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

Love,

Jenny

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

We live in a culture where there is so much instant gratification that some believe anyone can achieve instant gratification if they just have enough faith.

They focus on stories about slaying giants and winning victories while leaving out or explaining away the ones that are messy and hard. They quote Jeremiah 29:11

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

while leaving out the preceding verses where God explains that His plan includes 70 years of captivity to Babylon. When the verses are read together, you realize that God’s loving plan may include gratification delayed until Heaven.

Real Faith

Real faith isn’t built by instant gratification. Real faith stands the test of time. Real faith holds on to the belief that God is good when its circumstances are not. When wounded and weary, real faith rests. When left in the dark, real faith looks up to the One who made the stars and waits. Real faith obeys God even when it looks stupid to others. Real faith trusts in a God that collects each tear in His bottle.

When you are in a valley, you are especially vulnerable to attack. You need to know what real faith looks like so that you can endure. If you believe it looks like instant gratification, you are going to be attacked by guilt and condemnation when it doesn’t work out that way.

Real Stories

The Bible is honest about life and full of stories that are messy and hard and require endurance. Not every hard thing in the Bible was avoided by faith. Even Paul couldn’t pray the thorn in his flesh away. Some things are just difficult and painful and faith doesn’t make them hurt less.

My life in this valley is messy and hard right now. It’s difficult to paint a true picture… for the most part there just aren’t any words. I have a deep desire to share authentically because I believe that stories tidied up and wrapped in a bow can destroy those who are suffering with guilt, condemnation, isolation and shame. Real stories don’t always have commercial breaks or superficial Hallmark endings. I’ve been in this painful valley for a little over a year now. There is no tidy bow. I am still struggling, but I keep looking up to the same faithful Savior.

It’s Not All About Us

In Exodus 14 God lets Moses in on His plan to place Israel in a vulnerable situation, harden Pharaoh’s heart, and entice him chase after them so He could gain glory for Himself and show the Egyptians that He is the Lord.

His plan was FOR the Egyptians. I love that He does things not only for us, but also for those who desire to kill or enslave us. I love 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 what God would do next, and yet he responded to Israel’s fearful cries with extraordinary faith.

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!” – Exodus 14:10-12

Moses answered the people with faith that said,

 “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.” Exodus 14:13

The next verse has hung on my wall since going through breast cancer:

It has been a word in due season that has strengthened and encouraged me when I couldn’t do much more than “be still” for months while I allowed my body to heal.

Still in Vulnerable Places

I’ve spent a lot of time being still before the Lord this past year as well. After loosing Joel on December 7, the 7ths became Exodus 14:14 days for me. I’ve learned that I have to be especially nice to myself on the 7th of each month; I have to be still and let the Lord fight for me. I have prayed for help, wisdom, comfort, and healing. I have been still in His presence waiting for His direction and answers. I have been obedient in what I have known to do to the best of my ability.

This past Thanksgiving, the kids’ favorite holiday, was our last “first” without Joel. Then came the first anniversary of Joel’s Homegoing. Joel spent most of his last earthbound day at “home” with me studying for finals, talking to me, and playing his guitar while I put up our Christmas decorations. Putting up and taking down Christmas decorations now means reliving that last day. It was really hard, but I was determined to be thankful for all the days we had with Joel and not to dread Christmas.

I don’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. The wreaths, trees, lights, candy canes and nativities all comfort me. The 175 of names of Jesus on my Christmas tree comfort me. I love being surrounded by reminders of His love for me. Most of all 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. It all comforts and pains me.

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. Although I had managed not to dread Christmas, I found myself running into my closet several times on Christmas day to let out deep, sorrowful screams into my pillow.

A few days after Christmas, we took a weekend trip to a place we had taken Judi and Joel just 4 years before. We made it through remembering/imagining seeing Joel just around the corner there. Then a friend lost their daughter. We spent New Years Eve grieving for her and her family and for Joel and for the new year we had to spend without him. Judi turned 20 on the 4th of January. She is now the age Joel was when we lost him last year. We made it through all of it with joy and hope and sorrow and tears.

On the 7th of January, I got in my car to drive to a party and discovered that I hadn’t truly made it through. It’s in the privacy of my car that I often discover 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 thought we had reached a finish line. I thought that after the first year, I could stop observing the 7ths. I discovered that after “firsts” come “seconds.”

My heart counts the 7ths involuntarily. The 7ths are still Exodus 14:14 days for me. I don’t know how long this will last. I chose in the middle of this discovery to be still and to be obedient to breathe even though it HURT, and though I was deeply disappointed and ashamed that it was all I could be obedient to do.

Moses’ Faith

This week, I heard a message that taught that being still wasn’t enough, that Moses was rebuked for telling the people to be still, that being still wasn’t acting in faith, that instead of being still Moses should have moved.

I was crushed. Was there something I was missing? If I had enough faith, could I just walk out of my valley?

I decided to reread the context for myself and I understood something for the first time that really encouraged me.

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.” Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? – Exodus 14:13-15a

God’s response was to Moses.

“THEN THE LORD SAID TO MOSES”

There is no record here of Moses crying out to God in unbelief or fear. Moses’ FAITH was what cried out to God. His command to Israel to be still spoke louder than all over one million Israelis’ cries of terror. I believe that God’s question was not a rebuke but a deep emotional response to Moses’ faith.

FAITH IS WHAT REALLY MOVES GOD.

Moses didn’t know the plan for escape. He had never seen a sea parted and dry land appear. Where was he supposed to move to? He only knew that God was good and sovereign and had a plan. He believed that God would show him what to do next if they could stand firm, be still and wait on the Lord. It was a stance of trust in the face of certain death for a over million of God’s 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 in faith for wisdom 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 Wants Our Hearts

God’s deepest desire is for relationship with us.

He proved it in the extravagant act of giving His ONLY begotten SON for us.

God put His own Son in a vulnerable place so He could show us His glory.

Relationships require faith, trust and vulnerability.

If God had only wanted obedience, He would have never sent Jesus to die for us. He would have laid out the whole plan for Moses in verses 1-4, Moses would have parted the sea and the Israelites would have walked straight through. Instead, He tested Moses’ willingness to trust Him in a very vulnerable place. And if such a thing were possible, I believe that Moses’ faith exceeded 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. We are 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. If we hear that longed for, “Well done, good and faithful servant” as He wipes away our tears, it will be because He has been faithful in us and found glory for Himself through saving us. At last, 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

Love,

Jenny

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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