Jillian Benfield knows what it is to walk a life you never expected. Her life has taken several twists she never saw coming, which inspired her new release The Gift of the Unexpected: Discovering Who You Were Meant to Be When Life Goes Off Plan. Today, she joins us to share when unexpected loss leads to unexpected resurrection.
Recently, I sat across from my former pastor and longtime mentor, Dan. Our cups of coffee had long turned cold. We were more interested in connecting rather than caffeinating.
As we wrapped up our time together, he asked me to sum up, in a phrase, what 5-years of experiencing one unexpected life-altering event after another, taught me.
I told him this: The resurrection is not just about what happens to us at the end of this life. It’s what happens to us, in and out, and over again in this one.
My before-and-after moment came to me when I was 27 years old and pregnant with my second child. It was when we, my husband and I, learned that our child had a life-long genetic condition.
If you would have told me that this moment, the moment that brought me to my knees in our still unpacked new rental house’s kitchen, would end up being a gift, I wouldn’t have believed you. But it was. I wrote a whole book about it called—The Gift of the Unexpected.
Because my before-and-after moment lead to both the unbecoming and becoming of me.
We moved to that rental house in Alamogordo, New Mexico just eight days before receiving the news. I cried when we got the news the military was assigning us there. I pictured no man’s land. And in a way, I was right. And in a way, I was wrong. We didn’t know the beauty of the unexpected until we found ourselves in its territory.
For all Alamogordo lacked, there was a bright spot: White Sands National Monument. These gorgeous white sands peak and valley in the shadow of a mountain range. It’s tempting to take the sands at face value. And we can do that. We can appreciate the beauty that is right in front of us. But I think the sight becomes even more beautiful when we dig a little deeper, when we get acquainted with the its story.
This area of New Mexico used to be covered by a huge lake, Lake Otero. But the lake started drying up and left behind gypsum deposits. Through whipping winds and forces of nature, the gypsum was broken down, refined, and polished, leaving the beautiful scenery we have today.
The white sands are a product of death and resurrection.
The lake is never coming back. The land will never return to what it once was. But God makes new things come out what seems dead. He does this in nature—some of the most beautiful sights we have are products of death and resurrection. He also does this in us.
Our circumstances may not be a gift. In this unexpected instance I am referring to, my son’s diagnosis, I have come to view it very differently than I did back then.
But I have been through other unexpected moments, others that are harder to talk about, others that I can’t wrap up in a neat bow. My guess is, you have too. You don’t have to classify those experiences as good, but I believe God can make good come from them. Most of the time that goodness is a change from within.
The unexpected can be a death, yes. But we have a God of resurrection. He takes what is dead and doesn’t necessarily revive it to what it once was, but instead takes traces of the before and makes it into something new.
Think about Jesus himself. When He came back after dying on the cross, His disciples didn’t recognize Him. He was Jesus and yet he was different. He was transformed. And yet, His scars remained. His scars made Jesus who He was and is.
Dear reader, our scars remain, too. If we let Him, God uses our scars to help us live to the fullness of ourselves. The unexpected can be devastating, yes. But hold on.
The whipping winds you feel right now can help bring new life out of you. They can re-make you. The result will have traces of what was. And it will be different, too. And it will be beautiful.
The unexpected is a pathway to transformation because we have a God of resurrection, I said to pastor Dan with a tear in my eye.
A tear that held both pain and gratitude. A tear that held my past self and the newest version. A tear that recognized I had found what I had been searching for all along—
The One who holds us in our deaths and makes resurrection possible.
And there is no greater gift.
**Want to win your own copy of The Gift of the Unexpected? I’m giving away this beautiful book to one person who leaves a comment. (You must have a mailing address within the contiguous 48 United States and be over age 18 to win.)
Jillian Benfield is a former journalist and news anchor whose writing has been on TODAY, Good Morning America, Yahoo! News, and ABC News. Jillian advocates for full inclusion of people with disabilities in her writing, community, and with the National Down Syndrome Advocacy Coalition. Jillian lives on Florida’s Space Coast with her husband, Andy, and their three children. This piece is pulled from the introduction, chapter 5, and chapter 12 of Jill’s debut book, The Gift of the Unexpected. Read the first chapter free here.
Alisha Palmer says
I need my resurrection.
Jackie Smith says
I would love to read Jillian’s book. I’m having a hard time believing that anything good can come from my husband’s death which happened 14 months ago. There are moments and days when I can see good and I have glimmers of hope. But I also have moments and days where my grief is heavy and it feels like a bad dream.
I find such great hope in this verse: And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:5)
Nancy B Ehlinger says
My daughter recently lost her 35 year-old-husband. Leaving her and their three girls, all under the age of 7, has been unexpected, to say the least. In the middle of the storm, it is hard to hold on, much less believe good can and will come. Thank you for sharing your journey with us.
Margaux Horning says
Wow! I feel like you tore a page out of the book God is writing in my life. I’m not currently to the part of seeing the resurrection yet but I know the years of loss and unexpected events happening one right after another. The thing I do know is, God has always in the midst of my pain and suffering never left me, ever. All the times that I thought this is going to be the event that pushes me over the edge, God shows me something new that he’s doing within me or around me that I couldn’t have imagined. I pray that your book inspires those who may not know the God who always brings resurrection out of the ashes of death.
I am interested in the gift of the unexpected.
Trena riedinger says
I would love to win this book. God continues to teach me about death, resurrection, grief and sharing our hearts with Him in the midst of it all.
Thank you for being honest about unexpected changes. I am in the midst of 4 biggies that have come in the last year and a half. God can do something great. I know it and pray it. Thank you again.
Christie S. says
The Gift of the Unexpected sounds like a really good book. I could certainly use help to discover the gift(s) of my unexpected circumstances and unexpected life of struggling with chronic pain and disability for many years now, as this often does not feel or seem like a gift at all. The concept of undergoing instead of overcoming that Jillian shares about in her book also seems like it could be really beneficial for me to learn more about. I truly want to experience God renewing my faith afresh and to see Him redeem and resurrect the unexpected and the broken in my life! Thank you so much for doing this great giveaway!
Heather Martinez says
Thank you so much for this. A little over a month ago, my brother died suddenly. I’m going through this process of grieving with Jesus carrying me through. I know He’s doing something within me, because I feel like a completely different person, and everything has changed, but the way Jillian put it, as a resurrection really resonates with me and brings me peace. A friend recently told me about your Instagram page and your posts have been helping to bring healing, and I’m sharing with my family, so thank you so much!
Cathie Hilton says
What a beautiful piece. I would love to read the book.
Sandy Maurizio says
I lost my soulmate, my husband of 41 years, and the love of my life three months ago. I am devastated. Mike was exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam, and fought its effects for years. He developed idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a fatal lung disease, in 2017 and fought for breath until September 8th, 2022, when God gave us a miracle-new lungs! We were given a precious gift of an extra fifteen months of incredible renewal, deep love and an infusion of God’s grace. We were closer than ever and bathed in God’s love. I am strong, but his loss was so sudden and unexpected that I am completely overwhelmed by the intense, gut-wrenching agony that I endure. Our church family provides a wonderful support system, but I feel so alone and lost without “us”.
Tonya Dalfino says
Thank you so much for this excerpt! I love how the Lord works through our losses/deaths. I’ve seen it over and over in my life. In fact just this week I caught myself fluidly writing about my life, in order to encourage a friend, saying “grief has been my companion.” It was a beautiful moment when without a thought, this is how I described grief; a companion. I see that in your writing, those beautiful white sands born of death. So tender. Thank you again. I feel my purpose in life is to encourage others in and through their losses. I’m printing this to put in my “encouragement” storehouse. 😊
Thank you for this opportunity and I look forward to reading your words.
Thank you for this reminder to appreciate and look for what God can do with the gift of the unexpected – would love to have a chance for the book as I navigate my own journey is the unexpected right now
Teri Hockman says
So many things go through my mind as I read this article. I too have been through the death of a spouse and the death of what I thought my life would be like but have grown a lot through that. As I lead a GriefShare support group I think of how each participant is going through their own death and resurrection.
I am interested in reading your book.
Mary Ann O'Toole says
Thank you for sharing vulnerably about your heartache. Your book sounds amazing and I would love to read it.. I too have experienced a lot of loss and pain and have seen God’s redemption in the midst of it. I love how do you say it’s not wrapped up in any little bow because it never is …but it’s amazing what God does in our lives through our suffering.
Teresa Ingalls says
In my situation, I needed to hear that God uses “traces” of something that once was to make something new. Also, that we don’t have to think of the circumstance as “good,” but that the all-powerful good God brings something good out of it.
I can relate to this… widowed with young children, my older son diagnosed a little bit later with Aspergers… I need reminders about resurrection. God can take the dead and do anything. He can bring something to life.
Tracey Stepp says
“The resurrection is not just about what happens to us at the end of this life. It’s what happens to us, in and out, and over again in this one.”
This statement really spoke to my heart. Thank you for your inspirational testimony.
I am trying everything to heal. I have a hard time believing that “The whipping winds you feel right now can help bring new life out of you. They can re-make you. “will ever happen to me. I’m hopeful. My grief and sadness defines me right now. Thank you for your continued blogs. They do help if only for a moment.
Faith Maya Owhonda says
This sounds like an amazing book! I love that she says resurrection can come from dead things. We know this to be true!!
Diane Busch says
Oh my goodness your words are resonating with me and encouraging me. I am a recent widow, and as can be expected it is easy to wallow in my pain and sadness, but through Jesus and Scripture (and reading books by others who have walked this road) I am learning to find new meaning and purpose in my life. Thank you for these words today. And yes, I would love a copy of your book.
Gina Tate says
I have known the gift of the unexpected. My mother’s diagnosis of advanced lung cancer, my husband’s unexpected death from a heart attack on what seemed like a normal Monday. Life has never been the same but it has been good, God has blessed in the wake of the unexpected.
I would enjoy reading and sharing your experiences.
Passing along this devotion to some friends walking through the unexpected today.
Janell Ruda says
Enjoyed this and would love to read your book. I know a few people in my family that it might be good to have them read it.
Mindy Kozminski says
I have found this to be true in my life as well. I lost my son unexpectedly 5 years ago. I am not thankful for that pain, however God has changed me and grown me and revealed more of himself to me in these last five years. And I am incredibly grateful for Him working good in me out of pain and loss
Stephanie Simpson says
I have too been going through a lot with my marriage and a wayward adult daughter. Life as I thought it should be or would be has certainly been torn apart the last 3-4 years. I can see glimmers or hope now and again but all I know to do is just abide in Him through this season. I’d love to win this and have it encourage me. Thanks.
K Ann Guinn says
Thank you for this rich encouragement. I am in a season of unexpected events, and treasure this truth that God is meeting us and making us into something new. I like how you described our new selves as having part of the old. This seems to be a very healthy way to move through grief and life changes; holding on to some important traditions and values, yet embracing the new good gifts he gives us daily.
Jen Kauffman says
Thank you for reminding me of this TRUTH. I know in my heart that God is working in my broken situation. But my head needed a reminder !
Mary Van Peursem says
This is powerful. Having lived through tremendous losses, I can affirm what Jillian says here about our God of resurrection is spot on. He alone can bring good things out of the terrible ones.
And the analogy hit home particularly for me, since there’s a very old photo of me, playing on those very white sands as little girl. (I still have a small glassful I probably wasn’t supposed to take.) Now every time I see that white sand on my bathroom shelf or peruse old photos and find that one of me on the sand, I’ll connect it with the faithfulness of the God who promised never to leave or forsake us and to bring us safely home.
Annette Walker says
I will love to read her book. I need some encouragement since my husband passed away.
Resurrection that comes with loss. This is what I needed to read in the midst of another storm. I asked the Lord to redirect me. I believe this message is part of that. Thank you both for reminding us of this truth, like Jen Kaufman said.
I would so love to devour this book. life has been most difficult this past year.
Susie Hudson says
I am processing the loss of my husband the day after Christmas. I would love to read your book. I read Lisa’s book “Life Can Be Good Again” and it helped. The idea of resurrection in my situation is powerful and I look forward to reading and applying your book too.
Kimberly Haas says
Thank you for sharing your story and now her story. What a blessing to be able to use the tragedies in your lives to help others see the good and point them to the true Healer of All. God bless!
S Hudson says
I would love to read this book. I lost my husband 2 months ago and I am trying to process grieve with God’s help.
The idea of resurrection applied to my journey is a ray of light.
I worked with children with disabilities as a teacher for over 30 years- but it is different having a child of your own with a disability. You may have heard of Autistic Spectrum Disorder, but when I trained it was not yet discovered.(shows my age right) I have two sons, one formally diagnosed with it, another showing some traits but not formally diagnosed.
Wow, that you do community work supporting others is wonderful. I simply did not have the energy, and sad to admit, it has put a strain on our marriage that finds us currently separated from one another. Yes, the unexpected happens- and we need to learn to adjust/ welcome the unexpected.
Both you and Lisa (and Joni Erickson Tada, among others) encourage us there is a tomorrow- and hope is as close as “the everlasting arms.” (Elizabeth Elliot)
If I am fortunate enough to win, I know the guy I would like to give it to living in the States. (I’m an Aussie)
Sarah Johnson says
I would love to read this book. I lost my 26 yr old son last year. Trying to move forward in this new life without him has been a challenge.
Deb Nielson says
Your first Chapter is riveting. You are so real and transparent. I would love to read the rest of your book. I can tell it will help many people,
Stephanie Linkous says
Grief comes in many forms of loss. I have experienced physical loss of loved ones and emotional loss from watching my parents and grandmother’s health changing. Praise God for His grace and mercy that strengthens me and for Resurrecting healing!