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.