death

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

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

Struggling Against Reality

Off and on, ever since Rusty died (Thursday will mark one year, but he died on a Tuesday, so yesterday felt like “the day” – and the weather was perfect, just like it was that Tuesday, but I digress…), I keep struggling with the reality of what has happened. At times, it still feels so surreal. I keep thinking that maybe this was just a bad dream; or it can’t be as bad as I’m making it out to be, surely I’m just blowing this out of proportion; Rusty’s not really dead – he can’t be – that just doesn’t make sense; etc. Is it normal to still struggle with the reality of a traumatic loss after a year? I don’t know. I just know that it’s where I’ve found myself the last week or so. I don’t have any of those thoughts consciously, but somewhere in my subconscious, those questions or thoughts are there.

Maybe it’s because I’m trying to make sense of the loss of connection from my brother. A friend prayed for me last night and asked God to somehow give me a new connection to Rusty. I had not heard anyone pray that before, and it struck me that that might be why I’ve been feeling this way – I’m trying to come to terms with this severed connection. Maybe it’s like someone who has an amputated limb, who still feels sensations in the missing limb. I’m still feeling sensations of connection from a relationship that isn’t there anymore – not on this earth, anyway, and my brain doesn’t know what to do with that, so it goes into a type of denial.

The truth is, I will always feel that loss on earth. One day, in Heaven, I’ll see my brother again and we’ll have a better connection and relationship than ever before. But is there a way to have a taste of it here and now? Is it enough to look to the future and the promise of beauty from ashes, and that Jesus will make all things new? I want to believe that we get to realize some of those promises here.  But if so, what does that look like? I’m not sure at the moment. I’ve not thought a lot about it until my friend prayed that last night. Maybe I’m not supposed to know. I tend to want to get ahead of God and make things happen on my own. If I don’t know how, I have no choice but to wait on God to do it.

Categories: death, grief, Heaven, Rusty, time, Uncategorized | Tags: | 2 Comments

An Evening With Anyone?

Today I had a friend post this question on Facebook: If you could spend the evening with anyone who has ever lived, who would it be? She took Jesus off the table, because most of her Christian friends would have responded with His name.

I’ve heard these questions before, and have almost always had a different response. I’m not one who has ever really idolized a particular celebrity. I think most celebrities are pretty ridiculous, really. There are some whom I admire for their genuine talent, but not enough to want to spend an evening with them.

However, there are some people who I do admire for their walk with the Lord and how they have used their gifts and talents – and their place in the public square – to glorify Him. One of those would be Steven Curtis Chapman and his whole family – especially since the death of their daughter, Maria. Another person, who is not as well known, but still in the public sphere, is David M. Sanborn – the actor who played Jesus for a few seasons at The Miracle Theater. I follow him on Facebook, and his posts almost always make me think, “This is what Jesus would say.”

I’m also blessed to have people in my life whom I look up to immensely – my pastor, Harry Walls; my worship pastor and mentor, Kevin Moore; my spiritual mom, Janis. And while they are in my life regularly, they’re always so busy that to have an evening to just sit down with them in my home would be quite the treat.

So once upon a time, I would have names any of those names to answer that question. But today, without hesitation, when I read it, I knew who it would be: my brother, Rusty. My answer sort of surprised me. I grew up with this guy. I spent every evening of my childhood, just about, with him.

But now I haven’t seen him in a year, and I won’t see him again until I leave this world. And I really, really miss him. I miss his exuberant laugh and brilliant smile. I miss his deep, smooth voice. I miss rubbing the top of his prickly mostly-shaven head. I even miss the smell of stale cigarette smoke that was on his clothes. (I was near someone the other night who smelled like that, and I could barely keep from crying.) So I would give almost anything to spend an evening with him again, especially if it could be in real time, so that he could tell me all about Heaven and what Jesus is like in person. (I dreamed he and I had a conversation just like that several months ago.)

Realizing that was my first answer – and my only answer – even after considering it for a few moments, made me realize how precious my family and loved ones are, and how I take them for granted. I should consider every evening that I get to sit down with my husband and children a grand privilege. Every time I get to talk to my other brother or sister-in-law on the phone, every time I see my mom or my dad; every time I speak to a friend….all of these are privileges that I am blessed with every day. And if it hadn’t been for Rusty’s death, and my friend’s question today, I might never have realized it.

So, who would you spend the evening with, out of anyone who has ever lived?

Categories: contentment, death, grief, Heaven, Jesus, lessons, thankful | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Daydreams of Davy

It seems in the last few years, there have been several significant celebrity deaths. It’s always sad to hear of anyone’s passing, and when it’s a person who enriched our culture through art, entertainment, or music, we all feel the impact. However, I’ve never really mourned a celebrity before – with the notable of Princess Diana. But hearing about Davy Jones’ heart attack and death today made me really sad.

I’m sure it doesn’t help that my feelings of sadness are already high with the approaching one year anniversary of Rusty’s death, but it’s more than that. As I started to reflect, I realized what a poignant part The Monkees had in my life.

In fifth grade, there were these 3 boys that I thought were the funniest guys I had ever met: Greg, Daniel, and Richard. For some reason, these guys LOVED The Monkees, and would always go around pretending to be them: Greg was Mickey; Daniel was Davy; and Richard was Peter. They didn’t have a Mike because they didn’t like him too much. He was always way too serious. I hung around these boys as much as I could, because they were cute AND funny. And it paid off, because Greg decided he liked me and we started “going together”, as it was called back then.

Greg was  a very considerate boyfriend – especially for a 5th grader. He often left surprises for me in my cubby, so that I would find it when I got to school in the morning and put my lunch box/backpack away. One day, he had left me a cassette tape of The Monkees. I’m not sure which album it was, since he had taped it off of his original tape, but it introduced me to all the classic songs from the band: “I’m a Believer”, “Last Train to Clarksville”, “Daydream Believer”, etc. I loved listening to it, and fell in love with them.

Fast forward to just after I graduated from high school, and I was dating the man who would become my husband. He’s 12 years older than I am, and so he was a kid when The Monkees were among the current music scene. He was surprised to learn I was a big fan of theirs, and after I told him about my 5th grade “boyfriend” making a cassette tape of one of their albums for me, he made sure to do the same thing for me.

My brother, years later, bought me a DVD of The Monkees TV show. I haven’t watched it yet, for some reason, but tonight seems like the perfect occasion to unwrap the cellophane, slip the disk in the player, and take a walk down memory lane. So long, Davy. You will be missed.

Categories: death, Memories | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The End of a Journal

A few days ago, I finished up my most recent journal. It lasted me less than a year, which may be the quickest I’ve ever gone through one. It’s also the most challenging journal I’ve ever kept, with more varying degrees of emotion. I started it about a month before Rusty died, and ended it about a month before the first anniversary of his death.

In the past, my journal entries were usually about my trust in the Lord and all the great things He was doing in my life. But this last journal was different. It records my wrestling matches with God, as I struggled to trust Him and His plan. I was SO angry. I felt betrayed. I struggled to believe in the power of prayer, since I had prayed so much and so hard for Rusty. The journal records my questions (if Rusty had to die, couldn’t it have been any other way?), my confusion, my anger, my pain. Through it, God exposed my pride, my selfishness, my desire to be in control, and how shallow my faith – that I once considered so strong – really was.

However, the journal also records a lot of my breakthroughs from those wrestling matches. I gained a deeper understanding of aspects of God’s character. I saw new aspects of His love. I learned just how amazing His grace really is. I realized how deep His mercy was for Rusty – and for us left behind. It also records the moments when I didn’t have a revelatory breakthrough, but instead I just chose to stop wrestling and to trust God – even to submit to His plan of letting Rusty die, of letting him take his own life.

Overall, I learned how prideful and arrogant I am, assuming I could control things and protect my family through my prayers. I learned that God is Sovereign and that no purpose of His can be thwarted (Job. 42:2), and that submitting to Him means submitting even when I don’t want to or don’t like it. My anchor of faith is deeper now that it’s been tested, and I learned that it will hold, even through the fiercest storm.

I understand God’s amazing grace, the depths of His love, the power of His death and resurrection, the immutability of His faithfulness and His will in more profound ways that I ever would have without this journey/journal. I also learned how hard – and how rewarding – it is to give thanks in everything.

I have no idea where my new journal will take me. God has put some exciting things in my lap this year already. But I do know that God is in control, and I am not. No purpose of His can be thwarted. My role is to CHOOSE to humbly submit.

Categories: choices, death, devotional thought, grief, Jesus, Rusty, storms, suicide, thankful | Tags: | 2 Comments

My Last Day With Rusty – part 2

First of all, I want to thank everyone who read, liked, and/or commented on my post from yesterday. That means so much. I wanted to take a few moments and tell you what the Lord did for me last night – on the anniversary of my last day with my brother.

Yesterday evening, after a long, exhausting day, I was feeling drained and I could tell I had emotions broiling under the surface, waiting to be faced and dealt with. So I decided to go to Healing Waters Church. They have a life group that meets there on Sunday evenings, and they’ve invited Preston and me to join them whenever we can. (Our relationship with that church is such a God-thing. I’ll have to blog about it sometime soon…) Preston was kind enough to stay home with the kids so that I could go by myself.

This life group is almost like “doing church”. They have a time of praise and worship; someone delivers a message from the Bible; and they finish up with prayer and ministry to whoever wants it or needs it. First of all, they love on me so well whenever I’m there, and that alone ministers to me. I’ve read so many accounts of people who have been through the trauma of losing someone close to them, who were abandoned by the very ones they considered a support group. So I realize how very blessed I’ve been to have an amazing support group of friends and loved ones around me since Rusty died – from both my church, Shades Mountain Independent Church and Healing Waters Church. (But I digress…)

During their worship time, I was soaking it in; choosing to surrender my pain and grief to the One who knows, understands, and heals. Then I started thinking about that perfect last day I had with Rusty, and the Lord showed me what a gift it was. That when I see him again, it will be like picking up where we left off. I started to imagine what it would be like when I get to Heaven and see him again. Will he be the one to bring me to Jesus? What will he look like, now that he is whole and free from his strongholds and his sin nature?

I kept thinking I was allowing myself to get distracted, but just then, the song that came on was “I Can Only Imagine”. If you don’t know that song, it’s about imagining the day when we’re in Heaven. It was like God was showing me that I doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing. I just broke down and sobbed and sobbed. It was exactly what I’ve been needing to do for several days now. It was so healing.

Afterward, I had a lady come over and just wrapped her arms around me, crying with me, and told me, “Mourning lasts only for a short time.” I knew the rest of that Scriptural truth: “and then joy comes in the morning.” This lady lost a son 6 years ago, and so she knew the pain and grief, and the Lord laid it on her heart to embrace me and say that to me.

Then, the leader asked me to come pray for a young man that had come for the first time that night, and had recently gotten saved. (This church LOVES to pray for people, and they love to ask me to pray when I’m there, for some reason.) When I walked up to him, he smelled just like Rusty. The look in his eyes was just like the look in Rusty’s eyes. I could hardly keep the tears back, but then the Lord showed me what a gift He was giving me: to be able to minister to someone the way I wished I could have for Rusty. Nothing with God is ever lost. He is the Redeemer. He showed me that He’s taking all those prayers, and all those desires to pray for Rusty, and letting me use them for other people like Rusty. Hallelujah!

Wow, this is really wordy. I apologize. But I had to share the incredible way God met with me last night with you, to give Him thanks and all the glory. He really is near to the broken-hearted, and there is healing in His wings.

Categories: death, God, grief, Heaven, Rusty, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

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