Four Little Girls

Birmingham is woven into my heart. As an intercessor, I’ve learned that when you pray for someone or something regularly, especially if it’s a God-given prayer assignment, that person or thing become woven into your heart. I love this city. I have since I was a little girl. Now, as someone who prays regularly for Birmingham, I feel as if this city is becoming a part of me, and for some reason, the Lord wants me to understand its past in order to shape how I pray for its present and future.

I’ll never forget the first time I connected with the well-known and terrible past. I was on stranger to it. You can’t grow up in the metro-B’ham area and not hear about its dark past. But it was just historical facts I heard about, and knew people had strong feelings about those events and mindsets. Until the day our church had a prayer summit that started in Kelly Ingram Park, which is across the street from the 16th Street Baptist Church and the Civil Rights’ Museum. As we walked from statue to statue, depicting scenes from the marches and demonstrations, my heart was convicted and broken. I wept and prayed, and left there changed. Not just more aware, but something more. The past was no longer just a historical fact for me; it was now a part of my reality.

Today, I had another one of those moments.  My 3 children and I went to the Children’s Theater to see a play called, “The Watsons go to Birmingham”. It’s about an African-American family from Flint, Michigan, who happen to be visiting family in Birmingham when the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing happened.

When it got to that part, I started getting emotional. In one scene, they bring out four little girls’ dresses and lay them one by one in the outstretched arms of one of the characters. I could not stop crying, and had to fight to keep from sobbing out loud.  Of course it was somber and moving, but it got to me on a much deeper level.

Live theatrical performances always move me. I love a good play or musical more than any other form of entertainment, I think. But again, this was different. It wasn’t because of a superb performance or a strong message. Because it was for a theater full of children, they watered it down so that the issue of racism was almost missed, besides a short conversation between two of the characters after the bombing scene. And it ended so oddly that it took me a moment to realize it was the closing scene.

I’ve been trying all day to define what got to me so profoundly. Maybe a part of it is that just like those statues at Kelly Ingram Park made historical facts become a reality to me, seeing those 4 dresses in the play made the murder of those little girls a reality to me. I identified with the loss, the tragedy and trauma, the shock and the outrage of that violent act like never before. Once again, I find myself forever impacted and changed in some way, and I’m not quite sure what to do with it, yet.

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Our Callie-Cat

That’s what David started calling her early on – Callie-Cat. We also called her Baby Kitty, Cuteness, and Crazy Kitty. We got her 3 years ago when some friends were giving away their cat’s kittens. The moment I saw Callie’s face, I knew she was supposed to be ours. Even though I had recently sworn we would be a one-cat household from now on, and we loved our old black cat, Hershey, without thinking, I tweeted back to this friend’s post with Callie’s picture, and told her we wanted that one. When she responded and said she was ours, I freaked out. I did not need nor want another cat. I told her to let me sleep on it first, hoping either sanity would kick in or my husband would talk me out of it. By the next morning, neither of those things had happened. After all, how could you resist that face in this twitpic?”

She quickly settled in as a member of our family. She was sweet, playful, snuggly, adventurous – the perfect cat. She took turns sleeping with each of the kids. She put up with them holding her, putting covers on her, and all the other things cats aren’t supposed to like. A year later, when my brother died, she was a bright spot for our family. In the last 3 years, Callie has been such a blessing to our family. I have loved all of our pets, but she’s the only one I’ve ever described as being a blessing. Image

On Tuesday night, she suddenly passed away. An indoor cat, she had been “missing” most of the afternoon and evening. When we found her, she was in really bad shape, breathing heavily, lethargic, and would not eat. Preston took her to the after-hours animal clinic, where they found she had fluid in and around her lungs, and even some in her abdomen. Her temp was 87 degreed F. I cat’s normal temp is around 101 degrees F, I believe. In spite of the doctor’s best efforts to save her (and with symptoms pointing to congestive heart-failure, which shouldn’t happen to a 3-year-old cat) she died less than 2 hours later. The doctor wasn’t sure what caused her sudden onset of symptoms and death. Today my veterinarian said it could be one of 2 things: hypertrophic cardiomyopathy or feline heartworms. Both can cause death in young cats. Our vet assured me there was nothing else we could have done. Getting her there sooner wouldn’t have made a difference. The condition would have still – most likely – been fatal. That helped me a lot.

Tomorrow – how am I supposed to grieve for a cat?

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The Unity of the Spirit

Today I had the opportunity to be a part of an event hosted by Mt. Pilgrim Baptist Church in Fairfield. Every year for 11 years, a couple at the church have celebrated their anniversary by hosting a worship and prayer luncheon there. I met the dear lady of this couple last summer at a Mission Birmingham event and then at my church’s Congregational Prayer Summit in November. Since then, we’ve seen each other a few times at different prayer events, and she is also on the Mission Birmingham prayer team that I facilitate, so we communicate regularly.

I was so nervous about going to a place I had never been, and sharing my testimony with them. When I told her that, Mrs. Celia said, “Don’t be nervous. You’re simply coming to the other side of town to visit with your relatives on your Daddy’s (God’s) side.” I loved that, and whenever I thought about it, it did make me feel better.

My friend, Kari, went with me to help me navigate how to get there and for moral and prayer support. As soon as we walked in, I could feel the Holy Spirit in that place. Mrs. Celia led us in a time of prayer and worship. Then, I shared for a few minutes. After that, we had to break into groups to pray through a passage of Scripture. (Of course Kari and I ended up in different groups.) I so enjoyed that time of prayer with those men and women! Our group’s focus was on glorifying the Lord for who He is and what He’s done, and not to ask Him for anything. The testimonies of God’s goodness and faithfulness from these brothers and sisters in Christ were so precious. One of the things I love about corporate prayer is how the Holy Spirit is evident by having someone across the room pray out loud what I had just been thinking. It happened today in this little prayer group too! Afterward, I got hugged by almost everyone. The love of Christ and of His Body was a joy to see and experience.

They served a delicious meal afterward, and I as I talked with these ladies around me, I heard stories of how they have risked it all to serve Christ, reaching out to the least and the lost because it’s what God has called them to do. I heard stories that were similar to mine, and others that were different from mine. Through all of the stories I heard, though, was the common theme of God’s faithfulness and their desire to submit to Him no matter what.

These men and women looked very different from me. Yet today, I felt so loved and welcomed by them, like I truly was part of their family. There was this under-current of unity and love among all of us that can only be from the Holy Spirit. I am doing such an inadequate job of putting it into words, but I came away feeling loved, humbled , but also excited and thrilled at how God unifies us by His Spirit to be the Body of Christ. I was tremendously blessed by the experience.

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Unreserved Worship

Last night, we had worship rehearsal. We take a break from it during the summer months, except for the week of our church’s birthday. We all enjoy rehearsal, and Birthday Sunday is a special Sunday for all of us, and so the rehearsal is always a particularly sweet one.

Last night, though, something happened that I will never forget. A dear, sweet lady, who recently turned 80, and suffers from dementia, came into the sanctuary as we were rehearsing “The Great I Am” (one of our favorites). She does it every week that we rehearse, so that was no surprise. But after a minute of sitting in the pew, she stands up with her hands waving in the air. She walked out into the aisle and walked up and down it, looking toward Heaven and throwing her hands up in pure, total, abandoned worship. It was absolutely beautiful.

In that moment, I envied her. Her condition has freed her from the restraints I put on myself because I’m too self-conscious and afraid of what people might think if I started walking up and down the aisle, waving my arms in praise to the One who deserves my total praise and worship. (And yes, I have wanted to do that, or something like that, at times.) I know it blessed the Lord immeasurably, but it also blessed everyone of us who watcher her. The Lord used her and her unreserved worship to glorify Himself in that moment. Could the same thing ever be said of me?

It also impressed me with the depth and the strength of her faith. I knew her a little before the dementia set in. She was a mighty woman of faith, who has raised 4 sons, all of whom are now in full-time ministry – some as pastors and city ministry leaders. One of the things that grieves me when I hear that someone has been diagnosed with some type of dementia or Alzheimer’s, is how it seems to rob them of their testimony and witness, as they stay confused, agitated, and angry. This woman’s faith, however, continues to shine through,  and to glorify her Father. What a blessing for her and those of us who get to know her. Her whole life is a picture of worship, and gives glory to the One who has written all of her days in His book. I pray that the same can be said of me one day.

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Random Musings from My Evening at an EP Release Party

Tonight I attended an EP Release party. (If you’re wondering what an EP is, it’s basically like a short album.) The album is the original creation of Jeremy Moore and a few of his incredibly talented musician friends.  (Jeremy is one of the sons of some dear friends of mine.) I highly recommend you order it off iTunes. It’s called “The Perfect Mold”. I would have the link to that here, but my computer isn’t letting me connect to iTunes at the moment.

Here’s a few thoughts and observations from my night, in no particular order except how they pop into my head:

  • The music really was incredible. I expected to enjoy it, but not to be blown away like I was. I didn’t want it to be over at the end.
  • It’s really cool to see how background vocals and instrumentation add to a song. A few of the songs I had heard on Jeremy’s Youtube channel, when they were still raw. They were really good then, but to hear them tonight with everything put together was amazing.
  • Of the people there tonight, there were the mostly college and early-to-mid-20’s folks, and there were the parents of Jeremy and another guy in the band, Tyler Cody. Then there was me. I sat with the parents, and definitely knew them better, of course, but after years of feeling like part of the younger group everywhere I went, it was really strange to be part of the older group tonight.
  • I really enjoy live music. I should take advantages of more opportunities to hear good live music. Key word being “good”.
  • Jeremy sings with such emotion. It made the music really move me, and even brought me to tears a few times, because everything about him communicated the emotion of what he was singing. Not that it was all sad, but the power of the emotion and passion he sang with got to me. I could have just been having an emotional day, but I don’t think so.
  • I wish Preston could have come with me. The songs and the setting (at the UFC House at Mountain Brook Community Church) were perfect for a fun date night.
  • Jeremy is going places with his music. He’s got everything to be a successful performer, in my opinion. His lyrics are original, creative, and insightful. His music is engaging and fun to listen to. He’s comfortable and real on the stage, which will win over his audiences. He’s passionate and gives it everything he’s got. And he’s got some amazingly talented, passionate friends as well, who helped make the music what it was tonight.
  • It was fun hanging with out with Gina (my friend and one of the guitar players’ mom), and with Kevin and Judi (Jeremy’s parents), even if it did make me feel old to be there with the parents. Mind you, these aren’t just the parents of these guys nor just my friends. Gina is the executive assistant for the pastor of our church. Kevin is the worship pastor at our church and the executive director for Mission Birmingham. It’s not every day I get to hang out at a concert with these people. And it’s definitely not every day that I get to hear them hollering and whooping. Yeah, it was for their kids, but it was still a fun moment.It was a great evening, and I am so glad I got to go! If you need a musician for a gig in Alabama, keep Jeremy Moore in mind. You can find his Facebook artist page here. If you get a chance to hear him perform, you definitely need to take advantage of it. You won’t be disappointed. And that wraps of the last of my random thoughts from the night.
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Video Game Treasures

We finally got wi-fi earlier this year for our house.  This past week, I finally gave in to my kids’ begging, and hooked our Nintendo Wii up to the wi-fi account. (I’m sure “hooked” isn’t the right word there. My brain is not finding the right words for me today. Ever had one of those days?)

Anyway…between hooking (or maybe tethering? connecting?) the Wii to our wi-fi, and a new game that the boys got for Christmas that had samples of some classic Nintendo games, I made the awesomely great discovery of Wii Virtual Console, where you can purchase and download classic games of the past onto your Wii! AND they had two of my all-time favorite ones on there – Legend of Zelda and Kid Icarus!

I was ridiculously excited – like a 10 year-old getting his first iPod touch excited. Maybe even more so. Definitely more so. I immediately bought and downloaded both of my favorites. My boys thought I had gone crazy.

Playing those games again brought back a flood of memories with my brothers. Memories of spending hours on the weekends trying to pass the second boss on Kid Icarus, or trying to find our way to Gannon on Zelda. Memories of the celebrations when we succeeded. Laughter. Fun. Bonding.

I texted Darrell and told him about my find. We started talking about all the old games we loved as kids. I wished he had time to come hang out and play on it with me like we used to. It made me miss Rusty. He would have been trippin’, as he liked to say. I can hear him now, “Imma be trippin’ over here, now.” Gosh, I haven’t felt his absence this tangibly in a while now.

All this nostalgia surprised me. I’ve lately been thinking how empty and pointless video games are. But what I discovered is that the time we spent on those games back then are now priceless memories. Now, if that were the only thing we had memories of, that would be a bad thing, and there’s still an excess of it in our culture, and even in my own home these days. In moderation, though, it’s not time down the toilet. It’s another way of having fun and creating memories. Perhaps, next time my kids are playing their games, I should sit down with them and become a part of the memories they’re making with each other.

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A Year of Healing

It was almost exactly one year ago today that I realized I really was going to be okay after my brother’s suicide. I remember I was on my way home from a store. The sun was shining on all the gorgeous fall leaves outside my car window, displaying in a small way God’s splendor and beauty to me. I was doing something that I know God has called me to do – helping lead a team of intercessors as we prayed for pastors in our community via email and text messages. And suddenly, I realized I was okay. My storm was passing.

The landscape of my life was forever altered;  I would always know the ache of losing a dearly loved one to suicide; I would always miss my brother, and I still went through really hard days after this realization that I would be okay. Yet, God had proven Himself faithful once again. I was back doing the things I was called to do, like singing on the praise team and helping lead prayer teams, and I was enjoying the beauty of the world around me.

It was such a significant moment for me – a moment where I could look back over the past 7+ months and see God’s presence that had been there all along. Not that I ever doubted it, but it’s one thing to trust it simply because it’s faith, and another thing to finally be able to see it. It made the truth of God’s presence, love, faithfulness, grace, and peace so much sweeter and more amazing after having to trust in it when I was too blinded by grief to see it. And what a tremendous blessing it was when I could see it again.

So one year ago today – I remember it because it was the day the local Pastors’ Prayer Summit started, which is what I was leading a team of intercessors to pray for – was a significant day for me. It was the day I realized I was healing; the day I once again clearly saw and felt all the things that I knew were true and had clung to in the dark, scary days after Rusty died. What a beautiful, glorious day.

Categories: fall, grief, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

A Conversation With Rusty

A couple of months after Rusty died, I had to go back to the funeral home for something, and while I was there, I decided to drive out to the grave. It was awful – just a brown patch of dirt that the grass was already starting to grow over, because we have not bought a headstone. At the time, it felt like saying Rusty had never existed. I promised myself I would not go back out there until there was a headstone.

Over the last couple of weeks, however, I kept thinking I should go again. I kept wishing there was a headstone, thinking that seeing his name and the date etched in stone would help my mind – which sometimes felt it was going crazy trying to come to terms with the reality of his death – finally come to terms with it. But since I knew there wasn’t one out there, I couldn’t figure out why I kept thinking I wanted to do that. It didn’t make sense. Yet, it didn’t feel like a “harassing” thought, more like a gentle nudge.

I pass the cemetery he’s buried in every week on my way to my discipleship group. And tonight, I had the rare situation of running several minutes early. So, I decided to give in and go by the grave. I drove up, and sure enough, the grass completely covered the grave. I could not tell anyone was buried there.  But for some reason, instead of that being really hard, it gave me so much peace. I expected it to be heart-wrenching.

Then, I heard the voice of the Holy Spirit say very gently and very firmly, “He isn’t here. That’s why there is no marker. This is not the place where you can reconnect with him. You know Rusty would not want any of you spending money on that anyway.” I then had this “conversation with Rusty” in my head.

Rusty: I don’t want you to buy a marker. That’s stupid.
Me: Well, then, you shouldn’t have killed yourself. That was stupid, too.
Rusty: I’m not there, Jennifer. I’m in Heaven. I’m not dead. I’m more alive than you can imagine. And besides, I have direct access to God now, and I’m asking Him to ignore your prayers for the money to buy a headstone.
Me: I get it, and I’m so glad you’re not there in that grave. I’m so glad you’re in Heaven, and face to face with God. However, I am the big sister, and so you need to be quiet and let me have the headstone.
I even found myself saying, “God, please don’t listen to him, and listen to me instead about this headstone thing.” I promptly cracked up laughing at the fact that God was having to mediate a sibling discussion.
I haven’t “talked” to Rusty like that since he died. I’m not about having conversations with people who have passed from this life – at least, not as a habit. But it was a very cool moment of connecting with my brother and the reality of his life – his current, abundant life. And it was funny.

The fact that this revelation and conversation happened the week of Easter, when Christians celebrate Jesus’ triumphant victory over sin and death, makes it even more special and awesome. I praise the Lord for His death that bought Rusty’s freedom from the power and bondage of sin, and for His resurrection that secured Rusty’s new life and his freedom from the power of the grave. Hallelujah! He’s not there! Why did I seek the living among the dead?

Categories: death, Heaven, Jesus, lessons, Rusty, The Cross | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Face to Face With Grief

I’ve discovered that I tend to want to find an escape when faced with uncomfortable emotions like grief or frustration. Or maybe it goes so far as to be any time I feel completely out of control of what is going on around me. My means of escape are harmless in and of themselves: shopping (well, that may not be completely harmless….); going out with a friend; going out to do something – anything; meeting with my pastor; or even just our normal scheduled activities; and I even escape with comfort foods.

Why do I do that? I know it’s probably a pretty normal response to difficult situations and emotions, but I “know better”. I’m supposed to know that escaping won’t solve anything, and that the answer to my grief cannot be found in any person or thing or activity. I know Jesus is the only Person who completely understands, and He is the only One who is truly “acquainted with (my) sorrows”.

Perhaps I’m not so much escaping as I am simply looking for something to soften the harsh reality of my grief – a pillow on which to lay my broken heart until it feels better. My routines – especially the ones that involve church – can be a pseudo-comfort. I’ve been expecting my friends to assuage my sorrow to some extent, and part of me has been terrified that they would forget. I’ve been fighting to keep Rusty’s memory alive in everyone’s hearts – or was it just my heartache I wanted them to remember?

Last week, the anniversary of Rusty’s death, made me realize all this, because I didn’t have a way to escape. It was Spring Break, every midweek activity was cancelled at both of the churches I am involved with (I’ll explain how I came to be involved with 2 churches in a different post.) My worship pastor, who has been my grief counselor in many ways this past year, was out of town with his family. My pastor was out of commission due to an injury requiring surgery. My friends were busy enjoying their own Spring Break activities. Every means I would normally use to escape was unavailable to me last week.

So it was just me and God. I wish I could tell you what a wonderful week of sweet, comforting, healing communion I enjoyed with the Lord. But I can’t. For some reason, I was holding Him at arms’ length. I knew He was there, and I was even talking to Him some, but I did not throw myself into His arms like I could have. I didn’t spend my evenings, after everyone was in bed, pouring my heart out to Him. Why? Why do I do that? Am I afraid? If so, of what?? Am I angry? Yes, that’s very possible.

But the Lord is good. He is faithful and long-suffering. He still upheld me because of the prayers of my friends. He has been there in this whole, long, excruciating season of my soul. He met me at church on Sunday. First, while I was working in the nursery, He had a nice lady who only knew the gist of what had happened, asked me for all the details. I could  have politely declined to answer, but I didn’t. I think the Lord wanted my heart to be exposed, because every single song during the service met me right where I was. It was as if the whole service had been planned for me. I know it wasn’t, except for in God’s plan. It was hard, and I cried a lot, but it was healing.

So I learned that I need to put my arms down, and stop trying to find something or someone else to “fix me”. I need to not be afraid to come face to face with my grief. For when I do, I’ll probably find myself face to face with God, who alone can comfort and heal.

Categories: brothers, choices, church, grief, lessons, Uncategorized, worship | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Blessings in the Storm

The Lord has been showing/reminding me of how much He had His hand on everything that happened this week a year ago. It is such a blessed reassurance that Rusty’s death was part of His sovereign plan, and He did everything to prepare us for it.

First of all, He had been telling me since September of 2010 that a storm was coming to my family that was unlike anything we’ve ever been through. Around the beginning of 2o11, I felt like the Lord was preparing me for a family member’s death. I even already had it in my head of who I would call first and who I would ask them to call; what I would need to do; etc. And the night Rusty died, I didn’t have to think about it, which is good since I couldn’t think. There’s a lot more that God did in the months before Rusty died to prepare me. I never dreamed it would be his death that I was preparing for, and certainly did not feel prepared for it, but in hindsight, I am so thankful that the Lord apparently WAS doing a work in my heart. I’ll never know how I would have handled it without that, and I’m glad for that.

The night he died, two of my favorite people in the world came out to my mom’s house to be with us – my pastor, Harry Walls, and my worship pastor, Kevin Moore. I couldn’t believe they BOTH came out, and I was SO thankful to see them there. Kevin was an invaluable support and help for me throughout that week as I did most of the funeral service planning, and he went with Darrell (my other brother) and me when we had to tell Dad what happened. Kevin is normally out of town with his family on Spring Break. He is this year. But for whatever reason, he was in town and available for us. God did that. Pastor Harry is also unavailable this week because he had to have surgery. What if that had happened a year ago? God made sure both of them were there for us that night and that week. He didn’t have to do that, but I am so glad He did. How would I have made it through that awful week without them?

Then there’s the circumstances around Rusty’s death itself. As hard and traumatic as it was, it was as gentle as it possibly could have been. I can see now how God had His hand on every aspect of what He allowed to happen that day. For instance, there was only one spot where one could stand and see Rusty from the yard, and Mom’s neighbor just happened to come over and visit her, stood in that spot, and saw him. Mom didn’t have to find him alone. He allowed someone – a nurse, no less – to be with her – someone who was used to emergency situations and knew what to do.

So even in the worst storm of our lives, God is there. He never fails. I can trust Him no matter what, even when it feels like my world turned upside-down.



Categories: brothers, death, God, grief, Rusty, storms, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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