Finding Joy in Him

Through Every Season

Author: Jennifer Coleman (page 1 of 36)

2018 A Year of Focusing on God’s Love (Truths I must recite to my own heart daily.)

I have a habit of spending the last several weeks of the year in prayer asking the Lord for direction for the new year. Last year He answered, “Whatever 2018 brings, focus on My love for you.”

Although the first part of His answer was full of reminiscent premonition, He gave me the grace to trust and obey. I’m so thankful. Some long, hard days and weeks were made bearable by the transformative grace of focusing on His love. There were a few days where I lost focus. He was faithful, so faithful, to redirect me back to His love. [PDF of verses on God’s love here.]

Suffering calls into question God’s motives and authority. It begs the same questions that the serpent asked Eve in the garden: Did God really say? Is what He said true? What is He keeping from you? What are His secret intentions?

How do we turn these questions over on their head?

We choose to view our circumstances in faith through the lens of His great love by skillfully wielding His Word. Like night vision goggles, His Word pierces the darkness and collects the hidden rays of Light and Truth.

Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease. (Lamentations 3:21-22 NLT)

God loves us. There is no shadow of turning in Him. Jesus is proof of His love. If we ever doubt His love for us, we can look at Love come down in the flesh suffering the cross for us. He loves us all the way from Heaven to earth and back. His arms are stretched wide bidding us to make our home and find our rest in His love.

He saw us, knew us and called us to Himself before He formed us. Before the foundation of the world, God knew that having us for His own treasured possession would cost Him the life of His only begotten Son and counted us worth it.

Christmas is Immanuel, God with us. Nothing can separate us from His love. Our High Priest understands our weakness, knows that we are dust, made Himself nothing, took on servanthood and became obedient to a terrible, shameful death on the cross. The same God that determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds with His love.

He is the Good Samaritan who sees us suffering on the side of the road and is moved by compassion to save us. Unlike all others who turn away and pass by on the other side, He runs to us, pours Himself out for us, clothes us with His own robe of righteousness and seals us with His promised Holy Spirit.

He has set His love on us. We are the joy for which He endured the cross, the apple of His eye, His promised bride. Nothing touches us that doesn’t touch Him. His wings are our refuge. He sees our tossing and turning through the night and collects our tears in His bottle. Nothing can snatch us out of His hand.

In all their suffering He also suffered,
and He personally rescued them.
In His love and mercy He redeemed them.
He lifted them up and carried them through all the years. (Isaiah 63:9)

In this fallen world, suffering is the price of love. The cross is proof that God sometimes allows what He hates in order to accomplish what He loves. God works all things together for the good of those who love Him. His intention is to conform us into the image of His Son who suffered and died for us.

We endure suffering and become more than conquerors through Him who loved us by fixing our eyes on Jesus as our highest joy and great reward. We know that though weeping endures for a night, joy comes in the morning. One day soon all pain, sorrow, morning and death will end. He will personally wipe away our tears and give us a great and glorious inheritance. These truths are a buckler for us through our suffering. We pray daily for others to know and rely on them.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Cor. 4:16-18)

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:16-18)

I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to Him in His death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10-11)

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial that has come upon you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed at the revelation of His glory. (1 Peter 4:12-13)

For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His footsteps. (1 Peter 2:21)

Praying that this year will be a year of transformative grace as you delve in deep into the truth of His love for you.

I collected a list of 100+ verses to help me meditate on God’s love and posted it as a PDF for you here.

Jenny

Even the Prickly Ones

One way I meditate on the Word is by illustrating verses with watercolor. I included succulents with this verse because it feels prickly to me. The idea that God is sovereign and had my life planned out before I existed both comforts and frustrates me. I don’t always like His plans, but if I could control everything, what would the repercussions be? How many things would I mess up?

I am comforted when I remember that God is good and loves me so much that He gave His own Son for me. He has all my moments planned out, even the prickliest ones. He will walk me through them step by step. I can rest in His competence, trust and obey.

My vision is poor. His is perfect. I can’t understand all He does or allows, but I can trust that He is a Master Redeemer. He does all things well. In Heaven, my faith will become sight and I will be awed by His glory.

Much love,

Jenny

I Stand Amazed: A Poem for Mike on Our Anniversary

Mike and I have been married 32 years today. I am so thankful for the years that God has given us together. It’s been such a comfort to have him by my side through all the joys and trials we have faced. Someone asked me what I most admire about Mike last week. Colossians 3:23 describes him well:

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.

He gives 120% to everything he does. I admire the way he works and gives with all his heart for the Lord. I admire his self discipline, self sacrifice and commitment. In our marriage, he has chosen over and over to love me unconditionally while allowing love to cover a multitude of sins. It’s a gift beyond measure. His commitment to love me drives me to the cross.

A poem I wrote for our 20th anniversary:

I Stand Amazed

God created my innermost being,
He knows me, nothing hidden,
Knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Before I lived one day, all in His book were written.

His thoughts about me are innumerable.
Fatherly love beyond what I comprehend.
He provides from His abundance,
Blessing me with a wonderful friend.

In your eyes, I am a beautiful treasure.
Could such love be a part of God’s plan?
Lost in the depths of your soul, all fears melt away,
You tenderly take my hand.

Blossoming bride watered by melodious love,
I bravely give you all of my heart.
A new life sealed with a gentle kiss.
I vow this pledge till death do us part.

Whither thou goest, I will go.
And where thou lodgest, I will lodge.
Thy people shall be my people,
And thy God my God.

Mystery of mysteries,
Two souls are undone.
God in infinite wisdom
Unites the two into one.

God charts our path ahead.
We adventure into the unknown.
His hand of blessing on our lives.
We’re no longer alone.

Through deserts and storms,
You stand by my side.
Words won’t come, but you know
What I am feeling inside.

You smile and clouds disperse,
My cup of joy overflowing.
All is forgiven, restored afresh.
Thank You, God, for knowing.

When you’re away every breath is a prayer
To the Lord who keeps you safe.
Comforted by the sound of your voice.
I miss your warm embrace.

Whither thou goest, I will go.
And where thou lodgest, I will lodge.
Thy people shall be my people,
And thy God my God.

Mystery of mysteries,
Two souls are undone.
God in infinite wisdom,
Made two into one.

I stand amazed by the person you’ve become.
For me laying down your life.
Strong and of good courage.
I am so proud to be your wife.

Over and over you choose to love me
Unconditionally, no matter the cost.
Captivated. By Love, undone.
Your commitment drives me to the cross.

I see Jesus in your humility.
Your loving kindness sets me free,
Giving me the courage to become
Who God created me to be.

O, God, search us and know our hearts.
Lead us in the everlasting way.
In blessing us make us a blessing.
Let our love grow sweeter each day.

 

Psalm 139, 2 Corinthians 9:8, Ruth 1:16, Ephesians 5:31-32, Ephesians 1:3, Genesis 2:18, Psalm 145:20, Joshua 1:9, Galatians 5:24, Philippians 2:1-8, Ephesians 2:10, Philippians 3:7-14, Genesis 12:1,2, Philippians 1:9

Cinderella’s Hopeful Perspective

The story of Cinderella is one of my favorites. I love it because it’s a picture of Jesus and His bride the Church. We may be living in the remains of fallen cinders and ashes, but we were created for a wonderful Person and Place. Underneath our ashes there is beauty waiting to be revealed. The whole earth groans to see it (Romans 8:19). One day even our fallen cinders will be redeemed, set free from the curse and made new.

“Look, I am making everything new!” – Revelation 21:5

Jesus, the prince of our real Story, has made all of this possible. The Desire of the Nations, left His heavenly kingdom to seek and save the lost (us). He paid our debt of sin (the death penalty) on the cross and rose again to set us free from our bondage and slavery.

Jesus, the One who was dead but is now alive, has gone to prepare a place for us and has given us hope for our ashes and a promise:

“When everything is ready I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.” – John 14:3b

The best part of Cinderella’s story is the anticipation and hope of the “happily ever after” that’s coming. Remove the hope and the “happily ever after” ending and the story changes from a beautiful story of redemption into a horror story of loss, slavery and death.

1 Thessalonians 4:16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

We are to “encourage each other with these words.” The promised hope and “happily ever after” gives us the strength and courage to keep pressing toward the goal when all we see for miles is the remains of fallen cinders and ashes. Without hope we are living in our own horror story.

Cinderella has an enemy, her wicked step mother. She lies to Cinderella and steals her inheritance bit by bit. She tells her there is no chance a prince would ever even consider looking her way and dashes her hopes of ever being free. Her wicked step mother does all she can to keep her oppressed and enslaved.

We, too, have an enemy – the devil – the accuser – the one who:

“When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” – John 8:44c

He has accused and lied to us about every part of our Story and endeavors to dash any hope of a “happily ever after” to come.

His accusations are the same as they were in the garden (Genesis 3). “Did God really say?” “You won’t really die.” “God is holding out on you.” “His intentions towards you are less than honorable.” “He is not sovereign or holy.” “Sin will empower you.” “Doesn’t it look good?”

He has oppressed us and enslaved us and accused us of being unworthy of anything more than cinder and ashes. He has accused Jesus of being at best disinterested in us. The devil was kicked out of Heaven and resents all those who will inherit it, so he has accused it of being filled with nothing more than cherubs strumming harps while floating on clouds. He makes it sound excruciatingly boring and insipid. Who would ever want to live that f-o-r-e-v-e-r? How could that kind of heaven even begin to inspire us to press towards or through anything?

Something has gone terribly wrong in our real Cinderella Story. Too many have bought into the devil’s lies and their longing for our Bridegroom and His Heavenly reward has been turned into loathing. The good news of the gospel has been reduced to a lesser hell; a horror story. Believing that there is nothing after this and that there was never any god sounds more appealing.

Reclaiming a biblical view of our Story, Heaven and the New Earth is essential. Without it we have no hope, no motivation to tell anyone the good news of the gospel and no motivation to press towards the goal (Philippians 3:14).

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. – 1 Corinthians 15:19

God created us for so much more than insipidness. He created us for a wonderful Person and Place full of beauty and adventure. We need Cinderella’s hopeful perspective to help us persevere through our Story of fallen cinders and ashes. We need a biblical view of Heaven and Jesus and our Cinderella-self.

I have known that Jesus was my Prince and that I was His Cinderella bride to be since I was a little girl and looked forward to a “happily ever after” with Him. I was fortunate never to buy into the lie that Heaven was insipid. But my understanding of it was ethereal at best; a great retirement plan for when I was 90 or so.

It wasn’t something I could sink my hope anchor (Hebrews 6:19) into when the storms of this life toss me violently around. It wasn’t something that could strengthen and encourage me when all I saw for miles was the remains of fallen cinders and ashes.

When our very real boy moved to Heaven, I realized I needed a very real idea of where he had gone. I needed the “eternal perspective” that understanding God’s redemptive plan for our resurrection and Heaven come down on a New Earth affords to carry me through the valley of death’s shadow.

I’ve slowly gained that. Spending time meditating on the Word with an eye towards gaining an eternal perspective helped. Reading strongly biblically based books like Randy Alcorn’s “Heaven” helped. I can see now that the place we live.. this earth.. is the thing that is vanishing like a vapor and our glorious resurrection, Heaven and the New Earth are the real, solid promise and hope that hold my anchor secure.

Our life here is passing quickly away and our lives in Heaven and the New Earth will be the ones that last forever. Joel is more alive now than he ever was here. Heaven is more enduring than anything we’ve ever experienced.

Jesus said:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

If we fail to gain Cinderella’s hopeful perspective and fail to love the Person and the Place we were created for, then when trouble comes we won’t have anything to sink our hope anchor into. Jesus’ “take heart!” will leave us stupefied and lost in our ashes.

We are in enemy territory surrounded by fallen cinders and ashes. We live on a cursed planet. Trouble will come. We have a Prince who has overcome it. We have something to “take heart” in. We need an “eternal perspective.” A hopeful perspective like those who love the Cinderella story have. One that can see through the lies of the enemy to a very real, solid, promised and true “happily ever after” that is coming.

Link to Randy’s book:

Image 1

Much love,

Jenny

Trusting that God Has Done the Math

In the first few days and weeks after we lost our youngest son, the fact that I continued to wake up each morning bewildered me.

It seemed like the world should have stopped. Oh, how I wanted it to stop and let me get off. The world as I knew it had ended. I didn’t understand how or why I continued to live. Breathing was hard and involuntary. Giving it up would have been a relief.

After a while, it dawned on me that the reason I kept waking up was because God’s purposes for me on earth weren’t completed.

God spoke to me through Psalm 139:16:

You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.

I knew the verse well. It comforted me to know that God had planned out Joel’s days before he was born. He is never taken by surprise. He has planed out every moment of our lives; the ones on earth and the ones in Heaven.

Suddenly, I realized that if God knew all of Joel’s days and all of my days, He must have done the math.

How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.
They cannot be numbered!
I can’t even count them;
they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up,
you are still with me!
Psalm 139:17-18

God knew I was going to continue to live on earth after Joel went Home. He had planned out the days I was going to live as a bereaved parent before I was born. This was comforting because I didn’t know how to live those days. I had no plan.

I have a God who knows me.. has known me from my mother’s womb.. who knew I would live on the earth longer than my youngest son.. has planned out a path for me to walk.. a way for me to live. Every day I wake up.. He is still with me.

Getting this revelation was a small victory; a step towards living the life God planned for me.

The journey towards life and healing is not a sprint; it’s a cross country marathon. It requires LOTS of patience, forbearance and longsuffering. These are fruits of the Spirit that can ONLY be produced through spending TIME WITH JESUS. The small victory of revelation came through spending time with Jesus, meditating on His Word, pouring out my heart to Him, and quieting myself so that I could hear His Holy Spirit speak to me through His Word.

I’ve learned to celebrate these small victories as milestones in my journey. There is something about celebrating small victories that releases healing and even more victory.

Zechariah 4:10 says,

Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin…

The LORD rejoices. He sees small beginnings and He rejoices!

He watches infants grow in the womb. He probably sees an eyelash begin to form and leans over to Jesus and says, “Look at that! An eyelash!”

The very hairs on our head are all numbered. (Matthew 10:30) His thoughts about us cannot be numbered. We are always on His mind; never hidden from His sight.

We serve a God who celebrates small beginnings. When we celebrate small victories, we are joining in what God is doing; we are aligning our hearts with His and releasing power for more victories. Recognizing and celebrating small victories in the middle of our valley infuses our inner man with strength for the road ahead and propels us forward in our journey towards life and healing and the final victory.

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There are still days when I wish the world would stop and let me off. I work hard at keeping my eyes on Jesus, at hearing His voice, at obeying His instructions AND I STILL STRUGGLE through valleys.

I don’t believe I am alone in this. All my favorite Bible heroes and saints (including Jesus) are my favorites because I know their stories of struggle.

During the days of Jesus’ earthly life, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from what He suffered. Hebrews 5:7-8

The journey towards life and healing is not a sprint; it doesn’t follow a straight line. It’s more like a cross country marathon that winds up and down craggy mountains and through dark valleys.

If there were never any mountains to climb or valleys to struggle through, where would we win the victories that God longs to celebrate with us?

Even in the darkest valleys, I can trust that He is choosing the best path to life and healing for me.

Even in the darkest valleys, every day I wake up.. He is still with me.

Even in the darkest valleys, I can keep my eyes on Him and I can trust that He has done the math and has a plan for me.

Even in the darkest valleys, I can trust the God who knows me, the One who saw me in my mother’s womb. I can trust that He sees and knows my heart, my joys and my sorrows. His thoughts about me can’t be numbered.

HIS THOUGHTS ABOUT ME CANNOT BE NUMBERED!!

HE HAS DONE THE MATH!

HE HAS A REDEMPTIVE PLAN FOR MY LIFE AND HEALING!

In the darkest valleys, the atmosphere is so heavy that it’s nearly impossible to breathe or think or move. The darkest valleys can feel like backward steps, a failure or a waste, but with God nothing is wasted. He works everything together for our good. (Romans 8:28)

We know this because God took the worst thing that ever happened on our planet (the crucifixion of His Son) and resurrected it into the best thing. That’s what He does. It’s His thing. He has this amazing way with math and planning. We can trust Him with it. Every painful, awkward step through the valley is a step towards life and healing in disguise.

James exhorted:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. James 1:2-5

And this is the thing.. when we understand that God is this amazing mathematician with a carefully planed out path for us that sometimes goes through valleys that lead to victories, we can rejoice in middle of the darkest valley.

We can rejoice because God sees us and His thoughts about us cannot be numbered. We can rejoice because we know that steps through valleys are small beginnings that lead to greater victories. We can rejoice because we know that God watches over those small beginnings.. not with an eye to despise them, but with a heart that rejoices over them. We can rejoice because everyday we wake up.. He is still with us.

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

In the valley, it’s easy to forget the things you learned in the light. It’s easy to forget that God has done the math and has a redemptive plan. In the valley, the father of lies says things like: “You must have really messed up this time because God has obviously turned His back on you, forgotten and abandoned you.” His words echo in the darkness and it’s hard to see through to the light. His lies are against not only our hearts but God’s. His accusations cause stress, guilt and feelings of inadequacy and distrust. His lies INTENSIFY the pain and struggle.

There are times when we need to get loud and declare the Way, the Truth and the Life to our darkest valley. There are times when we need to SHOUT OUT OUR PRAISE to the One who has seen us and known us from our mother’s womb and carefully planned out paths to life and victory for us. There are times when it takes a big, joyful celebration of a small victory to drown out the lies of our enemy and give us a taste of the victory that is coming to keep us going. There are times when we need to stand on the fact that every day we wake up.. He is still with us. There are times when we have to lean in and trust God’s heart and redemptive plan for us even when we can’t understand His ways.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. Psalm 62:5

The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Deuteronomy 31:8

The steps of a man are established by the LORD, And He delights in his way. When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, Because the LORD is the One who holds his hand. Psalm 37:23-24

A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not extinguish, till He leads justice to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope. Matthew 12:20-21

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. Isaiah 46:4

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” John 10:27-30

Three Spiritual Truths in Your Cup

Sweetness overwhelms bitterness:
Exodus 15:26 Then he cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a tree; and he threw it into the waters, and the waters became sweet.

Proverbs 4:23 Guard your heart more than anything else, because the source of your life flows from it.

When bitterness springs up, let the LORD show you the tree:

Light overwhelms darkness:
John 1:5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Life overwhelms death:
John 11:25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies. 26 And everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Revelation 1:18 I am the living one. I died, but look–I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave.

Love,

Jenny

Save

Save

I Stood at the Door and Blocked

I am allowing myself some time to grieve today. I need it. Pushing myself forward isn’t always the healthy thing to do. Ignoring grief doesn’t make it go away. It only builds under pressure.

We can’t pick and choose which emotions we feel. Pushing down painful emotions suppresses the good ones as well. If I want to “feel” loved by God, I have to work through my painful emotions to get there.

Recently, I’ve slipped back into stoicism and found myself unable to feel. Twenty moves may have something to do with my practice. I’ve learned to gird myself against the loneliness of moving to a new state, against the sadness of leaving friends and this time precious children behind, against the fear of not knowing who I can and cannot trust with my fragile heart.

Just learning my way around town and where basic staples are located in local stores can be a daunting task that demands more mental strength than I possess. Town? Stores? Who am I kidding? I couldn’t find my way around my own kitchen while preparing Thanksgiving dinner. Door after cabinet door was opened before finding the things I needed. Add to that the downsizing we’re doing and I can’t remember if or not I still own the thing I am searching for.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. – Matthew 5:4

Mourning with a humble heart before the Lord puts us in a position to receive God’s comfort.

His “com” from the Latin word meaning nearness – “fort” from the Latin word meaning strong.

His strength near me; fortifying me.

Pushing through while pretending that I am okay denies not only the mourning, but also the comfort my heart so desperately needs. Insensibility makes it nearly impossible to sense His nearness and receive His strength.

Sitting humbly with the truth of my mourning makes room for the Comforter and Spirit of Truth to lead me into all truth (John 16:13).

Psalm 119:28-29
I am overcome by sorrow;
strengthen me, as you have promised.

Keep me from lying to myself;
give me the privilege of knowing your instructions.

I am always asking God to speak His truth to my heart. I am always listening for His still small voice spoken through the truth of His Word.

One of the more powerful ways that God speaks to me is through pictures. One picture is worth a thousand words. A story or a picture can speak to my heart for days on end.

A few weeks ago, God showed me a picture of myself. I was standing at the door of my heart. The door was cracked open, but my foot was barring the door; blocking Jesus from coming in. “I stand at the door and knock” echoed through my heart though all I could “see” was my foot barricading the door.

Much like the church in Laodicea, I was neither hot nor cold. My fear of being overwhelmed by emotions had stifled them.

The first emotions I let in after “seeing” myself and my foot barring the door were anger and frustration.

Cold. It was something. I was feeling again.

Revelation 3:14“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.

I desperately WANTED and DIDN’T WANT Jesus to come in. I was at the door. It was cracked open, but barred. I wanted to remove my foot, but I didn’t know how. I wanted Jesus to comfort me because I was wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. But the position of my foot said, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing. Who, me, Jesus? I am good. I’ve been doing this grief thing for awhile now. I’ve done this moving thing SO many times. I am pushing through. I don’t need to feel right now; not grief nor comfort. I’ve got this.”

I’ve got nothing.

I am wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I am weak and vulnerable. I am afraid. I am easily overwhelmed. I am not the person I was before. My heart is shattered and broken. I miss the old me. The blissfully ignorant me. The me that knew nothing of being wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I miss the me who was confident in her unshaken faith. I miss the me that didn’t needed time to mourn so that she could find comfort.

Verse 18:

I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

How do we “buy” gold refined in the fire?

19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

We receive the love of God in the form of a rebuke and discipline. We repent earnestly. We change our minds by renewing them in His Word and allow Him to transform our hearts.

In this way, we become truly rich.

We listen to His voice and open wide the door to our hearts. We invite Jesus in and “sup” (KJV) with Him. We eat His flesh and drink His blood (John 6:56).

We REMEMBER Christ broken and crucified for us; just as the bread was broken and the wine poured out for us (Luke 22:19). We rejoice “inasmuch as” we “participate in the sufferings of Christ” so that we may be “overjoyed when His glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:13)

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps. – 1 Peter 2:21

 

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. – Matthew 5:4

Not blessed are those who never suffer, who never mourn, who never need comfort.

We remember:

In all their distress He too was distressed, and the angel of His presence saved them. In His love and mercy He redeemed them; He lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. – Isaiah 63:9

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 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. – 1 Peter 1:6

I shouldn’t miss her. I should count her crucified with Christ. I should count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ, my Comforter, who now lives in me (Galatians 2:20, Philippians 3:8).

I should joyfully embrace the new, refined me that is coming out of the fire with a proven, genuine faith which is of greater worth than gold. The one not made “rich” by her own failing strength or “clothed” in her own failing righteousness… but in His.

Partaking of the suffering that I have been called to in Christ, welcoming His comfort, is becoming a salve to my eyes so I can see.

Truth spoken to my heart is this: I’ve mourned a me that I believed was a stronger and happier me, but who in truth was wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. Unproven.

It’s only through trials that we can buy what is genuinely real; of greater worth than gold. Untested faith is not proven faith. Genuine faith, real strength comes through the fire when our pitiful, human strength is consumed and we learn to draw from His supernatural strength and comfort. It’s only there that we learn that His grace IS sufficient. It’s only there that we learn that He will faithfully and lovingly carry us through ALL our days.

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. – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Before losing Joel, I thought grace was the power to float through life. I believed grace was the gift of self sufficiency.

I am beginning to see that grace is the “gift” of sharing in Christ’s suffering. It’s the gift of finding the end or our own strength and sufficiency and the beginning of His. It’s the gift of a “thorn” that keeps us from becoming conceited.

2 Corinthians 12:7b Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.

His strength in my weakness far surpasses the strength I thought I had before I suffered. His glory far surpasses any fading human glory.

My heart struggles to see how tragedy can bring glory to God. I used to believe that the kind of life that would bring the most glory to God would be one where His children lived fairytale lives; free from weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions and difficulties. I believed that was the kind of life God most desired for His children.

But I am beginning to see that fairytale lives produce an arrogance; a self-sufficiency that says, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” They produce a blindness to our wretchedness, pitifulness, real poverty, blindness and nakedness. Fairytale lives fail to produce a proven faith and strength that can only come the desperate need to draw from God’s real, tested comfort (near strength).

The people who I have always most admired are people like Corrie Ten Boom and Joni Eareckson Tada who have been deeply broken and have found God to be their source of continual strength and comfort. I see more of His kindness, mercy, empathy and goodness in them. I see a deeper faith in the broken; roots that have dug in deep and grown strong through terrible storms. I see a glory and a radiance that can have only come through the testing of their faith; Christ residing in and strengthening them.

So this striving against my brokenness …against my weakness; this longing for my old, less tested faith; this pining over a the loss of a more “fairy-tale-ish” life has to come to an end. I must consider it all as loss. I must let the truth sink in.

The truth is every good fairytale is filled with danger and hardships and every hero emerges out of difficulties and testing.

I must offer my struggle as a sacrifice. I must mourn. I must submit to my need for God’s comfort; my need for His nearness and strength.

The secret of contentment with weakness and vulnerability?

“I have strength for all things in the One strengthening me.” – Philippians 4:13 (Berean Literal Bible)

The only way I can remove my foot from barring Jesus’ entrance through the door of my heart is by embracing this new, broken me; embracing my weakness, my need to mourn, and my need to receive His comfort.

My weakness opens the door for His Spirit of Comfort and Truth.; makes way for His glorious strength.

He has counseled us to buy from Him gold refined in the fire so that we can be truly rich and wear the white garments of His righteousness and strength and have salve to put on our blind eyes so we can see.

2 Corinthians 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.

Love,

Jenny

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A Psalm of Jenny: December 7, 2016

God, thank you for tears.. for the creative way you designed us to release emotion. Like a refreshing rain, they release my soul from the muck and mire… mostly because I know that You give them audience. You listen to the prayers I can’t pray. You listen to my tears.

Thank you for collecting them in Your bottle.

Thank You for giving them audience.

God, I need help. I am desperate for help.
There is so much I don’t know..
How much more sorrow is left?
How I am I supposed to face it?
How much more will you ask of me?

I’ve had to let go of so much this year. I’ve had to trust you through such a weighty fog.

It’s hard.. you’re asking a lot.. but I see the proud gleam in your eyes that says that you ask so much because you know I love you that much.

Thank you for speaking to me with your eyes.. for letting the fog dissipate a little.. giving me a glimpse of Heaven.

Lord, I don’t know how much I love you. I really don’t. And it bothers me. I wish that I knew deep in my inner being that I loved you with all of me.

All, Lord? The truth is that losing Joel has taught me that I know very little about what is deep inside of me. My inward parts are so much larger and more unfathomable than I ever imagined.. an abyss.

Consuming love, fierce longing, profound sadness and fountains of joy all fit inside of me? Sometimes, it frightens me.

I possess so little of my heart, soul and mind.

Who can offer or even hold so great a possession?

So much of me is shattered. I don’t know what part will function from day to day. I am continually faced with walking so precariously close to this confounding precipice.

Rope? What rope? There was a rope?

Is that why you asked us to love you will all our heart, soul and strength? To cause us to look inside and be amazed at how little we control.. even inside ourselves?

I am learning to push away the care and worry of this journey. I am freer because you’ve taught me that all I can do is continually:

Put my hope in You..
Fix my eyes on You..
Lean in..
Press up against Your wings..
Cast my burdens..
Come to the only One who has living water for the weary..
Remember that You are good..
that You are holding me..

God! You must be so BIG!

SO, SO BIG to hold so much.. so many!

Lord, I know that it’s good to count the cost.. and that You are asking us to do that now.

It’d be easier to wrap ourselves up in a little bubble. Just the two of us.. off on romantic getaways.. or maybe with friends who like to talk and eat.

Lord, it sounds so nice. But in reality it is shallow.. a broken cistern that holds no water.. a dirty, dusty shadow of a well that can never satisfy the abyss of longing in my soul. Food, friends, talk.. can never be enough.

You are asking for more.. and offering more. It is costly and rewarding. It’s so strange to think about.

I don’t even know what You are asking yet. I only know that it’s going to cost more of me.. more than I possess. I only know that it’s going to mean drawing near to the hurting, hurting with them (compassion – “suffer with”) and comforting (“strengthening”) them with the comfort You are giving me.

Matthew 13:45-46 “Again, the kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

Lord, thank you for creating us with this incomprehensible worth and loving us so extravagantly. We are truly fearfully and wonderfully made and loved.

Thank You for giving up everything to come..  for being moved by compassion.. for humbling Yourself.. for not counting Your position.. or even Your own comfort as something to be grasped.

Thank You for becoming flesh to comfort us.. to “suffer with” us. Thank you for laying down Your life to redeem us.

Thank You for coming as a babe and for Your promise to come again so that we can be with You in Your Father’s house where He will wipe away our tears and sorrows.. where mourning and death will be no more.

Thank You for being our strength… our comfort.. our joy.. our salvation. Thank You.

Lord, when I meet You face to face, I want to have given all of me freely. I want to obey.. to follow in Your footsteps.. to be conformed into Your image.. to love like You.

Lord, I don’t know.. can’t fathom.. what I have to give, but I want to see it redeemed and used for Your glory. Redeem what is left of me. Work every thing together for good as You promised. The promises that You are working and will return are the promises that consume me with longing. My eyes strain to see them fulfilled.

Lord, help me to remember that the I that I used to be no longer lives. Help me remember that I was crucified with You on that cross.. and that it’s You that now lives in me. Help me to see with Your compassionate eyes and love out of Your extravagant love. Help me to let go of the false comforts that my flesh grasps for, so I may receive the much greater comfort of You living in and through me.

Be with us today.. and every day.. as we are missing Joel and he is celebrating 4 years of living in Your house.

Held together only by Your love,

Jenny

Postcards from Heaven: Thanksgiving 2016

This was our 4th Thanksgiving without Joel and our first since launching our earthbound kids into adulthood and moving 700 miles for a new assignment.

The Lord answered our prayers and the kids were able to get off work and drive up together for their first visit to our new home. It will probably be awhile before we get to see them again, so I try to enjoy them as much as I can when I do.

In March, our oldest plans to move over 1,600 miles to start his first job after earning his masters in biology. We are all excited for him.. and sad, too. I’ve been working hard at accepting God’s plans over my dreams for our family.

We had a nice visit. The most important things were unpacked. Cooking Thanksgiving was made more challenging by our recent move. It took me more than a few tries to find where I’d put all those special pots and pans.

Cooking has never been my thing, but Thanksgiving is the kids’ favorite holiday. They love to eat, so I’ve worked hard to learn how to make their favorite foods.

I always miss Joel a great deal while cooking for Thanksgiving. Just a couple of weeks before we lost him, he came in the kitchen with his chin up, took in a big whiff of all the pleasant Thanksgiving smells, nodded his approval and asked, “How is everything coming?”

Joel’s nod meant a lot to me. It was his way of playfully saying that he loved and appreciated me. I bantered back by enlisting him to set the table. He was a willing helper.

This Thanksgiving, I positioned one of our favorite photos of Joel on the mantle, so I could look up and feel like he was with us in spirit. When we circled up in the living room to pray before dinner, I imagined Joel smiling and praying with us.

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The kids stayed for several days. It was so nice having them here. Our new house is 1000 ft smaller, yet didn’t feel too crowded. Moving away from the kids has felt so surreal that I wasn’t sure how their visit would feel. I was pleasantly pleased that it wasn’t strange at all, but familiar and almost right (still missing the one who has gone ahead to our real home in Heaven).

I saw a quote by Randy Alcorn the other day. In it, he quotes a verse the Lord gave me when my children were small. It’s a verse I have leaned into a great deal. My favorite version says:

“All your children will be taught by the Lord Himself and great will be their peace.” Isaiah 54:13

As a homeschool mom, I knew I wasn’t enough. No matter how much I taught them, there were going to be things that they could only learn from God Himself.

More than anything, my prayer has been that God would give my children a hunger to know and love Him. That He would be their all in all. That He would give Himself to them and supply them with love, wisdom and strength to face the storms ahead. That He would surround them with His peace.

When we lost Joel, my heart was crushed and I felt like God had blasted me with a resounding, “No!” My ability to pray for their safety was shattered. It “ting, tings” against a delicate, glass ceiling in my heart even today. One day, I hope that I will be able to pray freely again. For now, I continue to pray for them to be taught, strengthened and loved by God Himself.

Randy Alcorn has helped solidify Heaven for us through His books; giving us a more eternal perspective. When we first lost Joel, Heaven felt so ethereal that it was hard for us to imagine. Randy from his Heaven book:

How glorious it will be for grandchildren and grandparents—and great-grandchildren and great-grandparents who never knew each other before—to enjoy their youth together in the cities, fields, hillsides, and waters of the New Earth. To walk together, discover together, be amazed together—and praise Jesus together. “All your children shall be taught by the LORD, and great shall be the peace of your children” (Isaiah 54:13).

The Bible instructs us to set our hearts and minds on things above:

Colossians 3:1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

.. To fix our eyes on the unseen:

2 Corinthians 4:16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Things seen for me: Joel shot to death by a stranger with an AK-47. Joel’s body in a grave; separated from us.

Things unseen: God working all things together for good, Joel alive in Heaven, Jesus in our midst, His return, our bodily resurrection, our happy reunion, an eternal glory that far outweighs our earthly troubles, everything in Heaven and in the New Earth to come.

My eyes are often weary from all the peering through this present darkness to things unseen.

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

Ever so often, Holy Spirit will drop into my heart a snapshot of the unseen things Joel is enjoying in Heaven to cheer and encourage me. It’s a little like getting postcards from Heaven.

The very first image I got was of Joel receiving a fiery chariot for his first Christmas in Heaven. Have you ever imagined never having another car payment or repair bill? That’s the dream Joel is living now.. And his car can fly! I could see him taking it out for a joyride with no fear of danger, just pure joy and freedom. car-postcard

Sometimes Holy Spirit will drop the name of musician like Larry Norman, Bach, Johnny Cash or David on my heart. I can see Joel jamming with them, learning how to play new songs and cords, worshiping and praising Jesus and our Heavenly Father.

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I can see Joel hiking in Heaven. Enjoying it’s beauty. I can see him walking on water with Peter and looking at me like “It’s a cinch.” I can see him dancing wildly with Jesus. Once, I got a snapshot of Joel fishing with his great-grandfather. I can see him hanging out, telling stories, toasting something better than marshmallows and laughing around a campfire.

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We went with the kids to the Chickasaw Cultural Center Saturday and learned how their dances are prayers to their creator who will return one day from the East. Mike and I danced and prayed with them. We have one great, great, great grandparent each who was Native American. I can almost see Joel with his Native American family in Heaven, learning and performing their dances/prayers around a fire, calling out in those high yells and low groans.

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My heart isn’t ready for Joel’s upcoming Heaven Day or another Christmas without him, but Holy Spirit is such a good and kind comforter. He knows just what I need… to see the unseen, to set my mind and heart on things above. He will be with us in the storms to come. My eyes will be fixed on Jesus and He will surround us with His peace.

 

Love and prayers,

Jenny

Remembering: Fuel for Hope

“Suffering makes us want to go there [Heaven]. Broken homes and broken hearts crush our illusions that earth can keep its promises, that it can really satisfy. Only the hope of Heaven can truly move our passions off this world … and place them where they will find their glorious fulfillment. Suffering hurries the heart homeward.” – Joni Eareckson Tada in “Heaven, Your Real Home

I had a good dream last night. Our whole family moved into a new home together. Joel was there helping me clean floors as he often did. Some of the kid’s friends came over and our home was overflowing, loud and busy. I was very happy.. in my element.

I cried when I woke up to reality: Joel in Heaven, empty nest in a new state, far from my kids. As I surveyed my dream, I wondered if spending time in nostalgia was wrong. I don’t normally leave space for nostalgia, so now my subconscious seems to have found it’s own time for it in my dreams.

I am still unpacking and that has me pushing forward through a mire of grief as I choose which things must go to make room for this new life Mike and I are beginning.

I want to live in and enjoy the present. I want to live content and expectant of what God has for me… even when it includes sloshing through grief and letting things go.

In the present, eyes on the line ahead.

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Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on Earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Colossians 3:1-4

C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity:

If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English evangelicals who abolished the slave trade, all left their mark on earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.

I press on for that…

“Well done, good and faithful servant.. Enter into the joy of your master!” Matthew 25:23

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I was thankful this morning (as I’ve been many times) when I opened my email and read today’s devotion by Joni Eareckson Tada. In it, she described how she uses her sweetest memories to “inspire hope.”

She urges,

Let your memories be your handhold on heaven. Do you have memories of better times, happier days? Use those to help you look forward to when God will wipe away every tear; to when sorrow and sighing will be no more, and to when joy will overtake you.

(Her full devotion can be read here.)

In recent weeks, a theme song has been playing through my days. It’s been a while since I’ve had one. I CHOSE this song by Chris Tomlin:

You’re a good, good, Father.
It’s who you are.
And I am loved by You.
It’s who I am.

You are perfect in all of your ways to us.

He is perfect in all of His ways.

Allowing pain, suffering and death after the fall is one of His good and perfect ways whether or not I like or understand it.

Sending Jesus to suffer, die and rise again for our redemption. – His perfection and goodness on display.

The return of Jesus, the death of death and pain and sorrow, and a new heaven on a new earth. – His perfect goodness to come.

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A big part of the battle of persevering through trial is REMEMBERING that all His ways are good and perfect and that He gives good and perfect gifts.

Did you hear that?

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And yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope… Lamentations 3:21

Reading devotions, choosing theme songs, meditating His goodness and hiding His Word in my heart helps me to remember, to press in, to feel loved, accepted, and cared for in the middle of my suffering; to see the bigger picture beyond my current circumstances.

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. James 1:12

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17

Sweet memories of little ones huddled around me, sweet memories of days like my last one spent with Joel, sweet memories of a house overflowing, loud and busy are good gifts from a good, good Father.

His Word, the fellowship of His sufferings, His promises to never leave or forsake me, and to work all things together for my good are perfect gifts from a good, good Father.

REMEMBERING His gifts… the gift of His Son, and of His Comforter, the gifts of time spent with family and friends past and present, the gifts that come with each new day, and the gifts of forever in Heaven.. can fuel my hope and help me persevere through trial.

The bitterness of losing Joel has given even my sweetest memories an aftertaste. My dreams were shattered. My heart still feels broken, battered, and bruised. There is a great divide between the me before losing Joel and the me that I now wake up to.

Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:4

Sometimes it seems easier to forget the tainted sweetness of the past and to just keep pushing through to the unending sweetness to come, but I won’t be truly whole until I am able to love God with my whole heart and allow Him to use my whole story for His glory.

Part of my heart lies listless, but I believe that hope can help mend it, so I continue to remember and to pray to the One who came to heal the brokenhearted My Year Long Prayer:

Teach me Your way, Oh LORD, that I may walk in Your truth. Give me an undivided heart that I may fear Your Name. Psalm 86:11

If keeping my eyes on the line can make me more useful on this earth, persevering through trials can make me mature and complete, and drinking from the cup of sweet and bitter memories can be used to fuel the sweet hope of Heaven, then they are goals worth pursuing.

Lamentations 3:

13 He pierced my heart
with arrows from his quiver.

18 So I say, “My splendor is gone
and all that I had hoped from the Lord.”

19 I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”

25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.

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