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

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

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

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

God of peace

Based on someone’s suggestion, I’ve been studying the phrase “God of peace” as it appears in the New Testament. It’s only in the NT 5 times, and each time it’s in one of Paul’s letters: twice in Romans; once in Philippians; once in I Thess.; and once in Hebrews.

The one that stands out to me so far is the one in Romans 16:20 that says, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” When I think of peace, I don’t tend to think of the strength and power that is necessary to crush the enemy – especially under my feet. I usually think of it as something you get to enjoy after the enemy has been crushed.

When I think of the God of peace, I think of a God that is calm, serene, and very tender. I think of a Father who gently holds me in His lap, stroking my hair, and “quieting me with His love”. (Zeph. 3:10 – I think.) I still think that’s true. Even during the storms of life, when I am completely distraught, or overwhelmed, or angry, or heartbroken and grieving, the God of peace is still there. I guess that’s how it’s possible to have peace in the storm. He is our peace.

But most of the time, instead of resting in that peace, I get angry with God and shout out, “Don’t you see this storm? Can’t you see my heartbreak? Why aren’t You doing anything about it? Why are You just sitting here holding me when this storm is raging all around me?! You could do something to stop it!”‘

The God of peace doesn’t react to my anger. He doesn’t reject me or scold me. He just keeps holding me. At this point, I have a choice to make: do I choose to be still and trust Him, His timing and His will, or do I crawl out of His lap and try to stop the storm myself, or maybe just ignore it? If I choose the latter, it will be very hard to find my way back to His lap again, and it will only cause more pain and heartache. If I choose to be still and rest in Him, His peace will cover me like a blanket. And then, I’ll see it. Under my very own feet, this quiet, tender, serene Being, with power inherent in His very name, has crushed my enemy. And it humbles me to know that while I was resting, He was fighting for me. The God of peace is not impotent. He is all-powerful and victorious. And when I’m willing to quietly rest in His lap. He is quietly, but powerfully crushing Satan under my feet. Hallelujah!

 

Categories: devotional thought, 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

My Light and Salvation

I was meditating on Psalm 27:1-3 this morning, and was struck afresh with God’s power and passion to protect His people. (My pastor would be SO proud of that last part of the sentence. He loves alliteration.Ha!)

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defense of my life; whom shall I dread?
When evildoers came upon me to devour my flesh, my adversaries and my enemies, they stumbled and fell.
Though a host encamp against me, my heart will not fear; though war arise against me, in spite of this I shall be confident.”

The Hebrew word for “light” in this passage is associated with the rising of the sun. It makes me think of another verse, whose reference I can’t remember, that says, “Let God arise, and let His enemies be scattered.” The word for “salvation” means “liberty, deliverance, prosperity”. As an intercessor, I’ve seen God arise and scatter His enemies on numerous occasions. I’ve experienced His liberty, seen His deliverance first hand, and been amazed by His provision and blessing in the midst of the storm. Hallelujah! All praise and glory to God!

However, I tend to be a “dumb sheep” with a short attention span. When I get blind-sided by an attack of the enemy or a storm of life, I quickly get distracted by my circumstances and take my focus off of my Light and Salvation, and I get afraid or worried. I forget that God is for me. I forget sometimes that He is mighty to save me. And for some reason, I find it much easier to trust God on behalf of others than it is to trust Him for what concerns me. (Yes, that would be a control issue I have, but by God’s grace, I am getting better with it.) So my prayer for each of us today is that we would remember that the LORD, YAHWEH, is our light and salvation. I pray that we would hear Him saying to us, “Jennifer (put your name here), I AM Yahweh, the glorious morning light that rises in the midst of the darkness, and I am Your deliverer. Do not be afraid or worried, My beloved. You have seen that I am mighty to save, and You have experienced the power of my righteous right hand to redeem and restore. When I arise, your enemies will scatter. Even when overwhelming, game-changing situations surround you, be confident that I AM for you and I will deliver you.”

Are you facing a battle today? Know that God is for you. His plan is perfect and it is for your good and His glory. If you would like to have someone praying with you and for you, please comment below and let me know how I can pray for you.

Categories: devotional thought, Uncategorized, worship | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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