Sterkte: The Empowering Strength of God in Me

Yesterday was four years since the day we buried Dominic.  I can barely comprehend it. It’s a terrible thing for a mama’s heart to watch the seasons change and think, “I need to change the flowers on Dominic’s grave.”

But I do it.

It’s one of the last things I can do for this child of my heart.

Sterkte. 

I didn’t even know this word when we buried Dominic.  

But I wish I had.  

Because “sterkte” expresses precisely the supernatural strength and courage that filled my heart, mind and body as I stood for the hours of visitation, sang the worship songs, listened to friends, family and our shepherd/pastor give a message and invitation to a packed sanctuary, then filed out ahead of my son’s casket.

Sterkte literally translates “strength” or “power” but culturally means much more.

It means bravery, strength, fortitude and endurance in the face of fear and insurmountable odds through the empowering strength of God in me.

The morning of Dominic’s funeral-nine long days after his accident-I posted this on Facebook:

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” 
~Habakkuk 3: 17-18

dom on mountaintop

Years before, in another dry but hardly tragic season, God had imprinted those verses on my heart.  Even if-even if- there was no way through but through, I was determined to trust God and to lean in and hold onto hope.  

I had no idea how that choice would be tested in the coming days, weeks, months. 

I had no idea that even now, four years later, I would have to hold on just as hard, wake each morning and make that choice once again, refuse the whispers of the enemy of my soul that spread seeds of doubt and confusion.

But in my own strength, all the determination in the world would be for nothing. 

I am not strong enough or brave enough to stand.  

It’s sterkte that held me up that day four years ago when my son’s body was lowered into the ground and dirt shoveled on top.  It’s sterkte that keeps me upright today when tsunami waves of grief still wash over me and sobs escape.  It’s sterkte that gives me strength to hold onto hope and lean into truth and keep marching bravely into a future that may yet hold more heartache.

Habakkuk committed to praise God no matter what happened.  

He understood sterkte.  It was his lifeline. 

After his declaration of purpose, he gives the reason why: 

The Lord God is my Strength, my personal bravery, and my invincible army; He makes my feet like hinds’ feet and will make me to walk [not to stand still in terror, but to walk] and make [spiritual] progress upon my high places [of trouble, suffering, or responsibility]!

~Habakkuk 3:19

The Lord God is my Strength.

The Lord God is my personal bravery.

The Lord God is my invincible army. 

He is the reason I’m still standing.

melanie feet crocs and driveway step

Repost: Stuck or Unstuck in Grief? Who Gets to Decide?

If, as a culture, we don’t bear witness to grief, the burden of loss is placed entirely upon the bereaved, while the rest of us avert our eyes and wait for those in mourning to stop being sad, to let go, to move on, to cheer up. And if they don’t — if they have loved too deeply, if they do wake each morning thinking, I cannot continue to live — well, then we pathologize their pain; we call their suffering a disease.
We do not help them: we tell them that they need to get help.

~Cheryl Strayed, Brave Enough

Stuck in grief”-it’s a theme of blog posts, psychology papers and magazine articles.  The author usually lists either a variety of “symptoms” or relates anecdotes of people who do truly odd things after a loved one dies.  “Complicated grief” is a legitimate psychiatric diagnosis.

But who gets to decide?  

What objective criteria can be applied to every situation, every person, every death to determine whether someone is truly stuck in grief?

Read the rest here:  Stuck or Unstuck in Grief? Who Gets to Decide?

Songs in the Night

The months when I can sleep with windows open are my favorite.

I love fresh air and I love falling asleep to the sound of the breeze tinkling my wind chimes or the rain drip, drip, dripping on the leaves.

Last night I had been asleep for a few hours and woke to a sound I rarely hear after dark-a bird (probably one nesting in the tree outside my bedroom window) was singing her heart out.  I listened for awhile, thinking that surely something had startled her awake and as soon as her eyes took in the night she’d hush her melody and go back to sleep.

But she just kept singing.  

Chortling through chord after chord, note after note, trill after trill.

I fell back to sleep before she did.  

And as I was drifting off, I was reminded of this verse:  

psalm 42_8

I’m thankful for open windows, singing birds and daily reminders that I am not alone on this journey through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.  

Jesus is here.  

He loves me. 

He gives my heart songs in the night.  

Any one can sing in the day. When the cup is full, one draws inspiration from it; when wealth rolls in abundance around them, any one can sing to the praise of a God who gives an abundant harvest. It is easy to sing when we can read the notes by daylight; but the skillful singer is the one who can sing when there is not a ray of light to read by—who sings from their heart, and not from a book that they can see, because they have no means of reading, except from that inward book of their living spirit, where notes of gratitude pour out in songs of praise. No one can create a song in the night by themselves; they may attempt it, but they will learn how difficult it is.

~C.H. Spurgeon

Barbara Bush, Bereavement and Being Brave

Barbara Bush, who died Tuesday, said she didn’t fear death. That may be because the 92-year-old former first lady faced it before, in the hardest way imaginable.

~Steve Hendrix, Washington Post article 4-18-18

Barbara Bush was many things-wife, mother, First Lady, spokesperson for literacy and charitable foundations. 

She was bold.

She was sometimes blunt. 

But she was always brave.

Barbara and george larger

Early in her marriage to George she faced what no parent ever wants to endure.  Her (then) only daughter, Robin, was diagnosed with leukemia in the days when cancer was barely understood and often not even spoken aloud.

Because their family had the means, and because Barbara was committed to fight for her daughter, they flew to the East Coast and endured months of treatment that only delayed Robin’s death, but did not cure her.

They returned to their Texas home a family minus one.

I’ve thought a lot about the many, many years Barbara lived after that terrible blow.  I always do the math whenever any famous person who has buried a child follows their heart home to Jesus and reunion.

While there are days when I am utterly overwhelmed by the fact I may live for many decades with the burden of missing my son, days like today-when I have the bold, brave witness of Barbara Bush’s life to encourage me-I think I just might make it.  

barbara bush 2014

I long for my life to be just such a witness.  

I want to live well and fruitfully in the years I have left.  

I want to leave a legacy of love for those that come behind. 

I want to be brave. 

The death of a child is so painful, both emotionally and spiritually, that I truly wondered if my own heart and spirit would ever heal … I soon learned that I could help myself best by helping others … it wasn’t until Robin died that I truly threw myself into volunteer work. That precious little girl left our family a great legacy. I know George and I care more for every living person because of her. We learned firsthand the importance of reaching out to help because others had reached out to us during that crucial time.

~Barbara Bush (1925-2018)

 

Repost: Grief and Grace-What I Need From Friends and Family

You cannot possibly know that scented soap takes me back to my son’s apartment in an instant.

You weren’t there when I cleaned it for the last time, boxed up the contents under the sink and wiped the beautiful, greasy hand prints off the shower wall.  He had worked on a friend’s car that night, jumped in to clean up and was off.

He never made it home.

So when I come out of the room red-eyed, teary and quiet, please don’t look at me like I’m a freak.

Grief and Grace:What I Need from Friends and Family

It is No Sin to Ask, “Why?”

Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Sunday I sat through what started off as a promising sermon.  

The text was from  Jeremiah when he was sent by God to the potter’s house for an object lesson.

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.”  So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.

Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.  

Jeremiah 18:1-6 NIV

This story hits home in so many ways.  

I identify with Jeremiah’s tears shed over the message he was called to deliver (Israel was about to experience harsh judgement) and the image of God as Potter and me as clay in His hands, to be molded and shaped according to HIS purpose and plan regardless of how I might like to be molded and shaped.

But the sermon took a turn that hurt my heart when the preacher began suffusing the message with personal experience.  It is absolutely his prerogative to relay his own life story as but it is another thing to draw general conclusions from HIS experience as being relevant and instructive for EVERYONE.

His wife had been diagnosed many years ago with a brain tumor.  She underwent extensive surgery and therapy but ultimately survived and is still living today.

Hallelujah!

I am thankful their story has a hopeful and happy ending (so far).  The problem came when the pastor said, “I never asked, ‘why?'”  and then proceeded to imply that asking, “why?” was wrong and the mark of an immature faith.

I’m delighted his faith was strong enough (or naive enough) that his heart never argued with his theological framework.  

That is not my experience. 

And it is not the experience of millions of faithful Christ followers who have been asked to bear up under burdens that do NOT have a hopeful or happy conclusion this side of heaven.

It took every bit of self-control I had to not stand up and shout, “REALLY?  What about Job?  What about Paul?  What about David?  What about JESUS?”

The Psalms are filled with questions.  

Jesus Himself asked, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” from the cross.

God invites us to ask.  

“Come now, and let us reason together,” saith the Lord

Isaiah 1:18 KJV

My faith is stronger because I have taken my questions to the only One Who can answer them.

He doesn’t always answer. 

But He always listens.  

He doesn’t give me reasons. 

But He gives me Himself.  

I am the clay-I know that.  But unlike dumb physical material that can be molded and shaped without feeling or self-awareness, I am a human being, created in the image of God Himself and endowed with feelings, knowledge and a heart that longs to understand.

So I must chooseas an act of free willto offer myself as a living sacrifice, to remain supple and malleable under the Hand of my Creator as He makes me into what He intends me to be.

But submission does not preclude my questions.  

I would argue that true submission insists on acknowledging and asking the questions and choosing to yield anyway. 

Anything less is not submission, it is simply fatalism. 

I serve a God Who is my Father, not my dictator.  I serve and worship a Savior Who is gentle, humble and kind, not harsh, proud and uncaring.

It is no sin to ask, “Why?”

In fact, it is exactly the kind of exchange relationship insists upon.

You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth of falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

 

 

 

 

Repost: A Fine Line

“Can you?”  ” Would you?” “We need you to… Help!”

You’d be surprised how soon people start expecting a bereaved parent to jump right back into the responsibilities and activities they shouldered or enjoyed before burying a child.

I know the rest of the world didn’t stop when mine did, but I was truly amazed that some people in my circle seemed unaware mine had stopped at all.

As I’ve written before here the funeral is not the end of grief’s journey, it’s quite near the beginning.  It took a year for me to just convince my heart Dominic wasn’t coming back.  It took longer to begin to understand how very different I am now and to embrace those changes.

I simply cannot do some things I once did.

Read the rest here:  A Fine Line