In her memoir “Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet” Sara Hagerty wrestles with the question, “Is God good to me?” As her story opens, Sara attends a baby shower and leaves in tears. Not long after she wed, she wanted to become a mother and would watch as other women in her life became pregnant, and then grieve that this “rite of passage” was denied to her. Sara would have many conversations with God through prayers said while she “padded around the first floor of [their] house on the hill, in the room-to- room circle [her] feet now knew from memory. The world silent, the lingering night sky keeping it placid, while [she] talked to Him. (20-21)
Sara used the imagery of a expectant mother throughout her story as she took on the pain of infertility, the loss of her father to brain cancer, financial difficulties, and later overseas adoption. Her writing is beautiful and heartfelt. I was underlining away in this book! God used Sara’s painful circumstances to move her from a new Christian to a mature one, someone “who will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24-25):
“And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.”
Sara had thought she was cursed because her womb was empty. She didn’t think she had false perceptions about who God is though. She didn’t see Him as angry or belligerent, “even absent, His mind caught up in more important matters”(20).
“My question was not, “Is God good?” But instead, Is He good to me? I was overlooked. Forgotten. Not important enough to bless, and easy enough to dismiss. Cursed” (20).
How Sara saw herself though changed as she delved deep into the Bible. She saw her own story in the experiences of woman who had bled for 12 years. The woman knew just by touching Jesus she would be well again in Mark 5:27-29:
“The woman had heard about Jesus, so she came up behind him in the crowd and barely touched his clothes. 28 She had said to herself, ‘If I can just touch his clothes, I will get well.’ 29 As soon as she touched them, her bleeding stopped, and she knew she was well.”
Sara’s story spoke of growth not only in her spiritual life, but also in her marriage to Nate. Nate leaned in when Sara tried to push him away when she was at her most vulnerable, and later she too would lean in to his hurts in the same way. Together Sara and Nate walked through the death of her father, the financial debts that arose in their business, and the process of adopting their four children, two from Ethiopia and two from Uganda. “God was working every angle to change our knowledge about who He is,” Sara said. “We realized that our lives aren’t, in fact, a series of rewards for doing things ‘right.’ They are strung-together surprises that continue to speak more of who He is than who we aren’t.” God used the circumstances of their lives as “a catalyst to a new understanding of Him [that] became the testimony of Jesus in [their] lives.”
The ways that God spoke to Sara reminded me of the “goosebump stories” my Grandma Pringle would tell me about God communing with His children.. Sara said she heard God speak “as a resounding sense in her spirit” that she and Nate would become parents in September 2005. God was preparing them for adoption. Two other women in different countries would give birth to their daughters in exactly that time of September 2005.
As I read, I took on Sara’s question “Is God good to me?” as I turned over the new-found ideas about God that she shared. I tried to answer it myself. While one side of me quickly answered, “Of course He is good to me,” I dug deeper. I can understand why Sara would feel cursed by her circumstances. I live with migraine and fibromyalgia. The pain and other symptoms make life difficult. My chronic illnesses have derailed what I would term a normal life. I try to hold onto hope like nobody’s business and get excited when new treatments are available. I keep thinking I will feel better soon and will regain some ground. But I’ve no miraculous healing this side of heaven. Did I do something wrong? Am I cursed, or could it be that God is using my circumstances for His plans and my growth? Is God good to me? Yes, He is. Spiritually I am growing more than when I wasn’t ill. Like Sara, I am rifling through my Bible hungry for my daily bread. So how is God good to me? He gave me Jesus. Jesus walked through worse. He gave me His Holy Spirit. I am never alone. Someday I will feel well again. (I still hope that’s here on earth!)
Sara’s way of studying the Bible and her times of worship will impact my own study time and prayer life. For instance, she leaves space for God to answer when she is studying scriptures. Sara will take a passage from the Bible that speaks a truth about God and say those words back to Him. She then listens for Him to answer. She said God “writes back and reminds [her] of the times when [she’s] seen this very truth activated in [her] life.” She also makes adoration a part of the fabric of worship where she gives thanks to God as He continues His work in her life.
“Adoration makes walking with God more than just reacting to a series of externals. Adoration calls the circumstances, no matter how high or low, into proper submission in our hearts. Adoration roots us in a reality that no amount of pain and no amount of blessing can shake. Adoration steadies us. It re-patterns our thinking. It centers our lives around a God-man instead of forever trying to make sense of the God-man through the lenses of our circumstances” (97)
One way Sara and her family practice the habit of thanksgiving and adoration is by working their way through the alphabet with “each letter, assigned to a different attribute of God and an accompanying verse” (171). For example, one night they were working through “R,” and their daughter said, “Thank you for remembering when I got my ears pierced, even though I don’t remember.” Sara and Nate knew something special was happening in their daughter’s heart as she recognized the God who remembers. “He remembers the first word we didn’t hear,” Sara said. “He remembers when she rolled over for the first time, and when she took her first step. He heard her baby babble. He knows intimately every small moment of her grand life” (172). Just typing this quote made me tear up again. I’ve been working the “Alphabet of Adoration” into my prayer time when words don’t come. As a result, I feel like I am more focused, my attention on thanking God, so I then remember who or what I need to share with Him.
I knew this book would be one I’d want to share with others, and I’m glad I have a hard copy. I was moved by Sara’s story. She shared the raw pain that was hers for years and showed how God led her through those valleys. At the end of each chapter, Sara has Scriptures for further reading. If you are interested in starting a book club and want to use this book, Sara has additional resources for you at: http://sarahagerty.net/book-club/. Happy reading and Happy New Year!