Saturday, July 4, 2009

Joy in the Mourning

A dear friend of mine, who lives in Colorado Springs, asked me if I would speak at a tea she was hosting. The topic was on joy. Stacy McDonald spoke about joy as a housewife where as I spoke on joy in the midst of suffering to the 100+ ladies who attended the tea.
Even though I was sick with a stomach flu the Lord gave me the strength to share my personal story and the lessons I have learned along the way. Many thanks go to a very close friend who helped me edit my speech. This is what I wrote...

Joy in the Mourning

Good Afternoon! Well, I’d probably be more in my element if I were writing a blog spot or singing a song for you. I rarely speak publicly but the Lord has opened doors recently for me to share my testimony and some truth from His Word. Because there is so much to share and I do not want to leave out any important details, I have decided to read straight to you what I have written for today.

I don’t think that I can fully help you understand the joy that I have encountered without sharing with you the journey that has brought me to where I am today. As I look back on my life, I can see God’s hand in every area.

I was raised in the church and was called to faith early on in my life. I used to joke that I could never get away with anything. I always got caught! There are specific milestones in my past that remind me of My God’s faithfulness to me when I was unfaithful. I am grateful for that sweet hand of discipline and I am very thankful for His persistence.

Eric and I were married for a little over twenty years before he died. We used to joke that we would never want to repeat the first ten years. We bickered about everything. I was an immature, young woman who expected so much and yet gave so little. But, around the tenth year the Lord brought a few older women into my life that started to help me see the value of submitting my will first to my Heavenly Father. Out of obedience to God, I then began to submit to my husband. The Lord began changing our marriage. It was not easy. Eric used to describe himself as a AAA personality with a lot of energy. He was a doer, a servant, and a strong leader. But, God graciously used my act of respecting his God- given authority to help him love me sacrificially. One of my first thoughts after Eric died was “God, I was just getting good at respecting him and then you take him away!”. But, God’s plans are always much bigger than ours. This too was a part of my sanctification.

Over the twenty years of marriage the Lord blessed us with six children. Rebecca is twenty, Nathan is eighteen, Mallory who is here with me today is fifteen, Paige is fourteen, Joseph is nine, and Gabrielle is almost four. Joe and Gabbie were adopted from Liberia, West Africa a year and a half before Eric died. I am blessed to have been given such gifts…they are a reminder of the love that Eric and I shared.

On January 25, 2008 I woke up late. For the past year I had been getting up two to three times a night to help Eric with his severe asthma symptoms. He let me sleep in that morning. But, I had no idea that within a few hours my life would dramatically change.
That afternoon, I received a call from Paige who was twelve at the time. Paige had gone to work with Eric that day and was calling to tell me that dad was having trouble breathing but that help was on the way. A lady came on the phone, telling me that she would watch over Paige until help came. Nathan, my oldest son, drove me down to the hospital they were taking Eric to. It was about a half hour away and during that time the phone calls came in rapid succession. Calls from paramedics, the fire chief, and a police detective all asking about Eric’s medical history. I was confused but figured that it couldn’t be all that serious. But, when I arrived at the emergency room and the detective called for the chaplain, I knew that I was living a very serious moment of my life. It was at that moment that I cried out to God.

I walked into the emergency room and found my husband lying there grey and lifeless. Other than his asthma he was a very healthy man, very energetic. To see him in this state was…surreal. While I bent down to kiss his hand I was asked a question by the physician standing beside me. I didn’t hear exactly what he said but I somehow knew what he was asking. He wanted permission to stop life saving measures. Eric’s heart had already stopped six times. Before I could answer they swept me out of the room. I was ushered out into a hall and asked to wait....I had never felt such loneliness. I felt as though the world was spinning around me and yet I was completely at peace. The Chaplain came out a few moments later stating that our prayers had been answered. Eric’s heart was beating but he was not breathing on his own. Within an hour we were up in Intensive care but were told that he more than likely would not live through the night. Meanwhile, downstairs there was a group of friends from our church gathering with my kids.

This all happened on a Friday. We were in the hospital Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Throughout that weekend there were hopes that Eric would wake up from his deep coma. There was also talk about the “quality of life” Eric would have after waking up. I braced myself for the changes that would inevitably being coming. By Monday night, which was my oldest daughter’s birthday, I was coming to the conclusion that Eric’s health issues had been much more serious and critical than I had previously believed. And, I was first hit with the possibility that we might lose him. There were just too many symptoms that did not seem right: his white blood cell count was dropping, his body temperature was dropping as well, and he had no gag reflex. I asked the nurses to please tell me the truth. They said that he had not passed some very important tests and so they had already called the transplant team.

I called our Pastor to let him know and then asked him to help me tell the children. This was a tall order since our Pastor was also a close friend to Eric. The night before we shared the news with the kids I sat by Eric’s bedside and held his hand all night long. My Pastor’s wife sang over me, prayed with me, and read the healing Word of God. The next morning Pastor and I sat the children down to tell them that their daddy had gone to be with the Lord. We declared Eric legally dead soon after they visited him one last time.

I look back on those three days as a sweet time of saying good-bye to the earthly body of the man that I had been married to. The man I knew and loved had already gone to his heavenly reward. My marriage was righteously ended that day. It was something I would not have wished for my life. It was something that I would not have expected this early in my life. I would have never thought that my children would be fatherless this early on in their lives. But, God planned, before the foundation of the world the day that Eric would die. God knew that this was another part of my experiences here on earth that would make me more like Christ. He also ordained that this event would be used to sanctify my children as well.

Great is Thy faithfulness, Oh God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee,
Thou changest not Thy compassions They fail not,
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be
….and the chorus continues declaring His faithfulness by reminding us that He shows us new mercies every morning. As we gathered around Eric’s hospital bed I thought it would be appropriate to sing a few songs before we said our final good-byes. This hymn was one I knew from memory and so I started to sing and the few people that had gathered with the kids and me joined in. Those words would come to mind and encourage me many times over the next year and a half.

One of those mercies that I have encountered over the past year and a half has been a sense of joy beyond measure. I have heard many a sermon expounding upon the differences between joy and happiness. It is a deep truth that is not all that easy to convey. Joy is a matter of the heart. It is a gift that is cultivated over years. Happiness is a choice in the moment. It is a willingness to change your disposition. I want to make this distinction up front because I need you to understand that I have not always been happy in my plight. I have had days where I trudged through the daily routine but continued to count it all joy when I was facing this particular trial: a trial that extended beyond the death and burial of my husband.

It was in this suffering that I realized the meaning of true joy. From the moment that I stepped out of the hospital for the very last time I determined to live through this ordeal with grace and a surrendered will to God Almighty. I clearly saw that I had only one choice…to trust and obey.

Here is where the rubber met the road. Did I truly believe His Word when it said “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ”? Did my belief in His Sovereign will still ring true when I was faced with the reality of my situation? Could I count it all joy when I faced this trial? My motto was “I don’t understand but I trust.”. I chose to trust even when I could not see.

That choice was an act of obedience. I knew full well what would happen if I didn’t obey. I had allowed myself to be governed by a rebellious spirit enough in my life to know the bitterness and discontentment that leads to despair and depression. Many times a dark cloud of selfish sadness lingered as a form of discipline, only to be blown away in God’s timing.
Instead, this time I purposed to walk into the new life that God had for me, no matter how painful it might be. I decided that I wasn’t going to turn away from but rather face the occasions that would remind me of my loss and my present loneliness. There were birthdays, anniversaries, and new responsibilities—events and occasions like these challenged my faith. But, I walked into the pain with full confidence that the Lord would use this to heal my heart.

But, as I look back over the past year and a half I find that there is one key element in understanding and explaining the joy that I have felt through this dark time of my life. It is a subject that rarely gets talked about in the modern day church: God’s sovereignty.

Psalm 103:15-19 As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes. 16 When the wind has passed over it, it is no more; And its place acknowledges it no longer. 17 But the loving kindness of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, And His righteousness to children’s children, 18 To those who keep His covenant, And who remember His precepts to do them. 19 The LORD has established His throne in the heavens; And His sovereignty rules over all.

I rest in the knowledge that God is in control of every little molecule on this planet. He knew before the foundation of the earth the moment that Eric would die. I might have been taken by surprise but God had planned it….ordained it as He has also ordained my current position as a widow raising six children. Why did He choose to take Eric? For my good and His good pleasure. That’s what the Scriptures say! How can I argue with the Creator of the Universe? His ways are not mine and I humbly submit to His will.

I am eternally grateful for the years of hearing and studying this sound doctrine. There have been many women that I have conversed with over the past several months who are facing challenges similar to those I face. But, many of them have never been taught that God is the Supreme Ruler of the Universe. They have not been exhorted to seek out God by reading about Him in His Word. As I read through the Psalms I find that David struggled with what was going on in His life and yet he chose to praise his LORD for the calamity that had befallen him. Job did the same. He wondered why and questioned but always directed his heart back to God.

When you begin to accept that God reigns over all things you can’t help but stand in awe of His majesty. After writing a paper called The Sovereignty of God, John Murray, a Scottish Presbyterian wrote these words:
“He holds the reins of universal government and not a sparrow falls to the ground without His knowledge and ordination. In this let the believer take solace, for it is the secret place of the Most High and the shadow of the Almighty. It is the absolute sovereignty of the eternal God. It is the absolute sovereignty of none other than the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Ladies, when you submit your life to the Creator you begin to realize how great is your God. But, for many of us, we can go our whole lives listening to similar words and yet never let it sink into our hearts. We have the head knowledge but we have to live it from the heart. The Reformer John Calvin wrote in his Institutes:
“Here again we ought to observe that we are called to a knowledge of God: not that knowledge which, content with empty speculation, mearly flits in the brain, but that which will be sound and fruitful if we duly perceive it, and if it takes root in the heart.”
This is why we must not be only hearers of the Word but doers. Let the whole concept of God’s sovereign will for your life penetrate to the heart. Let it seep in and take over so that you can find true joy in the midst of your trial.

As I walked away from my will and accepted His perfect will I found that the Word of God came to life. I had read the Psalms over and over again and never fully understood how I, as a prosperous American, could relate to David who was being pursued by enemies. This past year and a half I have specifically read and re-read the Psalms and Isaiah. Not just for comfort but to remind me that when doubt, frustration, anxiety, and anger (those are my enemies) overwhelm me I have a High Tower, a Hiding Place to run to. Psalm 16:11 says:
You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
In the absence of my husband I have learned to throw myself upon our Triune God’s care and provision for me and my family in ways I would have never imagined. And, as much as I desire to be married, I must still place my absolute trust in my Heavenly Father. He will show me the path of life.

I must make decisions daily that affect seven people. When Eric was here I didn’t even have to pump my own gas! The learning process has not been fun but the rewards are great. I am a different woman that I was a year and a half ago. Many lessons have been learned and some the hard way. I have not always been content where God has me. I sometimes wish I had someone else to run to that will take care of it all for me. But, God led me down this path and I refuse to argue with Him.

I have found that in His presence is fullness of joy. To find true joy I have to be in His presence…daily reading His Word, getting to know Him, understanding who He is, meditating on His words. But, I wouldn’t have come into His presence without first submitting my will to His. In choosing to walk the path of righteousness I have watched the Lord heal my heart and help me to see the beauty of His creation and the blessings He has bestowed upon me. Why would I not want to enjoy the pleasures that are at His right hand? Why would I not want to enjoy the fullness of joy?

No matter what trial you are facing you can find pure joy when you begin to rest in Him. Cast all your cares on Him knowing full well that He ordained these moments for your good and His glory! It is in His sovereign plan that you will find joy in your sorrow. He will turn your mourning into dancing.

One of the safest places that I found to cry out to God this past season of my life was in the shower. I could literally cry out to Him without the whole household hearing. There were many days that I sang the chorus:
You’ve turned my mourning into dancing again
You’ve lifted my sorrow
I can’t stay quiet I must sing for Your joy has come.

I hope and pray that you have been encouraged today by the testimony that God has wrought out of my life. He is sovereign and in control of every aspect of your life as well as mine.

Many of you have “met” me through my blog. I thank you for reading but more importantly, I thank you for praying for my family. I am guessing that some of you might be wondering what my family is up to these days.
Our family motto is “Live life to it’s fullest”. I wanted to take full advantage of the time that I have with this family unit that God has ordained and so we went on a five week trip across the U.S. recently. We enjoyed visiting with friends in many different states and we also enjoyed a few historical sites including Washington D.C.

We arrived back home a couple of weeks ago looking forward to what the Lord has in store for us. Rebecca, who is Boo on the blog, is an amazing seamstress and is working on starting her own business. A young man is courting her at this time as well. Nate’s blog name is Goose. He is looking forward to working with young boys who are fatherless at a local camp. After that he is hoping to be heading off to Air Force boot camp in the fall. Mallory, or Miss M as she is known in the blogworld, is busy trying to finish her schooling so she can start working on becoming a midwife. Paige, whose name is Daisy on our blog would rather do anything but school. She loves American Sign Language though and is working toward being an interpreter. Joe is still a lil’ Cowboy. Hence his blog name. He learned how to read this past Spring. He is a bit behind in his learning but is catching up quickly. You will find him in our pool or on a skateboard most days. Gabbie, who truly is a little bit of Brown Sugar, is a precocious little four year old who keeps us all laughing and full of hugs.

Then there is me! By God’s provision I was blessed with a church that fully lives out James 1:27 “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble,”

They provide for me financially so that I can stay at home and continue to school the kids. I teach and play the piano, read whenever I have a chance, and knit. But, much of my life is filled with learning. Learning when to change the oil on the car, keep the pool clean; manage a household on my own.
I am blessed!


Carlee said...

Thank you for sharing. I cannot tell you how many times I have used your story to encourage a woman going through a trial. I started reading your blog right around Eric's death, and what struck me then, and now again in your words here, was that you quickly saw that the Lord had, as you said, "righteously ended" your marriage. It has caused me to accept and proclaim what the Lord has done; He gives and He takes away, blessed be His name.

Nan said...

May your blessings increase even as He increases your faith, dear sister in Christ!

Christine said...

Heather, I have been blessed by you so often over the years since I first saw Tabby's picture on your blog. I know there have been hard days since Eric went home, but Christ has shined through you and the children so graciously in these last months. It was good to hear the update on the children, may the Lord bless each of them as they grow. I wanted so much to find a way to make it to CO for the tea, but it just wasn't possible.
Love and hugs from our house to yours

CristyLynn said...

Thank you, Heather! I hope I get to see you again this summer and give you a hug!

The Walker Family said...

Prayed that the Lord would use your time in Colorado for His glory. Thanks for sharing what you said there. Still praying "over" you, my friend, as God blesses you with continued joy because of who HE is!

Vanderpolclan said...

Thank you so much for posting your speech. The Lord has blessed you with wisdom through this trial and you have blessed others by sharing this. I pray you will be granted all you need to raise your precious family. Thank you for sharing what you all are up to. May you all be given the strength to continue on His path.

Cindy in Canada

Persuaded said...

As another single homeschooling mama (of 5 children) I wanted to pass along a sweet ♥hug♥. I wasn't able to read all of your post just now, but I will be back to finish it up later.. I'm sure you know alll about those kinds of time constraints.

In the meantime, may the Lord bless your day, and I look forward to getting to know you better☺

The Edgerton Family said...

Thanks for sharing this, Heather.
Grace and peace to you....and our love.
Jennifer from Haiti

godlover said...

A wonderful speech, Heather. You have a way of taking scattered facts and turning them into understandable truths. God has brought you a long way since Eric went home. I started reading your blog within days of Eric's death. I am amazed by your family. The mere fact that you saw God's sovereignty in all that has happened. So many people push God out of their struggles. You embraced Him. Thank you so much for being faithful to our Lord and to your blog readers. You and yours are like family to me! Take care...

Mountain Mama said...

Consider your sweet self hugged!

Thanks for posting the talk from the tea. I so wished I could have been there but I enjoyed reading what you shared from your heart. God is truly using you. Thanks for allowing Him to do so!


Cinnamon said...

What a blessing to read your "tea" talk. It was such an encouragement to me.


Sean and Lisa said...

I have been a long time blog reader and pray faithfully for your family. My precious sister, your words have blessed me, your steadfastness encouraged me, and your transparency has shined Jesus so brightly!
Thank you for sharing...much love from PA!