Before I return to my series of posts on submitting in everything, I decided to take an opportunity to share something about life and our daughter’s wedding.

flowerswRachel’s wedding was in May. The sky was blue, the air was warm, and there were smiles everywhere.  The happy couple looked amazing. There were a few glitches during the day, something life has taught us to expect; but that was OK.  So much of the day was absolutely beautiful; and more importantly, the Lord was magnified and glorified. It was a precious gift to see Rachel and her new husband begin their new life together in such a meaningful way.

You may be wondering that if everything went so well, why is bitterness mentioned in the title of this post. How could it have anything to do with such a wonderful day? The answer is because after the wedding, when I was exhausted and resting at home, some of the things that I missed during the day due to my health situation came into my thoughts.  As a result, sadness poured in; and my heart ached over the loss of experiencing some once-in-a-lifetime moments. As my eyes welled up, I felt a tug to move in a different direction emotionally, a tug that I have learned to listen to through years of experience with this type of disappointment.  The tug urged gratefulness and warned against getting bitter over what was lost.  It was a pivotal moment, the outcome of which I will share in a minute.  First, here are some details to help clarify the choice I faced.

Missing things due to my health was nothing new.  Because I am so limited, I’ve missed dance competitions, Boy Scout ceremonies, homeschool field trips, karate classes, strolls through the mall, family vacations, church, attending our children’s graduations, social gatherings, and countless other things.  If you are unfamiliar with my health situation, I have a nerve pain condition that affects various areas.  My feet almost always hurt, but they hurt a lot more if I stand for longer than a couple of minutes.  I also have pain in my thighs and back that require me to lie down and rest every hour; otherwise, the pain becomes extremely hard to bear.  Though the condition started much earlier, I have been mostly housebound for almost seven years.

This condition made attending the wedding challenging.  Two and a half years ago, it would’ve been impossible for me to go and stay as long as I did.  Thankfully, my husband Butch developed a program back then that allowed me to slowly get stronger and do more. Because of that, I had a long enough window of time in which I was up and able to witness the marriage ceremony before I needed to return to the van to lie down and rest.  For the reception, he had the brilliant idea of setting up a small, curtained room in the reception hall near our table that would hold a mattress for me to rest on when I needed.  A crew of family and friends selflessly worked to help move me around, set things up, and break things down.

Going into the wedding day I knew I would miss some things and not be able to do some things. Knowing this, I prepared my heart. I did that by deciding not to focus on what I might miss out on and instead chose to be grateful for whatever the Lord allowed me to see and do.  Dealing with my health situation has given me lots of practice in making that kind of choice.

In the beginning it was a very hard struggle because there was a lot of sadness over what was missed. In those years, I discovered that the more I kept my mind on what was lost and not on what I had, the sadness grew. I knew that sadness would turn to bitterness if left to fester. That was something I really wanted to avoid. Bitterness would not be good for me or my family. I also felt strongly that it would diminish the great mercy and provision that God continued to supply me daily.  I could still see those things even in the midst of suffering with pain, missing out on special and ordinary experiences, and seeing some dreams fade away. As time passed and with no shortage of tears, I did by the grace of God learn to choose gratefulness sooner. To my delight, I also discovered that the choice to focus on gratefulness not only fought bitterness, it fostered joy.  I have no doubt that it was because of God and his work in me, and not by my strength alone that I was able to make that choice.

Even with all this practice, I still sometimes need to work at choosing gratefulness especially when deeply meaningful things like what might occur at my only daughter’s wedding are in play.

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churchThough I had set my heart in a good place before the wedding, there was one special event that I missed seeing that I did not expect to miss. Not seeing it challenged my resolve to choose gratefulness.

I missed seeing my husband walk Rachel down the aisle…

At the chapel, I rested in our van until it was time for the mother of the bride to enter. Our son greeted me at the door and escorted me to my seat. I sat in a chair that was brought in especially for me that had been placed in front of the first pew on the left. The chair was off to the side away from the aisle because I need to stand up every few minutes to alleviate discomfort and did not want to block guests with my movements during the ceremony.

After my entrance, the wedding party came down the aisle.  When Butch and Rachel came through the doors at the back of the chapel, everyone stood up, blocking my view. There were lots of heads and shoulders in my way.  Immediately, my heart sank and my mind raced. My instinct was to move to the aisle so I could look around others and see them, but I knew that I would not be able to stand there for that long.  In a few moments, the opportunity was lost. Sadly, I missed our daughter’s entrance with her dad, seeing them only once they arrived at the front. It was not the most important moment of the day, but it was so special.  It’s something girls dream about for years and moms both lovingly dread and celebrate at the same time.  It is for lack of a better word a “magical” moment so filled with emotion, and I missed it.

Besides missing Rachel’s entrance, I also missed the rehearsal dinner, seeing the girls get ready the morning of the wedding, visiting with folks at the chapel, and taking part in the receiving line.  During the reception, I spent collective hours inside my curtained room. Part of my meal was eaten there.  As I rested, I could hear laughter and conversation coming from the other side of the curtain; but I couldn’t participate.  Some family and friends did come in and visit and others offered, but I had to keep the visits short or say no because I was so tired and needed to rest.  While I was up at the table, I couldn’t mingle as my walking and sitting are so limited.

All of this together, at the end of a long and beautiful day, began to press in upon my heart. I think that was a reaction most mothers could understand. When I felt it, I knew I had a choice to make.  As I wrote above, it was a pivotal moment. Do I hold onto my sorrow which might turn into bitterness or will I praise God and be grateful for what I did see and do.  With some encouraging words from my husband and with the strength that God provides, I chose gratefulness.  For, I was there.  I watched our only daughter get married.  I saw her beaming smile.  I saw highlights at the reception included watching her dance with her dad and later sing a beautiful song to her new husband.  We did the best we could to help me see as much as possible.

Gratefulness – The Better Choice over Bitterness

Disappointment and heartbreak come into all our lives. I have no doubt that you have things in the past or things happening right now that push in upon your heart.  Sadness and deep sorrow (which hopefully pass or lighten) can be completely appropriate reactions to those things, but I believe we must fight against them turning into bitterness. Gratefulness is by far the better choice. Holding on to things in the past and reliving them over and over breeds bitterness that eats away at our hearts. That’s not healthy, and I do not believe it honors God. Bitterness says that he has made a mistake and rebels against the circumstances he has ordained for us.  That’s a place I don’t want to live, don’t have the courage to live.

Thankfully, we do not need to work at resisting bitterness alone. As the beloved of the Lord, we can view our circumstances through our knowledge of him and his word. We have his promises and in him we can find strength and peace. The truth is, he is abundantly gracious towards us every day.  His lovingkindnesses and compassions are new each morning. (Lamentations 3:22-23)

Being grateful is not just a pop psychology, self-help mechanism. It is an appropriate reaction to the goodness of God.

When we take a moment to look at what he does for us, it doesn’t take too long to see how much he actually provides.  He is loving and good and knows what we need. (Psalms 100:5, Psalms 106:1, Matthew 6:8) And there is always tomorrow. We don’t know what good things he will provide for us in the future. It also helps immensely to remember that God is in control. Whatever has happened, good or bad, has been governed by him. (Ephesians 1:11b) We may never understand why it happened, but we can trust that all things work together for good for us who love God and are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28) Even though we can’t see the big picture, we can trust the One who painted it.

All that happens in this life will pass one day.  After all is said and done, what will truly matter is our faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  In him, we have all we really need both now and forever; and for that we will be eternally grateful.

“And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:11-13)