Saturday, March 4, 2017


By Bonnie Bruns
“This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life”, I tell my friend.  Even the anticipation of knowing I need to do this leaves a sick feeling inside me.  Over one year has passed now since my beautiful 23 year old daughter decided to end her life.  A few people matter-of-factly say, “It will get easier with time”, BUT THAT’S JUST NOT TRUE, at least not yet.   All we are left with now are memories and that dreaded task – going through all her things she left behind.  
“This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life”
We’ve put off the task long enough; we’ve gone through enough excuses for not beginning the task.  We start making piles.  We make a pile of some of her homemade things on the bed – the cloth purse she made with Grandma out of her dad’s shirts, the remaining unique stuffed bears she made and loved to give away – so creative, crafty, generous.  There’s another pile where her violin sets with a pile of music from first grade all through high school – such musical talent and the beautiful music that came out of that violin.  Then there’s the pile started with her aviation items – her private and commercial licenses, the aviation books and her headset – oh how she loved to fly, oh how she worked so hard in her studies.  Piles of photos, scrapbooks, Bibles with her personal notes written in the margins, “hardest worker” swim team trophy and “champion” Bible quiz team trophy, that silly hat she wore from her first job delivering newspapers on her bicycle. The piles continue; the unstoppable tears flow.
image from:

The piles continue; the unstoppable tears flow.

But what awaits us are the ever-visible five large blue trunks stacked on top of each other in the garage, the ones she had ready to take back with her to Purdue when she returned from Germany – always so neat and organized.  What does each one hold?  More memories, I’m sure; the stirring of more hard emotions, I’m sure.  This is going to be a slow, hard process, I’m sure.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

A Grief Poem

I am a suicide survivor

I wanted to carry your burdens.  But not like this.

You pushed me away
Every time.
I wanted to be there for you.
The heroic big sister.

Your fatal choice dumped all your pain on someone else. 
It is not a way out.
It just pushed the suffering onto me.
Anger. Rage. Confusion. Shock. Fear. Chaos. Guilt. Failure.
One thing I refuse to feel- Shame.
I’m not ashamed of you.

Instead the devil whispers FAILURE.
‘You couldn’t save her.’
‘You were not enough.’
‘You were NOT WORTH it for her to change her choice.’
‘Ha. What makes you think you can even help others now.’
‘You are nothing.’

I wanted to carry your burdens. But not like this.

Instead I give myself to the ONE who carries me.
To the one who commands his angels to carry you 
Your feet won’t even scrape against the rocks.
His faithful promises are my armor and protection.
I will find rest in the SHADOW of the Almighty
My place of safety.
He will cover me with his feathers and shelter me with his wings.
They will hold you up with their hands
He will be with me in trouble

No evil will conquer me.

HE wants to carry my burdens.  Just like that.

Based on these Scriptures:

Deuteronomy 32:11
"Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, That hovers over its young, He spread His wings and caught them, He carried them on His pinions.

Deuteronomy 1:31
and in the wilderness where you saw how the LORD your God carried you, just as a man carries his son, in all the way which you have walked until you came to this place.'

Psalm 91
He will cover you with His pinions, And under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark.

Psalm 61:4
Let me dwell in Your tent forever; Let me take refuge in the shelter of Your wings.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Where does your identity lie?

This past month, the overwhelming theme God has been instilling in me has been IDENTITY.

MK retreat
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a retreat for adult MKs (missionary kids who grew up in another country).  During one session we discussed our identity, pinpointing those things in our lives that 'defined us'.  We also were to write in lies and darkness that the enemy may put on us that affect our identity.  In the center, we located our TRUE identity in Christ such as created by God, daughter of the King, etc.  Since I'm a visual learner, it helped to see it laid out in diagram form like this.  I have done this sort of exercise before but I was surprised at how much it had changed over the years.  Whether I like it or not, I realized that my sister's death has changed aspects of my identity.

In some ways, it is good because I've rearranged my priorities and grown stronger and more dependent on the Lord.  Yet oftentimes, the lies of Satan that I let myself believe can sometimes be very overwhelming.  In my mind I hear his taunts, "Ha. You call yourself a social worker and yet you couldn't even save your sister" or "What guy would want to marry someone who's sister commited suicide?"  While deep down, I knew they are lies, they cloud my judgment and send me reeling, crumbling my self-esteem into pieces.

While it's a daily struggle, I need to base my identity on what God says about me.  I need to keep my kingdom focus on my central identity which is in Jesus Christ and can never be shaken!  Wow.  What kind of kingdom impact could I have if I lived in this truth every single day?

Of course God didn't stop there!  In my small group, we have been discussing similar topics through the book Uninvited by Lysa TerKeurst.  She mentions,
"Old patterns of thought must be torn out, and a new way of looking at the core of who I am using God's truth has to be put in place. My identity must be anchored to the truth of who God is and who He is to me. Only then can I find a stability beyond what my feelings will ever allow. The closer I align my truth with His truth, the more closely I identity with God- and the more my identity really is in Him".  

Your identity can't be tied to you what has happened to you because this is constantly changing.  Jesus is the only unchanging constant and so our identity and hope must be anchored in Him!  In Christ, my identity is so much more than my circumstances.  Yes, my sister's death rocked my world and changed a lot of things, but it is not where I ultimately find my identity.  I'm not labelled by this and am not a victim of my circumstances.
To top it off, God has also had me reading Ephesians in my devotional time...which is all about spiritual blessings and identity in Christ.
"Ok God, I get it, you can stop talking to me through a megaphone now!"  Sometimes I do need truth coming at me from all directions or else I won't get it!
I must never forget that my identity is in Christ!

"We must tie our identities to our unchanging, unflinching, unyielding, undeniably good, and unquestionably loving God." 
~Lysa TerKeurst

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

In loving memory

The anniversary of Adriana's death was last month (Oct 15) and I had been dreading it a long time beforehand.  Strangely enough, it did not hit me like I thought it would since during this week I was in and out of the ER and finally had a gallbladder surgery the day before the anniversary.  My mind was not able to process the emotional pain at the same time as the physical pain.  Plus, I was really out of it with all the pain meds!  I have finally been able to process it more little by little even though it still feels unreal at times. 

I put together some of my favorite pictures and memories of my Adrianita.  Some things that remind me of her: violins, yellow flowers, airplanes and bubble tea!

She was the genius of the family and helped work on this plane herself!

She LOVED animals and was a foster dog/cat mom
She graduated with honors with an aeronautical engineering major

This is the last picture we got together before Germany
and during my layover from Israel
One of our favorite things to do is travel! This is on our trip to Mexico.

Natalie's last picture taken before heading to Germany
One of her high school senior photos

She was Venezuelan born and raised!
One of her favorites- Venezuelan arepas!

We always played games as a family!

Artistic and crafty, she loved making ceramic/pottery art.
She also loved giving her homemade gifts to people.
When she was younger she was known for her little
teddy bears that she would sew and gift to people

Being silly as usual
We were bridesmaids in my mom's wedding.

Although suicide grief is like no other form of grief, I choose to remember Adriana through these memories instead of in the way she died. It can be difficult and painful to look through pictures and process my grief, but I know that in the end it is healing.  I don't want to be someone who runs away from the pain or looks to something other than the Lord to cope.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

God's Crazy Ways

God definitely has a sense of humor sometimes and works in unexpected ways.  But even something terrible or uncomfortable at first can have unexpected blessings.

This month I had the opportunity to take a little road trip to Mackinac Island with some friends. Initially, I debated about whether to go because I didn't think I could afford it. Finally, I couldn't resist the travel bug in me and decided to go!

After a long and fun-filled day of exploring the island and biking we headed to our hotel an hour away.  When we arrived, it was about 1am and I was exhausted! I threw myself into the bed and fluffed the pillows only to jump out of the bed and discover that I was wet!  I was too tired at this point to think anything of it and jumped into my friend's bed.  Soon, I discovered that this one was wet too! Even though I warned her, my friend climbed into my bed and also discovered that she had gotten wet!  We were bewildered and annoyed but called the front desk where they finally brought us rollaway beds.  They apologized and explained that the housekeeper had probably put damp sheets on the beds.

It wasn't until 2:30am before I had changed clothes and fallen asleep.  However, in the morning when it was light out, we noticed that the damp beds were stained yellow!  We notified the manager who didn't believe us at first.  He did some digging and discovered something so horrendous, we started freaking out.  He informed us that the people staying before us admitted that their son had wet the beds! And not just one bed but BOTH beds!
WE HAD BEEN LAYING IN SOMEONE ELSE'S PEE! AH! As you can imagine, we were very disturbed and freaked out by this!  

It took a while to get over this, but in the end I couldn't help but laughing because it was just so bizarre.  We ended up getting a free hotel through this ordeal... and having a hilarious memory that we will never forget.  I also couldn't help but remember that God had provided for me to have a free hotel, knowing that I couldn't afford it.  He tends to work outside the box that we put him in. This was an unexpected blessing in disguise!

I can think of a lot of other ways that God uses the terrible and uncomfortable situations to provide an unexpected blessing.  Look for this when you are grieving a death or loss.
God is working amidst all the pain and chaos.  For instance, my dad passed away 9 years ago on his exact birthday.  My mom is one of the most optimistic people I know. One of the first things I remember her saying was, "He got the best birthday present he could have gotten by going to heaven".  God could have chosen any other of the 364 days left in the year but instead, he left us a reminder that He is always in control even when tragedy occurs.

This past week I finished reading Levi Lusko's Through the Eyes of a Lion, which I highly recommend!  He is a pastor in Montana who lost his 5-year-old daughter a few years ago.  He shares his grief story and some amazing insights and pastoral analogies.  Here's a quote from it that I love-
"You need to actively be on the lookout for every way you can redeem the hell you are put through by shining your light in the darkness. Your suffering is being used to create the anointing oil for the next level God wants you to reach. Squeeze every drop out of your trial. Let nothing be wasted. Hold nothing back. None of our tears have fallen to the ground unseen".
 Wow. That is powerful stuff.  Everything that you go though is for a reason.  Everything you suffer will be used to grow you, bring glory to God, and will have unexpected and hopeful outcomes from it.  I've been thinking about this since in 2 weeks it will already be a year since Adriana passed away.  In the span of a year I've been through a break-up, my sister's death,  an international move, and a change of jobs and living situation.  Literally, everything in my life is different from a year ago...except GOD'S PRESENCE with me.  He's the only constant and stable ROCK in my life.  Even though there will be more rough days ahead, I have comfort in God's character and consistency in my life.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Lift my eyes to the hills and healing waters

I have been feeling pretty sentimental this week.  Maybe it's because Adriana would have been coming home from Germany soon.  Maybe it's because she should have been there last week when we travelled to Niagara Falls.  Maybe it's because she would have been my canoe partner on the church canoe trip tomorrow.  I have never been able to go on the canoe trip for whatever reason and I feel sick just thinking that she isn't coming with me this time.  At Adriana's memorial service our pastor shared a funny story from this trip.  Adriana lost her glasses over the edge of the canoe and jumped in to save them, insisting that she would be able to find them.  In the process she left my other sister stranded, crashing the canoe.  Adriana never did find those glasses but people never forgot it and forever teased her for it! My sister was intense and passionate about everything she did and it showed even in the little things like a canoe trip.  I guess getting ready for the canoe trip tomorrow has left me thinking about some things.

It is very strange how God works sometimes.  I was hiking on a mountain when I got the call from Germany informing me about Adriana.  Normally I prefer to do this hike alone but at the time I was showing the trails to a missionary family.  I'm so grateful that God knew I should not be alone this time! Maybe it was God's way of comforting me and letting me know that he was near.  For some reason, in God's sovereignty, that's where he wanted me to be at that time.  It is even a miracle that I got an international call like that where reception can be out of reach. It took awhile for me to hike this trail again because I associated the location with tragedy and tears.

Yet there's something about nature, water, and hiking that are very healing for me.  

Pico Duarte:

In March I had the blessing of hiking Pico Duarte for the 4th time!  There is something refreshing about pushing yourself to the limit and letting God meet you there. The views were breathtaking and gave me some renewed times of prayer.  The Lord kept saying to me, "You're worth it. You're enough" with every step that I took.  It's something that I needed to hear at the time because I had been listening to Satan's lies about what Adriana's death said about me.  I prayed for healing during this trek and standing at over 10,000 feet on the peak helped me feel this.  I really felt the Lord give me some extra doses of peace and healing during this trip.  Psalm 121 stood out to me during this time: "I lift my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, Maker of Heaven and earth."

Here's a short clip about our trip to Pico!!

Niagara Falls:
Last week it felt so wonderful to be able to get away and see the beauty of Niagara Falls with my two favorite people!  Of course, I insisted that we squeeze some hiking into the trip and so we explored the Niagara Glen and some parks.

I felt so blessed to be able to go on these trips such as Pico Duarte, Niagara Falls, etc.  I don't really know what I'm trying to say with all this except- Do things that bring you healing and help you honor your loved one.  You are never going to be the same but you can let God use things to bring you joy and peace.  Find what works for you in the grieving process.  For me right now it means going on the canoe trip and finding those healing waters.

What do I mean by healing waters? A friend of mine put it this way:

 "It's as though death has left a horrible burn all over my body. There's not an area that hasn't been affected. And grief is this big ocean that looms before you. It's almost impossible to imagine the pain you're about to endure when you take your burnt body and step into it. However, in the process of the pain, the salt will cleanse the wounds. It will prevent infection from setting in. It will eventually be healing. It's about taking those first steps toward that ocean of grief and letting the water do it's work. Because even if you just stand still, the water will eventually come to you. So, you lay down fear of what MIGHT happen when you enter the waters and place your heart in the hands of Him who formed it, and let Him walk with you into the grief." ~Katie Gerke

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Life in the Fish Bowl

"I suppose that since most of our hurts come through relationships, so will our healing, and I know that grace rarely makes sense for those looking in from the outside". ~WP Young
My first reaction upon reading this quote was to snicker and roll my eyes.  Healing can come from people?! "Yeah, right," I thought, "I've been burned by way too many people."

As I got to thinking, I likened the grieving process to being in a fishbowl!  One night last week when I could not fall asleep, I kept thinking about this analogy.  Let me explain. Oftentimes, when you are faced with a tragedy, you feel trapped and have a lack of control over what happens.  Similar to how fish must feel in an itty-bitty fish bowl! You are also very fragile and vulnerable- any sudden movements and the bowl can fall and crash on the floor. You are hit with sudden waves of grief and emotions depending on the day, never knowing what to expect.

Fish also have no where to hide.  All eyes are on them in their transparent world. What often happens when someone faces a tragedy is that all eyes are on them.  How are they coping and reacting? Are they mad at God?  Everyone wants to know the details of the trauma and wants to give their two cents. Usually that's exactly what they are worth- a mere two cents!  People shudder and think, "I'm so glad I'm not facing their loss right now" or "Wow. I could never deal with that. They must be really strong." or "Wow. God is really going to use their story someday to impact others."

Yet few people actually jump into the fish bowl with the person and feel their pain with them.  People are content to peer over the edges of the bowl and watch the fish flounder around. Whether it is because of fear or uncertainty, people simply don't know how to help the grieving.  And so they sit, peering through the glass.

Please, if you know someone who is going through a loss, the best thing you can do is be present in the person's pain without offering advice or judging their way of grieving without fully understanding.  I know I was wounded and hurt by how some people reacted to my pain.  But that's another blog post for another day!

At the same time, there have been amazing people in my life who did sit with me in the pain and held me when I cried.  My amazing roommate Cyndi who was just ALWAYS there whenever I needed her whether it was to validate my feelings, listen to me, or to distract me with a cheesy movie.  Another shoutout to Courtney who spent hours every week listening to me vent and asking me those hard questions.  And so many others... you know who you are! Even though many of my friends are long-distance friends, it was still helpful when all they could do was check in on me from afar!

And another thought for you to take with you.  No matter how people treat you and how you've been wounded, ultimately when you take a step back and look at the big picture, it is GOD who is holding the fish bowl.  And I can promise you that He will never let the bowl fall to the ground and He ALWAYS keeps his promises even when people fail you and aren't there for you. Amen to that!

Ultimately, it is God who is holding the fish bowl.