I Want Loss to Refine Me, Not Define Me

Apr 23, 2021 | Finding Hope on Friday

I stood on my porch and watched as a huge moving truck parked in front of our house. The movers then loaded all of our furniture, plus the boxes I had spent the previous weeks packing. Within a few hours, the home we had occupied for 17 years was nearly empty.

My husband watched me as I watched the movers, and he quietly asked, “Is this triggering you?”

I tilted my head to one side as I pondered his thoughtful question.

When I was seven years old, my family moved from Arkansas to California. Everything we owned was loaded onto a U-Haul truck, and in the course of our cross-country move, the U-Haul truck was stolen. The police eventually found the perpetrators as they had just finished having a big yard sale — with our belongings!

Interviews with the neighbors later revealed that the same people who held the yard sale also had a large bonfire in their backyard the same night the U-Haul truck was stolen.

Our birth certificates. Baby pictures. Family albums. Personal keepsakes.

All of it. Burned.

On purpose.

We had nothing left but the clothes on our backs and a second change of clothes in a suitcase in our old burgundy station wagon. After the theft and fire, we had to move in with my grandma while my family began the long process of rebuilding our lives.

When I look back on that time, I remember the way poverty marks you, the way it changes you. Sometimes for the better. Sometimes for the worse.

For years I refused to sort through a trash bag filled with hand-me-down clothes. Whenever a mom friend wanted to give me a bag of her kids’ clothes that didn’t fit them anymore, I would cringe inwardly. It dredged up memories of sifting through filthy stained clothing that people left in bags on my grandma’s porch. Over time, though, those feelings faded, and eventually, I was able to receive a bag from a mom friend with a smile.

So, as my husband and I watched everything we own get loaded onto this new moving truck, I searched my heart for any residue of anxiety or fear over the possibility of it happening again.



Would this truck get hijacked and pilfered somewhere between California and North Carolina? In my mind, I played out the scenario. What if it happened again?

And then I knew. If it happened again, we’d be okay. I had total peace about it.

To my husband’s question I replied, “No, I don’t think so. This moving process has triggered some memories, but it hasn’t triggered emotions. I can remember it without reliving it. And if it happened again and we had to replace all of our belongings, we could. It wouldn’t be fun, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world either. I guess if anything good came out of what happened to my family all those years ago, it’s that I don’t get attached to stuff. There are only a few things in that truck I really care about. But they don’t have monetary value; they have sentimental value. Like the blue rose china tea set you gave me on our first anniversary. I would be sad to lose that.”

My husband looked at me and said, “You know, we can put that box in the car with us.”

I thought about it, too, for about a minute, and then said, “No, I don’t want to do that. Perhaps this is an exercise in remembering what is truly important. I’ll be okay if my tea set makes it, and I’ll be okay if it doesn’t.”

None of us ever want to experience loss, but when — not if — we do, I want loss to refine me, not define me.

We’ve all experienced loss in different ways. It changes us, too. That part is inevitable. But we get to decide how it will change us. Will the hard circumstances we’ve endured change us for the better or the worse?

We have the power to choose how we respond to loss. This doesn’t mean we automatically respond to loss with a nonchalant shrug of our shoulders. There’s a process for grieving that is important not to skip passed. But with time, as we invite the Holy Spirit to renew us from the inside out, our losses can be woven into a larger tapestry that becomes a beautiful story of redemption.

It’s what God does. He exchanges our ashes for his beauty (Isaiah 61:1-3).

A week and a half later, my husband and I stood on the front lawn of our new house in North Carolina, and we watched as every piece of furniture and every single box was carried inside our new home. Everything made it just fine.

And we gave thanks, knowing every gift is part of his grace.



Click here to read more from this series called #FindingHopeOnFridays.

I would love to hear from you as well. In what ways have you been refined by loss instead of defined by it?




Denise J. Hughes

Denise J. Hughes

Denise writes about “the quiet life” — a phrase found in 1 Thessalonians 4:11. It’s a vision for living counterculturally in a loud and restless world. She is the author of Deeper Waters and the General Editor of the CSB (in)courage Devotional Bible. Denise lives in North Carolina with her husband and three kids.


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