So sorry I haven’t written a post these past two weeks. I have thought about you so much and have so much to say, but everything I’ve had these first two weeks of March I left in Pleasant Grove, Alabama and Douglas, Georgia, two communities in which I’ve spoken at back-to-back women’s conferences these last two Saturdays. But, what a blessing for me to be with such wonderful groups of women! I have to say that the women at the various churches where I’ve gone to speak these past two years are all quite unique yet in so many ways they are all the same, the same in such good ways, like the fact that we are all one body of Christ. Everywhere I’ve gone, it seems like I’ve known the sweet ladies there all my life, like we’re family, distant cousins I share a history with but are just getting to know. And, that’s the way it should be, because we are family. I love them, and they love and care for me. I know them, because we are the same. We have the same Spirit. We all have the same hope. We are looking for the same person, Jesus, eagerly awaiting the day the trumpet sounds for all of us to meet Him in the air. What a day of rejoicing that will be, as the old hymn says!!!
But, the women in Pleasant Grove were absolutely the most responsive group I’ve ever been with. I always do an alter call at the end where I ask the women to just come pray to the Lord whatever God is stirring in their hearts, and I think the whole church came down at Pleasant Grove First Baptist. When I got back up to the podium to close us in prayer. I looked up and saw empty pews everywhere. They were all face down at the altar, except for those who had to stand in the aisles to pray for lack of room for them at the altar. Just amazing! I even had a little doggie come down, definitely a first! It was Margaret Feinberg’s little dog, Hershey, that she just didn’t know what else to do with when she went down to pray. What a cute and sweet and bubbly and fun and smart sister-in-Christ we have in Margaret who also spoke that day. She flew in from Colorado to be with us. None of us had ever met her before but felt that Rocky Mountain girl who had also braved a few years in Alaska fit in with us Alabama girls just fine.
Now, the Douglas women’s most identifiable characteristic was that they had a double portion of joy. They were so joyful they were overflowing with it. It was an unmistakable characteristic of this community of believers, and I believe the cause of so much joy down there in South Georgia may be because of the infectious personality of one woman, the same woman who invited me to come down in the first place and had signed her e-mail to me joy, joy, Joyce. What a fun and positive person to be around. All of my interactions with Joyce Ashley were so filled with hope and joy that I just couldn’t help but be excited to go there and meet her, but when I got there I realized that everyone there was just like her I believe because Joyce’s brand of uncontained joy is contagious. She bounced around the place with all the intensity of the sun on a hot August day in either Alabama or South Georgia, and the other ladies who greeted me and my friend, Linda, at the airport were maybe even more excited that Joyce. One of them, Amber, just couldn’t contain her joy that I was there, since she was the one upon whose heart the Lord had put my name. She said she knew that I was supposed to come to their enJoying the Journey Women’s Conference.
I told them I didn’t know whose idea it was to ask me to speak on joy but that I had thought whoever it was was either a little loopy… or maybe… just crazy like a fox. ’Cause if a person like me could stand up there and tell them I still had joy in my heart after all that has happened to me, then anyone can have joy. I remember so well in those days right after Bronner went to heaven when I felt like all joy had left me, that there was just none left in my heart. I was still alive but just barely really. It wasn’t living. I felt like I was going through the motions of life, living only for my children and my husband. I ate but only to keep up my strength to be able to care for my remaining family. But, one night, I was reading a little booklet to my children as their bedtime story. It was called Scripture Confessions For Kids, and on its pages I read these words, “No one can take my joy from me, for Jesus is my joy and His joy makes me strong.” I got up from reading that, went to the kitchen, and ate a piece of chocolate. Now, no one eats chocolate for any other reason than for the pure joy of it. Chocolate is pure pleasure. It had been the first thing I had done for myself since my baby went to heaven. That night was the beginning of a little ray of hope that I might, maybe, just maybe be able to make it.
Then, I remember three of my dear friends who were specifically praying for my joy to return. They came to my house one day and read the beginning of Isaiah 61 over me which says, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.” (vs. 1-3)
I told them no. I wasn’t ready for any oil of joy on me. No, not yet. I pointed them to James 4:6-10, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.”
I told my friends that I felt God calling me to humility, that I was being humbled by the mighty hand of God, and that for a season I needed to weep and mourn, to let my laughter be turned to mourning and my joy to gloom. And, I did, and I was. I felt so humbled, like nothing at all but a reed tossed in the wind with no strength of my own. At that time, I wasn’t sure my joy would ever return. I lent myself over to mourning and weeping. I went into a season so filled with tears, so many days spent out by Bronner’s grave, missing him, desperate really for him, but I did feel God’s presence with me. Some days it was comfort, and other days I’m not so sure. I remember being at the farm where we stayed for the first three months after Bronner went to heaven, and such a thunderstorm came that I thought we were going to die. A crash of thunder so loud it sounded like it had hit our house, woke me up to the thought, “Well, this is it. I’m going to be struck by lightening. That’s how I’m going to die.”
Rick and I got up, went to the living room, and sat the rest of the night on the couch together bewildered wondering what God was doing. What was He saying to us? I certainly felt like He wanted us to know that it was Him that night in the thunder, that He was in control, that He had a plan that we may not like but that He was going to carry it out. I stood in awe of Him that night, awestruck at His power and His might, that He was so superior to us, that He was the only one who gives life or takes it away. I really felt so insignificant in comparison to Him, and we were afraid. We really were. So many nights Rick and I just clung to each other. We were so hurt, so brokenhearted, and really dumbfounded by what had happened. We never imagined life could be this bad. We never imagined the baby of our dreams, precious Bronner, so filled with life and light and joy and spunk and pure sunshine, could die. It didn’t seem right. We knew it wasn’t right. Nothing about death is right. And, we had to learn why. We had to be reminded in such a completely harsh way that the world isn’t what it was meant to be, that the world is fallen and cursed, cursed by God as punishment for sin. I had to learn there is nothing right about this world. Nothing.
I really had loved my life before. I felt happy and blessed and favored by God. I was overflowing with joy before Bronner went to heaven. We certainly had had spiritual battles before, trials and persecution, but nothing like this, nothing potentially faith shaking. We had fought our battles before and won! We worked very hard and felt we were overcomers, but there had never been anything like this. We realized that the trials we had before were just that, trials, battles to be won, but this was a test of faith. Would we remain faithful in the midst of such devastation? This was no battle, and there was nothing we could win back. I thought about it, though. I had hoped that maybe Bronner could be resurrected. I thought it all out in my mind. I wanted to go to his grave and say, “Bronner, come forth,” just like Jesus had when He raised Lazarus from the dead. Rick convinced me not to do that. He told me he felt in his spirit that that would be wrong, that God had a plan and a purpose in our baby’s dying, and no plan of God’s can be thwarted.
Jesus said, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” He didn’t want us to live our lives for this world but for the next, for the one coming that would be perfect and beautiful and free from sin and death. I loved my life before, and I lost it. I lost everything about it. My happy little world was over, but something new started to bloom. I knew the Lord before, and I had served Him the best way I knew how. But, God was taking me to a place far deeper with Him than my happy and blessed life could have ever imagined. I realized God had not taken my baby out of anger or as punishment for some sin I had committed, but He took my baby out of love for me.
One of those three friends I was talking about who wanted my joy to return told me, “You were chosen for this, not because God doesn’t love you, but because He does love you and trusts you with such a great test of faith.”
Over time, I realized Angela had been right. Abraham had been called a friend of God, and God was making friends of Rick and me. We were becoming so intimately acquainted with Him and His ways, so far above our ways that He is almost incomprehensible, but we were beginning to see. We were beginning to comprehend God’s ways. We were beginning to look first through God’s eyes instead of our own.
One day, I received a book in the mail, and on the back, there was a bio of the author. It said he was pastor at such and such place, he went to such and such seminary. He had a wife. I can’t remember her name, and four children, one of whom has gone on to be with the Lord. His son had drown just like ours had.
I read that and burst into tears, and I started pleading with God to tell me why. Why the children? Why so many children? Why do you take the children of people like this pastor who had given his life in service to you, God, and why Bronner, a baby who couldn’t have been more loved or more wanted in this world. Why? Why the children? And I said, “God, there is nothing worse than losing a child! Nothing!”
"I know you lost your son, but you got him back after three days. Three days!"
And he said to me, “But what about the others? All my children I have to send away from my presence for eternity. You’re going to get a glorious reunion with your son, but not all of my children will I see again except on that day when they rise again only to die a second death.”
We’re all God’s creation. It’s His breath that gives us life. We’re all His, and God saw fit to take my happy life away from me - for a time - in order that many lost souls would be turned to Him, that he wouldn’t have to send them off to die a second death, but that through the testimony of a small child named Bronner, they would live forever.
See, ’cause death has a way of waking people up to the reality of itself. And they start asking questions like “What if that had been my child?" Or, "What if it had been me? What would happen to my soul if I died today?"
I was learning not only that God had a plan and a purpose in my baby’s dying and that I had to get on board with it so I could help carry on to completion what God had started, but I was learning that God considered me a friend. He trusted me, and He did love me. And that’s why He took Bronner. He knew Rick and I would search out the scriptures for the Why? He knew we would listen for His voice. And He knew we would obey. He knows us better than we know ourselves. I would have told you I could have never endured such a thing as losing my precious, precious Bronner, but now I see I haven’t lost him at all. I know exactly where he is, and I know, I know, he will be in my arms again. I don’t doubt it one little bit. And I’ve watched the other children grow like crazy these past two years and have felt the time fly by reminding me of how brief a moment we’re here. It won’t be long now, sweet baby. I’ll be there before you know it. And, my joy will be full.
This Christmas, I didn’t order enough Christmas cards, so I made a New Year’s card to send out to the people I hadn’t had enough Christmas cards for. I started going through my pictures from 2009 to select a few to put on the card, and to my surprise, I saw so many smiles. I went through those pictures of our past year and saw life and purpose, and I saw joy. To my surprise, joy had crept its way back into our lives.
My New Year’s card said, “Surprised by joy in 2009!” And inside it said, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.” (Isaiah:61:1-3)
Joy to the World! The Lord has Come!