Bittersweet

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I just can’t stop looking at this photo. It’s not as if I’ve never seen Olivia in a pool. My days are kissed with plenty of those sweet smiles, and it’s rare that any great length of time passes without me looking on as Robert sends her into a fit of giggles with his antics.

It’s true that I’m always looking for something new that Olivia will genuinely enjoy. Her eyes don’t often turn toward the cartoons that captivate other kids. She misses out on the music I love so much, and it’s hard to find a toy that draws her interest.

Olivia makes up her own games, and cuddling and tickling never fail, but sometimes I just want to see her face light up over something special.

Maybe this image means so much because it reminds me how sweet life can be, even with all of its imperfections. Somehow, my camera captured an instant of unencumbered joy. Against a blurred background of other memories–some nice and others painful or simply unremarkable–this particular moment in time stands out like a freeze frame, cut from the action of a fast-paced movie.

We moved recently, and I’m experiencing so many sweet moments against a backdrop of bitter. I lived in Levelland for longer than in any other place. In moving back, I feel like I’ve come home. I find myself sighing contentedly under the familiar sky that’s bigger here in West Texas than anywhere else in the world. But like the trees absent from our new landscape, I miss the strength and shelter of all we left behind.

The joy in making up for lost time here stands starkly against the reality of missing out on things there.

The excitement of new friends and endeavors plays tug-of-war in a heart still very much attached to people and times far away.

Olivia’s story–speaking loudly now in the absence of preschooler chatter and the presence of hearing aids–never escapes the notice of a new acquaintance. A longing for the comfort of those who already know our history is met by the wonder of another chance to give glory to God for peace that is beyond understanding.

There’s no good synonym for bittersweet, and some experiences can’t be described any other way. I am learning some things from the bittersweet, though:

Sweet can be easy to miss unless you know what bitter tastes like. How many trays of dessert pass us by until we are jolted from preoccupation by a mug of black coffee? I’m actually thankful for moments of loneliness that helped me see the value of relationship.

Sweetness is meant to be savored, but bitterness has its purposes too. The only way to really live the best moments in life is to be fully present in them. Sometimes pain, waiting, and loss are the teachers that convince us to trade the cheap for the precious.
 
Sweet things are often found encased by something bitter. Who can enjoy the taste of an orange without first removing the peel? Anything worth having is rarely gained without a struggle of some kind.

This is God’s redemptive way in a world where disobedience brought heartache of all types. He causes even the acrid to serve a purpose and allows His glory to shine brightly through broken vessels in dark places.

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”–Rom. 8:28

“We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure.”–II Cor. 4:7a

So, we relish time with loved ones even more for the time we missed, and spontaneous joy makes rivers from the cracks etched by drought.

We learn to give ourselves completely to the moment and to the people who share this place and time called here and now. That is how we capture images that have eternal value. The past and the future BOTH urge us to live immersed in the present. To engage with the present wholeheartedly is to trust that God is sovereign over time and place and that He guides us within them for our good.

So often, bittersweet means that God is working all things together for our good. He’s taking what was bitter and is making it sweet.

A Savior drinks from the cup of suffering and death for the joy of reconciliation.

The loneliest among us learn to be the best kind of friend.

And the child who doesn’t speak finds joy here and now, telling me all I need to know about what really matters.

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