Heaven

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

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

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

Your First Birthday in Heaven

I’ve been dreading this day – your first birthday without you.
We’ve never been big on birthdays
But you’re still supposed to be here for them
So we can call you and tell you how much we love you
And try to make plans to take you to dinner.
But you’re not here, and we don’t know what to do.
How do we honor the day of your birth,
when what weighs on our minds is the day of your death?

But then I remember – since you’re not here, it means you’re in Heaven.
Not based on some empty hope,
But on the blessed assurance that you belong to Jesus.
You called on Him to save you, and said how much you loved Him.
So what birthday plans do they have in Heaven?
Or is everyday so amazing, that a birthday would only get in the way?
Do they instead celebrate the day of your arrival,
the day you were born into Eternity?

For us, it will be a hard day. For you, it will be the best day.
You can’t beat birthdays in Heaven.
Your first birthday with no sorrow, no regret, no disappointment.
We don’t get to spend the day with you,
But you get to spend the day with Jesus.
You’re surrounded by His glory, wrapped in His embrace
You hear the sound of voices lifted up in praise, and see beauty beyond compare
You’re experiencing everything you were created to enjoy.

So while we are sad, wishing to see your face again.
We can’t help but also be filled with an unexplained peace;
Knowing you’re where you were created to be
And that this year your gift is that you’re finally free.
So despite all our heartache
We wouldn’t change a thing
We’ll choose to rejoice through our pain
Because you’re spending your first birthday in Heaven.

Categories: birthday, Heaven, Rusty | Leave a comment

The Gospel According to a Three-Year-Old

Today after picking Harris up from school, we went to get the boys’ hair cut. They were way past needing it. I don’t normally go with them, because my father-in-law always takes them. It’s a treat the boys always look forward to. I was with them today because we went straight after picking Harris up from school and eating lunch.
David went first today. I could hear his sweet voice, but wasn’t paying much attention to what he was saying until I heard, “But I’ll miss my house when I get to Heaven.” It cracked me up. I am so glad he couldn’t see me, because I try hard not to laugh when they are saying something very serious to them but hilarious to me. I decided I should listen a little closer. The rest of what I heard went something like this. (I never heard Mr. Linn respond. He wasn’t talking as loudly as David was.) “Do you know how to get to Heaven? You have to believe in the Cross that Jesus died on. I have Jesus in my heart.” He was witnessing to this man cutting his hair!!!! How adorable and amazing!! I was so proud and so convicted. I am not nearly as quick to share the Gospel as I should be, but I was just like David when I was little. I witnessed to everyone I saw.

Lord, help not to be ashamed of the Gospel, “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Help me to see the divine appointments you set for me, and give me the courage to speak boldly of you. Just as I speak about my husband or kids to anyone and everyone who will listen, give me the same kind of passion when it comes to speaking about you. And please don’t let David lose that boldness he had today when talking about You. To God be the Glory. Amen.

Categories: David, Gospel, hair cuts, Heaven | 2 Comments

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