Translating Loss (or, Keep Sorting!)

November 18, 2017 12:12 pm Published by 1 Comment


I am many things: Grandmother, birdwatcher, quilter and friend. I am also a widow, but I wasn’t always. In 1969 my husband, Edmund, and I traveled around the world to Papua New Guinea to translate the New Testament into a small local language called Nabak. We worked hard and, piece by piece, labored to understand that local language and that unique group of people and their culture. Years passed, and in 1993 we were 75% done. Just another year and we would have the entire New Testament translated. Everything was going according to our plan.

Then, my husband was murdered, and my world stopped. Everything I thought I knew came crashing down, and all our plans seemed to burn to ash in front of my eyes.

What do you do when the bottom falls out?

When my husband died, I could understand only tiny glimpses of where I was headed – but I could never see the big picture. But one of the things I’ve learned in my life is this: It’s okay to not know where God is taking you. I trust in the promises God has given me, that He will defend me and lift me up always. An interesting way to imagine this process is as a jigsaw puzzle. If you can imagine your trials in this way, then even daunting tasks become more manageable. 

So there you are, with hundreds and hundreds of weird, oddly shaped puzzle pieces in front of you. Where do you start? Everyone who does puzzles knows you start by finding the straight edges. The straight edge pieces define the boundaries. They form a kind of frame for our lives. Where do we find our frame of reference when we are trying to put the puzzle of life together? When life looks out of control and everything is topsy-turvy, we turn to God’s word. The straight edge pieces, the corner pieces, are God’s solid truths and promises, such as:

  • Jeremiah 31:3 He loves us with everlasting love
  • Matthew 16:18 He is building His church and the gates of hell will not prevail
  • John 10:11 He is the Good Shepherd
  • Psalm 18:2 He is the rock, fortress, deliverer
  • Psalm 139:16 All my days were written in His book before one of them came to be
  • Isaiah 43:2 When you pass through the waters He will be with us
  • Revelations 1:18 “I hold the keys of death”

Once you have found the edge of your problem, then you start sorting all the other pieces and trying to make a coherent picture. This took me years to do. You pick up a piece, examine it, decide where it might end up, then move on to the next piece. Piece after piece, again and again. Believe me, this can get tedious, but it’s worth the effort in the end. 

You see, with a jigsaw puzzle, the box shows you a lovely full color picture of what the puzzle will look like. It gives you a taste of just how beautiful the puzzle will be after you put so much time into it. I promise you, this is the same for our lives. We don’t have a beautiful picture on a box, but we do have a trustworthy guide. It’s called the Bible, and it has been my compass for many years. It will never fail you if you trust in it.

And here’s an example of what I mean by that. When Edmund died, I struggled to make sense of things. Piece by piece, by God’s grace, I reassembled my life. It wasn’t the same life I had before, and it never could be. But trusting God day by day, piece by piece, turns out to be a rewarding adventure.

We ended up completing the translation a few years later than I planned, but the experience was more than I had hoped it would be. God really came through, as He always does, but you have to keep at it.

When you find everything is wrong, when the bottom drops out, trust in the one who will always be there for you, even if you can’t understand how it could ever make sense again. Just keep sorting!

I wrote a book about that process in the hope that others would benefit from my experience. It’s called Outrageous Grace because God’s grace has triumphed through our suffering. And if you learn to trust in Him, He’ll translate your loss into a triumph as well.


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This post was written by Grace Fabian

1 Comment

  • Patti Souder says:

    “Outrageous Grace” is an incredible story that will grip your heart and change your life. Thank you, Grace, for sharing your story as an inspiration for each of us to trust God even when the pieces of life don’t seem to fit together.

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