Finding Joy in Him

Through Every Season

Month: February 2014

Dwelling Safely in “The Cove”

I’ve mentioned in another post how God had been speaking to Mike and I about a coming “change” in the months before we lost Joel and some of the preparations we had been making for the “change.”  I haven’t yet shared the preparations we experienced the week before we lost Joel.

Two Wednesdays before we lost Joel, a guest speaker visited our church.  His message was “It is well.”  Mike and I were both encouraged because we’d each heard and felt impressed with that same message and song on our hearts earlier that day.  “It is Well” made such an impression on us that we included it in our list of songs for Joel’s memorial.  We were so comforted to know that Joel was spending eternity in Heaven with Jesus and that God, like Joel’s name proclaims, was still sovereign and still with us.

The Sunday following the guest speaker’s visit, Mike and I took a short trip up to see the Smoky Mountains.  We were able to take several trips that last year.  They were much needed after going through breast cancer and a stressful job change the year before. We are very thankful that we had that time to heal together before losing Joel.  We had a nice time in the Smokys, saw a couple of shows and went for a hike to Laurel Falls.

The hike was a little strange.  I’d hiked there a couple years before with my parents and Joel and Judi..

This time with Mike I kept seeing visions of Joel and Judi walking just ahead of us.  I’d never experienced anything like that before and I am still not sure what to make of it.

Tuesday morning, during my early morning worship time, I heard God quote

Jeremiah 33:3 to me: “Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you great and incomprehensible things you do not know.”

I responded with an awkward smile and, “I am good, God.  I don’t have any questions.”

Wednesday morning, I woke with a sick feeling in my stomach.  Later that afternoon on the way home my heart burned with a question for Mike.  I asked him, “If any thing were to happen, who would you call?”  He didn’t understand, so I clarified my question with another, “If I were to die, who would you call?!”  He answered, “Donald.”  Which I knew.  Donald has been Mike’s best friend since high school.  They’ve been through a lot together, including the loss of each of their fathers at a young age.

What I really needed to know was, “Who else?” “Which pastor?”  I knew when we lived in Florida and Montgomery that he would have felt comfortable calling our pastors there.  Our pastor in Montgomery was a loving father figure to us and our pastor in Florida a good friend, but although we’ve been faithfully attending our current church for several years, friendships have been hard to come by and it hasn’t felt like the family we’ve had and needed in other cities.

Later that evening, my Mother called.  I knew immediately that something was wrong.  She was grieving because a pastor/friend of ours had passed away and she had found out on Facebook.  I had no idea that in just two days my son, James, would be requesting prayer on Facebook for our family because his brother had died.  Knowing how awful that had been for my mother, I was in a panic the morning after loosing Joel; calling everyone I could before they read James’ post on Facebook.  I forgot one very important person, our Thai daughter, Savannah.  I am sorry, baby.

I’ve shared before how I’d spent my last day with Joel worshiping and putting up Christmas decorations and how he’d commented, “Normally it feels like Christmas.. but it doesn’t yet because I still have these final exams.”  Later that day, I stood beside him in the kitchen and silently told God with a thankful heart how much I enjoyed just being in Joel’s presence.  I now believe I was sensing a special anointing that he was to walk out that evening.

That afternoon, when Joel and Josh were preparing to leave for the birthday party, there were no warning alarms going off in my spirit.  I was listening for them.  I have tried mentor, guide and love my adult children without overly mothering them.. to be led of the Holy Spirit.  They have been truly wonderful, obedient, loving children who listen to and obey the Holy Spirit and I’ve tried to respect them for it and leave plenty of room for Holy Spirit to work in them.

That day Joel had a determination to go that Josh couldn’t argue out of him.  Most of the time it was the other way around; his siblings would beg him to go places, and he would bask in the attention. 🙂  After their argument, I asked Joel if the place they were going was safe.  He answered, “Yes, it’s safe.  It’s a fireman’s house.  I don’t know why it wouldn’t be.”

I did hear the Lord say to ask Joel for a kiss under the mistletoe.  I am sorry to say that I disobeyed.  I didn’t get my goodbye kiss.  I didn’t want to embarrass him in front of his new friend and believed I could ask him later.

During our trip to the Smoky’s, Mike and I had spent some time discussing a possible name for our house.  One of my aunts has a name for hers and we think that’s cool.  That evening while they were at the party, Mike told me that he’d thought of the perfect name for our house: “The Cove.”  We both liked it.. a safe place to love and raise our kids.  We mentioned to each other how we thought Joel would think it was cool.

Losing Joel shattered my sense of safety on so many levels.  Joel had taken on a protector role from the time Judi was born (when he was 17 months old).  He spent most of his time at home in the front room and I’d always felt safe knowing he was there near the front door protecting us.

One night, during the blackout after the April 2011 tornadoes, we had a looter come to our back porch.  Joel heard him and roared so loud that I swear it shook the house.  Nothing wakes me except thunder loud enough to shake the house, and Joel woke me.  The looter ran for his life.

To help heal my sense of safety, I’ve worked on several projects.  One of which was to make this sign:

“The Cove,” the humor, and the paper air planes are all in Joel’s honor.  He loved to make others laugh, to spend time at home, and to make paper air planes.  He left one under our TV stand for our well armed and very dangerous cat, who loves to chase them.

The sign may have confused and sent two sales men on their way its first day up, but it obviously does nothing to keep me safe.  If the LORD doesn’t keep us, nothing can.

We don’t understand why God didn’t protect Joel the night he was killed.  There are so many things that could have gone differently: Josh could have never met and played football with the new kids two weeks before, Joel could have had to work that night as he did so many Friday nights, someone could have had a flat tire or car trouble, Joel could have chosen to stay home as he had so many times, but none of that happened.  Joel had a special anointing on him that afternoon.  Joel determined to go.  Joel died.  Everyone else lived.  And I am thankful they did.

God is sovereign; He is with us.  God was not taken by surprise.  He knew Joel before we did, and saw him all the way through to Heaven.

Psalm 139:16-18 “Your eyes saw my unformed body;
 all the days ordained for me were written in your book
 before one of them came to be.
  How precious to me are your thoughts, God!  How vast is the sum of them!
 Were I to count them,
  they would outnumber the grains of sand— when I awake, I am still with you.”

God was gracious towards me and revealed to me the joy on His face the day Joel arrived at home:

Psalm 116:15 “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”

Sign or no sign.
Shattered sense of safety or peace that passes understanding;
“Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure
    in Him, for He shields him all day long,
and the one the Lord loves
     rests between His shoulders.”
           Deuteronomy 33:12



Sovereign Over Us (song)

God has been encouraging me to “Feed on His faithfulness.”  This song I found this morning… is perfect.

Sovereign Over Us
~Aaron Keyes

There is strength within the sorrow,
There is beauty in our tears.
You meet us in our mourning,
With a love that casts out fear.
You are working in our waiting;
You’re sanctifying us.
When beyond our understanding,
You’re teaching us to trust.

Your plans are still to prosper,
You have not forgotten us;
You’re with us in the fire and the flood.
You’re faithful forever,
Perfect in love;
You are sovereign over us.

We trust You, loving King.

You are wisdom unimagined,
Who could understand Your ways?
Reigning high above the heavens,
Reaching down in endless grace,
You’re the Lifter of the lowly,
Compassionate and kind;
You surround and You uphold me,
And Your promises are my delight.

Your plans are still to prosper,
You have not forgotten us;
You’re with us in the fire and the flood.
You’re faithful forever,
Perfect in love;
You are sovereign over us

Your plans are still to prosper,
You have not forgotten us;
You’re with us in the fire and the flood.
You’re faithful forever,
Perfect in love;
You are sovereign over us.

You rescued!

Even what the enemy means for evil
You turn it for our good,
You turn it for our good and for Your glory;
Even in the valley You are faithful
You’re working for our good,
You’re working for our good and for Your glory.

Your plans are still to prosper,
You have not forgotten us
You’re with us in the fire and the flood
You’re faithful forever,
Perfect in love;
You are sovereign over us.

You’re faithful forever,
Perfect in love;
You are sovereign over us.

Holding on to Faith in Vulnerable Places

My hands are shaking as I type.  I have felt from the beginning that it is important for me to be open and honest with you about this painful journey.  It’s hard to paint a true picture and for most of the picture there just aren’t any words.  I find it difficult as a wounded person to open up and stand under scrutiny. My desire for authenticity comes from my deep desire not to add condemnation to anyone’s struggles with suffering.  It’s hard and I don’t like it, but I keep looking up to the same faithful Savior.

I “just happened” to read a scripture last week that had been bothering me.  I had been taught that it meant something that caused me to feel guilt and condemnation, but when I read it in context for myself, the Lord gave me an understanding that encouraged me and filled me with faith, hope and freedom.  I hope it will encourage you, too.

Exodus chapter 14 begins with God telling Moses His plan to put Israel in a vulnerable place.. to harden Pharaoh’s heart and to entice him chase after them so He could “gain glory for Himself” and show the Egyptians that “He is the Lord.”  The Lord showed me years ago that He did it FOR the Egyptians.  I love that He does things not only for us, but also for the ones who would kill or enslave us; that He hardens the hearts of pharaohs, so He can show many hearts His glory.  I hope that God will use this very vulnerable place that I now find myself in for His glory, too.

God had shown Moses a plan and purpose for putting Israel in danger, and Moses understood that it would be for God’s glory.  Moses didn’t know if, or what plan of escape God had, but he showed extraordinary faith when he responded to Israel’s fearful cries.

10-14 As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”

Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again.

“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

This last verse has been on my wall since going through breast cancer.  It’s a word that I felt was from the Lord for me.  During the first months of recovery, I couldn’t do much more than “be still.”  I’ve done a lot of being still before the Lord since.  I have prayed for help, for wisdom, for comfort, for healing and I have been still in His presence waiting for His answer.. for direction.  I have been obedient in what I have known to do to the best of my ability.  I am being obedient now as I open up my heart to you.

After getting through the one year anniversary of Joel’s Heaven day (December 7th) almost two months ago, we had to face the Christmas season without him.  I chose not to dread Christmas.  I didn’t want to dread Christmas.  I love Christmas.  I love that Jesus became one of us so that He could show us His love for us on the cross.  It comforts me to remember that Jesus drew us to Himself before Joel lost his life… that Joel is now in Heaven seeing Jesus face to face.  We are blessed.

Everything about Christmas comforts me: the Christmas trees, my Christmas tree with close to 175 Jesus’ names on it, the wreaths, my wreaths with the red and white candy cane ribbons that remind me of His pure sacrifice for me, my nativity.. it all comforts me.

It also all pains me. Joel spent most of his last earthly day at “home” with me studying for finals, talking to me, and playing his guitar while I put up our Christmas decorations.  Now putting “Christmas” up, taking decorations down and especially not having Joel Manuel here with us; not having him come in the kitchen and see how Christmas lunch preparations are coming, not having him help set the table, not having him sit and eat with us, not having him play games with us is excruciatingly painful and rightfully mourned.

I’ve learned that on the 7th of each month since loosing Joel that I have to be especially nice to myself; I have to “be still” and let the Lord fight for me.  I thought that after the first year, I could stop counting the months since we’ve lost Joel.  We made it through our last “first” holiday without Joel (Thanksgiving – the kids’ favorite), the anniversary of Joel’s Heaven day, Christmas eve service, Christmas day (During the hardest parts of the day, I had to run into my closet to let out deep, sorrowful screams into a pillow.).  We made it through a weekend trip to a place we had taken Judi and Joel just 4 years before and through remembering/imagining seeing Joel just around the corner.  We made it through the news of a death of a friend’s daughter and spent New Years Eve grieving for her and them and for Joel and for the new year we had to spend with out him.  We made it through Judi’s birthday on the 4th of January which is just too close to all the rest of it.  She turned 20 this year; the age Joel was last year when we lost him.  We made it through all of it with joy, hope and sorrow and tears.

On the 7th of January, I went to a party thinking that I didn’t have to worry about another anniversary until Joel’s birthday or next December 7th, and discovered in my car on the way, as I often discover in my car.. that I am not okay.. I am still in the midst of my grief and I need God to fight for me like never before.

I chose to be still and to be obedient to breathe even though it HURT and even though I was so ashamed that that was all I could be obedient to do.

Exodus 14:15-18 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.”

I was taught that standing still wasn’t enough.  That in the context of this scripture that God scolded Moses for standing still, but what the Lord revealed to me last week was amazing:

Moses’ FAITH was what cried out to God.

His command to Israel in verses 13 and 14 (worth reading again) spoke louder than all the Israelites’ fearful cries.  I believe that God’s question was not a scolding but a deep emotional response to Moses’ faith.


There is no record here of Moses crying out to God in unbelief or fear.  God’s response was to Moses.


Moses didn’t know the plan for escape.  He had never seen a sea parted and dry land appear.  He only knew that God was sovereign and He was good and that if they could stand firm and be still and wait on the Lord, that He would show him what to do.  It was a stance of trust and obedience in the face of certain death for a over million people.

Mike said that he is coming to believe our faith shouldn’t be in our faith or “in a particular outcome, but in God’s sovereignty and goodness.

God invites us to cry out to him when we are in the midst of trials (James 1:2-5).  He will not rebuke us.  He delights in showing Himself strong in our weakness and in coming to our aide.

God’s deepest desire is for relationship with us.

He proved it in the extravagant act of giving His ONLY begotten SON for us.  Relationship with God takes faith and trust in Him on our part – especially in the hard times.  If God had only wanted obedience, He would have laid out the whole plan for Moses in verses 1-4.  Instead, He tested Moses with only half of the answers and I believe that Moses’ faith surpassed God’s expectations.

To say that Mike and I don’t know or understand all of God’s plan would be a huge understatement.  We don’t understand why God allows so much pain and suffering in us (personally or collectively in the human race).  We only know, as the meaning of Joel Manual Coleman’s name proclaims, that God is sovereign, that God is with us and most importantly we know that God is good.

“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.” 1 Corinthians 13:12 NLT

We are waiting on the Lord and obeying as He gives us grace and instruction.  Holding on even when that grace and instruction is only to stand still.. to breathe.. and wait for Him to fight for us.  Standing in faith even when that instruction is to wait in a vulnerable place where we feel like God could have come up with a better plan.

We have a long way to go, but we are trusting that He is the “author and perfecter of our faith,” that at the end of our race we, too, will see Him face to face and maybe as He wipes away our tears we will hear that longed for, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” because He has been faithful in us and found glory for Himself in saving us.  And we will hug our Joel and sing and dance with him in a triumphal song of praise for all God has done for us and because our last enemy, Death, has been swallowed up in His victory.

Exodus 15:2
The Lord is my strength and my song,
and He has become my salvation.
He is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him.

For now I am singing



Praying for Words

I have some writing to do.  The last few months have been hard.. too sorrowful for words.

I’ve been praying for words for the last several weeks, because I know that if I don’t write now it’ll be several more months before I will be able to write again.  We have our first “court setting” in April.  We don’t know if there will be a trial or not.  We do know that we “have” to go.  I’ve been asked the question several times.  Well meaning friends don’t want us to “have” to suffer through a trial.  They don’t understand what staying home would feel like…  how it would be an abandonment of Joel.. a denial of our love for him.. how it would look to a jury.  They need to see that Joel is important to us.. that we love him.. that he is a real person.. that loosing him hurt us.

If Joel’s shooter takes a plea bargain or pleads guilty, we won’t have to face a room full of jurors.  Either way we will have to face Joel’s shooter (Tim) and a judge and a sentencing.  There is even more evidence against him than we realized.  He passed his mental evaluation.  When the woman from Victim Services called to tell me the “good news,” she couldn’t understand how I couldn’t be glad with her the evening before the first anniversary of Joel’s Heaven day.  We’ve been told that a trial won’t help his case, but if or not we have go through one is up to Timothy; up to if or not he has enough courage to stand before a judge and plead guilty.

My heart toward Timothy remains the same as it has from the beginning.  I pray that when we meet him for the first time, that we will be able to show him God’s love and forgiveness toward him.. that that Love will overwhelm him and bring him and his whole family to salvation.. that one day he will live a life that is truly free and happy and full of love and salvation.

Please be praying for us, the other families involved in the case, and for Timothy..

Ephesians 3:14-21 “For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

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