12. Guarding The Heart

“The sea of grief
 is all around me.
 The only way
 to get back to shore
 is to jump out of the boat
 and swim like crazy.
 Maybe I’ll sit in the boat
 awhile longer.”
— Marilyn VanWinkle


Guarding the Heart
In loving memory of Samuel VanWinkle

I couldn’t blame the doctors,
They didn’t know.
I didn’t want to blame us.
We made him from our love.
Samuel wasn’t to blame.
He was just the innocent victim.
So I blamed God.
The One in charge.
Until I realized
it wasn’t his fault either.
When it gets down to it,
The only thing to really
blame is
an imperfect world.

 — Marilyn VanWinkle


It’s hard to know what to say when someone is grieving.

In the May 6, 1996 issue of Newsweek, I found a poignant editorial by Betsy Okonski of Iron Station, North Carolina entitled, “Just Say Something.” Betsy and her husband experienced the devastating loss of their third child. Kaitlin was born two blocks from the hospital in their car. She didn’t breathe, and when they arrived at the hospital, the emergency room staff were unable to revive her.

As family members and friends learned of their loss, there were visits, flowers, food, and notes. But about two weeks later, the tangible demonstrations of caring ebbed away, the sympathy stopped, and Betsy felt abandoned. She admitted that before Kaitlin died, she let comfort overcome caring when it came to addressing grief. “Now I understand,” she said, “how such a simple ‘I’m sorry to hear of your loss’ can mean, even from a stranger.

My “forever” friends, Darrell and Marilyn Van Winkle experienced that sense of pain when their infant son died just ten days after his premature birth. A decade after that devastating event, I received a letter from Marilyn.

She wrote: “Dear Paula, It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years since our precious Samuel has been with us on this earth…. The Lord has taught us so much about love and loss … One of my most cherished mementos is the letter of hope and comfort you wrote when Samuel was born. It will be a special treasure to our hearts always.”

I wish I could remember what I said.


“Stand firm then,
with … the breastplate of righteousness in place.”

(Ephesians 6:14, NIV)



Open your eyes and notice the people around you. In cars as you sit at a traffic light. In the produce section of a grocery store. Around a discussion circle at a Bible study. Practice being observant in the midst of your busy day. God may need to use you to encourage “the least of these.” (Read Matthew 25:31-46.)