Storyteller. Grace Dweller.

I’m Jennifer — wife of an Iowa farmer, mom to two girls, new book author. I believe in you, because I believe in Jesus. You matter to Him, and you matter to me. more »

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Tuesday 29th March 2016

What I Need to Know When the World Feels Dark & Broken — #TellHisStory

My father-in-law was diagnosed with leukemia in 2008, a few weeks before the first tulips popped their glossy mouths open, toward the spring sky. Our daughters were six and three at the time, and they immediately asked us if “Bop”—as they called him—was going to die. The prognosis wasn’t good, but there were treatments to take, prayers to pray, moments to be brave, days to be lived—one precious hour at a time.

We told the girls how dying isn’t a dead end, but a doorway.

DSC_1060-640x425 And until we got to the doorway, we had a lot of living to do in the hallway. I still remember all the tea parties that Bop hosted on the back deck of their farmhouse that year. The cups were so dainty in his big farmer hands.

Spring bloomed. Many weeks after the leukemia diagnosis, the girls and I were walking through a park, where gardeners had painstakingly tended to row upon row of tulips for an annual tulip festival. We didn’t get to the park during the tulips’ prime blooming days. By the time we showed up there, the tulips’ heads had begun to nod, draining out their color.

We knelt down by the dying flowers, and the girls cupped soft petals in their small hands. I told the girls how the tulips were “perennials.” They bloom profusely, for a time, then slowly fade into a sort of death. But next spring, those same tulips would bloom again.

The younger daughter asked me, “Why are you crying, Mommy? Are you crying because we got here too late?” And I just hugged them and told them how beautiful the flowers were, even when they were dying.

Summer came. Bop grew weaker, and we all felt this shift in our prayers, toward accepting things we couldn’t change.

Fall arrived, in a streak of gold, and Bop willed his weak self to work alongside his son on the Lee family farm. That was his last harvest, and I remembered how, though frail, his hands still looked so big.

By December, he was bald in a hospital room. We tried to cheer him with presents and Santa hats on Christmas Day. Carols played on a radio down the hall. Life kept right on going on, despite all this dying.

By January, well before the tulips would bloom again, Bop took his last breath, and it felt like all the color got sucked out of everybody’s life.

During the days immediately following his death, I worried about whether we’d adequately prepared our daughters for their grandpa’s death. I worried that we cried too much, or cried too little; that we talked too much about dying, or not quite enough. That I didn’t answer their questions about my own tears as directly as I should have.

I worried that I relied too much on metaphors about doorways and tulips to do the hard work of telling the children, in frank terms, that Bop was dying. But then spring came again, with its perennial hope floating on the breeze. And I remembered what the tulips knew.

Spring reveals to all of us what God can do with a dark, broken world.

spring Spring is a hint of our forever, draped in color, and crawling out from under cold death.

Spring is a promise, and even though you don’t ever forget that winter existed, there’s a warmth that bursts forth within you. The tulips never doubted that spring would come. They bloomed, lifting their faces toward heaven.

And the girls, they plucked petals right off the plants, and I didn’t scold them even a little. And I did what they asked me to do next.

Those two girls said, “drive to the cemetery,” and I did just that. I drove them up the hill, to the Lee family plot, and I knelt down beside them as they spread soft petals on his grave.

Your Turn:

Preparing this post for you today, I thought about how so many of us are feeling the coldness of this dark and broken world. This political season has been vicious. Terror dominates the headlines. Plus, you’re dealing with hard stuff at home: broken relationships, misunderstandings, unpaid bills, big decisions ahead. Our trials feel like tombs. But tombs don’t hold the power. Jesus does. Easter is the promise of new life breaking forth from the tomb, which means that we are not stuck in a tomb either. Where do you need “spring” most today?


Hey Tell His Story crew! It is a joy to gather here every week with you. The linkup goes live each Tuesday at 4 p.m. (CT). If you would use the badge on your blog, found here, that would be great! And if you would visit at least one other blogger in the link-up and encourage them with a comment, that would be beautiful! Be sure to check the sidebar later. I’ll be featuring one of you over there! Our featured writer this week is Alisa Nicaud. I was greatly encouraged by your response on Instagram and here in the comments to my newest book, The Happiness Dare, and loved Alisa’s dare to go on an adventure with God! Find Alisa here. To be considered as our featured writer, be sure to use our badge or a link to my blog from your post. 🙂 xo Jennifer

  • Nancy Ruegg

    Our daughter’s father-in-law passed away just yesterday, after a long year of decline. This post touched deeply the part of me crying out against suffering and death. Along with the loved one who must struggle through the stages of dying, family and friends struggle as well. I love the image of your daughters spreading petals on Bop’s grave–a picture of bold hope In the face of tragedy. Praise Jesus for making that hope into an assured promise!

    • Oh Nancy … The timing of this post, right with the passing of your daughter’s father-in-law. My heart goes out to you, and prayers for all during this time of grief.

      • Nancy Ruegg

        Thank you, Jennifer. So appreciate your loving heart!

  • I love the hope you spread here, Jennifer. Not only in this post, but in all of them. That must have been so hard to watch your dad-in-law suffer and slowly fade away. How precious that your daughters spread the tulip petals on his grave. This line especially touched me – “But tombs don’t hold the power. Jesus does.” Such a comforting thought! Because He lives, we have new life, and we can face all our tomorrows, no matter what we go through. Blessings and hugs to you and your daughters! By the way, how is your dad doing with such a big adjustment in his life?

    • Thank you, Trudy!

      Dad is doing great. He and Mom were here at our house over Easter. He doesn’t have a prosthetic leg yet, so it was both comedic and scary to try to get him up the stairs and into the house! But we did it! We had a fabulous weekend. His spirits remain good, and he will be getting his prosthetic leg in April.

      • I’m so glad he is adjusting and is in good spirits. And that you had a fabulous weekend. 🙂 Blessings and hugs to you, Jennifer!

  • So grateful for the promise of new beginnings and a forever full of beholding the One who brings them. This dark world makes me so thankful for our Great Light. Thank you for shining yours. xo

    • Hope you had a great Easter, Tiffany! Thanks for being here.

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  • Elizabeth Giertz

    Jennifer! I needed this today! My Dad died last Tuesday and right now, I’m feeling that “life keeps right on going despite all this dying” in a big way. It is a strange world to be in. So thankful for the incredible Easter reminder that Jesus reigns supreme over death and feeling convicted to celebrate that so much more often now. Blessings!

    • May I lift you and your family in prayer, Elizabeth.

      • Elizabeth Giertz

        Thank you, Linda. Prayers are so appreciated.

    • Oh Elizabeth. My heart breaks for you. I am praying for you, and for the promise of Easter to be richer and fuller for you than it has ever before. Sending so much love to you!

      • Elizabeth Giertz

        Thank you! Prayer is the key both mine and those lifted on my behalf.

    • Lynn Mosher

      I’m so sorry for your loss, Elizabeth. May the Lord give you comfort and peace.

      • Elizabeth Giertz

        Thank you, Lynn. He is an ever-present source of strength and comfort.

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  • Kristi Woods

    “Dying isn’t a dead-end, but a doorway.” Love that, Jennifer. It’s so hope-filled – especially when thoughts of a passed-on love one dance in the memory. With Jesus there’s always a doorway.

    • He is the way … and the doorway. Thank you, Kristi.

  • Tara Ulrich

    Jennifer, so much THIS: “Spring reveals to all of us what God can do with a dark, broken world.” I love a quote from Clarence W Hall that says “Easter says you can put death in the grave, but it won’t stay there!” Yes the tomb doesn’t hold the power God does. I wrote about spring and life and death today too. You must also check out the children’s book “Tear Soup.” It is a wonderful resource for grieving families. Oh and death as a doorway…I love that image.

    • I love that quote, Tara! Thanks for sharing.

  • Angela Howard

    “Spring is a hint of our forever, draped in color, and crawling out from under cold death.” – beautiful eternal perspective! Thank you for sharing your story.

    • You are so welcome, Angela. Thanks for being here.

  • Such power in the words of truth, Jennifer. The word-picture is clear and guides me into the beauty of Spring, of tulips, of caring and love…even in the midst of darkness and death. God is power over all. No matter what it looks like out here, He is in control. Jesus is the Light of this world. I am so grateful for Him.

    • I’m glad these words spoke to you! Always a joy to have you with us at #TellHisStory!

  • Deborah Will

    Jennifer that just brought tears to my eyes. It is such a beautiful tribute to Bop.

  • Alisa Nicaud

    Jennifer, first of all I want to thank you for featuring me this week! I’m truly humbled. 😊

    As I read this post, I was brought back to a time when I would visit my grandpa in Tennessee during the summers. He worked in his garden, took us fishing and told us stories all the way up until he was 100 years old. The impact those visits had on me are indescribable. It’s amazing how grandparents can leave such a legacy for us. When they pass we feel the harshness of life, like the cold of winter. But seeing the fruits of their investment in us and our children brings the warmth of spring. While our hearts ache for the loss, the memories somehow encourage a bright future. Obviously Bop had a lasting impact on your family as well. Praying God would comfort your family and bring the warmth of spring as you reminisce of the good times!

    • It is a pleasure to feature you, Alisa! Thank you for your good words and for being a part of the #TellHisStory community. We value your message.

  • Susan

    Our perennial is yellow roses – a beautiful story about my mom’s sudden death and “spring” in October of 2012. I just love how your sweet girls spread those tulip petals. Beautiful, poignant memory. xo

    • He died in 2009, and this post reminded us that we want to keep “Bop’s” memory alive for them. Our youngest was only five when he passed away.

  • Thank you Jennifer for these words of hope. There’s more dark, broken, how-can-this-all-work-out in my life than I should list online. But those flowers. But the earth’s praise of the the creator in the spring. But words like these…but God! : ) Praising Him with you for this truth.

    • Thank you, Bethany. So glad you’re here.

  • Just beautiful, Jennifer. The funny thing about perennials is they always surprise us. We know they are going to reappear but we never know quite when they will burst forth. Hope is like that – coming as a surprise, bringing such joy! Blessings!

    • So true! Some years a plant will bloom much more profusely than it did in other years. And sometimes, it barely blooms.

  • My favorite part about spring — it’s the same every year, but every year it seems new to me. Perennials are such a great symbol of hope.

    • I agree, Michele! I feel the same way about the fields here. Scott is a farmer, and there’s a perennial hope that springs up all around each each spring.

  • Sometimes I wonder about death, about how God sees death. It feels so sad here, so hard and unfair sometimes. But God, well maybe He sees it as something more beautiful than we can imagine. Your heart and love shine through here in all your realness. thank you.

    • Rebecca, You ask a poignant question. It makes me pause to reflect on how He saw His own son’s death, too — the pain of loss combined with the incredible salvation it would procure for His people.

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  • I desperately needed this today. Please pray for my aunt — her pancreatic cancer is sapping my hope and her strength.

    • Dear Lord, I lift up to you my sweet friend Ally and her aunt. Lord, give them strength and hope — Easter hope that is victorious despite all our circumstances. Surround them with people who will be Jesus to them during these deep, dark valley. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

      My heart goes out to you, Ally! Sending so much love.

  • God prepared you and your girls just right, just the way He wanted. no second guessing, tho we do, I do. Second guessings can be my tomb as I’m asked again to speak next weekend–to a bunch of Free Methodists (wondering exactly what they are free of or from??(:) at their retreat and don’t want to let these guessings keep me from all that He wants me to do and be. Naval gazing is a lonely tomb.
    blessings, s.

    • Oh yes… I often live in the tomb of second-guessing. Yep!

      Saying a prayer for you as you prepare to speak to the Free Methodists! I grew up Methodist, but we were “United Methodist.” 🙂

      • thanks, jennifer. my husband, too, in Ames, IA –then met the Lord at Iowa State. Praying we’ll all be united that weekend (:

  • Jennifer, what a lovely post-Easter reflection you shared! I am so thankful that God breathes life into the dark and broken spaces of our lives. This year has been a tough one so far for our family — 2016 is trying to kick me in the pants, but I am holding on to Him. He’s not going to let me down. Hugs

    • Hope you had a great Easter, my friend!

  • Pam Ecrement

    Jennifer, this post especially touched my heart as I have just had the anniversary of my father’s death today, March 29. It has been 21 years and it is hard to believe. Your post reminded me of the memory I have of my dad’s hands which I held often during the five and a half weeks he battled pneumonia in the hospital. As he worsened despite all efforts, I felt like was almost trying to memorize the way his hands looked and felt in my own. Your description to your daughters sounds perfect to me and I so appreciate you sharing it.

  • Sorry about your loss.
    What a beautiful analogy you presented to your daughters about spring and what God does with our lives. I love how the season teaches us life lessons.

  • I’ve had frequent talks with my grandkids about life and death and the reality of heaven. I want it not to be some ethereal floating on clouds place in their minds, but as real to them as the ground on which they stand, because it is!

  • Meghan Weyerbacher

    I am almost to tears reading this today, Jennifer. It was so moving and full of Hope, which seems to be the word God keeps bringing me (and I think many or all of us!) back to. I am so thankful we have only more Life to look to when our time on this earth ends. Thanks so much for sharing this sweet sister in Christ!

  • Lynn Mosher

    Such a stunning and touching post, Jennifer. Moving me to tears. Your words are always like
    “apples of gold in settings of silver.” You always manage to touch with comfort those places in our hearts where pain makes itself at home. Blessings to you, dear one.

  • I think, sometimes, children understand more than we think they do. Certainly, they are without the prejudices we develop over time. I think what your girls did is beautiful, Jennifer. My dad died a little over a year ago, and no, you never forget the winter. But we can find hope and JOY in the spring. Thank you for sharing.

  • Very touching and comforting! Death may end life, but not relationships. There’s always something beautiful to look forward to every spring in our lives – hope and new beginnings.

    Wishing you blessings and love,

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