Rusty

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

Surprised by Grief?

I’m sorry for all these hard, serious posts here lately. It’s just where I am right now – I guess because the one-year mark of Rusty’s suicide is less than a month away now. I promise this blog will not always be this heavy.

The night of Rusty’s death, when my mom called to tell me, my boys heard me crying and came in to see why. I didn’t realize they were in the room, so when Preston came in to see what was wrong, I blurted it out. The look on Harris’ face still makes tears come to my eyes just thinking about it. When I hung up, he said, “Uncle Rusty is dead?!?!” – like he couldn’t believe it or understand it. Then he burst into tears, and I held him as we cried together.

David, on the other hand, just took off running back down the hallway. After handing Harris off to Preston, and getting Amy Beth out of the tub (which is where she was when my mom called and who was too young to understand what was happening), I went to check on David. He was in his room, just slowly pacing around the room. I hugged him and asked if he was okay. He said yeah. I asked him if he realized what had happened. He said “Yes, Uncle Rusty died. But that’s okay because we’ll see him again in Heaven, won’t we?” I told him we would, but it was still okay to be sad that he’s not still here with us. But he never acted sad. I never saw him cry.

Fast forward to this past Sunday afternoon. My brother, Darrell, had brought his 4-wheeler by and was taking the kids for rides on it. I went inside for a few moments, and then heard the doorbell ring. It was David. He looked very upset and said Uncle Darrell said he couldn’t ride on it ever again. I knew Darrell wouldn’t have said anything like that, but David ran up to his room, slammed the door, and just started wailing. I went upstairs to see what was wrong, and David told me he was mad at Uncle Darrell, and scared. He cried and cried and cried, wailing with all his might. I just held him, wondering what on earth was really going on. And then it hit me – could this be his grief over Rusty’s death finally coming to the surface? Could it be that those emotions of fear, anger, sadness, that his brain didn’t understand and didn’t know what to do with, have finally found their outlet by being re-directed at the other uncle, who was still here and was a physical person to react to? If so, what do I do with this? How do I help him?

I just kept holding him. I didn’t try to shush him, but let him cry it out. At one point, Harris came in to see why David was so upset. When I mentioned that I thought some of it might have to do with Rusty, David started crying even harder. When he was done, I suggested working on a puzzle together. He has always loved puzzles, and even though I didn’t think of this at the time, maybe it helps us in our grief because it’s constructive – putting the pieces back together so that the picture makes sense, the way we wish we could with our hearts. But we can’t on our own. Only God can, and He will.

Categories: brothers, children, grief, Rusty, 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

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

My Last Day With Rusty

Today (well, most likely yesterday to most of you who will read this on Monday) marks one year since the last time I saw my brother. I was dreading this day; at one point even thinking that after today, all my memories of him would be over. One of the things I’ve done this past year to get through the big occasions/holidays, was to think to myself “This time last year, Rusty was doing this with us.”, and so part of me was scared that after today, I wouldn’t have that crutch.

I’ve also been dreading it because it’s another step of separation from having him here with us. And it’s a big step. Not as big a step as the 1 year anniversary of his death will be, but almost. After all, after Feb. 19, 2011, Rusty’s role in my life – at least the role he played here on earth – was for all intents and purposes, over.

I have also been regretting that I let so much time pass from the last time I saw Rusty till the day he died that I didn’t try to see him. Granted, he avoided us when he was down, and he got really down really fast. But still, I could’ve…should’ve…would’ve…..

But today, the Lord showed me what a tremendous gift He gave me with that last day. It was an absolutely perfect day in every way. The weather was gorgeous, the temp was perfect. Rusty had come to my house so we could ride out together, with my kids, to Darrell’s house (he’s my other brother- let the jokes begin) to celebrate our dad’s 60th birthday. The conversation on the way there was great and fun. I don’t remember much of what we talked about, but I remember being surprised by his great, upbeat attitude, and I remember us laughing a lot.

He was always a blast for the kids to play with, and that day was no exception. So I’m thankful their last memory of Uncle Rusty was also such a great one.

At one point, we decided to take a photo of all of us on the front steps. It turned out to be a great picture, and of course now it’s a most treasured keepsake. I know the Lord put that idea into my head so that we would have that memento of that special day. I wish I could share it with you, but it’s on my other computer that is not working at the moment.

After we left Darrell and Cindy’s house, we stopped by the park near their house so the kids could play for a few minutes. I have pictures of Rusty pushing Amy Beth in the swing and playing with the boys. Another great memory by which my kids can remember Uncle Rusty.

I remember even that day thinking how extra perfect and wonderful the day had seemed, and I really cherished the time I got to spend with Rusty that day. I wasn’t sure at the time why I felt that way, except that I heard God whispering in my heart, “This is a ‘last time’ moment today. You will not pass this way again.” I know that sounds ridiculous, but I really had that in my heart. I thought it was because Dad might not be with us for long. He’s paralyzed from a stroke and not in the best of health. I never dreamed it would be because Rusty would be gone about a month later.

So yes, I’m sad tonight because I miss my brother so very much, but I am so very thankful that my last day with Rusty was so wonderful.

 

Categories: brothers, grief, Rusty, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 6 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

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

2 Months Today….

Two months ago today since Rusty died…It doesn’t seem possible that it’s been 2 months. They say time heals all wounds. Really, only God can heal those wounds. And He is, and I’m thankful. But the thought I had today is that time only seems to be mocking our loss. Part of me feels guilty for moving on, and leaving that horrible night in the past. I do realize it’s still really early in this journey of grief, and I probably don’t really know what I’m talking about compared with those who have been down a similar path. But there’s just this part of me that keeps thinking, “Wait! Time, please stop or slow down or something. I need to stay here and try to make sense of what has happened. I need to do his memory justice. I’m not ready to move forward.” Yet, time just keeps passing along, refusing to acknowledge my loss, my pain, or my confusion. And just how, exactly, does Time expect to “heal my wounds” when the more time that passes, the more I realize how much I miss my brother?

And there’s already been some of the dreaded “holiday” or special family moments that have come about as a result of Time’s unrelenting persistence to keep marching forward: Easter, Mother’s Day, David’s Kindergarten graduation. That last one was the hardest for me. I kept thinking, “I’m not ready to do this without Rusty! I want Time to just not make me go there yet!” But Time didn’t listen or care. It dragged me through each of those painful events anyway. Oh, and just for kicks, this year Rusty’s birthday will be on Thanksgiving. Double whammy.

On the other hand, though, I’m also ready to be done with this deep grieving process. Everyone says the first year is the hardest, and so I’m ready to be past that. I think this is the selfish side of me. Or the part that wants to escape the reality of Rusty’s death. I keep thinking I want to volunteer and get involved with a couple of ministries that are near and dear to my heart – and ones that I believe God is calling me to be involved in at some point. But a couple of weeks ago when I discussed it with a mentor who happens to be over both ministries, he told me I’m not ready – that I’m too vulnerable right now, and that I need to give myself more time to heal. Part of me is afraid that as I stay here and learn how to heal from this grief, this trauma, those ministry opportunities will pass me by. I know that’s a lie, and that if God really is calling me to those ministries, then His timing will be perfect.

Ah, but I just stumbled on the truth of the matter. God’s timing. Time isn’t Sovereign. God is. Time is merely His tool to accomplish His purposes. I just read this week in Isaiah 38 about God giving Hezekiah more time, and as proof of His promise, He made the sun move backward – completely displaying His power and authority over Time itself. The next day I read the famous passage from Ezekiel 3 about there is a time for everything. I need those reminders. When I’m fighting against Time moving on or not moving quickly enough, I’m really fighting God’s Sovereign plan and control over my life. He could stop time, if that was what would be best for me. He could fast forward us all into next year, but I’m sure I would miss the wonderful things I will learn from Him and about Him in the midst of the hardest moments.

So I have a choice to make: continue to fight against time and all the ways it isn’t working for me, or to recognize that all of this happened and is happening by God’s will, and that there is a plan in all of it for my family and me. For our good and His glory. I can choose to rest in the Lord or I can continue to wrestle. Bottom line: I can choose to release control to Him, or I can hold onto my illusion of control until my knuckles turn white. And so tonight, I choose to “cease striving and know that He is God.” (from Ps. 46:10) I choose to trust that His timing is perfect.

Categories: choices, Rusty, time | Leave a comment

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