lessons

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

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

Being Content

Phil. 4:11b – “for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.”
Don’t you just love it when God so wants you to “get” something He’s teaching you that He surrounds you with that one message? Well, this has been my lesson the last couple of weeks. All week last week, He kept having this verse run through my mind everytime I got aggravated with life’s circumstances, and then in Sunday School, the teacher taught from this verse AND then Pastor Harry used it in his sermon! The funny thing is, I thought this was a lesson I had already learned. When big, bad, scary things happen, I know how to keep my eyes on God; I’ve experienced His peace that passes understanding. However, it’s in the day to day that I struggle with this. I’m all about praising God when things are going great, but the minute things get difficult or stressful, I am often too quick to start complaining, and it is impossible to praise God about anything while you’re complaining about something. God doesn’t want a fair-weather worshipper. He wants a true worshipper – one who worships in spirit and in truth. If I truly believe God’s promises for me, then I should be able to look beyond any temporary difficulty, small or large, to see God’s hand using it for my good and His glory. In fact, Paul goes on to say in this passage – “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation….I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” (Phil. 4:12b, 13).

Categories: contentment, lessons | 2 Comments

Lessons Learned This Past Week

First of all, for those of you who took the time to tell me which photo I should submit for the contest from my previous post, thanks. As you may have noticed, I never got around to entering the contest. Life got busy. But it was fun hearing all of your comments about the 2 photos!

Last week was, stressful, exhausting, and enlightening. Saturday and Tuesday nights, I only got about 2 hours of sleep due to a sick, fussy baby. That just threw my week into complete disorder. However, I learned a few important lessons from the week, and I’d like to share them with you.

1) God’s grace and strength really are sufficient. There is no other reason I made it through Wednesday in particular. I was beyond exhausted, and yet somehow I was able to do all the things I normally do on a Wednesday – getting Harris to school, going to Bible study, getting everyone to church that night, and going to orchestra rehearsal. And I did it in a sweet attitude, which is proof that it was God’s supernatural strength in me because I am not a nice person when I don’t get enough sleep.

2) You can really feel people’s prayers lifting you up if you take the time to notice. I already knew this, but it’s always a cool thing to have reinforced. I noticed that the times I should have felt the sleepiest – like when I was driving – is when I felt the best. Or just when I was really dragging and thinking I wasn’t going to make it after all, I would suddenly be filled with energy. I wish I could stay in that mind set of feeling God’s grace and strength and the prayers of friends and family like that all the time. Not only is it encouraging, but it also would give me the courage to live the life God has called me to live.

3) The joy of the Lord is my strength. When I focused on myself and how tired I was, I felt terrible. I had someone in the middle of the day email me and remind me of that verse about the joy of the Lord being our strength, and so I decided to focus on that for the rest of the day. It was amazing the difference it made in how I felt.

4) Harris need more one-on-one time with Preston and me. He had some time with each of us by himself this past week and he just soaked it up. I was reminded once again that his love language is quality time. And it doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just driving to the store or picking him up from school while David and Amy Beth stay home with Preston is enough to light up his face. I need to plan more opportunities for him to have that quality time with us.

5) Amy Beth can fall asleep sitting up. Bless her heart, not only did she not sleep well those two nights, but also Wedneday, after not sleeping the night before, hardly slept at all that day either. So on Thursday, even though she slept much better Wednesday night, she was still very tired. That afternoon, the kids and I went to Wal-Mart. I noticed Amy Beth was very still and sedate in the seat of the grocery cart. Usually she is looking all around her in a place like that, making sure she doesn’t miss a thing. I was letting the boys look through the toy section when I noticed Amy Beth was sound asleep in the grocery cart! I wish I had had my camera with me. She was so sweet and cute that I couldn’t let her just sleep there. I picked her up and let her sleep on my shoulder.

6) It is very difficult to hold a sleeping baby on one shoulder, push a shopping cart with the other hand, and keep up with 2 little boys in Wal-Mart, but it IS possible. However, I do not advise trying it out. My arm was like a wet noodle by the time I got to the car and was able to put Amy Beth in her car seat.

7) David is a very compassionate little boy. I knew he was with us. If Harris gets hurt or is upset, David stops whatever he is doing and goes and gets Harris’ blanky for him. When I had my cold and he realized I didn’t feel good, he brought me a “blanky”. However, Saturday he did something that blew me away. We were at his best friend’s birthday party, and they had a pinata. When the candy came pouring out and the kids were scrambling for it, one of the boys there was a little overwhelmed by it all and got upset. When David saw him crying, he took some of his goodies out of his bag (and he hadn’t gotten a lot) and put them in this little boy’s bag and tried talking to him to help him calm down. It was SO sweet and one of my proudest moments as a mom. Of course, I don’t take credit for him being like that. It’s just the way God made him, and I have a responsibility as his parent to not crush that sensitive spirit in him, and to hone it so that it becomes a characteristic that honors God and brings people to Him instead of something that just enables people to sin.

So there are my lessons from the week. Seven lessons for seven days. Even though it was a hard week, I am glad I had the chance to see and learn from it.

Categories: lessons | 3 Comments

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