Saturday, November 30, 2013

What If

The night Loraine went home I went to a mom's bible study that I've been attending. Every week there was a reason not to go, but every week Larry made sure I was there. He saw after the first week what an impact this study was making on me. Satan did too and so there were always reasons to stay home. That week was no exception. Psalm 139:16 "All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be" was our bible verse that night. The next morning I found myself sitting on the floor in my mother-in-law's home as she said, "You know what I read this morning? Psalm 139:16." And all I could do was smile as tears welled in my eyes. God had been at work. 

When we were in Savannah after Loraine passed, Larry and I went to the crash site. He wasn't sure why, but he knew he needed to go. For some reason, I was completely at peace with the idea. We took pictures, Larry walked the grid, and we didn't cry. I stood in the middle of the worst part of site and prayed. You know how sometimes you go somewhere and you feel the fear? You can sense the sadness or the tension in the air? That wasn't at the crash site. I felt nothing, actually. It was just a place. A random area I had never been to. 

In a weird way, Loraine's death helped me understand and receive peace about all the deaths I've dealt with. Her final conversation with her mom where she said she was following the light, and her question, "So I just pull over anywhere?" combined with that bible verse suddenly made me realize that What Ifs don't matter.

I think one of Satan's favorite, and most evil ways, to attack us is through "What if..."
What if Loraine had gone home a different way?
What if Loraine had not left her home at all that night?
What if I had a better relationship with my mother- could I have helped her?
What if I had been healthier- would my miscarriage have not happened? 

The worst, for me, was my father-in-law. I had so many What Ifs surrounding his death that I was in anger for a long time. And I wasn't mad at God, I was mad at Craig! I was so mad at him for not going to the hospital when his wife and son urged him to. I was mad that stubbornness took away a man that would have loved my kids and let me tell you, my kids would have LOVED Craig Summerlin. He's their Daddy x 10. So when he passed when Isaac was a baby and we weren't yet pregnant with Jared, I was angry. It was also the first major unexpected death Larry or I have had to deal with. It changed our perspective on life in general. I know a lot of people change when they have kids and they don't travel as much, but Larry and I tend to travel more simply because of Craig's passing. We recognize that we don't know when the last time is that we will see someone, so we don't want to miss opportunities. 

My sister-in-law's passing healed my grief over my father-in-law's passing. I will always miss him and I will forever wish that my kids could know him, but I like to think that there is one little baby up in heaven being doted and loved on by so many loved ones, including Craig, my mom, Loraine, Mema Brinson, Granddaddy Summerlin and others. I know now that stubbornness didn't take Craig away from us, God took his son home. 

Psalm 139:16 "All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be" tells me that it didn't matter where Loraine pulled her car over. In fact, she drove for awhile off the road. Her car went through a ditch and through some bushes before it hit the first tree. One of the questions Larry had was "Why was Loraine even on that road?" We ask questions like that and "Why didn't he go to the hospital?" because we wonder if they would have been with us had they done something different. What if.... But I know now that it wouldn't have mattered. Loraine's time had been determined. If she had been on a different road then it would have been a different tree. If Craig had been at the hospital then the doctors would not have been successful anyway. God's plan trumps all of ours, especially in death. 

Death is the ultimate price of sin and I get it now. I get why God was saddened in Genesis when Adam and Eve ate from the fruit. God is relational and he loves each of us. Death is something that glorifies him- he brings someone home to him, but at the same time, he watches us hurt. We are ripped from someone we love. We are separated from their daily conversations, their laugh, their hugs and I think God hurts with us. He understands better than anyone. He created us and he loves us beyond compare, and yet we often turn our backs to him. He knows what it's like to not have someone we love around. And I know it saddens him. Satan uses this vulnerable time to attack us with lies. "What if" and "You should have" along with "Why did God" are his favorites. But the good news is, even though Satan is whispering lies, God is still there. Even though life doesn't always make sense, God is there.

Psalm 23:4  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Effects of War

We went to church yesterday and heard a sermon that was very well done. Challenging. Motivating. 

Frustrating.

I found myself angry at the end. 

"Nobody wants to talk about what comes next," I ranted to my husband on the way home. "Everyone wants to talk about how you should give areas of your life up to God's control, but no one wants to talk about what that means. What that really means. Because I can tell you what it means. It means waking up one day and telling someone that you have 4 kids that are 5 and under and feeling just as bewildered as they are. It's feeling exhausted that every stupid decision you make is grounds for a spiritual battle. It means saying no to escaping to Disney World and wanting nothing more than your stupid bathroom to be fixed but knowing that God doesn't want you to go into debt in order to make that happen, but he also wants you home with your kids so what gives? Giving your life to God means knowing you're doing what God wants you to do, but having no freaking idea why this is what you're supposed to be doing because it sure doesn't make any sense. That's what's it's like. Living the life God has planned for you means feeling confused the majority of the time."

I'm frustrated right now. I'm depressed and angry and sullen and I'm mad. I'm mad at God and I'm frustrated that this is my reality. 

Having said that, I know that I am where God wants me. I LOVE my 4 children and they bring me the bits of joy I get to experience these days. I love watching Isaac grow and learn. I am SO grateful for my new job and I know I would be in an even worse place right now if I were still teaching. 

But.

But life is not all peaches and ponies right now. I feel strained. Stretched beyond what I can handle. I literally feel like every decision I have to make is a battle for my heart. In some ways, it makes me dig my heels in deeper in Christ. I can't see the future and I don't know what's at the end of this dark tunnel, but I know Satan is doing everything he can to keep me from clawing to the end. And that means something. I know that the harder Satan is fighting only means that God is doing great things. 

I just wish I wasn't the pawn.

Our second bathroom has been broken for a year and a half now. All of a sudden, all of my focus is on fixing the bathroom. It's silly and ridiculous. I'm willing to go into debt to get the bathroom fixed when a month ago I forgot the bathroom even existed. I was simply used to it not working. And every time I think about the bathroom I feel a tiny nudge saying, Not yet. My plan is better, and I just want to scream, I DON'T CARE ABOUT YOUR STUPID PLAN. I JUST WANT A FREAKING PRETTY BATHROOM. WHY IS THIS SUCH A BIG DEAL?

I don't want my bathroom to be a spiritual battleground. And yet it is. Satan is simply trying to distract me from something God wants me to focus on and you know what? I'm tired. I'm tired of trying to make sure I'm following God's plan and not my own. I just want to throw my hands up and say I quit. I just want to see pretty, unbroken things. 

We were challenged to find an area of our lives where we are following culture and not God. My problem with this is that you have to understand what you are signing up for. You aren't signing up for bliss and blessings for following God. You're signing up to be a warrior in a spiritual war. God is a loving God and he gives you the supplies you need, but he doesn't necessarily build in vacation time on the beach. The stronger you fight for God, the bloodier the battle will become. 

I know God has called us to do things in accordance to his will. I know he has very specific plans that require us to not use birth control. I know we are supposed to homeschool. I know he wanted me to leave the classroom and take this job with DFCS. But that's about the only comfort I get some days. Because when you do things in accordance to God's will, you do things that don't make sense to other people. They don't make sense to other people because God has called them to do different things to fulfill other purposes and plans.  To be fair, the things God has called us to do don't make sense to me, even. And that can get lonely.

But at the end of the day I know our God is a mighty God. I know he is a good God. A loving God. He didn't give me a vacation on the beach, but he did give me a 2 am moment of clarity. I find myself grateful for those late night wake up calls now. I find myself free and at peace. My brain isn't foggy and I can think clearly. I feel God's love and I bask in it. It's better than Disney. It's better than a pretty bathroom. 

I know I am not the only one feeling the effects of a war. I am not the only one going to bed at night feeling physically and mentally beaten from Satan and his army. So to all of you I say, Fight on, Warrior. Things may be broken and ugly now, but that's because this is a war and one day, the war will end. 

Revelation 21:4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.



Sunday, November 17, 2013

An Open Letter to My Church

I started attending Northpoint in late 2005, six years after I left the church I grew up in and declared myself an Agnostic. My husband and I were married in 2007 and we sporadically attended together until our first son was born in 2008. We slowly became more and more consistent in our attendance. After our second son was born in 2009, I suffered with postpartum depression. It was also the first time I truly saw God in church. It was difficult for me to get out of bed those days. The idea of getting out of bed to get two small children ready for church that was 45 minutes away was less than appealing. As a result, we were often a few minutes late. I'll never forget the usher who took us to our seats. Actually, I'll never forget his boots. I looked down at the ground, embarrassed, and followed him as he showed us to our seats. He removed the Reserved signs and waved his arm for us to sit, as though we were royalty, deserving of front row seats in a crowded church. He did not know why we were late. He did not know how my heart hurt and the crushing guilt I felt. He did not berate us for being late or tell us to find our own seats. He made eye contact, held up 2 fingers, then waved us to follow him to what felt like the best seats in the house. He seated us that way several weeks. The front row, with my hearing disability, was always my most coveted place to sit. And he took us there week after week, with no judgement, even though I didn't deserve it. In 2010 we began attending Watermarke. I became an usher in a small attempt to give back the love that was given to me by a man who did not know my name, but had seats reserved just for me and my hurting soul. 

In our years at Northpoint we have been in 3 Community Groups that have shaped us, supported us, and loved us. They were our Angels in our times of need. At the end of our second Community Group we debated whether or not to join another group. We felt it was time to lead, but knew we could not lead yet. Our fourth child was due soon, our schedules were very busy, and we considered taking a break from the weekly commitment. We attended GroupLink just in case. We figured if God had the perfect group for us, we would join. Otherwise, we would take it as a sign to take a season off. It was not God's plan for us to take a break and we found the perfect group. God knew a time was coming that we would need our small group in ways we would never anticipate.

In May our fourth child was born, whole and perfect. In August my mother passed away unexpectedly, followed by a miscarriage in September, and the unexpected deaths of my husband's grandmother and sister on the same day on November 6.

Our small groups, past and present, rallied together and have held us up in this season of grief. They have shown us what it means to Love the way Christ loves. They have celebrated with us, prayed for us, checked our mail, fed us, and babysat for us so we could have a date night. The group we serve with has prayed for us. A beautiful wreath hangs in our home along with cards of love and support. 

I am eternally grateful to belong to a church that makes it impossible for me to question God's goodness during this time. I do not know if our struggles are over; I do not know if we are entering a time of healing, or a time of preparation for more to come. But I do know one thing: We are not in it alone. God's love is bigger than my grief. I know this because the arms holding us up are many. God has blessed us abundantly and we are grateful for each and every one of you. 

Thank you for your support, your prayers, your hugs, your cards, your service, your time, your calls, your emails, your Facebook messages, your texts, your love. Thank you for proving to us that there is a God, he is big, and he is good.

Grateful,
Jenny

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Anger

Jeremiah 29:11 "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

Larry and I have built our lives around this verse. I prayed to God just before I met Larry and told  Him I would wait for the man He wanted me to be with, that I was tired of picking out the men I thought I should date. Then I met Larry and I knew. We were married 4 months when we decided to stop using birth control. We were not actively trying to get pregnant, but we wanted God's plan for our family, not our own plan. That same month we began a Dave Ramsey course and handed our finances to God. 

We gave him everything.

Last year we both experienced a change of heart. We both knew I needed to be home more after Katie's birth. We both knew we needed to homeschool. We did not know why to either of these callings, but we listened.

I was scared. I knew that these changes meant we would both be home a lot and I didn't know why. I told Larry while I was pregnant that I thought something was wrong with Katie. I told him it would be ok, but I believed that God wanted me home more for a reason, and it would make sense if Katie had health problems that I would need to attend to. I was ready. I was prepared mentally.

Then Katie was born and she was perfect. I couldn't believe it. I decided God must have just wanted to bless us with this time together. 

I was wrong. 

I had no idea we would need to travel more as a family. I had no idea I would need days where I could work from home, away from the questions and chatter of people around me. 

The last few days I have avoided my favorite bible verse. When I see it, my stomach turns and all I can think is, You lied to us. You made a promise and you broke it. 

I feel like our large extended family is hurting right now. Hurting because of choices God made. He specifically said he would not harm us and yet, I feel very harmed.

The only comfort I can cling to is knowing that this is all part of a plan. A plan that I do not understand yet. God prepared my family for these times. He prepared my mother-in-law. There are too many things that have happened that all make sense now that Loraine has passed away. I have always said, "God's plan is bigger and better than my own." Right now, I don't believe that. But I keep hearing in my head, Trust me. Trust me. 

It's times like these when people often turn from God. They decide that so many bad things have happened, that God must not be real. There are two types of bad things. There's evil, in which case we shouldn't blame God but instead, lean into him for healing; and there's death before we are ready. The second type is what we are dealing with now. When you think about it, we are angry with God for calling people home to Him. They are all so much better off now. But it's hard to see that through our own hurt and grief. 

I'm angry right now and I'm going to allow myself to be angry. When our children are angry we are sure to tell them, "It's ok to be angry. You're allowed to be angry. But you can't hit people when you are angry." I'm going to tell myself that today. I'm allowed to be angry, but I can't turn my back on God as a result. It may be a few days or weeks before Jeremiah 29:11 sits well with me again. In the meantime, I will lean on different verses, like this one: Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Psalm 62:8. This comforts me because I know God will continue to love me through my anger. I know, as I pour out my heart to him, he will console me. He will be my refuge.   

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Lies

I find myself so scared lately. As much as I trust God, I find that my trust has an edge to it. A worry attached. Yes, I trust you, but what exactly are you going to do next? 

My lack of worry over my children has always surprised me. I assumed once I became a mom that I would be a nervous wreck, constantly worried about germs and light sockets and sickness. But if anything, I became less worried! I knew the moment I found out that I was pregnant with Isaac that I was supposed to have him. That he was meant for me. When I was in labor with him it was discovered that he had passed meconium. A team was brought in to be ready to check him immediately after birth. I was not scared in the least. I had a sense of calm and peace about me that I wanted to pass on to the people in that room. I could feel the tension from the doctors and nurses and the team of people that had come in and I wanted to tell them to calm down, that everything would be fine, that God designed this baby for a reason and it was not time for him to go yet. The doctor sounded surprised when she handed him to me telling me he was absolutely fine, there were no concerns at all. I wasn't surprised. When I found out later how worried my Dad had become when he saw the team walk into my delivery room, I apologized to him. I felt bad that he went through that worry when he didn't need to. 

Things are different now. I feel jealous and selfish of my children. Instead of God's children, they are my children and I do not want him to take them from me. I think about the hard times in the Bible, the stories of Job and Moses. My own grief and hard times have been for the past 3 months. Job and Moses would laugh at my turmoil! They would beg for the trials I face. And that brings me fear. Fear that more is yet to come.

I know this fear is from Satan. I hear in my head, God has taken your mother, your baby, your cousin, your sister-in-law and your grandmother. He's running out of people. He's coming for your husband and children next. These are horrid, evil thoughts. It is so clear to me that they are lies and yet... and yet I fear.

It's easy to question God and I think he understands that. The important part is to continue to trust. It's important to remember that God works through generations. Right now I'm trying to praise him for that. He built Loraine's family knowing the support they would need. It took generations to build the family that is grieving right now. It took generations to build the family that is holding each other up right now. 

Proverbs 3:5 says, Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. 

My own understanding is that God is taking people from me. My own understanding is that God is making me suffer. Satan is feeding me those lies and I must not listen. With all of my heart, I must trust in the Lord. All of my heart. I cannot lean into the love of my children. I cannot lean into the love of my husband. They will comfort me, but they will not sustain me. Only God can do that. And he will. He has been planning this family for generations for this event, I have no doubt about that. Loraine will do more in her death than many of us will do in our lifetimes. God is not forsaking us. He is not punishing us. He saved Loraine and he will protect the rest of us. 

And so my own personal challenge comes with this next verse. Psalm 112:7, He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord. 

I will not live in fear. I will trust in him with all my heart. 



Monday, November 11, 2013

My Plan is Better

Katie was born almost 6 months ago. Though our second planned drug-free birth at home, her birth was different. The labor was long, slow, and painful. None of the management techniques helped relieve any of the pain. Several times I thought the labor was almost done, only to be met with hours more of pain. Just before she was born I found myself in my bathtub, kicking, punching and biting at the tub. I was thrashing my body around trying to find relief. After she was born I did not have the euphoric feelings of joy. I just felt relieved that it was over. Every time I look at her now I feel joy, but at that time, I was just exhausted. Several times since her birth I have had the feeling that her birth was a foreshadowing event to warn us of what was to come. 

We laid my sister-in-law to rest yesterday. In August I laid my Dad's cousin to rest as well as my mother. In September I found out I was pregnant. We decided on a girl name and a boy name. I called the baby by the two chosen names and I told him/her I loved them. A few days later I had a miscarriage. In November I laid to rest Larry's grandmother and his sister. Like in Katie's birth, I struggle to find relief from the pain. I keep thinking the hard times are almost over, only to be greeted with more tragedy. 

I was talking to my mother-in-law last night and told her I am so tired of feeling sad. She told told me she believes God is preparing me for something. She said she believes all of this grief will be made into something beautiful. I told her I don't want to be prepared right now. And I don't. I don't want to be God's newest special project. 

Nobody really knows this, but I was in the throws of a great depression. It started in October. I felt like I was part of some spiritual warfare. I fought it for awhile. I recognized the thoughts as Lies and used prayer and rational thoughts to keep me sane. Then one day I woke up, looked at my husband and said, "I just need you to know, I'm done. I'm done fighting and I quit and you shouldn't expect anything from me today." Our kids were absolutely nuts that morning. I couldn't quit because Larry needed me. I recognized then that God was using my children to keep me in reality, to keep me in Life, and I was annoyed. I just wanted to curl up in bed and cry.

It's frustrating to feel like demons are surrounding you and you don't know why. You know you should fight them off, but at the same time, it's hard to know what you're fighting for. We asked our small group on Sunday to pray for me. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday each got progressively better. I started to have clarity. I woke up in the middle of the night on Monday and felt the best I've felt in months. My mind was clear and I felt at peace. I woke Larry up and told him that God was trying to do great things in his life, but Satan was attempting to use me to stop him. I told him the things he needed to do. Yes, I gave my husband a 3:30 am "Honey Do" list. I told him that I would try to help him, that I wanted to help him, but if I was not in a position to help, he needed to do those things without me. He could not let me stop him.

Right now we are still in Savannah and I feel protected. I feel the warmth of angels protecting me. I am so scared to go home. I told Larry I want to go to Disney World. Just one day. I want to escape my life for just a moment. We did the research and got a plan and at 11 pm it was time to make the reservations. We would leave from Savannah and go to Disney World for 2 days. I so need to get away. And then I had such a strong urge to pray. I didn't want to pray. So I said to Larry, "Ok, so what do we do?" My husband, the man God gave to me, said, "Well, we pray." I could have punched him. I didn't want to pray! So we prayed. And I kept hearing "My plan is better. Trust me. My plan is better." I didn't want to hear this. I wanted to hear, "Put it on the credit card and GO! Go to Disney!" I asked my husband what he was hearing. He told me what he was thinking and I told him I didn't want to know what he was saying, I wanted to know what he was hearing. I left to feed Katie and when I came back, he said we should go. This made me even MORE frustrated! I was mad that we weren't on the same page, when we are always on the same page, and I was mad that this meant I had to say out loud what I had been hearing. 
"I keep hearing "My plan is better." But I don't believe that because right now, I don't like his plan. It can't be better than Disney. This sucks." My husband told me he would have felt foolish putting it on the credit card, so we aren't going. 

So now we wait. We will prepare to go home and we will brace ourselves for the reality that will greet us there. I will grieve. Again. And I know I will yell at God. Times will be hard and I know I will say to him, "Really, God? THIS is better than Disney? Wrong. You. Are. Wrong."  

But I know he isn't wrong. I will praise him for my family and I will thank him for all the many, wonderful blessings we have. When I grieve I will yell at him and simultaneously lean into him. I will trust.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Miracles

I remember listening to a motivational speaker talk about his sister. She was in high school and was in the back seat of a friend's car when the car had a head-on collision with another car. She had been wearing her seat belt with the lap belt across her lap, but the shoulder belt was behind her back. The lap belt nearly cut her body in half. It was a miracle when the paramedic found her alive, let alone that she lived. After months of surgeries, lying on her back staring at the ceiling, and uncertainty, she was able to go home. She was told she would never walk again, and yet, she is now married with children of her own, walking this large earth. It's a miracle.

I thought of her this week when I heard of Loraine's passing. However, I didn't think of her in a "Why isn't Loraine a miracle" kind of way. Instead, her story, and Loraine's death, somehow solidified for me something that I have never understood: God is always in control in death. It doesn't matter what evil has been involved- if God is not ready for someone to leave this earth, then they won't leave. Instead, they will become that miracle story. Last night the news came on and the caption read: "Samaritans save victim from burning car." It was not time for the driver of that car to leave this earth, but it was time for Loraine.

One of the final things Loraine said was in response to a question mothers ask children all the time: "Where are you?" Loraine's response did not make any sense. She said, "I don't know, I'm just following the light!" Fifteen minutes later she was gone.

Larry and I went to visit the crash site and her car yesterday. We studied the site and Larry walked the path her car took. We left with certainty that Loraine was gone when she went off the road. The amount of time she drove off the road before hitting the tree makes it clear that had she been asleep or distracted, she would have been able to stop her car. There were no skid marks of any kind. She was either unconscious or already gone before she even went off the road.

People have heard others say, "I'm following the light" just before death or near-death experiences. I believe God was already there when she was talking to her mom on the phone and I believe Loraine was already preparing to enter heaven. God saved her from a painful death. I wonder how often this happens. It's something I'll never know for sure until it's my time to follow the light, but I will always wonder this. Part of me has to wonder if God takes the soul of his children before the worst of death can take their bodies. The death of Christ was long, slow and painful. God was there and at one point, he turned away. He's a relational God who loves us and aches when we ache. I will always wonder if this is the last earthly act of a loving heavenly Father- to take the soul just before death. At the very least, I know he did this for Loraine. I will be forever grateful to my Father for that act. 

I know it's times like these that split believers and non-believers. As we all try to make sense of what happened and why, we tend to take different paths. Often, non-believers will criticize Christians and their churches for the bad things that have happened through time in the name of Christ. And they are not wrong about that. But the reality is, the love of Christ and the fellowship of the people found inside the churches we all attend is what is helping get us through day by day. I have never seen the love of Christ as clearly as I have these past few days. In death, Christ is made more real. I feel him in every hug and in every meal. I see him in every smile. There is so much peace in Loraine's death that should not be here. We should not feel peace in the death of a 30 year old woman and yet, we are only happy for her. Believing in Christ is something we Christians have to do because we see him so clearly that to deny him would be as ludicrous as denying the trees that cover this earth. It does not make life easier. It will never bring Loraine back. But it gives us a hope and a love that is deeper than any other. 

Heavenly Father, Thank you for this family and the people who love us. Thank you for loving Loraine. Thank you for saving her.