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

How Can I Survive Grief Anniversaries?

There are more than you might think.  

Most folks would count the date of death and maybe the date of burial or memorial service.

But a mama’s heart counts it ALL.

I count the day he left, the day I was first able to view his body, the days of visitation, the day of the funeral and burial.

  • I count the day we cleaned out his apartment.
  • I count the day I notified credit card companies he would no longer require their services.
  • I count the day I received the death certificate.
  • I count the day I got his posthumous diploma.

And every year these dates roll around again to remind my heart of the pain I felt then and to pierce it afresh. 

grief as timeless as love

So how does a heart survive all these grief anniversaries?  How can I navigate the minefield of emotions and triggers that only I can see?

I believe the first step is to embrace them and not try to deny them. 

 

Earl-Grollman-grief-is-not-a-disorder

I remember the horror I felt when I realized I had survived 365 days since the deputy came to my door when I was certain I wouldn’t make it through the first 24 hours.  It did not feel like victory, it felt like betrayal.  

How in the world could my broken heart keep beating if I truly loved my son?

I cannot, by force of will, fend off the feelings that are sure to invade my heart when it recognizes that another year has passed.  

The most important thing is to have a plan, I think. That way it doesn’t slam you against the wall unawares. The feelings are impossible to outrun, but having a plan means you are anticipating them and in a kind of “fighting stance”.

The plan might be to go away or to go to the cemetery or other spot that evokes strong connection to your child.  It might be an elaborate gathering that includes friends or family or just lighting a candle next to a photograph.  Your heart may insist you stay in bed all day, covers over your head and wait out the ticking moments.

I think each family has to approach the day however makes sense to them. There is certainly no “right” way or “easy” way to do it.

no right way to grieve

I am sorry you have to do it at all.

Here’s the truth:  even THAT day will only last 24 hours. Just like the awful day when your child left you.

However you manage to survive is fine. 

mother and child paintingYou are not abandoning your missing child if you don’t make a big public display.  You are not forgetting him or her if you let go of some of these grief anniversaries over time-you are learning to carry the load.  You are not a bad parent if you choose a getaway to distract your heart from the pain.

You are coping the best you can-choosing to carry on.  

And that makes you awesome and brave.  

courage is always an act of love

 

You are Braver than You Think

Child loss is not the only devastating life circumstance that can make a person want to hide in bed.  

Every single day, broken hearts, broken bodies and limping spirits open their eyes to the dawn and choose to get up and get going.

If that is you, I want you to know this: 

You are strong.

You are brave.  

You are not invisible.  

braver stronger smarterYou may never be recognized in this life for the heroic struggle you face every day but it counts.

Endurance is triumph.  

Perseverance is conquest.  

Choosing brave in the face of fear is victory.  

fear is what we feel brave is what we do

Why Self Talk Matters

What you tell yourself matters.

What you rehearse becomes what you believe.

What you believe becomes what you do.

When Dominic first ran ahead to Heaven, I was determined to hold onto truth with both hands.  I would not allow my mind to wander the winding path of “Why? or “What if?” or Where now?”

I was able to keep that up until the funeral.

Then the bottom fell out.

All the thoughts I had kept at bay crashed through my defenses like an invading army.  My mind was consumed by questions, doubts, horrible imagery and awful anxiety.

Slowly, slowly I recaptured the conquered territory.

I hung scribbled Bible verses and encouraging quotes all around the house.  I refused to read or listen to news stories recounting accidents.  I began the day with remembering Dom was gone, but also remembering I was still here and that my three living children, husband and parents needed me.

When my heart screamed, “Give up!  Give in!  It’s not worth it!”

My head answered, “No.  I will endure.  I will continue.  I will be the one to carry Dominic’s light into the world.”

If I speak doom, gloom and despair to myself then I will live darkness, defeat and disillusionment.

If I speak courage, calm and compassion to my heart then I will live with hope and reach for happiness.

Self-talk matters more than we know.

How I frame my experience-both my son’s death and my ongoing interaction with the living-determines if I will waste the days that remain or will work to make them count.

I have no control over the past, but I have a little over the future.

I can’t change what happened, but I can change my attitude.

Self-Talk-Poster-2-15-13

 

Repost: I Will Not Be Moved

I’m not brave by nature.

If I have a choice, I will run every time.  But there are just some things worth fighting for.

My family is one of them.

I will not let the enemy have them.

I will not allow despair to overtake us, fear to bind us, hopelessness to sap our strength.

I will not let death win.

Read the rest here:  I Will Not Be Moved

Some Days, Getting Out of Bed is Courageous

We walk past them every Sunday.  

Those people who almost didn’t come to church.  The ones who spent thirty minutes just talking themselves into getting out of bed.

And we never know.

Life is hard.  Suffering abounds.  

Since losing Dominic I have become ever more aware of how very many people are hurting. And how very many people are truly brave.  Every. single. day.

It’s one thing to act in an instant-when adrenaline rushes through your veins and pumps extraordinary strength to your muscles and grants clarity to your mind to gather all your nerve and power to jump in and DO SOMETHING.

It is quite another when, without aid of chemical courage, you wake each day to a long list of “to do” items knowing all the while you will be dragging the heavy weight of grief and sorrow everywhere you go.

Read the rest here:  Brave

 

Brave

I grew up reading and hearing tales of bravery, of one person risking their life for another, of people standing for their convictions and dying because of it.

The first time I read The Hiding Place,  a book about Corrie Ten Boom and her family’s commitment to hide Jews from the Nazis, I cried and cried.

It cost them everything to do the one thing God had called them to do.

As the years rolled by, I learned of personal stories of rushing into burning buildings to save children and of others standing between violence and its intended victim.

All of these people were brave.  All of them put aside fear of their own safety to do the right thing.

But I am here to tell you, some of the bravest people I know are mamas who have buried a child.

It’s one thing to act in an instant-when adrenaline rushes through your veins and pumps extraordinary strength to your muscles and grants clarity to your mind to gather all your nerve and power to jump in and DO SOMETHING.

It is quite another when, without aid of chemical courage, you wake each day to a long list of “to do” items knowing all the while you will be dragging the heavy weight of grief and sorrow everywhere you go.

Brave is the mama that still participates in her surviving children’s birthdays and school plays and graduations and weddings–all the while marking in her heart the child that IS NOT THERE.

Brave is the mama who gets up, gets dressed and walks out the door to work.  The one who manages to lay aside the overwhelming grief load and still get the job done.

Brave is the mama who boxes up what’s left of her child’s belongings, the things that speak of who he was and who he was going to be and lays them aside for another day, when the pain might be less and she can look  at them again.

Brave is the mama with the broken heart who keeps on keeping on-who shows up to church, who goes shopping, who cleans her house, who refuses to give in to the cloud of doom that threatens to undo her.

And the very bravest thing about these mamas is that they know, THEY KNOW, that this side of heaven, there will be no relief, there will be no respite and they have no idea how close they are to the finish line.

courage doesn't always roar

These brokenhearted warriors are committed to continue to love the child they lost and those around them by bravely facing each day as it comes, giving the best they have to give, and persevering until the end.