God of Loss

Just Your Faithful God of Loss

It is the time of graduations, moves, end of fiscal year budget crunching, and expatriate turnover. Sometimes moves are expected, and other times they come like a dust storm over the Sahara – with complete surprise leaving grit and dust in their wake. The grit and dust of grief and loss, of unexpected change. It’s the time when the bones of past losses that we thought we had resolved, or at least buried, come together and like Ezekiel’s dry bones in the desert – they come alive.

Last year at this time, my husband and I were in the middle of an interview to come to Kurdistan. It was completely unexpected but so welcome. On our return to the United States after the interview, we made the decision to leave our home in Cambridge of 10 years. We arrived in Kurdistan at the beginning of September and it has been a year of joys, challenges, trials, unexpected horrors, and equally unexpected delights. It has been a paradox.

When we left the United States we left with the plan that we would be here for two years. While we knew this was not completely in our hands, we assumed that it would be a decision made by both us and the university. It was easy to talk about holding our time here with an open hand when we felt we had control.  Now, unexpectedly, a government decision made at the beginning of May means that I no longer have my job. Additionally, my husband’s job has been reduced to half his salary. It is a decision with broad ramifications that affects some of our Kurdish colleagues and all the foreign staff, not only at our university, but at universities throughout Kurdistan. It looks like our time here will come to an end far sooner than we expected.

I am feeling this deeply. While we still don’t know specifics of when we will leave, it is 90 percent certain that we will leave. For so many years I longed to return to the Middle East. Now, it’s seemingly being taken away and at a great personal cost. I feel the loss of what I left behind to come, and I already feel the loss of the small niche we have been carving for ourselves in the city of Rania.

There are many, many losses in this life. Every relationship we have on this earth will end in loss. Every single one. Either they will die, or we will die before them. Whether you stay rooted to one place your entire life or you traverse the globe, the two things you can count on are loss and change. You might think you can control these only to have them surprise you with their insistent persistence. While many write poetically about God being a God of grace and generosity, indulge me as I think about the God of loss, for loss and change are the two constants that humanity shares across the globe.

In my first year of nursing school we played a game one day. It was a dramatic game of life. Tables were spread around the classroom with cards at each table. We all began at the same station with very little. We had a birth card and that was it. As we went through the game, we gained more, but it was far from fair. Some people gained a family card while others remained without. Some people got career cards, others got cards that said they were jobless and had to apply for benefits from the government. Still others kept on getting more and more money. About half way through the game, the rules and cards began to shift. We all began to lose things – both physical and material things. We began to lose friends and cars; jobs and eyesight. We protested loudly. It was unfair. It was unjust. We hated it. Ultimately, all of us ended much where we had begun – with a single card. Then one by one, we lost even that card and they went into the graveyard of a garbage can.

I hated the game. It was rude and unfair, but I understand why our professors had us play it. How else can you help 20 year old students learn empathy for the patients they were caring for? How can you give them a concrete way to experience loss? If the game was unfair, how much more so was life itself?

I thought of this game today. I feel like I am playing this game. I have arrived at the table with the cards that say either “Job” or “Job Loss” and I have picked the wrong card. The job loss at the university feels unjust and unfair. I love my colleagues and there is so much that we want to do together at the College of Nursing. My beloved Dean, Dr. Sanaa, is not only my boss, but also my dear friend. I have learned so much from her and have grown from her vision. This decision made by an anonymous government has hit me hard. It’s like going through the game we played during freshman year of nursing school, and I am losing.

Loss is peculiar. As if it’s not enough on its own, every time we experience another loss, seemingly buried past losses and griefs are resurrected. Even if I think I’ve healed, I bear those traumas in my soul and they resurface, sometimes as monsters, sometimes as mosquitoes, but always unexpected and always difficult.

So what of this God of Loss? And what is God in all this loss? Is he the author? The creator? The healer? Some days I am not sure. If he is a God of grace and generosity, can he still be a God of loss?

In the paradox and mystery of faith a resounding yes arises in my soul. A God of grace, generosity, loss, and ultimate love is woven into the whole, a mystical tapestry. Tapestries are made more beautiful by the stories that are woven into them and what would a story of gain be without loss beside it? What would a story of love be if we didn’t know what it was to not be loved? What would a story of grief be if we never knew joy? They are empty without their opposites.

I come to the conclusion that I came to at a young age, away from all security, alone and crying in the early morning hours as I lay on a bunk bed in a boarding school. I felt loss then. Loss of a mom and dad. Loss of a home. Loss of security. Even then, I knew this God of loss; a God who cares about loss and grief, who wraps us up in his love even as we shout out the grief of broken dreams and broken hearts. A God of loss who stretches out a strong arm to the lost. I feel his arm stretch out to me now, even as I run away, wanting to ignore it.  Like the runaway bunny, whose mother will never give up, no matter where I run to, the God of loss always finds me.

In a song called “God of Loss” by one of my favorite bands, I hear words that tell a life story of loss. It is hauntingly beautiful and I listen to it on repeat all afternoon. The words go through my head and find a home and resting place:

Yes, we will leave here without a trace
Take a new name and an old shape
I’ll be no outlaw, no renegade
Just your faithful god of loss


17 thoughts on “God of Loss

  1. “Not my will but Yours be done.” Luke 22:24. It is so hard to walk in obedience, especially when the Lord asks us to set down our own desires and walk in His. Praying for you and your husband as you move forward.


  2. My prayers encircle you and Cliff with love, hope and trust. Your insightful, aching words are lifted on the haunting melody and lyrics of “God of Loss.” Darlingside’s song has taken up residence in my heart, right next to you.


  3. So sorry to hear of your loss. I know from all of yours and Cliffs post that you were feeling at home and enjoying your time there. I enjoyed reading you post. I pray that God will bless you with new adventures soon. I would like to ask you if you would please pray for your cousin (my nephew) Shane Gardner and his wife and son. He has been a baseball coach at Hiwassee College, for I think 8 years now, and they are closing the doors of the college. He is having to look for a new job. Thank you in advance. God bless you and Cliff. I love you both very much and pray for greater things coming your way. Keep smiling.


  4. God be with you and your husband at this oh-so-anxious time. A time of losses and sadness and pain. My heart hurts so, just hearing about this devastating news. Praying that you may find yourselves held in God’s everlasting arms. Unexpected, yet not, at the same time.

    Praying with you and for you.


  5. My oldest daughter died unexpectedly in a traffic accident six weeks ago. It was a crushing loss, not least because I prayed nightly for her safety on the road (she ran around in Costa Rica on a motor scooter).

    For the memorial service my daughters asked me to make a video of photos with the song Casimir Pulaski Day, a bittersweet song about losing a girlfriend to cancer. It was one they sang often with Abigail and her ukulele. The ending came to mind just now as I read your post:

    All the glory when he took my place
    But he took my shoulders and he shook my face
    And he takes and he takes amd he takes.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Having just been through a 2 year period of multiple losses with the resulting emotional response and questioning I have finally learned to embrace the whole experience. Not that what happened was good- it was horrible.

    However, I chose to walk toward the pain and it was painful indeed. But through the process I learned so much about myself, so much about the others around me. And so much about the gentleness and grace God has and gives in these situations.

    There was great loss… and yet now I see the great gains that accrued to me in the whole process. I am clearly a different person, with a different perspective, a deeper and more real faith, a more realistic view of the world and more kindness and graciousness than I thought I was capable of.

    Losses are extremely painful and difficult- yet, depending on how we deal with them, there is the potential for great healing, growth, and renewed hope and life.


  7. Oh I’m so sorry, Marilyn! These transitions are hard enough when we get to choose but to get them forced upon us… Thank you so much for this beautiful reminder that the losses are real, the pain is real, but so is the comfort. We just had our end-of-year team celebration and for the first time in living memory, we did not have to say good-bye to anyone! So strange but so good! Which is not to say that there are no losses to deal with…

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh Marilyn, I am just so very sorry for your pain and heartache! I am praying for you, your family and the friends you have come to love!!! May you KNOW in tangible ways that God is very near! Psalm 18:1-2


  9. Well, that stinks! We’ve been praying more for you both the last couple weeks – had no idea why but the HS kept bringing you to mind – perhaps this is why? Keep us posted on your plans – what can we do to help? We’re available, until July 7!

    Thank God He is a God of Ultimate Security – a God of loss who teaches and pushes and moves us – but ultimately, we are secure – nothing you don’t know – just a reminder for me. (Have I told you your “voice” is very much like my 3rd child? She is the one who has embraced her TCK’ness more than the others; she attended Houghton College and knew David Pollack.)

    Blessings, Karen


  10. Dear Marilyn, This post comes to me at a time of loss and grief.

    I want to tell you so much, even though I don’t know you and you don’t know me, but after reading your book at the start of the year I find so much affinity with you. I’m a migrant kid, who has gone on to be a cross-cultural worker with TCKs of my own. And I really appreciated that you said that even though tcks and migrant kids are different, you acknowledged the similarities of experiences. Thank you!

    Along with my husband and 2 kids we’ve just taken a year off on Sabbatical far from our field of service and of our home country. We’ve recently come to the conclusion to finish in our field of service and go on a different path God is taking us. Because the last couple of years on the field were difficult, I didn’t think I was going to grieve. But yesterday I was putting together a presentation of what we might say to our supporters. And looking back at photos, blog posts and newsletters we have sent during these last 7 years broke me!! I’m a bit of a stoic and don’t like to express emotions (I know, not healthy and I am working on that!) but I was by myself and I was getting angry at myself for responding that way! So, I’m thankful for your post. It brings all those feelings I’m trying to ignore or suppress and reminds me that our God is not just interested in my happy, joyous moments but in my pain, grief and loss.

    Thanks for taking the time to read this. Sorry it ended up being so long!

    Love, Camila

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is so beautiful. I am tearful as I read it. Thank you for understanding. Thank you for taking the time to read, and not only read, but to write to me. So much love and grace to you.


  11. Wonderful words Marilyn- yes we all face loss repeatedly in this life- knowing our Saviour goes before us is our living hope. Praying for you & your husband for the days ahead.


  12. Your posts speak to my heart and this one resonates deep within, as the last twelve years of my life have brought more loss than I could have ever imagined. But, God! Thank you, A fellow traveler


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