Bitterness’ ability to grow undetected is what makes it so dangerous.
She lived in a lovely white craftsman-style house on a lovely tree-lined street, just a couple miles from me. She was an artist, a wife, a mom and a former nanny. Her house was tidy, tidier than mine, full of pops of color and modern-style furniture. She believed in toys without lights or electronics and sleep schedules and the philosophy that kids should be outdoors as much as possible. She was detail oriented, professional and friendly. It was clear she knew what she was doing, and had been a caregiver before. For us, it was the ideal child care arrangement for our first baby, our infant daughter Elena. Everything was routine and easy until one day, my world fell apart.
On that cold, misty day in November, I found myself in the Emergency Room of our local Children’s Hospital listening to doctors tell me that my four-month-old daughter had suffered a non-accidental traumatic brain injury and was teetering on the delicate edge between life and death. For the next three weeks as Elena began to medically stabilize, the devastation of our new reality began to set in. Her injury, as we would much later come to fully realize, had left her brain severely damaged and resulted in comprehensive, lifetime disabilities.
Having now the gift of hindsight and healing, seeing how God was moving within us and around us during those very early days, I have no doubt that He shielded my heart from the fury and vengeance one would expect to have been immediately launched at the woman who was caring for our child when this happened. I can’t pretend to know God’s intentions but now, looking back, I can appreciate how that delay to anger has played an integral role in my journey. Make no mistake, though, as the grief began to wrap itself around every inch of my being, seeds of anger and the bitter cries of injustice began to find their way into very dark corners of my very broken heart.
Unrecognizable to me at the time, the next several years of grieving and processing left me with growing bitterness and anger, not just towards the babysitter but in other parts of my life, towards people I loved. For years, hearing of anyone’s happy news brought tiny shards of resentment to the surface, whispering to me that I wasn’t happy, that I would never have that, that my child would never get to do that. You see, however small, its seeds work their way into all parts of your heart bringing its companions, jealousy and anger. If fed properly it grows, like a rainstorm, into a thunderstorm, into a tornado, a hurricane and eventually hardens you entirely. Bitterness’ ability to grow undetected is what makes it so dangerous, mine was rooted deeply and well disguised. You usually don’t know you’re bitter until you’re not.
As these feelings began to grow, a vicious cycle began to play in my head, the more I blamed her, the more I resented her, the more the trauma would replay, leaving me an emotional wreck. This mental highlight reel felt justified, which I’m certain led to deeper roots and stronger holds. Maybe you can relate? Have you ever felt this way towards someone? Perhaps you play more of the comparison game rather than the blame game? Their life seemingly includes something yours is lacking, or appears “Instagram perfect” therefore you feel this pang of jealousy or resentment towards them? Or maybe they’ve said or done something to make you feel small, that’s hurt you, that plays over and over in your thoughts. This, I came to discover, is a danger zone. The repetitive appearance of someone (in my case the babysitter) in your mind should signal that unresolved feelings are growing into deep, dark places, and the longer they sit, the more dangerous and difficult to resolve they become.
It was a Sunday morning in October, four years after Elena’s injury when God revealed to me my heart’s truth. I was scribbling sermon notes in my notebook on Acts 9, when God chooses a man named Ananias, who reluctantly but obediently goes to aid in the unimaginable and miraculous conversion of Saul/Paul. The pastor asked the congregation (referring to Ananias being incredibly uncomfortable going to visit a known enemy of Christians) who is your impossible? Who is the most undesirable person in your life? I wrote: “God can reach anybody…GRACE!” and “If grace can’t reach everybody – then it can’t reach anybody.”
Her, my impossible. You need to forgive her, Emmalee.
Before that moment, forgiveness hadn’t even occurred to me. Besides not even thinking of it, I certainly didn’t feel it was necessary for her or for me. There was no relationship between us. My logic told me it didn’t matter. But God had shown me a blind spot; a dangerous piece of shrapnel poisoning my depths, stunting my healing. Whatever happened, whatever the babysitter held in her heart, was not dependent on me or my forgiving her. I was not the linchpin to her life. But forgiving her, was the linchpin in mine. It was my bridge to resolution and clearing my heart to make room to receive God’s true healing. That Sunday in church, I inwardly forgave the babysitter. It was a divine and holy act that drove out the darkness by shining a light into the most hidden crevices of my heart. It was freedom.
Forgiveness isn’t so much an outward expression than it is an inward transaction. It’s an exchange of emotions, light for dark, peace for pain, freedom from the chains of resentment. It’s not an absolution of actions or an act of justice, but an inexplicable, unrequited act of love. The choice for me that day was to live in love, set free by forgiveness or to dwell in the swamp of bitterness. I didn’t excuse what happened, I made an offering of undeserving love. I understood the weight of this because my faith is entirely based upon an undeserved grace. God’s grace is the ultimate grace, one that no one could ever find themselves unworthy of. God asked me to forgive the babysitter because He knew I understood what it feels like to be given the gift of undeserved forgiveness.
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Emmalee was just three months into motherhood when her life turned upside down: her infant daughter sustained a devastating brain injury while in the care of a babysitter.
This tragedy was the launch and purpose of Our Shining Light, a blog detailing her daughter’s rehabilitation while simultaneously chronicling her own ongoing walk through searing grief and loss. Over the past nine years—relying on her faith and with a great deal of soul-searching—her difficult road has ultimately led to expanded perspective, peace, and forgiveness. Her biggest desire is to create a sense of connection with those who feel alone and isolated enduring life’s inevitable challenges. She lives in Indiana with her husband and three kids.