When Bitterness Freezes Your Heart…

The world is draped in gothic ice daggers in the pre-dawn gloom. My car inches cautiously along the icy country roads, surrounded by the frozen landscape, unmistakably changed by last night’s ice storm. Nature around me expresses a cold that pervades into the soul, and every brittle tree stands like a dark sentinel in a mass of black forest.

But not for long…

As I crested a hill, I saw the first rays of sunlight streaking over the horizon. As these rays of light glanced off crystals of ice, the dark forest turned into a breathtaking grandeur of shining beauty. The sun rose higher and more light poured over the trees, reflecting off myriads of ice crystals. The bottom half of the trees were still shrouded in darkness. But everywhere touched by the sun’s light was turned into radiant beauty. With the rising of the sun, my foreboding world of danger and harshness just turned into something elegant and delicate.BEST fence and trees

I started to cry. That’s what my life feels like. Dark, cold, brittle. Covered in layers of frozen ice that grips my heart. But then, when the rays of light slowly rise, what used to be dark and bitter is transformed into something so incredibly beautiful.

Not just any light. The light of healing that only God can bring.There’s a lot of different ways we try to deal with our pain. But I know deep down that what I really need is for God to touch my heart.

Like the first light of dawn touched those trees.

My circumstances have not changed. The ice still drapes over everything. My loss still pervades every aspect of my life. But my perspective on my loss has changed. This pain is no longer the enemy to drive me farther away from God. Instead it is the  paintbrush that is being used by God to artistically sculpt a landscape so breathtaking that I wonder in awe at my God who transforms our pain and sorrow into something beautiful. In this place, I can find worship instead of despair.

In this place, I can find worship instead of despair.

It draws me to remember Jesus. My savior. Who walked in this broken world, never did anything wrong, and ended up being betrayed and dying a cruel death. The layers of frigid ice wrap around His story far more than around mine. Viewing that landscape seems sure to end only in darkness. But no. He IS the light. And in the most tragic moment of history when God DIED for us, that is also the most beautiful moment in history when God brought justice and redemption together to make a way for people to be completely forgiven of our rebellion against God.

This gives me hope. It means that God can transform even my pain to bring about something good. This in no way negates the pain of loss, or erases emotions. Rather, it validates and gives that pain a purpose that transforms the way we view our loss.

So when the icy winter wraps its unending cold around my heart and the jagged ice crystals scream to penetrate bitterness like daggers into my heart, I CHOOSE to remember this ice storm and this sunrise. I choose to remember what happened to the trees caught in the glorious sunlight. And I pray for God to transform the bitterness in my heart into something that reflects the stunning beauty of my God.

My prayer for you, fellow traveler, is that you also will see ways that God is bringing His light into your heart and transforming your loss into something that reflects His beauty. You may not be there right now, and that’s ok. I may have days in the future where I don’t want to remember this, and that’s part of walking a broken road. But may we always look for Him to show up in our lives, even in the darkest ice storm.

When I Don’t Know What To Believe Anymore

A lot of things in life can shake you so that you think you don’t know what is true.

When I found myself in a dark time of not knowing what to believe anymore, God gave me the grace of the Acacia tree. I share it with you, so that you can also have this tangible proof of God’s Love to hold onto when life comes crashing down.

A while back as I was reading through the book of Exodus, I kept coming across verses that describe the type of wood used to build the tabernacle, ark of the covenant, and the altar.

“For the framework of the Tabernacle, construct frames of acacia wood.” Exodus 26:15

“They shall construct an ark of acacia wood…” Exodus 25:10

“Then he made the altar of burnt offering of acacia wood,” Exodus 38:1

Each of those things described represent Jesus Christ in some way. The tabernacle was the tent of God’s presence while the Israelites wandered through the desert, and they would approach God by coming to that tabernacle. Inside were the altar and ark of the covenant, each representing the need for a sacrifice to pay the debt of sin and God’s desire to show mercy and restore people to follow Him wholeheartedly.

So I asked God why He wanted the Israelites to use acacia wood. Was it particularly abundant in that part of the desert? Or perhaps an elegant and straight type of wood, useful for making long tent poles?

I don’t often get obvious answers from God… but I love it when I do!

A few weeks later I was walking through a conservatory, and came across a real life acacia tree…

Acacia Tree at Wisconsin Conservatory
The Acacia Tree at the conservatory in Madison, Wisconsin

It was all I could do to keep from weeping openly as I looked and marveled at God’s design in the Acacia tree.

Acacia Tree With Whiplash Scars On Trunk

The trunk of the Acacia tree is covered in lines that look almost like whiplashes. I tried to scratch the trunk to see if it was just kids coming by and making those lines. But the bark was hard and my fingernail did not leave a trace. (Looking it up later, I found that there’s a beetle larvae in most acacia species that leave those lines as they burrow through. But that was just from google-wisdom, so if someone else knows what causes those scratches, please let us know!) I stared at the trunk of this tree, wondering what the whiplashes on Jesus’ back looked like, when He was flogged before being crucified?

And then the thorns. Lots of sharp thorns stuffed on each branch, almost as if they were protecting the top of the tree like a crown… And those thorns were nasty looking. I stood there wondering what the crown of thorns on Jesus’ head looked like.

Thorns On Acacia Branches Like a Crown of Thorns

I closed my eyes and took a breath. And thanked God for creating such a clear picture of Jesus on the cross, with a whiplashed back and a crown of thorns. And that the Tabernacle tent by which the Jewish people would approach God, the altar on which the sacrifices were made, and the symbol of God’s covenant that held the Mercy Seat… all of these things had a picture of the sufferings of Christ woven into their structure and frame.

Centuries before Jesus ever walked this earth, God put a picture of His death on a cross literally into the very structure of the Israelites’ way to approach God.

Fast forward a few years as I’m driving through the city after one of my miscarriages. The tears streaming down my face, blurring my vision, were the outward expression of my heart that was filled with questions and pain.

And then, like a whisper of a breeze on a hot still day, I remembered the acacia tree.

I don’t have all the answers. But I know that centuries before Jesus ever walked this earth, God put a picture of His death on a cross literally into the very structure of the Israelite’s way to approach God.
The Acacia Tree Shows a Picture of Jesus on the Cross

And now, in all of my uncertainty, I had something that I did know for certain: that Jesus is the right way to be reconciled to God. He proved it by fulfilling a symbol that was put in place hundreds of years prior. And I also knew that His suffering was not a mistake, but was announced long before Jesus walked this earth as a man. God willingly chose to suffer and die to redeem me. He does not stand aloof and tell me to deal with my pain by myself. No. Instead He holds out his nail-scarred hands and tells me that He has felt the deepest of pain and loss, and died in order to adopt me as His child. (Romans 5:8)

I love the acacia tree, because it whispers the love of God, who endured suffering and brokenness to show the extent of His Love for us. Announcing to those who pause to notice its humble form, that we do have physical evidences to remind us of God’s love and forgiveness through Jesus, when all of our emotions refuse to cooperate.

Did God Forget About Me?

I did it all right. Prayed. Memorized Bible Verses. Ate super healthy veggies. And, of course, I told God all those Bible verses that promise blessing in return for obedience.

This time, things were gonna work out.

You see, it had been a few months since my first miscarriage. And now I was thrilled to find myself pregnant again… actually terrified is a better description.

Staring at the dark screen on the ultrasound machine in my doctors office a few weeks later, I felt my world slowly crumbling with the news that I would have another miscarriage. BUT I DID EVERYTHING RIGHT!?

It didn’t help that I knew all the Bible verses that remind us that God is not a vending machine,  and how pretty much every single person in the Bible who followed God experienced heartache and pain.

But knowing it in my brain didn’t help my heart.

Want to know what did help my heart?

The tears in the eyes of people I shared my grief with.

And also Psalm 44. Let me share it with you:

17 ”All this has happened though we have not forgotten you. …
19 Yet you have crushed us in the jackal’s desert home.
You have covered us with darkness and death. …
22 But for your sake we are killed every day;
we are being slaughtered like sheep. …
24 Why do you [God] look the other way?
Why do you ignore our suffering and oppression?”  Psalm 44:17,19,22,24

I’m encouraged that I’m not alone in my frustration when other people in the Bible have felt these same emotions and expressed them.

But want to know something that helped my heart even more? Reading this passage in Romans 8 that quotes from Psalm 44…

“Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.” Romans 8:35-37

Jesus understands what it’s like to cry at the silent sky- “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Can the pain of 3 miscarriages, when it feels like God is looking the other way, separate me from God’s Love? What about the questions that I don’t have answers to yet? What about the heart shattering loss you have experienced?

…Never. When I forget, and think these things will separate me from God’s Love, I look to Jesus whose life whispers to me that His Love for me goes far deeper than my pain and questions. He experienced pain and suffering when he walked this earth. And He died for me, to ransom my soul from eternal separation from God. And it gives me comfort to remember that Jesus understands what it’s like to cry at the silent sky- “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)