When Grace Becomes a Tangible Thing: A Tribute to My Daughter “Grace” (on her Birthday) After Losing Her Husband

October 11, 1980.  It was an AMAZING day! 

I gained a daughter and the world gained a gift.

We named her Grace Elizabeth. 

It was an overwhelming experience for me that I’ve not shared with many people.

She came quickly.

After a long tiring day at work my husband had just sat down to rest when I told him it was time to go. He did his best to get me to the hospital before I became another road-side birth story.

Just a little over two hours later, I was holding her in my arms. Little did I know, how much this bundle we called Grace, would teach me about grace.

God’s Grace. 

Many of you know I was teen momma.

It’s my story. One I had to learn to embrace.

In all truth, it’s been a life-long journey of learning. 

One of not just knowing but also experiencing God’s forgiveness, learning to forgive myself, and living freely in light of God’s grace and goodness. God’s forgiveness and forgiving oneself go hand-in-hand hand. The former (God’s forgiveness) and the latter (forgiving yourself) usher in the grace of God and allows broken people to live new and experience God’s goodness and grace over a life time.

God’s grace on display in broken people.

For me, God’s grace began to become more clear on that beautiful Cleveland Fall day in October of 1980.

For too long, I felt ashamed and humiliated by the stigma of being a teen mom; a “statistic” with “odds stacked against me.”

But when I reached out to God for forgiveness and help, he came to my aid and literally changed the trajectory of my life!

If you only knew! But that’s another story for another day. 

Through a series of circumstances, God made it clear to me that he had something much better for me. Something above and beyond anything I could ever imagine.

It’s why I named my blog “Above and Beyond Midlife.” Because he’s an above and beyond kind of God.

He makes beautiful things from broken things.

I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans to proper you. Not to bring you harm. Plans to give you a future and a hope.”

Jeremiah 29:11

Not only did Jesus save me from my sin, shame, and broken-ness, he saved me in so many other ways!

My plan was to go to New York City after high school to study fashion design…but God was fashioning a much greater plan for me and my unplanned gift. (I love you more than words, son!)

Fifteen months after I gave birth to my precious sonTodd, I went on my first blind date arranged by high school friends, Tom & Debbie.

He…a handsome, young college athlete, was the one God had ordained and sent my way to awaken my heart to love. unconditional love. Generous love. Life-long love.

After seven short months after that double date with Tom & Deb, we were married. AND… 10 months after that, came the precious gift, we named Grace. 

I remember the day she was born like it was yesterday. It was a day that changed me forever.

I was alone in my hospital room with this precious 7lb. 11oz. beauty when it dawned on me:

I was at the same hospital, in the same room, with the same nurse – where I was just three years prior as a young single momma. As I looked out the window holding my little girl, the reality of God’s grace suddenly began to overwhelm me. 

God’s Grace

The theological word “grace” is often referred to as “unmerited favor,” or  “receiving what we don’t deserve.” In the scriptures, the grace of God is often referred to as “finding favor” or “to be pleased with.”

I cried a river that day. Grief tears washed over me that felt as fast and hard as the river that flowed four stories below me as I overlooked the Cleveland Metroparks that day.

I could barely utter the words…

“Thank you for your goodness and grace to me, God. You have given me what I do not deserve and I am humbled and grateful for the love and grace you have shown me. My life is yours.”   

And Then She Turned 2!!!

She, this strong-willed, free-spirit little bit of a thing gave me a glimpse of what it was like for my mother to raise me (clear throat sound) and how inadequate I felt for the jouney that lay ahead being her mother. A daughter like me but uniquely so much her own person.

She had a mind of her own and a will of iron; a common characteristic of every strong-willed child that ever lived.

Who would’ve known that a this little brown-eyed toddler full of spunk and sass could make you question your ability to stay calm, cool, and collected? But she could..and often did.

As a parent, you have a sense of the overwhelming responsibility you have to guide, teach and mold the littles entrusted to your temporary care. A sobering thought that many a parent can quickly and often lose sight of, right (hand raise)?

But how often do we stop to consider the many ways God uses our children to teach and mold us into the person he wants us to be?

At the time, despite my inexperience as a young momma, I knew that being strong-willed was both a curse and a blessing.

I remember telling this grace-child, somewhere between her elementary and middle-school years..

“This strong-will of yours will serve you well someday….but not today!”

“And probably not tomorrow – or the next day, either.”

Some Day.

Those words haunt me still today. But in a different, more sobering kind of way.

During the early 80’s, most parents I associated with either new about or had a copy of Dr. Dobson’s “The Strong-Willed Child” on their book shelf. When you have a strong-willed child, you suddenly realize how inadequate and inept you feel as a parent.  And you desperately look for help anywhere and every where you can.

My thinking on the subject was, and for the most part, still is… this:

On one hand, strong-willed children will (if left uncorrected) carry with them traits of disrespect, stubbornness, and self-centered ugliness of all sorts. On the other hand, strong-willed children (if corrected) become amazing people on every level!

Strong-willed people have an innate way of staying the course no matter what, of moving through life and situations with a rock solid posture of shear determination, and possess the amazing ability to persevere, when others would throw in the towel of surrender.

And yet…

Standing there in that sterile smelling hospital room, I knew nothing about the strong-willed personality that lay within the sweet, angel-breathed child I held close to my horendously engorged breasts… and heart.

Years later, I began to entertain myself concerning this grace child who learned to master the art of testing my personal “grace-meter” over the years.

By naming her Grace, was God trying to give me a heads up and I missed the boat? It was as if someone was trying to get my attention with the words,

“Sweetheart…you’re gonna need a lot of grace for this one.”

I was learning about the Giver of grace, but I fell short of understanding of the blessing of just how much this Grace bundle would teach her young, naive, grace-learning momma.

Fast Forward

Friends, God knew all along that this Grace-Daughter of mine – would not only grow to become a gift of grace to others, but also learn to live her own grace story. 

Because on August 25th, that haunting word, “someday” arrived at our doorstep unannounced….

And the unimaginable happened.

It was one of those calls no one ever wants to get that makes you drop everything your doing.

Within 15 minutes I found myself alone in the nearby hospital Emergency Room. I arrived just minute before my daughter… not knowing what had happened to whom. I just new it was bad.

And when my fear-faced daughter and I were escorted to a private room and told that my precious son-in-law had suffered a massive heart-attack while working out at the gym that morning and that the paramedics and doctors were unsuccessful in their attempt to save him…we were beyond devastated!

The arrival of my husband and other family members soon made their way to our grief-stricken arms and hearts. And together, we stepped into the unchartered waters of deep loss, pain, and human sadness. The journey of grief had carved out a path for us to now walk in.

It was a day no one was prepared for.

Nor were we aware of just how critical our need for God’s sustaining grace would be!

  • How would we navigate through the dreadful days and weeks that follow funeral planning, kids that miss their daddy, and a young wife whose partner is gone?
  • When does the grieving subside?
  • What does grace look like in the midst of such a loss?

We are still in that place. That very sad place of missing our beloved, Adam.

Yes, we know Adam is with the Lord.

He was a friend of God, who understood his need for Jesus. He was a real guy with real struggles and real needs. He was also a man committed to living for the good of others. And only heaven will reveal how wide his circle of influence really was.

For those of us who knew him and loved him and were known and loved by him, the whole of his absence is deep and wide.

Yes…we rejoice that he is in the presence of the Lord Jesus; whole and free. And  yet we continue to mourn his loss and presence in our lives.

Layers of Grief

As a mother of new widow, I can assure you the layers of grief are fierce.

Not only do I grieve in my own heart for my son-in-law, but I grieve also for and with my beautiful daughter and my four sweet grand children who will now spend the rest of their life without the security, comfort and love of their earthly daddy.

Giver of Grace. Be near.

So today, on this 38th birthday of my daughter, (as I sit in my layover hotel in Des Moines, Iowa) my heart is toward this daughter of mine, I named Grace.

Need to Breathe FOEREVER ON YOUR SIDE Concert

(Cleveland Sept 2018)

God’s promises are faithful and true.

The one now living her new grace story. 

This grace-child whose strong-will is now serving her well.

This loved-one who continues to teach me what grace looks like by the way she

  • gets up every single morning and puts one grace-foot in front of the other
  • perseveres through her sorrow when she’d rather crawl under the covers and stay there
  • has stayed the course in faithful surrender to God’s will despite great pain and heartachee
  • shows sheer determination to care for the needs of her four beautiful chidlren
  • allows others in to meet her daily, practical needs
  • blesses others even in the midst of her own grief
  • is honest, real, and vulnerable with where she is hurting and struggling

The struggle through grief is real indeed friends, but the reliability of God’s grace is even more real.

And as a family, we are learning to lean into that grace even harder.

Whoever you are, where ever you are, thank you for reading and allowing me to share my beautiful daughter and my/our/her grace story with you.

How are you navigating through loss? What are you learning that you can share with fellow grievers? With me?

You too are a gift of grace. I hope you know that today.

Until next time,


15 thoughts on “When Grace Becomes a Tangible Thing: A Tribute to My Daughter “Grace” (on her Birthday) After Losing Her Husband

  1. Roann Fox says:

    I’m so sad and sorry. There is no words to express my feelings. You and Frank are the best parents ever and great role models for your wonderful children. Grace sounds like she’s in a good place and know God is walking with her. I can relate to losing a husband and having young children to raise without a Daddy. I love you Betsy. Grace and her family will definately be in my prayers and positive thoughts.


  2. Chrisann Goad says:

    The depths of God’s grace never cease to astound me. May that grace continue to pour over and soak each member of your family – and especially your dear Grace. May the Lord sustain her and lead her into a new normal of abundant life. Love all of you!


  3. Sue Duncan says:

    I am Grace’s grandmother, the original Strong willed child, mother of # 2, Betsy. My heart breaks and aches for ALL of us. By God’s extraordinary Grace, we will ALL make it through . I love you, Betsy and I love you, our precious Grace. Thank you, Jesus for your grace in which we stand.


  4. Debra Clayton says:

    What an absolutely beautiful tribute to your Grace and Christ’s grace to you both! So beautifully written Betsy…you are a blessing in my life dear friend! Thank you!

    Praying for you and your Grace during this time of grieving the absence of Adam in your lives. With my love, Debby

    Sent from my iPhone



    • Elizabeth Duncan Stretar says:

      I’m thankful to know our story blessed you and that you felt led to share it with your readers.
      We continue to grieve, but not without out hope and God’s tender comfort through his word and his people.
      He is faithful and good.

      God bless you.


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