Bitterness Is A Terrible Legacy

Oh, how easy it would be to become bitter!  

If I’m honest, part of me just wants to tell the world to “Get lost!”. 

But the wiser part of me knows that’s neither a helpful nor healthy response to even this most awful burden of child loss.  

Lament is how we bring our sorrow to God. Without lament, we won’t know how to process pain. Silence, bitterness, and even anger can dominate our spiritual lives instead.

~Mark Vroegop – Dark Clouds Deep Mercy

Because my bitter spirit wouldn’t stop with me.  It would spread like kudzu on an Alabama roadside.  

kudzu field huff post

The writer of Hebrews warns against this very thing:  

Be careful that none of you fails to respond to the grace which God gives, for if he does there can very easily spring up in him a bitter spirit which is not only bad in itself but can also poison the lives of many others.

Hebrews 12:15 PHILLIPS

There is sufficient grace for even this. 

But I can refuse it.  

It’s a choice every single day. 

Do I embrace the grace God freely offers or do I turn my back and embrace bitterness?  Do I lean in to every promise of God in Christ or do I listen to the enemy of my soul who whispers, “Did God REALLY say….?” 

Woman hands praying with a bible in a dark over wooden table

 

Bitterness never ends with one person.  It spreads.  It grows. 

It ruins lives and relationships and generations.  

We all know families where it has taken root.  We all know old folks whose faces have frozen in frowns and who rarely speak except to pass along their spiteful comments.

I may not get many things right.  I’m pretty sure I get quite a few things wrong.  

But I don’t want to mess this one up.  

Bitterness is a terrible legacy.  

I refuse to pass it on.  

lifetime of unexplored resentments brene brown

Anchoring Our Hearts In Christ: Faith That Endures

I don’t wish storms on anyone.

They are frightening, often life-shattering and terrible.

But nearly every heart will be battered by the waves of life eventually.

Illuminated Splash

And if a heart isn’t anchored firmly in the promises and Person of Jesus Christ, there’s no telling where the waves might toss them.

Even anchored, I’m battered and bruised, worn and weary, struggling to endure.

The book of Hebrews can be challenging.  It’s full of imagery intended to help early Jewish Christians understand that they no longer needed to cling to the old sacrificial system in addition to believing in Messiah.

But it’s also beautiful-because it weaves a tapestry that helps a heart see how God was working His plan of salvation all the way from Adam through Christ to us.

I love these verses:

16-20 Among men it is customary to swear by something greater than themselves. And if a statement is confirmed by an oath, that is the end of all quibbling. So in this matter, God, wishing to show beyond doubt that his plan was unchangeable, confirmed it with an oath. So that by two utterly immutable things, the word of God and the oath of God, who cannot lie, we who are refugees from this dying world might have a source of strength, and might grasp the hope that he holds out to us. This hope we hold as the utterly reliable anchor for our souls, fixed in the very certainty of God himself in Heaven, where Jesus has already entered on our behalf, having become, as we have seen, “High Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek”.

Hebrews 6:18-20 PHILLIPS

The hope I have in Christ is an “utterly reliable anchor” for my soul!

Let the waves come! 

Let the winds blow! 

I am assured that nothing and no one can rip me from the ultimate safety of my Savior’s arms!

hope the anchor for your soul

We Are Not Home Yet

So often.

SO. OFTEN.

I feel out of place, out of sorts, out of time on this earth. But you know what? I’m meant to be uncomfortable here.

This is not my really, truly home.

Nope. I’m like Abraham, wandering through this place looking for a city whose Architect and Builder is God.

When I remember that, it’s pure freedom-all the way down to my bones.

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

 

Faith in “Faith” or in a Faithful Father?

For it is by grace [God’s remarkable compassion and favor drawing you to Christ] that you have been saved [actually delivered from judgment and given eternal life] through faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [not through your own effort], but it is the [undeserved, gracious] gift of God;

Ephesians 2:8 AMP

This is one of my favorite verses because it summarizes the Gospel-God calls, God saves, God keeps.  

It’s ALL God.

Sadly, my human heart can forget this so easily.  I can begin to lean on my “good works” or “holy habits” or the testimony of my “faith journey” instead of resting solely in the enduring love of my Faithful Father.

So when hard times come (and they do) and my faith falters (and it will) I become insecure and frightened and concerned that I will ultimately be lost.  Because I have shifted the responsibility from God to me.  

And I know I’m not strong enough to hold on.

When Dominic ran ahead to heaven my mind was riddled with unanswered questions. “Why?”  “Where were You?”  “What are You doing in this?”

Those questions ate holes in my faith.  

But it’s not ME holding onto God-it’s GOD holding onto me.

The strength of my faith doesn’t determine whether or not His promise is fulfilled, because if it did, there would be no hope. 

So, I refuse to have faith in “faith”.

Instead I have faith in an unchanging, everlasting Faithful Father.

faith does not eliminate questions but faith knows wehre to take them.png

Repost: Hallelujah is an Exhale

You can’t hold your breath forever.

But when you first learn your child is dead you want to–oh, how you want to.

I don’t know if it was defiance or hope that made me certain that if I could just stop breathing, I could freeze time.

Read the rest here:  Hallelujah is an Exhale

Faith

Part of our homeschooling routine was Bible reading.

I’ll never forget the first time I came to Hebrews chapter 11, often referred to as the “Hall of Faith”.  

It begins:

Now faith means putting our full confidence in the things we hope for, it means being certain of things we cannot see. It was this kind of faith that won their reputation for the saints of old. And it is after all only by faith that our minds accept as fact that the whole scheme of time and space was created by God’s command—that the world which we can see has come into being through principles which are invisible.

Hebrews 11:1-3 PHILLIP

From there the writer lists those who followed God even when the path was dark, even when the promise was beyond sight and even when it cost them their lives.  

I cried.

I remember thinking that maybe one day the children looking at me around that table might face a crisis of faith and I prayed that they would always choose to believe.

I never dreamed that it would be ME that had to wake up each morning and make that choice over and over again.

I’m not talking about the single, life-changing commitment to receive forgiveness through Christ’s blood.

But rather obedience to keep following His lead and strength to walk in His footsteps day after day regardless of how I feel or what I can or cannot see.

The choice I have to make is whether or not to turn my heart toward His, to open my ears to His voice, and to bend my will to accept whatever storms He allows in my life.

Suffering is NOT a choice, but faith is.