Finding Joy in Him

Through Every Season

Author: Jennifer Coleman (page 2 of 36)

My Year Long Prayer

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Mike and I celebrated our 30th anniversary and moved into our 20th abode this summer.

Since the beginning of this new adventure last August, I’ve prayed one 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

Twenty-two moves into my life, I am still learning to lean into the brokenness that leaving friends, family and now children behind brings. Moving is hard. This move, especially, has been full of long, arduous days.

I pray:

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

I am broken. Again. I lean in. It’s hard. I pray. Praying exposes my brokenness.. all my brokenness.. the brokenness of leaving and of being left. I am overwhelmed. My heart is silenced. Paralyzed. It can not feel; not pain, nor sorrow, nor joy, nor love. I can’t pray.

I mouth the words again:

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

I cry:

“Help. God. Please, help. Help me to lean in and not away. Help me to enter in with my whole heart. I can not gather all the broken pieces of my heart together. They are sharp. The pain is deep. Help!”

My desire to lean into the brokenness and pain is a desire live fully in the here and now. The pain and brokenness overwhelm me; knock me to the ground. I am so tired of being overwhelmed. I am tired being cut off from my heart.

I want to love with my whole heart. Brokenness and all. It’s important to be present.. to listen.. to live and give myself fully in each moment. I know that living this way is what afforded me no regrets when we lost Joel. I know that this is the way God calls us to live. I know that I must treat myself with grace, kindness and acceptance.
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I do what I have the grace to do in each moment and try not to think about what it’s going to take to get through the next moments.

I remind myself of Jesus words and pray again for an undivided heart:

“No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:62

The fields I plow have been torn apart. I am not omnipresent. I am in one field one day and in another another. When I drive to Oklahoma, part of my heart is left in Alabama and when I drive to Alabama, part of my heart is left in Oklahoma. And truthfully in other states and countries, too.

And in eternity, too.

I have to trust my loving Father to watch over the fields I cannot see.

Elizabeth Stone wrote, “Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

A huge chunk of my heart has been walking around Heaven’s golden streets for three and three-quarters years now.

I don’t have possession of my whole heart or my whole self. Grief ambushes, and in an instant I am reduced to tears. I STILL don’t want it to be true, though I can no longer deny it. There’s a gaping chasm in my heart that I can not close.

When I suppress the truth (the pain), it haunts me in my dreams. I wake myself up wailing, and can not console myself by saying that it was only a dream.

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it is only a small part of the story. It’s only a small part of my story. God’s nail scarred hands are tenderly holding all the pieces of my broken heart; the parts scattered here on earth and the parts up in Heaven. One morning, this nightmare will be forever over, and He will bend down and wipe away the last of my tears and I will be fully, wholeheartedly me.

I often pray:

Psalm 39:4 “Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be.
Remind me that my days are numbered—how fleeting my life is.

5 You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand.
My entire lifetime is just a moment to you;
at best, each of us is but a breath.”

7 And so, Lord, where do I put my hope?
My only hope is in you.

Remembering that this life with all it’s heartache and trouble is short gives me hope. I’ve another, much better life waiting for me. My brokenness will not last forever.

I am comforted when I remember Jesus’ promise:

“I will not leave you as orphans, for I will come to you in a little while.” John 14:18

I am encouraged when I remember:

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. Romans 8:28

I may not be able to see all that God is working together now, but one day I will.

As I drive from one state to another, I sing Christ for the Nations’ “Running” song and try not to press too hard on the gas:

“I hear the voice, the voice of the one I love,
He’s calling my name.
I hear the voice, the voice of the one I love,
He’s calling my name.

He’s saying, come up higher, you’ll hear the angels sing.
Come up higher my beloved,
Come up higher and leave this world behind.
You’ll find me to be beautiful

I AM RUNNING, RUNNING AFTER YOU,
YOU BECOME MY SOUL’S DELIGHT
I AM RUNNING, RUNNING AFTER YOU,
HERE WITH YOU I FIND MY LIFE

One thing have I desired, this will I seek after
To dwell in Your house forevermore
Now I’m running after, the thing that really matters
You’ve become my joy and song.”

Pressing in as He enables, and finding all the pieces of my heart hidden and faithfully guarded in Him,

Jenny

Save

Save

Surrendered Longing

I am longing to be found faithful in small things…

Things like turning my heart to God in surrendered trust each day.

His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master! – Matthew 25:21

I am longing to be found faithful in each storm that blows my way.

I am longing to hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

I am longing to enter into the joy of my Master.

I am longing for His appearing.

And to throw off the shame I feel in the confessing of it.

Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day–and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. – 2 Timothy 4:8

A crown of “RIGHTEOUSNESS” for those who long for His appearing;

Not one of shame.

Lord, Jesus, I long for You to come; to enter into this dark world with Your love and light; to return and reign in all Your glory. I long for the no mores of Heaven; no more death, or mourning, or crying, or pain. I long for the new Heaven and the new Earth where You have wiped away all our tears and will dwell among us. I long to live in Your joyful presence forevermore. Free me from the false shame I feel when I confess my longings for Your return. In You alone, will my soul be satisfied. In surrendered longing, I will find hope and rest.

Revelation 21:3-5 
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them.
They will be his people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. 

‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes.
There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain,
for the old order of things has passed away.”  

He who was seated on the throne said,
“I am making everything new!”
Then he said, “Write this down,
for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Lord, I thank You that You are not slow in keeping Your promise, but patient.

2 Peter 3:9-10 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

I surrender again today to Your will and trust that You will be faithful to walk with me through each and every moment. Let Your faithfulness and nearness strengthen me with steadfastness that I may be found faithful even in the midst of the severest storms.

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. – 1 Corinthians 15:58

James 1:2-4 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.

Lord, I thank You that with You by my side the storms and things that You call me to be faithful in are small, that when I am weak You are strong in me.

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

And, Lord, I thank You for the gift of Your Holy Spirit, our Comforter.

Romans 8:16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us…

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies…

26 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 through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

Thank You for sending an Encourager and Helper to be strength in and for us, to groan with us and for us in the midst of our surrendered longing.

Thank You for the hope that anchors our soul through every storm until You return.

Hebrews 6:17-20 Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.

I will take hold of hope.

I will turn to You again and again in surrendered trust.

For You are faithful.

You will be ever with me to strengthen and encourage me in the midst of the storms.

You will keep Your promise.

You will return.

Longing will end.

Joy will remain.

Thank You.

Love,

Jenny

How I am Facing Hard Days

DSCF4617-2My next two Sundays are going to be challenging. This Sunday (May 1) Joel will be celebrating his 24th birthday in Heaven. And next Sunday, Mother’s Day, I will be spending in a new state where we are in the process of moving 675 miles away from our three yet earthbound children.

I’ve been praying and scheming for weeks now, and asking myself how can I face these days with an eternal perspective and find joy in Jesus through them so that they are less tearful.

DSCN2375This is what I have so far:

a) hope to visit a grocery store bakery and pay for someone else’s birthday cake before they pick it up on Saturday (idea from my While We’re Waiting Facebook group)

b) hope to visit the zoo too, buy 2 adult and 2 children’s tickets and pass them to someone in line behind us. When the kids were little we used to do something similar at Sea World. It was a blast and the memory still brings joy.

c) hope to visit two different churches, one each Sunday, where no one knows us.. and I can smile with grace and not worry that no one knows the brokenness I am hiding

CIMG4642Mother’s Day, since losing Joel, tends to draw attention to the ache and deep longing of my brokenness. This Mother’s Day.. my first with an empty nest, I am trying to turn my thoughts in a positive (thankful, hopeful) direction. So I’ve been looking for the good gifts God is bringing out of my brokenness and I am beginning to see:

a) Part of our hearts are in Heaven now.. and that is giving us the gift of a more eternal perspective. My husband is so kind and faithful to remind me: “We have to have an eternal perspective.” Three years of hearing that now, and I am finally starting to get it. I am starting to see with acceptance that this life is short and full of trouble; and see with hope that the next one is eternal and beautiful and full of joy.

b) My brokenness has spoiled me for this world.. only the next will satisfy.. only Jesus will satisfy me now. When I am thinking straight, Jesus in me.. Jesus in others.. Jesus in creation.. is what moves me now. Jesus is the joy that helps me run with perseverance. Having all other desires striped away gives the gift of seeking and finding more of Jesus.

c) In my brokenness, I no longer hold any delusions that I can do anything in my own strength. My brokenness has made me entirely dependent on His strength in me. Learning to allow God to use my weakness is a gift “that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

d) My brokenness has given me the gift of opportunity to comfort others with the comfort I’ve received from the Holy Spirit with genuine empathy. Jesus did this for us. He came as one of us and suffered for us, learned obedience through His suffering and became that great high priest who understands our weaknesses, so that we can draw near to His throne of grace and receive mercy and find grace to help in our time of need. (Hebrews 4 – 5)

I am still growing in all these things. I am pressing in. I have so much more to learn.

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

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

Romans 8:18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

 

Abiding in His love ,

Jenny

Precious Gifts: Sweet Purfume

I have been privileged to meet and hear the stories of many bereaved parents since losing Joel. Although I would have never have willingly chosen to join their ranks, I am thankful for the bond we share, the friendships we’re forging and the things I am learning from each of them.

Weeks ago I ran across a quote that said, “A friend hears the song in your heart and sings it to you when you forget the words.” I thought it perfectly described the small group of bereaved moms who have been meeting me at Panera for a little over two years now.
*Panera MomsOur friendship has been a safe place to be honest about hard days, to discuss how we can keep moving forward, and to seek prayer. Sharing our stories has been healing and helps dispel the isolation of being a bereaved parent.

We understand each other’s struggles and have patience for each other’s grief because we know we need it ourselves. The humble words of wisdom we offer each other is hard fought for and easier to receive.

The most healing thing for me this year has been the laughter we’ve shared. We each know the cost of and the deep sadness in the laughter. There are no expectations whatsoever that laughter is a sign that we are “over” the deaths of our precious sons. This deep knowing we share makes the pain and the laughter more bearable and frees us to laugh more deeply and more often.

Having a group of moms who are committed to following Christ and encouraging each other through such a difficult journey has been a lifeline for me. Their influence has made me stronger and wiser. I am forever grateful for them.

Two of our little group are moving to different states this year. 🙁 I created this little multi media art canvas as a small memorial depicting how God has worked through each of us to encourage the others. I hope that it will help us remember the words to our songs.
DSC03526I dressed each mom in boots because the road bereaved moms walk is hard and dark and requires a determination and commitment to travel.

Our arms are linked showing the steadied, strength we’ve found in traveling this road together. The crowns on our heads depict the joy that we bring to Jesus as we hold tenaciously to His promise that although the road is dark and hard now, one day it will end with a crown of joy:

“The LORD’s ransomed ones will return and enter Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: joy and gladness will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” Isaiah 35:10

Each of us brings different gifts to the group; each sings a different song. One offers a candle of hope; another, a voracious reader, the admonition to keep trusting in the Lord; a third shows us by example how to hold on tightly to God’s faithful love towards us and a fourth has girded herself with the truth that this road we are traveling requires faithful perseverance.

The words on the faces, arms and knees of each mom are the verses that each gift embodies:

Hope: 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.

Trust: Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.

Faithful Love: Psalm 143:8 Cause me to hear thy lovingkindness in the morning, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.

Perseverance: Hebrews 10:23-25 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.. encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

These three friends have shown me how to be an alabaster jar, broken at the Lord’s feet, bringing sweetness and healing to others not despite their brokenness, but because of it. Their transparency has been a healing balm to my heart. Proverbs 27:9 is the verse to the right of the canvas:

“The heartfelt counsel of a friend is as sweet as perfume and fragrant oils.”

Thank you, Jill, Lisa and Cyndi for giving me so many encouraging gifts in the journey. I love you all.

Jenny

Seasons Change

DSC02767 I have a folder full of half written post from last year. My brain has not been very cooperative. I’ve had so much on my mind and heart that I find myself easily overwhelmed and unable to process it all.

I lost a dog, 7 friends, and had two friends lose children in the past 16 months. So many that it’s felt like I am missing the rapture. But the real rapture won’t be experienced in this slow painful way. It will be in a “twinkling of an eye.”

1 Corinthians 15: 51- 54 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed -in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

“Then” it “will come true.”

For now, death still stings.

I have heard many “cliches” meant for comfort since losing Joel.

One of my least favorites is to look for “a new normal.”

I don’t want what I am experiencing to be “normal.”

My new normal is that at any moment one of my children could be murdered.

That my world can be turned upside down again and again.

That there is an empty chair at the table,

An empty bed.

And an empty place in our hearts.

I don’t want murder to be considered normal.

I don’t want losing 5 or more friends a year to be normal.

And how is labeling living in the wake of  death  “normal” supposed to help heal my wounded heart?

When you minimalize real pain, it goes under treated and can grow into something much worse. Minimized grief can cause complications such as suppression, guilt, anxiety, anger and depression.

Jesus didn’t come to minimalize our grief. He came to experience it with us, to weep with us, and to give us hope and joy in the midst of it. That is how you heal a wounded heart.

I recently found a word I like better: a New Season.

Seasons change.

Season speaks to the temporariness of it all.

Season allows for a season of healing,

Season allows for a much greater season of Heaven.

This life is temporary. It’s a vapor. Here today gone tomorrow.

There is an eternal life that waits ahead where there is no more death, no more mourning or crying or pain (Revelation 21:4). Our real pain can be legitimately minimized by the much greater glory it is producing in Heaven. (2 Corinthians 4:17).

A new normal on earth isn’t something I can stake my hope on.

The unspeakable joys of Heaven – that’s a New Normal I can look forward to.

This hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure, reaches through the veil into the inner sanctuary; where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews 6:19

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:5

Joel so enjoyed newness. He loved learning and exploring and discovering new things; whether it was art, music, history, nature, math, science or innovation. Each new day held a sense of wonder for him. He must be overcome with joy in the face of all the beauty and newness of Heaven he is experiencing now.

For now, in this season, on this planet, death still stings.

But I can grieve with hope in the promises of a new season in Heaven (1 Thessalonians 4:13).  I can hope, trust and obey as I am enabled by the One who has gone through suffering before me to our Heavenly Sanctuary.

Love,

Jenny

Many Moons Ago; Shared Laughter with My Savannah

Today is a big birthday for someone very special, our oldest Thai girl, Savannah. Yay, Savannah! Happy Birthday!

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One of my fondest memories of Savannah is from many moons ago, near her 18th birthday.

That Christmas we moved from San Antonio, Texas to Illinois and were introduced to more snow than we’d ever seen in our whole lives put together.

We’d missed going to church a couple of Sundays. Holidays, unpacking and adding a new baby to the family had kept us busy. Finally, this Sunday, we bundled up our 4 little ones, ages 5 and under, and ventured out in the ice and snow in search of a church home.

Our little family of 7 almost doubled the number of attendees of the small, white, historic chapel as we walked in with snow covered boots across their creaky, wood floors. It was called the LOVE Chapel. Mike always says it with his Elvis voice.

The pastor greeted us with a look that asked, “Why are you out on such a cold day?” Then jokingly called the few who had braved the cold “the Chosen Frozen.” It was an especially cold Sunday morning with a wind chill below 0°.

We found a place to sit along a long wooden pew and opened our hymnals and sang along with the congregation.

It became very quiet, when the pastor asked us to turn to Ecclesiastes chapter 3.

Remember, this was many moons ago; long before smart phones and iPads; way back when people carried actual Bibles to church. We’d forgotten our Bibles in our rush to get out the door with 4 little ones bundled in thick socks, shoes, hats, mittens and snow suits, but thankfully we spotted one next to a hymnal further down the pew. Savannah stretched across the pew to pull it out and started the search for Ecclesiastes.

I am pretty sure we both knew were the book of Ecclesiastes was supposed to be. “Psalms, Proverbs… Song of Solomon. Wait, we’ve gone too far.” We looked again, then again with Mike’s assistance, “Psalms, Proverbs.” Then we checked the table of contents. “Yes, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon.”

By this time, if a pin had dropped, you wouldn’t have heard it above the echo of the rustling pages in our Bible. The whole congregation was still; waiting for the “visitors” to find the book of Ecclesiastes. The tension grew.

Having renewed our confidence with the table of contents we looked again. “Psalms, Proverbs… Song of Solomon.” There was NO book of Ecclesiastes. Our mouths gaped in amazement. The pages of Ecclesiastes had been carefully torn out of the Bible and only a small remnant of their tattered edges remained!

Savannah and I looked at each other and started to giggle..

Then right there in the tiny, wooden, echoey LOVE Chapel we had an attack of the giggles.

It took all our strength to straighten our faces, look up at the pastor, and pretend that we’d finally found the passage. The temptation to steal glances at each other and giggles and smirks and their echoes got us again and again. It was the longest 20 minute sermon I’d ever sat squirmed through. He, he. I don’t know what kept us from busting out laughing and rolling on the floor.

Ecclesiastes 3:11-12 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live.

Savannah, He is making us beautiful in His time and eternity big in both our hearts. I am thankful for our memories of shared laughter and I am praying that God will fill your next season with the kind of beauty and laughter that only He can give.

Happy Birthday!

Love,

Your Texas Mom

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

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