I spent long hours with Mama in the last years of her life.
That gave me plenty of time to mine her memory for details of stories I’d heard for years but never took time to really listen to closely.
I knew (although I had no idea how soon it might happen!) that I wouldn’t have her forever. I wanted to gather all the bits and pieces I could hold that would remind me who she was, who she loved and what made her unique so I could always, always remember.
When she left us last September I felt like I had a treasure chest of tales and precious mementos.
It wasn’t that way with Dominic.
I never imagined I’d need such a thing.
I never thought I would be the one left behind with questions about what motivated him to this or that, go here or there, what brought him particular delight or made him stay awake at night.
Time was on my side.
He was young and vibrant.
No need to dig for bits to tuck away in case he wasn’t here to ask.
I’ll be the first person to tell you that there’s no sin in voicing your heartache.
In fact, I am a firm believer that if we don’t exhale sadness, frustration, doubt and despair there is no room to inhale the strength and grace of God.
But there is a place where honest lament can cross over into questioning the character of our ever faithful, loving Heavenly Father.
The writer of Hebrews addresses that danger in these verses.
In every relationship be swift to choose peace over competition, and run swiftly toward holiness, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord. Watch over each other to make sure that no one misses the revelation of God’s grace. And make sure no one lives with a root of bitterness sprouting within them which will only cause trouble and poison the hearts of many.
Hebrews 12: 14-15 TPT
Hebrews 12 follows what is often called the “Hall of Faith” where the writer lists many of those previously chronicled in Scripture (and adds at the end there are really too many to mention) as heroes of the faith. The theme that runs through THAT chapter is that even those who lived and died after Jesus ascended into Heaven, did not attain the fullness of every promise of God.
Some saw one promise or another fulfilled but it will not be until Christ’s kingdom comes in its final form that ALL promises will be made manifest.
So the writer of Hebrews continues in Chapter 12 referencing the previous chapter, “Since we are surrounded by such a cloud of witnesses…” meaning now that you have excellent examples in mind, let me tell you something else.
He goes on to remind us that life is and will be hard.
He talks about some hardships being the result of sin and God’s discipline (not every bad thing is the result of personal sin as you and I both know). He cautions us not to harden our hearts against God because things are not as we wish them to be nor hope they would be. (Remember that there is unbelievable persecution going on at this point in history when the book was written.)
Finally we come to Hebrews 12: 15: “Watch over each other to make sure that no one misses the revelation of God’s grace. And make sure no one lives with a root of bitterness sprouting within them which will only cause trouble and poison the hearts of many. ” TPT
So what IS the “root of bitterness”?
I believe the root of bitterness is turning away from the truth that God is faithful, loving, gracious and good.
Once a heart denies THAT, it is easily led away from the grace of God and the mercy of God.
The bitter root bears bitter fruit and has the potential to defile everyone around us and beyond.
Because when a heart embraces bitterness, it is never content to be bitter alone. It offers up the wretched fruit to anyone who will taste it.
Circumstances that perplex us need not drive us to despair. Instead, they can take us to new depths of faith. They challenge us to trust solely in the promises of God, rather than creating a god of our own design in order to make sense of what perplexes us. …After all, attempting to always make sense of God’s mysterious purposes isn’t actually faith. It’s accepting only the parts of God that we are comfortable with or can explain to ourselves. If God is God and if you and I are not, then we can accept that our limited vision will see only a snapshot in time, while our sovereign Lord has created, upheld, sustained, purposefully determined, and worked through every moment from the beginning of time. Faith is not living a life without feeling perplexed; it is to live in trust while feeling perplexed
~Kristin Wetherell & Sarah Walton, Hope When It Hurts, p. 56
I admit there are many things about life which perplex me. I wonder why this person is spared and that person is not.
If I focus on what I don’t know instead of the God I know I can trust, my heart will lead me down a dark path.
But when I focus on Jesus in my brokenness and despair, bringing my lament to the Throne of Grace, trusting that even though I can’t trace His hand I can rest secure in His love toward me, I cultivate a root of faith.
Then my life bears the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Like many families in the United States ours has entirely too much stuff.
Homeschooling four children over twenty years and living in the same house for longer than that added to the pile of memories and tokens tucked in boxes and corners.
This week I decided (along with my youngest son) to tackle a couple of storage buildings we have. It was definitely time to clean out, throw out and pare down the piles.
So together we opened the doors and dug in.
Boxes that hadn’t been opened for years spilled out souvenirs from childhood, teen years and early adulthood. It was tempting to get lost in remembering but the heat of summer spurred us on.
More than once tears threatened and I had to take a deep breath to keep going.
Cleaning out is especially hard on my heart.
Just a couple months before Dominic ran ahead to Heaven I had gone through a ton of homeschooling papers, memorabilia and odds and ends, gleefully culling them down to a few representative bits I thought I’d box or scrapbook into a keepsake for each child.
I filled my truck bed with boxes and boxes and took it to the dump. I enjoyed tossing them on the pile and relished the now organized space left at home.
What felt like freedom then, feels like regret and longing now.
Because what I have left of the physical presence of my son is represented in the scraps I have kept-the clothes, the notes, the scribbled comments in the margins of his notebooks and college texts.
So I’m careful about what gets tossed and what I keep.
And regardless how many bins and boxes I sort through on a given day, I’m exhausted by the end of it.
It’s ALL heavy lifting for my heart even when it’s light in my arms.
So I collect quotes, copying them down in my journal and sometimes hanging them where I can see them throughout the day.
Here are a few that speak to my heart. I hope they speak to yours. ❤
I wish there WERE a secret to surviving this journey. But there isn’t. There is just one moment, one breath, one step at a time. I do the best I can each day.
Over time I’ve grown stronger and better able to carry the load. Over time I’ve learned how to shift my focus from my son’s death to his life.
Death ends so many things.
But it does not end the influence of my son’s life on my heart and it can’t steal the moments I shared with him.
As long as I hum the tune of his unique song I can still hear him.
Before I was the one in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I didn’t realize it’s a lifelong journey. I acknowledged that loss changed a person but I didn’t know that it keeps changing you. Grief influences how I experience the present not just how I view the past.
When Dominic ran ahead to Heaven it instantly changed the landscape of my life. The future I thought I’d have was shattered and I was thrust into unfamiliar and often frightening territory with no road map. It has taken a long time to learn how to walk in this uncertain world and I still stumble.
There are no set standards for how or how long a heart grieves. Everyone brings his or her own personality and experience to the process.
It’s tempting to look for a structured guide to measure my progress.
Others can share how they are walking this road but ultimately I have to forge my own trail through the wilderness.
This is one of my very favorite quotes. Great love, great grief. How could it be any different?
When a child is born into a family, no one finds it strange that the addition changes everything. When that child leaves too soon they shouldn’t find it strange that it changes everything once again.
I didn’t just lose my son, I lost the family I used to have.
The place he should be but isn’t looms large every time we sit at the table, gather for celebrations or just line up for a group photo.
Part of the work grief requires is learning to hold onto the love and influence my son poured into my own life. I have had to redefine my relationship with Dominic-figuring out how I to mother a child I can no longer see or hold.
There’s a lot of pressure on grieving hearts to “get better” based on the medical model of illness, treatment, recovery. But grief is not a disease. It truly is the price you pay for love. I have experienced healing in the six years since Dominic left for Heaven but I won’t be fully healed until I join him in eternity.
Every single child is a unique gift to the world.
When death steals their presence, the light and love they shared with others lives on.
As long as we remember, as long as we speak their names, they continue to be a gift to those who love them . ❤