Finding Joy in Him

Through Every Season

Tag: Life w/the Colemans (page 1 of 8)

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.

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

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)

Guard Your Heart

This is the one verse that God gave me for my kids; the one bit of wisdom He gave me to pass down.  I wrote out what it means to me for all the graduates we know this year… including our own Josh, who is due to graduate from college this December. 🙂  We are proud of you and love you all.

Guard your heart with all diligence,
For out of it spring the issues of life.
Proverbs 4:23

Guard it with humility.
Guard it by abiding in His love.
Guard it by praying all the time.
Guard it by forgiving and loving others.
Guard it by giving thanks in every situation.
Guard it by casting your cares on Him because He cares for you.
Guard it with daily Bible study… (even if it’s just a verse or two).
Guard it with the fullness of joy found only in His presence.
Guard it with His gift of peace that passes understanding.
Guard it with the strong and sure hope of Heaven.

Guard it because it’s the most important thing you own.  Out of it comes words of life or death (depending on how well you guard it) with the potential of profoundly effecting the lives of those around you (for good or for evil)… profoundly effecting the direction of your own life here on earth and your life in Heaven.  When your heart is wounded by your own sin or someone else’s, begin again… Guard your heart!… with humility… love.. prayer… forgiveness… thanksgiving… etc.

Praying God’s grace and love will complete it’s perfect work in you. Ephesians 3:16-17

Love,

Jenny

The Joy Set Before Us

A few pictures from 2012

Joel and Judi playing hands and foot with their cousins, Karen and Kyle.


My attempt to capture a sweet picture of Joel and Zoe’ sleeping together.  Zoe woke up the moment I opened the door and spoiled my photo.  Catching her on film not in a blur is a challenge.  The look on Joel’s face shows that he also caught on to what I was trying to do.

Josh and Joel enjoying a little friendly competition. Love this picture.

When they weren’t working, sleeping or at school.. Josh and Joel were studying, hiking, playing guitar together or just hanging out.

Joel often helped Josh with his math homework.. Math isn’t Josh’s favorite subject.. Joel loved the challenge and was so proud that he was able to help his big brother.

This is my last photo of the three boys..  Joel was working on an English paper, Josh had just returned home from class and had something to tell Joel, James had just returned from work and had something new on his computer to show off.I love the scene.. the camaraderie between my boys.. I love that they all three chose to stay home while going to college and grow into adults together. Living, learning, playing and growing together created in them a wonderful bond.

I had a sad thought today, Joel’s birthday… I can no longer tell James or Josh to go ask “one of your brothers.” They only have one brother to go ask now.

Joel so lived and embodied this verse.. we miss him living it before us:

Philippians 2:2-4 Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
My happy thought: I had a beautiful revelation last night.. while meditating on Jesus’ description of our Heavenly Father:
 Luke 15:20 So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.

Just a few words into the verse.. I was overwhelmed with a vision of Abba Daddy’s face..FULL of LOVE, ANTICIPATION and EAGERNESS.. the look on His face when He welcomed Joel home.

I was overcome with tears of joy.

He looks forward to His return for us and our homecoming with the same GREAT eagerness. He LONGS for us.. to embrace and kiss us… to overwhelm us with His great love.

It was that for that joy that He laid aside all of Heaven, made Himself nothing, became a servant for us and submitted Himself to endure the terrible the death on the cross. (Hebrews 12:2, Philippians 2:6-8)

We love you, Jesus!

THANK YOU!!!

Come, quickly!

His,

Jenny

 

Seeing Jesus through Joel’s Eyes

One of the best things I ever asked my kids to do was to pick one verse from our daily Bible devotions, copy it, then illustrate it. It takes a lot of thought (right and left brain) to accomplish. I highly recommend you try it yourself and see what Holy Spirit might teach you.

Since today is Joel’s 21st birthday, and I always knew he had a pastoral anointing. I am going to let him preach today through some of the verses he meditated on and illustrated.

A few from the Old Testament:

 

We spent a long time on the Tabernacle.
See the scribbles in the cloud?  They are Joel’s way of illustrating God’s power.
We’d been to visit a few caves.  Have you ever been in a cave with the light out?
Now that is dark… but even there God is with us.
  Like the way he used candy and ice cream as temptation.. the easy road.
Our hearts are happier with Jesus on the harder road.

A verse we memorized for Thanksgiving.
Doesn’t he have nice handwriting?

New Testament Readings:

Joel’s pushing a chair up to reach the vine.
His love and power is everywhere.
Joel is wiping my tears away.
  God’s face was a mystery to
Joel when he drew this one, but not now.

Revelations 22:12 “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me.”

vs. 17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.

 God in the face of Jesus.. I love that He’s sopping wet.. makes Him so human.
I think the cricket was for the locus that John ate.  🙂
Have you been guilty of trying to live on bread alone???
It’s better to go 40 days without and live on the WORD of GOD.
Have you ever wondered how Jesus knows you?
You can learn so much by  illustrating your Bible readings.
Jesus’ anointing is powerful!
This one speaks volumes.
Jesus, stay with us and give us your living water.
Amen!
Let’s follow the Holy One.
Slip away and pray..
Jesus rewards those who won’t be discouraged by the crowds.
He’s a friend to sinners.. even tax collectors.
The old just can’t compare.. Law vs. Spirit.
Jesus will rescue you any day of the week.. “bah.”
No words.

.. Tears of joy.. because I know our beloved, Joel,
is so blessed to live continually in His presence..
making his home in God’s big, big house..
having the best birthday yet.

Love,

Jenny

Relections on Heaven at Refection Riding Arboretum

Warning: Lots of photos
Saturday after lunch, we went to the Refection Riding Arboretum 
at the foot of Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga.
We so enjoyed walking it’s 3 mile loop which you can drive, bike or walk. 
 These horses reminded me of a Canadian TV show we’ve been enjoying, Heartland.
The cool spring breeze was so refreshing.
 Had to get one more with the mountain in the background.  🙂
 The Arboretum has a has a level 4 rating which means
 it has labled at least 120 different species of trees.
 Everything is colored with missing Joel now.  
We could not help thinking about how much he 
would have enjoyed the hike as we walked along.
He would have loved everything about it.. the beauty, the adventure, the history, the day.
Wild hydrangeas.
 As I snapped photos,   I wondered if Joel and Jesus went on hikes together
and if they ever had any need for photos or scrapbooks.  
One room cabin with spring feed water basin.
This cabin was dedicated to John and Margret by their grandchildren with 
Psalm 19:1-3
The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.  
Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.  
There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; 

yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.

 Favorite flower picture.
 I hear that the colors in Heaven are even more amazing than any we’ve ever seen.
 These flowers were growing on a Florida Anise Tree
These mushrooms reminded me of our very first real nature walk together 
at OP Schnable Park in San Antonio.   The Lord so blessed us that day with tons
of different mushrooms, bees and mating garter snakes.

Pages from Joel’s Nature Journal

 Joel was 10 years old.
 We all took turns using our first digital camera.
Joel’s version of what the snakes were doing below.   🙂
 We had to look up what kind of snakes they were
 We were all amazed by God’s creation.
The one below was from a different walk at OP Schnable.  
We went there often; there was so much to see 
and it was an easy drive from our house.
We met our good friends, the Chagoyas, there just last May.
Back to the Arboretum.. 
 We’ve been to St. Augustine.  Glad we didn’t have to walk here from there.
Cherokee monument.
 Joel so enjoyed taking nature photos.  
Will I get to see all the scrapbooks he’s collected when I get there?
 
About halfway through our hike we came upon this rock.. it amazed me.. 
I took half a dozen photos and still could capture the wonder of it so I took a video.
There was water springing up from the rock.. it reminded me of the water God provided in the wilderness for the Israelites and these verses from 
Revelation 21
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away,
 and there is no longer any sea…3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, 
“Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be 
 His people, and God Himself will be among them,4and He will wipe away every tear from 
their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, 
or pain; the first things have passed away.” 5 And He who sits on the throne said,
 “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.”
6 Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. 
I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost.
I’ve wondered many times how spending time with Jesus will work in Heaven.  
Will thousands of others be sharing my long, quiet walk with Jesus?    
 In Revelation 21:22 John says, 
“I did not see a temple in the city, because 
the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.”
 I was glad when I read in Anne Graham Lotz book, Heaven My Father’s House, last night 
that I wasn’t the only one who’d wondered.. and who’d selfishly not wanted to give up 
the wonderful, intimate, daily, individual, fellowship that we enjoy with Him now.
Anne believes that “There will be no place in Heaven 
where God is not physically, actually present!
  Because He is omnipresent, 
He will live fully and completely with me every moment, 
as though I were the only resident of Heaven!  
And He will live every moment fully and completely with 
you as though you were the only resident of Heaven!  
What a wonderful place Heaven will be!”
 Mike noticed, while on our hike, that sometimes the path would disappear beneath 
the forest overgrowth and we would have to look up ahead to find where to go next.
Mike at edge of a bamboo forest.
He said that in life we can get so focused on the here and now 
that we feel lost and have to look up to find eternal perspective again.
Beekeeper hives center right.
 I’ve been meditating on Colossians 3:1-4 lately. 
 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.
 I meditated on it before.. to keep myself in check that I didn’t love earthly things too much;
now because earthly things are too unbearable.  
 Mike’s view.
My view.
Wild flowers and dandelions.

 Yet another view.. what’s that in the distance?
 Turtles enjoying the sun.
So nice to take time and listen to the heavens
 and the earth declaring God’s glory.
Dogwood tree.
And for a grand finale an Azalea bush.
Looking up,
Jenny

Spring Break Photos Part 1

Yum Fudruckers

Judi, Miranda and James on the left.  Rebekah, Nichole and Mike on the right.

 Girls in Judi’s car following us bumper to bumper (the norm) in Pigeon Forge.

Our view Sunday evening.

Our view Tuesday morning after 2 days of snow.

Making snow balls.

4 inches of snow on the cars.

Which ball is smaller?

I think this one is.

Our snow person.

Our tongues keep popping out to catch snowflakes.. 

Mountain at the end of our road.

Friendly horses in Cade’s Cove

Cheese!

The church choir.

It was a little muddy..

James was computing while climbing the mud slide and slid himself.. ipad survived the mud.   Judi said, “I have a towel you can use in my trunk.”  James asked, “Where is that?”  Judi, “Attached to the back of my car.”  James wouldn’t budge.. do involved in making sure his ipad was okay.  Judi was so great that she marched down, got the towel and gave it to him… while the girls and I laughed at James for falling in the mud and took pictures.

We are church goers.

Maybe my favorite snow picture.

Or this one.

The barn.

Girls in the hay loft.

both sides.

Jumping down.

I got mud on my rear.. is that from James?

Best cabin yet.

The road behind.

The road ahead.

Did I share enough of these?

Love this one.

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