Friday, November 7, 2014

Combining the bitter with the sweet

So, I tried ignoring it, the fact that last Friday my 16yo. daughter is now "officially" older than her big brother Matt, who lived 16years, 2 mo. and 27 days this side of heaven. I found myself ridiculously busy, buzzing around like an angry bee. Only I didn't, wouldn't, allow myself to stop and just deal with it. I mean, life is busy. There are things to do and people to see, as they say. Throw in homeschooling, the Halloween holiday, a sleepover, a Trunk-or-Treat event to prepare for, and a visit with relatives, and you have the makings for a cauldron of nasty, stuffed emotions. If only grief were convenient, eh?

I needed to acknowledge my grief, but, honestly, I cared too much about what other people would think. I was worrying about whether they'd think I was having a "pity party." I put society's expectations on my grief. Because, you know, why would you still be grieving 3 years after a loss? But you know what? It's not a pity party. It's grief. I am sad. I miss my son. I grieve the fact that my second-born child is now older than my first-born child. It's not supposed to be this way.

I had my own expectations, too, about grief at this point. I guess I had thought we were over most of the "big" hurdles or that this one wasn't such a biggie. But it is. It is the bitter with the sweet. The sweet is that I get to have a daughter that is sixteen. But the bitter is that everything I experience with her is now something that I never get (or got) to experience with Matt. The bitter is that she is now being referred to by others as the oldest. She is not my oldest. She will never be my oldest. She is my second-born and treasured just as much as my first-born, as all my children are. It is bitter. So very bitter.

Yet I know, of all women, how very, very sweet it is to even have children. I am beyond grateful for the children that remain with me. I know, of all people, how quickly they can be taken from you. We are not promised tomorrow with our loved ones. We are not even promised the rest of this day with them. I want to be thankful and continue to say as I did in the beginning and even put on Matt's funeral program, "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord," (Job 1:21b) but I am wrestling with how to balance the bitter and the sweet

As grief wears on, as sorrow lingers and miraculous healing doesn't happen, as loved ones remain physically hidden from sight year after year, and longing squeezes the lungs with breathless aching, and as time marches on, relentlessly separating us further and further from the last moments we had with our loved ones, sweetness doesn't flow as freely. Sweetness is hard-fought effort. Sweetness becomes an intentional gathering of joy. It is the mining of it in the dark interior of the bitter.

Perhaps it isn't a balancing act of sweet versus bitter, after all, but a compounding of them. I'd been trying to juggle the bitter with the sweet when I have, in all reality, misunderstood that it isn't about balancing them, but blending them. I have wanted one without the other, or at the very least, one at a time. But God did not spare His own son from grief. Jesus not only suffered loss of loved ones, but of His own life for us. Jesus was a man well acquainted with sorrow. (Is.53:3) How can I think that I should be spared if He did not spare His own son whom He loved?

We would all, in all honesty, like to be spared from pain and grief. But pain is purposeful. Pain presents to us the opportunity to choose, to choose whether or not to trust God, to believe Him and His word. Satan, however, uses our pain to whisper lies, saying things like: "See? He doesn't care. He isn't good. It isn't fair. This is too much." Pain shouts. Pain distracts. Pain tries to pull the plug on our connection with God. Yet pain is the very conduit that leads us to Christ.

It's what we do with our pain that allows the bitter and the sweet to either combine or combust. Denial disconnects, and anger explodes. I tried both the past couple weeks, and it finally dawned on me. I had been trying to juggle the sweet with the bitter, only to keep dropping the sweet and grasping the bitter. But, you see, it is only in tossing up the sweet with the bitter that they are blended. And when they blend, the bitter is made sweet. Still bitter, but sweet. Only God can take the sweet things we offer up to Him and, in the process, blend the bitter into something good, something that reflects the One who made both bitter and sweet.

And that reflection? That reflection will look a whole lot like Jesus. Jesus, who was despised, rejected, and bearing scars, but also holy, perfect, and whole. I am not denying the bitter. Neither did Jesus. But I'm also giving thanks, finding every sweet morsel I can because, well, Ann Voskamp says it best:

“...I only deepen the wound of the world when I neglect to give thanks for early light dappled through leaves and the heavy perfume of wild roses in early July and the song of crickets on humid nights and the rivers that run and the stars that rise and the rain that falls and all the good things that a good God gives.”
― Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are

This giving of thanks, of plucking the sweet things of God amid the bitter, is how we deflect the lies of Satan and extract the bitter poison from this temporary, sin-filled life. It is how we are able to live through grief, by drinking in the goodness of God though tasting the bitterness of this world. Sweet thankfulness allows us to "taste and see that the LORD is good." (Ps.34:8) I choose to be thankful.

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