Over coffee recently, a friend intrigued me with her description of a relative we’ll call Jackie. Jackie, it seems, embraces the odd. If you were to go shopping with her, you might be flummoxed to discover she prefers the items with tiny flaws: the one blue vase with a splotch of orange paint where it shouldn’t be, the picture frame with a nick on the corner, the sofa pillow with a pulled thread. Nothing that renders the piece unusable or unsafe, mind you, just something perfectly imperfect.
We were somewhere in the Western Caribbean between Jamaica and the Cayman Islands when I first met Erica McNeal. A group of about 100 of us were considering how to best use the communication gifts God had given us and we were doing it while enjoying the beauty of His creation on a cruise for “Christian Creatives”. Not a bad gig.
It was formal dinner night and Erica sat down at the same table as me. She was vivacious and friendly, a genuine “people person” with a winsome smile and that way of focusing on your face when you talk that makes you feel she is truly interested in what you have to say. That’s a gift I wish I had.
When she told me she was writing a book to help people see the grief process as healthy and natural, I was a little surprised. I mean, that’s kind of heavy, right? Then she said she wanted to give people practical ways to respond to their grieving friends and loved ones, and I was skeptical. After all, that’s a pretty tall order for one so young and lively. What could she possibly know about pain that cut so deep it required a guidebook to navigate?
Then she told me a little of her story:
“By the time I was thirty-two years old, I had already suffered through radiation treatments and nearly died from chemo to beat cancer three times. I had made life and death decisions about my tiny baby girl born at twenty-two-and-a-half weeks gestation and lost her only 80 minutes after she was born. And after falling in love, I handed a child I believed in my soul was meant to be my son, back to his birth mother when she decided to revoke his adoption plan.”
What she said next really stunned me, but then it made perfect sense:
“The reality is: the worst pain in life doesn’t always come from illness, child-loss, death, or even grief itself. Often, the greatest obstacles to overcome are the unintended hurt caused by painful words spoken and things done or not done by those in our support system that care for us.”
She knew what people said to her and her husband, often in a well-meaning way, that had stunted their recovery process and wanted to spare others that pain. She wanted to share specific encouragement and alternative approaches that would be so much more helpful.
It’s a little over a year later now and her book, Good Grief!: How To Create an Oasis When Life is a Desert, is launching today! She sent me a preview copy and after I read it, my response was, “Wow, she nailed it”.
Erica challenges the way Christians sometimes view 1 Corinthians 10:13 – that God will not give us more than we can handle. Her experience is that God will allow us to be stretched beyond our human capabilities in order to show us our need for Him.
If you’ve ever wondered what to say (or not say) to someone who is grieving, what tangible ways you can help and support them, how to specifically pray, even how to recognize warning signs that they may be succumbing to depression, it’s all in this book. She also outlines a process she calls “breaking it down”, where she gives an example of how to use the Bible as a road map for lowering anxiety and stress, a simple but very effective exercise that has application to other areas of life.
As Erica says, “Learn from the triumphs and tragedies of others. Life is too short to experience everything yourself.” This book will help you do that. It is convicting but never condemning, enlightening but never trite.
As part of her launch this week, Erica has some great giveaways. If you purchase a copy of Good Grief between June 11th – 16th at http://amzn.to/goodgrieflaunch and send your receipt to email@example.com, you’ll have a chance to win free books, gift cards, podcasts, study guides and more. Go to Erica’s website at www.ericamcneal.com for details. And be sure to follow Erica on Twitter: @toddanderica .