Jesus

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?

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

The Beauty of the Shadow of the Cross

For a few years now, at the beginning of each year, I ask the Lord to show me a word or phrase that He wants to teach me about throughout the year. One year was: Order my steps. Last year it was: Release control to Him. That one was – and still is – very challenging for me.

This year’s idea is “get lost in the shadow of the cross”. The phrase comes from an old song by Steven Curtis Chapman called, “The Shadow of the Cross”. The chorus’ lyrics are these:

I want to get lost, in the shadow of the cross

To answer the call, surrender it all in the shadow

I want to live this day with a humble heart, that’s ready to pay

whatever the cost, to find myself lost in the shadow, the shadow of the cross.

I have to admit, there is nothing in my flesh or my will that wants to get lost in any shadow. I enjoy being in the spotlight – always have. And there isn’t anything wrong with that in itself. It’s the way God made me. There are things He has called me to that require being on stage, and so it’s a blessing that I enjoy it.  However, it’s all too tempting to either think that I “earned” the spotlight or deserve it for some reason (pride), or to try and promote myself to a platform/stage that isn’t God’s will for me.

So what does it mean to get lost in the shadow of the cross? Well, that’s part of the journey for this year, to learn what it really means. In general, I believe it means to live with the constant awareness of the sacrifice Jesus paid for me, and to live differently because of it. Practically, that means to choose humility, to die to pride, to be completely dependent on the One who died for me and rose again to make me a joint-heir with Him.

Still, the prospect was not a pleasant one. I’m a very visual person, and to me, the idea of getting lost in the shadow of the cross was of me being in the dark, with the somber image of the cross looming over me. I wanted to obey, though, because I love the Lord and know His will is always best for me. But this past weekend, the Lord showed me a glorious picture of what it really looks like to get lost in the shadow of the cross.

This picture was taken in the chapel at Perimeter Church in Atlanta, GA. The picture does not do the exquisite beauty of this window justice. For some reason, I was drawn to it. I had to go stand up there. (I’m so thankful my friend, Nisha, took this picture. I had no idea she had taken it until I saw it on Facebook.) Notice, I am completely over-shadowed. But that’s not what I saw from my perspective at all. All I saw was the brilliant light shining from the cross. And when I went and stood there   – getting lost in the shadow – I had my face raised to the brilliant light that was streaming through that cross. It was warm, bright, and beautiful. Something about it permeated into my very soul. I had no clue that I was engulfed in shadow from anyone else’s vantage point, nor did I care.

So that’s what it means to get lost in the shadow of the cross: to be drawn by the glorious beauty of Christ’s sacrificial love and absolute power that I can’t help but stand as close as I can to the cross – to identify with it and become one with it. When I do, when people look at me, they won’t see me, but the light, the power, and the glory of the  Cross of Christ. And perhaps, they too will be drawn to it. That is my heart’s desire.

 

Categories: devotional thought, Jesus, lessons, The Cross, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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

Hope

We will be singing “In Christ Alone” this Sunday at my church, and the words to the first verse have been continually running through my head and heart since we rehearsed it Wed night.

“In Christ alone, my hope is found;
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This cornerstone, this solid ground,
firm through the fiercest drought and storm;
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
when fears are stilled, when strivings cease;
My comforter, my All in all, here in the love of Christ I stand.”

When we’ve sung this song in the past, I’ve always relished the last 2 verses. (Really, though, every single verse in this song is completely awesome and SO powerful.) But after this past year, this first verse stands out to me the most. My hope is not found in my family, in circumstances going the way I want them to, or even in whether God answers my prayers the way I want Him to. My hope and your hope is found IN CHRIST. ALONE. The word “hope” is a weird word to me, that I often confuse with faith. It’s also a very important & meaningful word to me. My middle name is Hope. We buried Rusty in the “Garden of Hope”. The passage Kevin shared with me the day after Rusty died that I have clung to ever since is Lamentations 3:21 – 33. That first verse says, “This I recall to mind, therefore I have HOPE” (emphasis mine). I could be wrong, but here’s how I think of hope versus faith. Faith is the unbreakable assurance that all God’s promises are true. Sometimes, though, storms come and shake our faith. The waves get so big that it’s hard to fix our eyes on the Author and Finisher of our faith, and we get tempted to look down at the waves instead. I think hope is that expectation that keeps us looking in the direction we last saw faith. Faith is the beacon shining from the lighthouse. Hope is the instinct that compels us forward into the storm, in the direction we last remember seeing the light shining, even when we can’t see a thing and all we can feel is pain and confusion. When people lose all hope, like my brother did, they fall under the storm-ravaged waves. Faith never stopped shining as a beacon, but they lost the expectation (or hope) of ever finding it again and they lost their bearings.

But just as Christ is the Author and Finisher or Perfecter of our faith, this song reminds us that He is also our only source of hope. He is steadfast even through the fiercest storm. The heights of His love for us are limitless. The depths of His peace are unfathomable. When we cling to Him alone as our source of hope, our fears are stilled, and our strivings cease. For me, it makes me stop striving to figure out the answers to all my questions about Rusty’s death. It makes me stop wrestling with God’s sovereignty, and to be still and rest in His comfort and love. I’m tempted to say, “I can’t stop and rest now! I have to keep my hand on the tiller. I have to control the rudder and make sure this vessel is heading the direction I want it to.” But Jesus is the Captain. He’s at the helm. If I let go and rest in Him, and put my hope in Him alone, I will find that He always, ALWAYS guides me safely to the harbor He has prepared for me. So what are you putting your hope in today? Are you ready to let it go and cling to Jesus alone? I can promise you it’s always the best choice.

Categories: Jesus, Rusty, storms | 2 Comments

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