middle of Caleb’s week. We ran, all four of us, like a bunch of starved refugees, to fill our toes with sand and eat the light of this August-like March afternoon. Two-year-old Miracle and I sat deep in castle-making, his toddler gibberish dancing with the wind. I turned to watch Jack teaching our four-year-old Rainbow how to fly his first kite and caught a feeling I hadn’t hoped for.




I can’t tell you why the sight of my tiny boy flying a cherry-colored kite, with Daddy crouching over him, struck me so. Was it the sunshine or the wind that wound me up into — dare I say it? — happiness? Was it that after so many Marches gray and salty, this beach surprised me with bright? Or was it that for the first time in so long, I could feel sand and absorb light and laugh at cherry red in blue sky?

What is happiness, anyways? Is it real? I remember happy, believed it was possible. But for me, now? Maybe not for me. Maybe what I could have, I thought and prayed, was just a bit of joy to make the days more bearable. And so, a whole year before this moment at the beach, I started to pursue joy – what it means and how to get it. I found 242 mentions of joy in the Bible, but only 6 mentions of happiness.

He will yet fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy. {Job 8:21}

But when a lifetime’s worth of Marches string out, how do I laugh and visit my child’s grave? Will there really be joy again?

I once sat in this house, in this room, with no children stomping down the stairs in the morning. There were no smudges on the windows, no little feet. I survived on the words of Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares The Lord, “plans for hope and a future.”

I learned I can hold onto God in an empty house or kneeling at my son’s tiny grave. I believe in His goodness through bed rest and preeclampsia and the terminal heart diagnosis of our thriving Miracle because I know He is working it all out for His glory, my good, and a forever past every tear.

The sun rose this morning, pinking up the sky over the backyard fence. I sipped my coffee and marveled at how this house rocks with boydom, kisses offer themselves up from little boys’ fish lips, and tiny voices cry “Mama” when they’re scared. These hardwood floors I picked out so long ago, swollen large with a baby who would never come home, are covered with crumbs and the tiny trails of chubby feet. This hunk of a man who partnered it all with me, bore the burdens and the tear-soaked nights, still comes home, parched through for us.

I get it now, how simple it really is.

Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him. {Psalm 34:8}

Yes, I still wake hard some mornings to the loss of my sweet child. But I know now that the Son shines in winter, and joy breaks me open to see it. No matter the day or the loss or the break, I know that living in joy is the only way to pursue happiness.

This post first published December 2, 2014 on (in)

A Day of Remembrance

Thus says the Lord:
A voice is heard in Ramah,
lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are no more.
Thus says the Lord:
Keep your voice from weeping,
and your eyes from tears;
for there is a reward for your work,
says the Lord:
they shall come back from the land of the enemy;
there is hope for your future,
says the Lord:
your children shall come back to their own country.

Jeremiah 31: 15-17

Five years ago, today, we lost our patriarch–Jack’s father, Mark–in an instant, in the middle of the rehearsal dinner for Jack’s older brother’s wedding. Fifty people stood around as we sat helplessly watching the EMTs try to revive him. I held a brand new Abraham in my arms and prayed for Papa Mark to live, to survive and coach our boy at baseball, to see a hundred more Christmas trees sparkling over seas of presents, to be a grandfather to his only–finally–living grandson.

The horror of those moments: of watching those who loved him better and longer than I, say goodbye to their husband and father and brother and son live side by side in my memory next to the days of Caleb’s death and birth. We laid Papa Mark to rest across the pathway from the Promised Land where we, with our parents’ help, laid Caleb to rest just eighteen months earlier.

I’m going to be gut-wrenchingly honest about grief for a moment. So, if you were tuning in today to visit Cloud Cuckoo land, here’s the link: Cloud Cuckoo Land. No one will fault you if that’s all you’ve got today. I have many of those myself;).

Within a period of a little over three years, Jack and I lost four grandparents, an uncle, Jack’s father, and our first born son. We became so accustomed to planning funerals, attending funerals, writing obituaries (my first official publications, actually) that I began to wonder if that’s all life had to offer us.

We tried to keep going to the cemetery the way we had before Dad died. We tried to decorate Caleb’s grave and wipe the leaves away as they fell each fall, dig out the snow in the winter, and bring a planter for him every Easter.

Then, we couldn’t do that anymore. I’ll never forget that definitive moment on Dad’s first anniversary. Abraham toddled over baby gravestones as I knelt in the grass to talk to my first born. I tried so hard to give Jack privacy as he visited his dad’s grave, only peaking over my shoulder once to check on him. He had his back to me, but his shoulders shook as he covered his face with his hands. I turned back to muffle my own sobs and felt something inside give way, a ripping deep in the middle of my heart. I didn’t stop crying for a week. Poor Jack had to take time off work because I literally couldn’t stand up for days.

I look back at that period of time as the darkest of our married lives, when every strip of innocence I didn’t even know we possessed was robbed from us. We stood where few in this culture do: completely outside the realm of naiveté, completely aware that life can be extinguished at any moment, no matter how sacred that moment may be. How do you get back from that?

How do you get back from the feeling that you’d rather lay down in the grass over a grave than walk in Heaven? How do you get back from making your bed in the place of death, believing, this is where I belong now? How do you make peace with both your future and your past being buried deeper than the roots of your faith have grown?

Here’s how: Start Believing God. No matter how black life seems, HE HOLDS YOU. HE IS NOT LETTING GO.

Jesus himself said,

I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace and confidence. In the world you have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration; but be of good cheer [take courage; be confident, certain, undaunted]! For I have overcome the world. [I have deprived it of power to harm you and have conquered it for you.]
John 16:33 AMP

On your darkest days, remember friend:
Our steps are made firm by the Lord,
when he delights in our way;
though we stumble, we shall not fall headlong,
for the Lord holds us by the hand.

Psalm 37:23-24 (NRSV)

If you feel forsaken, listen:
Nevertheless I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me with honor.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire other than you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength[f] of my heart and my portion forever.

Psalm 73:23-26 (NRSV)

When you don’t think you’re going to make it through today,
When I thought, “My foot is slipping,”
your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up.

Psalm 94:18 (NRSV)

When all you want to do is be buried with that Love of yours:
Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

Psalm 139:7-12

When you don’t know how you’re going to do this life alone,
For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Do not fear, I will help you.”
Isaiah 41:3

When this loss feels overwhelming,
When I thought, “My foot is slipping,”
your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up.

Psalm 94:18 NRSV

When you’ve been laying in the place of death for a while, friend, talk to Jesus. He’ll get you up again. He’ll breathe joy back into you. You’re not destined for a path of death just because your Love’s buried deep. You’re a child of heaven with purpose on earth. It’s time to start believing that He’s got you, He’s got that baby or husband or Papa of yours. They’re in His hands, as are you. And you will see them again. So Walk. And believe that the Jesus who raised Lazarus from the dead can raise your life, your heart, your destiny, up as well. Come join me in the land of the living.

Psalm 16
Song of Trust and Security in God
A Miktam of David.

Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.”
As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble,
in whom is all my delight.
Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows;
their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
or take their names upon my lips.
The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
I have a goodly heritage.
I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
I keep the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
my body also rests secure.
For you do not give me up to Sheol,
or let your faithful one see the Pit.
You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

10 For You will not abandon me to Sheol (the place of the dead), neither will You suffer Your holy one [Holy One] to see corruption. (AMP)

I am in better hands. We all are. Ask Him to show you.

God bless you in your grief. I am so sorry. And I pray new life for you. I pray peace for you. I pray joy.


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