Finding Joy in Him

Through Every Season

Year: 2015

Launching from Rocket City

DSC00635When we first moved to Alabama, Mike felt strongly that God had spoken to him that we were here to “launch our children into adulthood.” Judi was 13 almost 14. Joel was 15, James 17 and Josh 19 years old that December 20th when we moved into our house in Montgomery. Josh had graduated from high school,  worked at his first job making pizza’s for Pizza Hut and was ready to start college at the Auburn University in Montgomery. I still had three at home with me homeschooling. We were learning history and math and writing. I am a day to day kinda person. “Launching” kids into adulthood wasn’t something I could fathom. I had lesson plans to write, meals to cook and laundry to get done.. not to mention all that unpacking to do.
baloonsJust a year and a half later, we were moving again.. this time to Huntsville, AL, home of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. “Rocket City.” I armed myself with information about the science program at the University of Alabama in Huntsville before breaking the news to Joshua. His first reaction was, “Y’all have fun with that.” I was so proud and alarmed all at the same time. Proud that his Texan “Y’all” had shown through, and alarmed by my quickly fading confidence in my ability to convince him to transfer to UAH. The six of us moved here on James’ 19th birthday. I didn’t catch God’s play on words “launch” into adulthood in “Rocket City” until a few days ago.

DSC02432Normally, we like to buy older homes in established neighborhoods (I am a big fan of mature trees – a tree hugger at heart), but when we moved here, it was more affordable to build new. When we stood on the property we were praying about building on, and looked out at our little lake and the wooded area behind it, we felt God’s incredible love and peace rain down on us.

We didn’t understand the importance of that experience until we lost Joel and all the “Did we make a mistake by moving here?” questions flooded in. That memory of God’s incredible love and peace has washed over and comforted us again and again. Our little lake has been a lake of healing waters for me through breast cancer and now through losing Joel. The trees now are green and yellow and orange; changing with the season. I am going to miss it.
DSC06083God has been stirring in Mike and I another move.. and the

             FINAL PHASE OF THE LAUNCH.

Phase 1: Josh got a job in Montgomery, got his driver’s license, bought his first car and started school at AUM.

Phase 2: Move to Huntsville, teach 3 more kids how to drive, all 4 kids find jobs, 3 buy cars, 2 total their first car with in weeks and have to buy another car. All work on school.

Phase 3: Joel passes all of us and graduates straight into Heaven.
DSC00401Phase 4: Family has almost 3 years to recover.

Phase 5: Last December Josh graduated from college. This fall, Josh got a job working at UAH which is paying for him to get his masters. Yay! He moved into his first apartment Labor Day weekend.
GraduatePhase 6: Same weekend, Mike felt peace about interviewing for a job in Oklahoma City. A week or two later, he accepted the job in Oklahoma, ten and a half hours away from all the kids.

Phase 7: Breaking news. Apartment shopping. Budgeting. Planning. Packing. Tomorrow, we are getting a truck to help Judi and James move out into their first apartment and Mike and I will become empty nesters.

This is no gentle, saunter out.. it’s a “launching.”

In a matter of weeks, we’ll go from all surviving children at home with us working and going to school to living ten and a half hours apart. There will be no coming home on weekends to do laundry. There will be no more meeting for lunch or Saturday dinners. There will be Christmases and birthdays with only the internet to connect us. It the real “Y’all have fun with that.”

Every move is hard. Part of your old life dies and you have to start a new life. I spent a lot of time the first year or two here standing in Walmart trying to remember where to find things. I could tell you exactly where the thing I needed was in the Brandon, Florida Walmart and in the Montgomery Walmart, but this Walmart was unfamiliar.

I am very thankful for these almost 3 years that we’ve had to heal together since Joel launched right past us to his Heavenly home. As a retired homeschool mom, I’ve been able to be available, to love and mentor, to provide support. I’ve gotten to know my kids as adults. I love them. I am so proud of the adults they are becoming. They work hard. They study hard. God is with them.

I don’t know what this next year holds. I only know that God is leading and directing us and that we are obeying. It’s hard. We are torn; excited about what God has for us in this next chapter and sad about closing the chapter we are in.

Please keep us in your prayers through this launch as we work to trust and obey.

Thank you,

Jenny

Finding Comfort in the Maker of the Mountains

In my hardest, darkest days the only thing that comforts me is meditating on who God is.

Psalm 121
A song of ascents.

1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

When “I lift my eyes to the mountains..” I remember “the Maker of Heaven and earth,” my Helper and Watcher over me. The majesty of the mountains remind me of the Lord.. the Maker of the mountains.. God’s majesty.. the wonder of how the mountains came to be. The same Maker who formed the mountains is the Maker who watches over me.

When I lift my eyes, I find comfort in who God is; in His Glory.

Psalm 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.

God’s glory is all around us.. in the spring rains.. in flowers.. in creepy crawlies.. under the microscope.. through the telescope.. throughout the universe.. in every person created in His image. His glory is there.. you only have to see.

I lift my eyes to the mountains.. and remember the force that caused the mountains.. that that force.. that POWER.. wielded with the same LOVE that held Jesus to the cross.. is the same power that raised Him from the dead… and now dwells in me. It is the same power that helps me.. strengthens me.. that is a shade for me, and watches over my life, and keeps me from all harm. The Maker of Heaven and earth watches over both my coming and going.. now and forevermore.

I can’t say that I don’t stumble over the “keeps me from all harm” part. Harm has come to me.. through breast cancer and other ailments… and through the worst kind of harm… the murder of our youngest son. But God has been with me. He has been my shade. He has been gentle  and loved me tenderly and spoken the truth in love when I needed it. He will never ever leave or abandon me. He is Love, Faithful and True. That same majestic power that formed the mountains will carry me safely home to no more death, mourning, crying or pain. When I lift my eyes to the mountains, I get a glimpse of God’s glory. The Glory I long to behold and reflect perfectly.

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)

I am known. I am loved as I am. I am watched over by the Maker of the mountains. I am comforted by His nearness. Praying you will lift your eyes and find Him as near as His glory all around you.

Much love,

Jenny

The Lesson of the Stinky Boy Socks

A verse that caught my heart and I was able to teach my kids from an early age was:

2 Corinthians 9:7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

“The answer to the question you are pondering is, “Yes, Ma’am (or Sir). When Mom or Dad asks you to do something, you should do it quickly and with a cheerful heart.” It was a kind of obedience that I had to teach my own heart to submit to, too.

I am not sure how it happened, maybe it had something to do with moving to a new house in a new state, but in the middle of our homeschool years I suddenly found myself surrounded by stinky boy socks. I felt like they were stocking me. Too punny? Everywhere I turned, no matter how much I complained there on the floor was another abandoned, stinky, boy sock (and sometimes even stinkier boy shoes).

I went to the Lord and prayed an exasperated prayer asking (possibly demanding) God to tell me how to make my kids remember to pick up their socks. He answered, “You pick them up.”

I was shocked. It was not the answer I expected. I thought that every responsible parent taught their children to pick up after themselves and that one day all my training would pay off in grateful son and daughter-in-loves. “Pick up dirty boy socks??”

John 13:12-17 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

My heart was pierced. I didn’t grow up with brothers. I was just learning how stinky boy socks can grow in the hot, humid, Florida summers. Stinky enough to make your eyes water.. and worse. And now, I had to submit. I had to obey. I had to pick up stinky, boy socks without whining or complaining. My only answer was, “Yes, Sir.” I had to follow my Lord’s example.

Philippians 2:5-8 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

It took a little while before I learned to be cheerful about it, but I did. I learned to apply the principle to other chores, too. I learned to enjoy the warmth of soapy dish water. I learned to thank the Lord for my children’s safety as I mopped up wet foot prints off slick tile floors. I learned to sing worship songs while vacuuming and while cleaning bathrooms. I learned to pray for wisdom and direction and safety for each child as I searched for matching clean socks and hung their clothes fresh from the drier. Every act from dusting to homeschooling became an act of cheerful worship. Each moment serving my children was lived out as a precious gift. And it all started with choosing to cheerfully pick up stinky, boy socks.

This Easter weekend it dawned on me for the first time that God loves a cheerful giver because He Himself is a cheerful giver.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17)

Yet the LORD was pleased to crush Him severely. (Isaiah 53:10a)

The opposite of a cheerful giver is one who gives grudgingly. God found pleasure in giving His Son freely and without condemnation.

Hebrews 12:2-3 Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before Him. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t done with out tears and pleadings for another way. But the moment the cross became an act of obedience, He gave His life for the joy.

This lesson of the stinky boy socks did something wonderful for me. When Joel was suddenly taken from us, I found that I was free from regret. My time with Joel had been sweet. I had spent most of it as an act of worship, grateful for the gift of our time together rather than resentful and fighting over stinky boy socks. Our relationship wasn’t without fault, but the cheerful, sacrificial love we shared made it very good.

John 15:9-13 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Fighting to continue that cheerful service has been where some of my fiercest battles have been waged. Without a word, the stinky socks disappeared as suddenly as they had first appeared. I don’t remember seeing a stray sock or shoe since giving away Joel’s last pair. I know not all the stinky boy socks belonged to him. I would give anything to cheerfully pick up his freshly made stinky socks again.

I remember washing dishes the night after Joel was gone. The weight of dirty dishes had diminished noticeably and I found myself in a battle against feeling frustrated with Joel for not being here to dirty his share. Craziness.

Just a little while before we lost Joel, Holy Spirit encouraged me to prepare my heart to take over Joel’s trash duty. I thought I was preparing for when Josh and Joel moved out together. Adding to my list of ways to engage in cheerful service had become a common occurrence by then. We (Holy Spirit and I) decided that each time I took out the trash I would use the opportunity to be thankful for Joel. That little exchange with Holy Spirit has been a comfort in the midst of many battles.

I didn’t realize just how much wood and tile floor we owned until Joel was no longer here to sweep for me. It was honestly too much. I couldn’t take his place and sweep where he had swept week after week, where he was no longer playing his guitar, or near the front door where I so longed for him to run in. Tears would pour out onto the dusty floors and it took all I had not to collapse into them. We bought a Roomba. Joel must be thinking, “Now, you buy a Roomba!”

The bitterest, most exacting battles have been fought in my laundry room. Years of cheerfully washing, drying, matching and folding stinky boy socks while freely bringing every care for their owners to my all loving and all knowing Lord had transformed my laundry room into an altar.. a holy place where I entered boldly into the throne room to petition His coveted mercy and grace.

My heart now crushed. My deepest, most primal heart’s desire for Joel’s safety answered with a pulverizing “No.” I stood, sometimes doubled over and wailed, in my place of prayer and struggled to utter more than “Please, HELP!!!!” The grace I’d always believed would made the hard things easy just didn’t. Much like the Heaven sent strengthening preceded, but didn’t prevent Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane. Losing Joel, then opening the most vulnerable part of my heart to the One who had allowed it to be so incredibly broken was inexpressibly hard. All I could see or hear was the resounding “No.”

My kids need a praying mom. I’d seen the fruit of my cheerful service. I was severely aware that at any moment I could loose another child. I didn’t want to leave room for regret. I desperately wanted to be the cheerfully praying and serving mom that I had been, but all I could do was hang empty clothes in wordless sobs. As was constantly confronted with my inability to be faithful in my habit of prayer, I found comfort in Romans 8:26-28

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

A few months ago I tried to coerce a prayer. The words came out strained and weak. When I got to Joel (he is still my kid and still on my list), I felt worse than futile; frustrated, so confused and helpless. How do you pray for a child in Heaven? What could they want or need? Wisdom? Direction? Safety? Has even this one small act of loving service toward Joel been striped from me?

Then a couple of weeks ago, Holy Spirit met me at my altar and suggested that instead of praying for Joel, I could give thanks for all Joel is now enjoying in Heaven. I have offered thanksgiving for those things before.. in my journal, while on walks and in other holy places, but not in that very broken place at my laundry room altar. Learning that I could give thanks in my place of prayer was small victory in my struggle to continue in cheerful service. I plan to go back over the things I have learned about Heaven, make myself a more concrete list of things to be thankful for.. for Joel and for hope.. and hang it in my laundry room as a visual reminder.

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of Heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Colossians 3:1

Much like when I struggled to find safe things to be thankful for “My Cautiously Thankful When it Comes to the Temporarily Temporal Heart,” I am still fighting to find ways that I can pray for my surviving children and not be crushed a second time, if answered with a “No.” It’s not that I no longer pray big faith filled prayers. I still pray often for Joel’s resurrection. Not for the one I know we will all experience one day, but for the one where Joel walks in the door where my Roomba sweeps now and we are elated to welcome him home.

I am learning to ask believing my Cheerful Giver will answer with His best for us.. even if that includes sharing in His suffering. “Lord, please, heal, protect, give, lead, resurrect.. all according to Your will. Please, give us the strength to trust and obey in a way that honors You with cheerful service no matter what You allow.”

Luke 12:4-7
“Dear friends, don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot do any more to you after that. But I’ll tell you whom to fear. Fear God, who has the power to kill you and then throw you into hell. Yes, he’s the one to fear. What is the price of five sparrows—two copper coins? Yet God does not forget a single one of them. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows..

32-34 “So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to those in need. This will store up treasure for you in Heaven! And the purses of Heaven never get old or develop holes. Your treasure will be safe; no thief can steal it and no moth can destroy it. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.

35-38 “Be dressed for service and keep your lamps burning, as though you were waiting for your master to return from the wedding feast. Then you will be ready to open the door and let him in the moment he arrives and knocks. The servants who are ready and waiting for his return will be rewarded. I tell you the truth, he himself will seat them, put on an apron, and serve them as they sit and eat! He may come in the middle of the night or just before dawn. But whenever he comes, he will reward the servants who are ready.

Did you catch the overwhelming cheerfulness of our Father described by Jesus in verses 32 and 37?

“I have come to set the world on fire, and I wish it were already burning!”  ~Jesus in verse 49

Love,

Jenny
of the smoldering wick (Isaiah 42:3)

My Heroes of Faith

Mike and I have struggled recently with a couple of our favorite TV pastors. They are what might be called “Edutainment; God loves you and wants to bless you.” kinds of pastors. And we like that or maybe liked that. We enjoy learning about our loving God from pastors with joyful hearts and still believe much of what we learned from them.

But through our time of suffering, their happy messages have fallen short of our reality. Their formula of great faith equals an easy life in this world fails to resonate with us. Our definition of what a hero of faith looks like seems to have diverged from theirs.

Jesus, first and foremost, the author, finisher and example of our faith:

Hebrews 5:7-8 “While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death. And God heard his prayers because of his deep reverence for God. Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered.”

I am pretty sure that like Jesus said:

“The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master.” – Matthew 10:24

Part of our recent adventure in Tennessee.

The apostles, who were followed by many signs and wonders, also suffered MANY trials: boiled in oil, beaten, put in prison, fed to lions, crucified…

Heroes of faith from the old testament suffered, too. Able was murdered. Abraham’s wife, Sarah, was barren for decades. Abraham had to send his eldest son away never to see him again, was asked to sacrifice his promised son, then lost Sarah. Isaac went blind. Jacob lost his favorite son Joseph when he was sold into slavery by his brothers, then lost his beloved wife in child birth.

Hebrews 11:35-40 says: “Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

“These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”

Three more verses into the next chapter:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” – Hebrews 12:1-3

These chapters don’t say if you have enough faith you’ll live the good life. Well, actually they do. But not while on earth. “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised..” They had to wait for “God had planned something better…”

These chapters encourage us to endure; not grow weary and lose heart; to fix our eyes on Jesus who endured the cross for the joy set before him. Jesus, who had to go through suffering before He “sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

There would be no temptation to grow weary and lose heart if our faith could protect us from:

“In this world you will have trouble.” – Jesus’ words in John 16:33

Back up a little farther in Hebrews 11:

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a Heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (verses 13-16)

We are foreigners and strangers on earth.. longing for a better country – a Heavenly one. We are not home yet.

We gained a deeper understanding of the sign as we traveled up the single lane, switchback, mountain road.

Jesus says in Matthew 6:19-21,

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

I still believe that God’s heart towards us is to bless us. His presence with us is the greatest blessing I know. If I didn’t believe that He was working everything.. and I mean EVERY THING together for our good (Romans 8:28), I wouldn’t make it out of bed each morning.

I don’t believe that Jesus came to create Heaven on earth for us.. at least not yet, but soon. I do believe:

“Our light and momentary troubles are producing for us an everlasting weight of glory, far beyond any comparison. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen; for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

Jesus said in

John 14:1-3 “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.  There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.”

And that is where I continue to land. Bad things happen. Life can be unbelievably hard and sweet and wonderful. Trust God. Breast cancer diagnosis. Trust God. Youngest son murdered. Trust God.

Trust. Pray. Cry out. Stand. Wait. Listen. Obey. Repeat.

Jesus is returning for us. This life is not all there is. “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” -C.S. Lewis. God is working ALL THINGS together for my good. Trust the almighty, all knowing, all understanding one who’s love is stronger than even death… (Romans 8:31-39).

My heroes of faith are not those who believe that great faith produces an easy life. My heroes of faith are those who have continued to trust God in the midst of great suffering; those who are blessed because they are poor, morning, meek, hunger and thirst for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, persecuted. Those who have a great reward in Heaven. -Matthew 5:3-12

My heroes of faith are those like David who have not tried to hide their suffering or whitewashed it, but have bared their souls to us and shared with us what they have learned… the comfort that God has given them.

2 Corinthians 1:5 “For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.”

My heroes of faith are those like Abraham who never denying the truth of their situation, believed against reason that God would keep His promise, grew stronger in their faith through their suffering and give all the glory to God. – Romans 4:19-20

Trust. Pray. Cry out. Stand. Wait. Listen. Obey. Repeat.

Romans 12:12  “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”

Isaiah 41:13 “For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”

Much love,

Jenny

Following Jesus

Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground. -Luke 22:43-44

The angel strengthened Jesus.. THEN in agony He prayed more earnestly.. and His sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground.

There have been times in this journey when I have wondered at His grace. It wasn’t what I thought it was. Stupefied by the intensity of my grief, I have thrown myself before His throne of grace, cried out in anguish for mercy and, “Please, MORE grace.”

As I read the verses above this week, I felt a little like Job:

I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes. -Job 42:5

Now my eyes see Him in His suffering for me. I see that the Heaven sent strengthening preceded, but didn’t prevent His agony. I see that even Jesus’ fervent prayers didn’t mitigate the suffering appointed to Him.

Every breath, every day forward is an act of defiance against my will. Everything in me wants to run back and rescue my Joel, tear out the pages of the story God is writing and rewrite a much happier middle. It is all I want, even when I see with eyes of faith that the redemptive story God is writing is the right story and much better than any story I could imagine.

A few weeks ago I began meditating on:

Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. -Matthew 10:37-39

I have obeyed this verse before. Left father and mother and everything I knew to follow Jesus to the mission field. In comparison, it was an easy walk in the park. It is not a verse that I ever wanted to apply to losing Joel, but one Holy Spirit has been speaking over me.

I had always thought of death as something between an individual and God. In my mind, God numbered your days and when your race was over you were extremely happy to go Home. I rarely gave a thought to the wreckage death left behind.

I prefer to think of Joel’s death in that way, too.. something separate from the wreckage.. as something between Joel and God alone. The moment when Joel entered the joy and rest of the Lord (Matthew 25:23). The moment planned from before Joel was formed in my womb (Psalm 139:16). One of the many moments God was working all things together for Joel’s good (Romans 8:28). Precious in His sight (Psalm 116:15).

The wreckage part.. the part I prefer not to think about.. is that the same good purposes God has planned for Joel in Heaven now require us to live bereft of him. Our callings and purposes are not separate. They are intertwined.

The cross is where you lose your life. In losing Joel, I have lost much of my life.. of who I was.. of who we were as a family. There has been a wreckage.. a dying in me. My deepest instinct is to run back and save my life, to beg God for another way.. to rescue Joel from his appointed promotion to Heaven.

And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” -Luke 22:41-42

There is no running back. There is only forward. There is only “take up your cross and follow me.” My love for Christ.. My desire to follow and obey Him has to run deeper still.. Deeper than my deepest instinct. Deeper than the agony of the wreckage. Deeper than my concern for how God’s purposes for me may effect my mother or father or son or daughter.

Grace has given me eyes to see and strength to obey and endure but it has not removed the suffering appointed to me. There is still a daily “taking up of your cross.” There is still agony, fervent prayers before the throne of grace and there is still suffering.

But I am not alone in my suffering and I am not without hope:

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. -John 14:18-19

I will see Him.
And because He lives..
I will also live.

Love,
Jenny

Finding Relief in the Truth of My Weakness

I had a really long, unusually packed holiday season beginning with the death of our dog, Sally, on Halloween and ending Sunday with my baby girl’s 21st birthday. With Joel’s Heaven day in the middle, two week long trips and my oldest, Joshua, graduating from college it couldn’t help but be packed.

I’ve read that the second year after losing a child can be much worse than the first. The fact that shock begins to wear off and reality begins to sink in is enough to make it true. Add a felony case in the mix. It was really hard. I am so thankful for my friends and family who continue love and accept me through it all.

Last September and October were especially hard. The cooling weather felt like it was dragging me under to the unusually warm December day that we lost Joel. I didn’t have that experience the year before. Maybe the shock protected me from it. Learning how to navigate these new waves is difficult and sometimes frightening.

On my good days, grief takes a lot of journaling and emotional energy. I tell myself many times a day, “Keep moving! Do the next thing.” Most of the time I am able to keep those thoughts inside my head. When I hear my out-loud voice talking to me, I know it’s a really bad day. On those days, my wordless prayers are expressed in sobs and wails.

One day, late in September, after hearing about the sudden death of a friend, I was washing dishes when I heard myself say, “I am doing all the right things; reading my Bible, keeping the worship music turned on, reaching out and encouraging others in the midst of it all. I am normally a strong person with a healthy outlook on life. I am going to make it through this.”

I heard God respond with one word, “Pride.”

My first instinct was to repent. A good instinct for when God confronts you with your sin. I repented several times on different levels as my thoughts raced through what He might mean. I struggled for days. Was it really God? I knew that it was. Could it have been the devil? Was encouraging myself wrong? I didn’t know how I was going to make it. I was trying to give myself a little hope that I could make it through the year, through the depression and post traumatic distress, through the death of my friend and the future deaths I would have to face.

I questioned. I prayed. I repented again. When I got up the courage to journal about it, 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 finally came to mind:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

I had tried to convince myself that I had “strong constitution” instead of acknowledging the truth of my weakness. I was putting my hope in spiritual disciplines when God wanted to give me experiential knowledge of His strength in my weakness. I wanted that too.. but in my weakness I was failing to be faithful in the waiting.

From Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible:

my grace is sufficient for thee; the Lord always hears and answers his people sooner or later, in one form or another, though not always in the way and manner they desire; but yet in such a way as is most for his glory and their good…

…that the power of Christ, says he, may rest upon me, or “tabernacle over me”; he considered himself as a poor weak feeble creature, and the power of Christ as a tabernacle over him, as the power of God is represented as a garrison about the believer, 1 Peter 1:5, sheltering, preserving, and protecting…

I am starting to understand that being confronted new and confusing waves of grief is going to continue to be apart of the journey. Understanding and accepting that fact is helping. That last week with Sally, I decided that I wasn’t going to worry about them any more. If I am experiencing a wave of grief and I am sad, that’s okay. If I am experiencing joy, I am going to enjoy the moment while I can. Accepting was a turning point for me. That one word “Pride” had stung and cut, but it had also given me the grace to surrender what I never had control over. I am weak; He is strong.

I had the grace to put on a brave face for the holiday celebrations while swallowing down stabs of the grief and pain. I wanted to celebrate family, friends, Thanksgiving, Joel’s Heaven day, Josh’s graduation, Christ’s birth, and I was determined not leave out Judi’s 21st birthday; the day she turned a year older than Joel was when he went home.

With the coming of the new year came the fear of taking off my brave face. I wanted to continue experiencing joy, but I knew my heart needed time to grieve. Sometimes it screams at me in my dreams, “I don’t care how many times you say everything is going to be okay.. it is NOT okay!”

I have felt so conflicted and I didn’t know how to navigate that wave. I didn’t know how to allow myself to grieve even though I knew I needed to. I found the grace to decide that I wouldn’t worry again. Conflicted, sorrowful, joyful.. it doesn’t matter. God will be with me in the midst of the waves. He will give me the strength and the wisdom I need to navigate them as they come. This has become my new self talk along with, “Soon, Jesus will come and rescue me.”

I grieved hard yesterday. I didn’t understand why the wave chose to come that day until after 4 PM when I remembered that it was the 7th; two years and one month since Joel went to Heaven. I had forgotten, but my heart always remembers.

So here I stand in the midst of sometimes overwhelming waves.. coming to terms with my weakness; my inability to make the waves any different than they are. Knowing and accepting that I am weak is actually bringing relief. “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Instead of a foolish hope in my own strength, I am free to turn my hope to the One who is sovereign over us. I can cast my cares on the Almighty, who has promised to show Himself strong in my weakness. I can trust that my Strong Tower will “tabernacle over me;” that His power will be a “garrison” about me “sheltering, preserving, and protecting” me, carrying me through the next set of waves.

1 Peter 1:3-9 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Love,
Jenny

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