Every Bitter Thing is Sweet

The book drew me, beckoned to me, really, from the bookshelves at Barnes + Noble. I was looking for a gift for my sister, and it wasn’t what I was searching for. But something about it spoke to me. Maybe because the title and theme speaks to something I continue to struggle with and seem to learn over and over again with God: Every Bitter Thing is Sweet.


How can every bitter thing be sweet? Truly, can we say every bitter thing? Can we really taste the goodness of God in our darkest of days and trials? Will God hold up under the weight of that, under the weight of our darkest questions and scrutiny?

Sara Hagerty is familiar with bitter trial and circumstance. In this precious book, she explains some of her story, her struggles in early marriage, her struggles for many years with infertility. Her struggle with a God who spoke to her and gave her a vision of a child toddling across her bedspread, and then closed her womb to this possiblity. The struggles through multiple foreign adoptions and the seemingly endless setbacks and disappointments. And all the way, she traces the glory of God shining brilliant in these darkest moments.

In her book she reveals how God took her, a child who believed in a God whose love was best displayed in blessing, and transformed her into a desperately hungry soul. She writes her story of encountering a God who cares to carve out spaces in the soul, empty, hungering spaces that He can fill.

“A satisfied soul loathes the honeycomb,
But to a hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet.”
{Proverbs 27:7}

What if our places of discontent and brokenheartedness, what if we discovered that these places are the very holy + sacred ground of God’s deepest riches, the “treasure of darkness” that Isaiah 45:3 talks about?

Here’s a little excerpt from the first chapter:

“The Bible resting on my chair showed wear–how could it not? My friend, my best friend in this hour, was the Author. The book I’d once used to plan youth ministry talks, the book I’d once used to quote pithy sayings and to confirm opinions I’d already formed, that book had found its way into my deep.

The God behind it was proving Himself to be fundamentally different than what I’d supposed for at least a decade, maybe more. But I was finding Him. In the places I had feared most and spent a lifetime avoiding, He was meeting me. My worst, my very worst moments were getting rewritten without circumstances changing. I was getting acquainted with the kind of deep satisfaction that bad news can’t shake. He was showing me Himself as strong enough. He was letting me hide in Him, letting me find a safe place.

And so I cradled my midnight questions while mamas cradled their babies, and I let God’s psalms tell me He cradled the answer in Himself. I felt forgotten, but I heard God speak that He had not left me. I felt weak, but I heard Him promise an overshadowing. I felt anxious that my constant fumblings would annoy Him, but I heard Him say He delighted in me.

And I felt hungry.

I wasn’t this hungry when God was a distant coach, forcing me to perform.
I wasn’t this hungry when I had a life easily explained, easily predicted.
I wasn’t this hungry when everyone understood me.

Pain had created space. Space to want more. Space to taste a sense of being alive. An alive that would grow to be my favorite kind of alive: secret, hidden to all eyes but mine and those nearest to me.

This had to be the hope of a lifetime, Him and Him alone.”

If you’ve ever wondered about this God, this mysterious God who both gives and takes away, and how anyone can love a God who gives the strange gifts of hardship and hunger at times, you would be helped to read Sara’s story.

If you’ve ever battled fiercely with hard circumstances and painful seasons and have wondered how to make sense of it all, you would be helped to read Sara’s story.

Essentially, if you’ve ever lived the human experience, you would find sweet company in Sara’s poetic prose.

Triumphant, encouraging, beautifully crafted. Sara Hagerty not only shares with you her journey to a deeper hunger for God, she stirs up your own hunger, too. I highly recommend it!

* * * * *

Book Look Bloggers sent me a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. I am not required to give a favorable review and the opinions expressed are my own.

when the promise waits

I grew up in a home so full of love and sweet memories.  And yet, like so many others of you have experienced, the darkness was there.  Early on, darkness invaded our home and although one of my siblings was horribly victimized, all of us fell victim in our own ways to that darkness.  All of us were affected, broken.  When someone you love just as much as your own flesh is suffering in horrendous pain, you suffer too.  You can’t be okay in some ways until they are okay.  Your healing waits for theirs.

And so the question of “why pain, why suffering,” the question the world wields like a certain sword to the existence of a good God, often has haunted me.  Although it has never pushed me away from God, I have always felt His understanding in my need to ask those questions.  And so graciously, sometimes in the quiet and over the years, He has given glimpses.  There will never be a satisfactory answer to that question, as centuries of men far wiser than me have sought and found it unanswered.  Some things you have to choose to believe even in the face of difficulty.  Some things you just have to surrender.

Last night we all went out for ice cream, my husband and our two kids and I.  All week, in my study time with the kids, we’ve been learning about Abraham and Sarah and how they waited for the child God had promised them.  As part of teaching our daughter about waiting for a promise to be fulfilled, I promised her at the beginning of the week an ice cream treat, but she would have to wait until the end of the week for it.  Every day we talked about it, I reminded her of my promise, that I would fulfill it.  And she learned to wait and to anticipate.  And so, last night, she got her chocolate ice cream, and her excitement was unparalleled.


And so my mind has been thinking over Abraham and Sarah and their story.  Maybe you’re familiar with it {Genesis 12-23}.  I imagine that early on in Abraham and Sarah’s marriage, they dreamed about children, as so many of us do.  Of course, the pressures of their society were entirely different than ours.  For them, children were essential.  A woman who was barren was worthless, and could easily be dismissed and divorced by her husband.  What’s worse, barrenness was seen as a sign of divine judgement.  It was essential for a family’s name to be passed down and for the family line to continue through sons.

For many years Abraham and Sarah would have longed for a child, tried for a child.  But one day, the window of opportunity would have begun to close on Sarah’s natural ability.  She would have known that, although she had hoped against hope, although she had told herself to stop hoping, now all hope surely was gone.  It was time to let this dream die, as her own womb grew silent and dormant forever.

And the years continued to pass.  Now the ache was still there, but the sting had lessened a bit.  She was an old woman now, and she had a husband who loved her enough to stay with her, even in this shame she had brought on him.  She had chosen to let this be enough.

(photo credit here)

And then, the word of the Lord came to Abram.  That night came when the Lord told Abram to count the stars if he was able.  So would his descendants be: innumerable {Gen. 15:1-6}.  And the incredulous hope began to stir again.  Descendants?  This means children.  But how can this be?  And Sarah, maybe in impatience for this promise, maybe because she simply couldn’t fathom the miracle God had planned, figured it must not be through her own body that God would do this work, but through her handmaiden.  And so she suggests Abraham father a child through her maid, Hagar.  Ishmael is born, Abraham’s first son.

But this was not God’s plan for the family He was planning to generate through Abraham.  He was going to begin through Abraham and Sarah the line of Israel, a people He had chosen for Himself, to set apart for Himself as His own special portion.  A family which would be inordinately blessed, upon which His favor would forever rest.  And this family line would begin with an undeniable, miraculous work of God, not the scheming and devising of man.

Then when Abram was 99 years old, the Lord appeared to him.  God changes Abram’s name to Abraham, Sarai’s name to Sarah.  And He reveals that His plan was for the family line to come through Abraham and Sarah, and that Ishmael was not the chosen son. He tells Abraham that Sarah will have a son, and they will name him Isaac {Gen. 17}.  And yet still, the promise waited.  Still some years passed before this son Isaac was conceived in Sarah’s womb.

Why was this God’s way?  Why does the promise wait?

It isn’t what comes easily to us, what comes in abundance to us, that we treasure.  It’s what we have to fight for, what we have to long for, what we have to work for, what is rare, that we most treasure and appreciate.  Our dependency, our helplessness to secure it for ourselves — this makes us all the more aware of what a treasure it is when it comes.

It’s how we see.  When we see things as widely available, or easily attainable, we are often careless with it.  But when it’s hard to come by, we are careful with it.  We hold it close.  We enjoy it more.

When a snow storm is predicted in NC, where I live, the aisles at the grocery store are completely emptied of bread and milk.  Suddenly we perceive the value of having enough food when the threat comes that we may not easily be able to get to the store.

We see it with money.  When we have enough, we spend easily and carelessly.  When we know we don’t have enough, suddenly every expense is calculated and measured.  We are thankful for anything we can afford to feed our family, instead of worrying about whether it’s organic or locally sourced.  Suddenly the priorities change and the thanks increase for whatever we have.

We see it in a culture of abortion.  Children?  An inconvenience, easy to come by when I am ready.  Easy to dispose of when I’m not.

When my husband and I had our first daughter, the pregnancy came as as surprise and went along easily.  She was born in six hours and without any complications.  I cannot even begin to tell you the explosion of joy it was to have her and to hold her for the first time.  It’s unlike anything I had ever experienced before.  It’s indescribable.

But I think about Sarah.  What was her joy like?  I can’t measure it, but I imagine that it was infinitely greater than mine.

See, there’s an innocent joy that I experienced when my daughter was born, the joy unmixed with sorrow.  An innocent, untried joy.  A beautiful kind of joy.  But the joy that Sarah had?  The joy that comes after waiting and longing for probably 60-80 years to be a mother?  And then at nearly 100 years old, to hold her first child.  Her miracle child.  Her divine child.

And it makes me think.  God gave me the gift of a child when I had a firstborn, and of course, joy.  But for someone who has waited, for someone like Sarah, God gave the gift AND the fullest measure of joy possible along with the gift.  The greatest gift, with inestimable value in and of itself, along with the greatest possible ability to receive and enjoy the preciousness of the gift.

God stirred up their longing for a child, a longing they had surrendered, and then allowed more waiting and disappointment.  We see this and think God mean, manipulative.  A loving parent would give the desired gift immediately, we think.  But what if a parent who is perfect in love, who is full of light and in Him is no darkness whatsoever, no hint of malevolence–what if He deferred hope so that He could fulfill it with greater joy?

Abraham and Sarah grasped the weight of it.  The heaviness of glory in the miraculous holding of their very own child, their very own flesh and blood, in their wrinkled, aged hands.

Thus, Isaac.. “the son of laughter” or “he will laugh.”

The son of immeasurable joy.

And so maybe this is why sometimes, the promise waits.  Maybe this is why there are the years and years of praying for the lost family member, the prodigal child, the infertility, the healing of a disease.  Sometimes we know, in God’s higher ways that are beyond our conceiving, His most loving answer is “No.”  But sometimes, He waits so that when the “yes” comes, our joy is beyond the ordinary joy.  So that we treasure that “yes” to fullest measure.