Every Thought Captive

Bittersweet

"For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God."

"He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."

Romans 8:19, Revelation 21:4

The first time my feet hit red, rough dirt, my life changed. In an instant, I was in another world. After hours of travel and months of preparation, I suddenly felt unprepared and anxious. This was a world unlike any I had seen before. Africa. Nothing was familiar—in fact, much of it was jarring to behold. The comforts of my contented world slipped away and I felt raw, exposed and vulnerable. How could a part of God’s created earth look so vastly different from the one with which I was familiar?

As our bus drove through the compound—tires splashing through sewage and frequent pot holes—I sat still and pensive, but my heart was racing. We swerved through “neighborhoods” of homes made of mud and cardboard with thatched roofs, often patched with black tarps. To millions, this was home. I couldn’t begin to comprehend the depravity and need unfolding before my eyes. From my perspective, they “needed” so much. Perhaps that is why what happened next surprised me.

In a matter of moments, herds of tiny feet came scampering in the direction of our advancing bus. Delightful squeals of children—chanting and singing—came rushing towards us as we moved through the compound. Expecting to see somber faces that matched the state of their circumstances, I was humbled to notice something entirely different. These children were radiant. They were joy-filled and exuberant. Our bus carefully moved forward, now with an ocean of children on either side, clapping to the rhythm of the motor.

We came to a stop on the grounds of a nearby community school. The children flocked through the open gate and bounced up and down as our team unloaded. As I stepped off the bus, I was greeted by an overwhelming welcome. Tiny hands gripped mine, as though we had been friends for years. They tugged and jumped and laughed. These children—these beautiful, made-in-God’s-image children—instantly grabbed hold of my heart. Our parade moved into the streets of the compound again and scattered in every direction. They wanted us to see their homes. In the midst of mud, sewage and unimaginable poverty, these children were joyful, content and even proud of the place they called “home.” It stopped me in my tracks—a world so different than my own in appearance and contentment. From a worldly perspective, they had nothing. But as I got to know their hearts and stories and HOPE…they had everything. They had Jesus. 

You don’t have to be around for long on this earth to figure out that life is often bittersweet. A juxtaposition of things that are really joyful, delightful and good next to things or circumstances that are difficult, confusing and sad. The concept of bittersweet has been stirring in my mind lately. Life is full of circumstances, events and happenings that are bittersweet in nature. My view this morning looks out over the ocean. The Creator’s handiwork stretches as far as my eye can see. But in a world of such beauty and majesty, there is violence, hate and unthinkable sadness. Yet the two opposing realities are governed by the same merciful Redeemer who is making all things new.

“Bittersweet” is a true reality of our world this side of heaven. I am learning that it is also a significant sign of the Lord’s daily and consistent work of redeeming a broken world. Heartache comes in all forms—the loss of a job, the estrangement of a family member, the ravages of addiction, the miscarriage of a hoped for pregnancy. Creation groans and waits with eager longing (Romans 8:19) to be made new by the One who spun the orbits and feathered the bluebird.

As bittersweet life unfolds, I find myself in a fight for joy. The kind of joy that I saw in those precious faces of Zambian children. There is deep seated sense of joy that comes from knowing Jesus. It rides above circumstances and heartache. It is a joy that buoys us up in the face of great loss and undesirable realities. It is a peace that surpasses understanding. Life is bittersweet—a sure sign that Jesus is at work and He is coming again.

My husband once wrote a song about our coming hope as believers. It’s melody rings through my mind as I contemplate the brokenness of our world and my heart.

We are pilgrims passing through;
We were made to dwell with you.
Cloudy eyes can’t see the way,
All signs point to the day
When death and pain will be erased,
And we see you face to face.

Alleluia, allelu,
Amen, Jesus, please come soon.
All creation groans for you,
And we are feeling homesick, too,
For the God who makes all things new:
Amen, Jesus, please come soon.

The waves crash right outside my window. Creation—in all its majesty and tranquility—points me towards my eternal hope. There will be a day when all is made right, when “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

My hope is the same as those children in Zambia. Yet they live like they believe it. Lord, give us grace to live with abounding hope. You are making all things new. Amen, Jesus, please come soon.

About the Author

Photograph of Ann Higginbottom

Ann Higginbottom

Ann Higginbottom grew up in Dallas and is a proud graduate of Texas A&M University. She met her husband Robby after college, and they enjoy raising their son Will in their hometown close to all family members. Ann is an author and photographer (www.annhigginbottom.com) and also devotes much time to Kershaw's Challenge, a charity that focuses on caring for vulnerable children worldwide.

Robby and Ann are active members at PCPC, where Robby serves as the Assistant Pastor of College Ministry.