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

Trust After Loss: Appropriate God’s Strength

My friend and fellow bereaved mom, Margaret Franklin, Ryan’s mom, shared a beautiful Dutch word with me “Sterkte” (pronounced STAIRK-tah).

It literally translates “strength” or “power” but culturally means much more.  It means bravery, strength, fortitude and endurance in the face of fear and insumountable odds through the empowering strength of God in me.

Not MY strength, but HIS.

It’s the strength Isaiah meant when he wrote:

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

Isaiah 40:31 KJV

This is what it means to appropriate God’s strength:  

I have to exhale my doubts, inhale His truth and then allow His Spirit to weave that truth into armor so that I am strong for battle.

armor-of-god

There were twelve spies that scouted out the Promised Land.

All twelve had experienced the parting of the Red Sea, all twelve had seen the pillar of fire by night and cloud by day,  all twelve saw God conquer the Egyptians.  But ten of them never allowed that experience to go further than head knowledge.

Only Caleb and Joshua embraced that truth and allowed God to use it to change their hearts.  Those two were willing to fight the giants because they knew it would be God fighting for them and through them and they did not have to depend on their own strength for victory.

That’s what “sterkte” is-it’s inviting God’s power to dwell inside me so that I am strong for battle in HIS strength.   It’s letting His Spirit speak courage to my heart so I have the endurance to live this life NONE of us chose.

In my own strength I am doomed.  In His strength I am guaranteed enduring to the end.

When I was searching for a verse to help explain sterkte-because it is such a lovely and succinct expression of how hearts can and do endure this awful pain, the dark nights of doubt and yet remain strong in this journey-I found it in Habakkuk.

It’s a tiny book tucked into the back of the Old Testament and begins with the prophet asking God questions:

“Do You know what Your priests and leaders are doing?  Are You going to DO something?”

And God says, “Yep.  Going to use the Babylonians to wipe them out.”

Habakkuk answers, THAT’S Your plan???”

God responds, “Yes-but see, I’m going to be sending a Messiah to make all this right.  I’m doing something you can’t understand.  I’m working my plan for history and eternity.”

Habakkuk ends his book with these verses:

16 I heard and my [whole inner self] trembled; my lips quivered at the sound. Rottenness enters into my bones and under me [down to my feet]; I tremble. I will wait quietly for the day of trouble and distress when there shall come up against [my] people him who is about to invade and oppress them.

17 Though the fig tree does not blossom and there is no fruit on the vines, [though] the product of the olive fails and the fields yield no food, though the flock is cut off from the fold and there are no cattle in the stalls,

18 Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the [victorious] God of my salvation!

19 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 3:16-19

Nothing changed!

Bad stuff was coming!

But Habakkuk appropriated God’s strength for himself and knew that would be enough to see him through. 

He was broken but trusting.

There is no shame in being broken.

Here’s the deal:  God loves the broken.  Christ came for the broken.  It’s the broken and breathless who long for the Spirit to blow llife across their wounded hearts.

It’s the hopeless and fearful that run faster to the safety of their Shepherd.

It’s the worried and weary who are thankful for a Burden-bearer.

Hallelu-Yah!

This is NOT a once and done kind of thing- I m here to testify that it is most certainly NOT.  I am assaulted repeatedly by pain and doubt.  I circle back around and revisit places I thought had healed over and over and over.  A sound, a sight or a memory can bring me back to Day One in a heartbeat.

So what does faith really look like?

Is it always a never-ending, wild “Hallalujah!”?

I don’t think so.

I think faith is essentially this:  turning my face toward the God I love even when (especially when!) I’ve stopped expecting an answer and maybe even when my heart has despaired of help.

I would argue that faith is precisely that step forward into the dark unknown, onto the broken road, lifting the unbearable heaviness as an offering and trusting that

God sees,

that He hears

and that He will not abandon me.

Each time I doubt I am quicker to acknowledge the pain and admit my doubt– I take my questions to God.  My mind is more likely to access TRUTH and my heart is more inclined to appropriate God’s strength, my personal bravery, my invincible army.

hebrews-11_1.jpg

I used to think that Hebrews 11:1 was essentially a personal verse-my faith confirmed to ME that God was working.  But now I see it in a different light.  I think it is a corporate verse leading my heart to emulate lives that exemplified enduring faith-that “great cloud of witnesses” cheering us on from Heaven.

I did not choose this life but it is the one I’ve been given.  My prayer in this Valley for myself and all of us who are broken is this:

“God to mold me and make me into the masterpiece You designed me to be as a testimony to the fact that You are who You say You are.”

I long for my faith to be evidence to a doubting world that there is MORE than the eye can see.  I want my endurance to be an invitation for others to join me in pursuing what lasts for eternity and not just for this short mortal life.

Full redemption will have to wait for Heaven, but God is working even now to bring some redemption from my pain. 

He [Christ] said not, ‘Thou shalt not be tempested, thou shalt not be trevailed, thou shalt not be dis-eased,’ but He said, ‘Thou shalt not be overcome.’

Julian of Norwich

courage and perseverance

 

Dry Places

I discovered these one morning in the hard ground of my gravel driveway.

New life where one would never look for it.

Are you walking in a hard, dry  land?

I am.

But I trust that God is working even here. And one day life will burst forth beautiful and full.

 Even if the fig tree does not grow figs and there is no fruit on the vines, even if the olives do not grow and the fields give no food, even if there are no sheep within the fence and no cattle in the cattle-building, yet I will have joy in the Lord. I will be glad in the God Who saves me.

Habbakkuk 3: 17-18 NLV

 

 

 

The Wilderness of Grief

I was fifty when Dominic died. I had lived long enough to experience first-hand, and through others, the impact of loss on life and love.

Studying for my psychology degree exposed me to the stages of grief and the typical, observed behavior and emotions that a person experiences when faced with the death of a loved one. So even in the midst of hearing the most terrible news of my life, I thought I knew a little about what to expect.

But there are secrets that no one tells you.

Feelings that lie in wait to ambush you.  Overwhelming changes alter the way you see, hear, experience the world and think.

Grief turns the landscape of your life into a wilderness that is suddenly unfamiliar and often threatening.  The landmarks you depended on for navigation from one day to the next are swept away in a flood and you stand, bewildered in the midst of this strange place wondering how you got here and what you must do to escape.

There is no escape.

I can’t take a shortcut through this altered world.  I can’t close my eyes, click my heels and say, “There’s no place like home” to be transported back to BEFORE THE ACCIDENT. 

It feels like I live in a place where many speak a foreign language of petty grievances, first world problems and longing for bigger, better things.  I struggle to remain connected but find that I just can’t relate anymore.

Talking on the phone for more than ten minutes makes me feel trapped and anxious even when I wish I could listen to the voice on the other end forever.

I used to be able to make myself at home in any group and start conversations with strangers in a grocery line.  Now I feel isolated and insulated and it is hard to reach out.

I take quiet delight in the moments when I see or hear my surviving children laugh, when there is a small shaft of light in the shadows that define our days.

I try to forge new paths in this scary place so that my feet won’t stumble and my heart won’t fail.  I can only lean harder on the One Who made me and trust that following Him will lead me home.

“The Lord God is my strength: and he will make my feet like the feet of harts: and he the conqueror will lead me upon my high places singing psalms.”

Habakkuk 3:19