All to Jesus, I surrender.

“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.  “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.  “For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?  “Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him,  saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’  “Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand?  “Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.  “So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.  “Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned?  “It is useless either for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Luke 14:26-35 [NASB]

One morning the week before Sarah left, I vividly remember sitting on the porch having my quiet time and being prompted to turn my palms up to the Lord as I prayed a familiar prayer, “all that I am and all that I have, my life and my family,  I surrender to You, use it all for Your glory.”  I had a slight sense of foreboding prior to praying, which is actually what prompted the prayer.  At the time I assumed it was my personal health, well being or physical life that might be impacted.  I think that is a natural assumption as a parent, rather than the very unnatural idea of something terrible happening to our child or children.  However, as I prayed I surrendered everything I held dear to Him, including that which is most precious to me, my children.  It wasn’t the first time I felt led to surrender all in prayer, I had done it many times in the past, each time recognizing the priceless value and weight of the offering.  But each time I surrendered all in the past, like Abraham, my Isaac(s) left the altar with me, physically alive and well.  That is, each time until this time.

I’ve pondered the significance of that specific prayer of total surrender on that specific morning many times since Sarah left.  For three and half months I have not prayed that prayer again.  I came close to praying it when we sent Sophie on Another Mission Trip and I in obedience entrusted her, as well as Katelyn and Kristen, to God.  In my heart and mind, though, there is a difference between entrusting and sacrificially offering or surrendering.  I recognize my inability to protect, preserve and sustain the lives of my children, so I  entrust them to His care, and plead with Him to protect and preserve them as only He can.  In the process of entrusting I recognize His sovereignty and surrender my futile sense of control and my fears to Him.  However, when I with open palms before the Lord offer up my life and all that I treasure, namely my family, to Him, I am symbolically surrendering all on the altar before Him, saying, “take it and do with it whatever You please, for Your glory.”

Katelyn, Kristen, and Sophie are all traveling out of town without us this weekend.  Kristen and Sophie will be going with our student ministry for Fall Retreat.  The students are traveling in charter buses.  They were both uncomfortable with the thought of riding in the bus, not for fear of the bus, but because they are both too raw to sit in a bus for a prolonged period of time, knowing it would trigger the agony of thinking nonstop about the details of what happened to our sweet Sarah.  Kristen’s boyfriend will be driving them to their location, and Katelyn will be riding with her boyfriend’s parents to an out of town wedding.  Fear so easily creeps in as I think about them traveling, especially apart from us.  As I was praying for them today, entrusting them to the Lord once again, I felt that tug, that calling I knew would eventually come my way again.  He was prompting me to place all on the altar once again, to lift my heart, my life, my family, my all to Him in surrender with open hands, palms up.

Today, after three and half months, by His grace alone, I did it.  I moved beyond entrusting my family to Him while pleading for their protection, to praying with palms open before Him, saying, “whatever You choose to do with my family and my life, I surrender all to You, for Your glory.”  My family and I have once again counted the cost, this time through the lens of fiery trials and excruciating pain, and He is still Worthy.  He is worthy of our full trust and our total surrender to His will and working, whatever it may be.  So, with a shattered heart and weary arms and hands, I stand before Him, palms up, saying, “All to Jesus, I surrender.”

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Romans 12:1-2 [NASB]

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Shelter in the Storm

“The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” Psalm 18:2 [NASB]

As I watched footage of Hurricane Irma as it swept across islands and parts of the U.S. it reminded me of our plight.  Our experience has been much like that of the impact of a hurricane, the primary exception being there was no forecast for our disaster.  I was particularly struck as I watched landscapes and buildings gradually being swept away.  People clamored to a structure thinking they had found shelter from the storm only to realize it was incapable of protecting them, and they were sent frantically searching for another.  In some cases, no doubt, people went to several places seeking shelter before they actually found refuge.  In much the same way, God has been solidifying in my mind and heart the reality that He alone is my Refuge, all others will fail.

“But let all who take refuge in You be glad, Let them ever sing for joy; And may You shelter them, That those who love Your name may exult in You.”  Psalm 5:11 [NASB]

I initially hoped, or maybe even assumed our local church would be my place of shelter in this storm, my refuge.  However, our first week back at church literally took me to my knees in brokenness, it was so devastatingly hard.  It caught me completely off guard, but in retrospect I realize I should have seen it coming.  We always go to church as a family, we always walk through the same doors, greet the same people, sit in the same places, we always worship and serve together.  Church membership and service is a reflection of our faith, which is the heart of who we are as a family and individuals. We are one; Scott, Karen, Katelyn, Kristen, Sarah, and Sophie.  No place reveals more clearly the devastation that has befallen our family than church, it is the most difficult place to be right now.

The pain of church attendance for us was definitely compounded by various factors related to the way in which Sarah left us, but we have learned that it is actually quite common for bereaved parents to find church attendance and corporate worship extremely painful.  I’ve read multiple theories as to why, and actually believe it is not one reason, but many.   Regardless of the reasons, though, that very real pain prevents our local church from being our refuge.  When I first realized this I was heartbroken at the thought and cried out to God in distress, questioning,  “Church is supposed to be our refuge, how can it not be?” Almost immediately in my crying out, His Word began echoing in my heart reminding me that He never said church is our refuge, local or universal, He said He alone is our shelter and refuge.

“Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me, For my soul takes refuge in You; And in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge Until destruction passes by.”  Psalm 57:1 [NASB]

Surrounded by friends, acquaintances and even deeply compassionate strangers in the initial days and weeks, I sometimes found myself unintentionally taking refuge in them.  All of those shelters eventually gave way with time and the sustained winds of this massive storm, though.   It’s not at all that anyone has failed us, they have not.  It was never God’s design for them to be our refuge, they are neither equipped nor called to shelter and sustain us through the destructive winds of this storm.  We must not expect them to protect us and meet our needs, that is not their role.  They are called to bring cups of cold water as He leads, and we are so very blessed that they are faithful to do so.  But, He alone is mighty, worthy, willing and waiting to be our Refuge.

“But as for me, I shall sing of Your strength; Yes, I shall joyfully sing of Your lovingkindness in the morning, For You have been my stronghold And a refuge in the day of my distress.” Psalm 59:16 [NASB]

I frequently refer to Scott as the rock of our family.  I could not ask for, or even imagine a better husband for me, and father for our girls.  He is a godly, gentle, humble, sacrificial servant leader.  He longs to be a shelter for us, to carry our pain, grief and burdens for us, but he can not.  He is incapable and he would collapse under the weight if he somehow actually managed to lift it from our shoulders.  He is the little “r” rock of our family, but The Rock and Refuge for each of us individually must be Christ alone, all others will fail.  I can not, I must not expect Scott to be my shelter and sustainer in this storm.  We are both grieving and painfully wounded and we both must run to the Rock that is higher than us, He alone is our Shelter in this storm.

“Trust in Him at all times, O people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. Selah.”  Psalm 62:8 [NASB]

A couple of days ago I went to the visitation for a dear friend since childhood, I love him and his family deeply.  I intended to stay for the funeral as well, but after hugging and crying with his family I realized I simply was not able to stay.  I went home and sat alone in silence, my heart ached for them and us.  I thought about Sarah and how desperately I miss her, I even felt a little jealous that my friend is with her now.  I spent a lengthy amount of time studying scripture searching for encouragement, but the oppressive weight of my sadness lingered.  I went downstairs to distract myself with a project and ended up in our storm shelter looking for a piece of plywood.  Providentially, the board I was looking for was strategically beneath two verses Sarah had recently written on our storm shelter wall ~ I did not know she had added them and had not seen them before.

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God is so faithful.  I went around the storm shelter reading all of the verses the girls have written through the years.  Sarah had traced her little hand five years ago and written her name.  I laid my hand across the outline of hers and wept, longing to  feel her hand beneath mine.  Even so, I was encouraged alone in our storm shelter surrounded by His Word.  I was encouraged because I was reminded who my Shelter is in this storm, my Rock and my Refuge.  I have a gentle loving God who inspired my sweet Sarah to write on a wall in our storm shelter two verses I could cling to in this moment.  My tender shepherd then led me to them to remind me that as the winds continue to howl about us, He bends down to listen to my cry, and I need only to be still.

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Learning to Walk

“God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea;  Though its waters roar and foam, Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride. Selah.”  Psalm 46:1-3 [NASB]

I am learning on this journey through the valley that the terrain is continually changing, constantly bringing with it new and unexpected challenges.  Some days I think as a family we might be learning how to walk, but then suddenly it feels like the earth is shifting and quaking beneath our feet and we once again find ourselves struggling to just stand.  The goals we set for ourselves on a daily basis are continually changing along with the shifting terrain.

In the immediate days following the accident we were inundated and overwhelmed by all the terrible details that accompany an unexpected death. Our goal at that time was set for us, we had to move through all that was required of us, focusing on one task after another.  After the funeral the majority of those details were complete and we moved into a period where the goal was very much basic survival.  We were learning how to breathe again, how to simply exist moment by moment as a family with a precious and cherished part of us now painfully missing.  The goal shifted again slightly as we were faced with beginning to learn how to do all the things we routinely did together, but with sweet Sarah now gone.  Going to church, going out to eat, going to the store, running errands, on and on the list goes.  All simple activities of daily life, but all so excruciatingly hard while bearing the crippling weight of the heart break of her absence.

About three weeks after the accident it became clear that the enemy was not done with his attempt to sift us, spiritual warfare was raging about us.  A new urgent goal emerged as a situation beyond our control wreaked of the stench of his handiwork.  We realized Sarah’s admonition in her final journal entry was providential as it was imperative that we now be alert and sober minded to recognize the enemy prowling about us just as she had warned.  I immediately began to question, “how do I walk in righteousness?” “How do we as a family walk in righteousness?” “What does righteousness look like in our situation?”

I long to be righteous, I long to be obedient, but I am so weary and my flesh wages war with the Spirit.  I hurt, I ache beyond words, I get angry, I get discouraged, I want to quit, I want to give up, I don’t want to walk this detestable course that has been set for my family and me.  In the end I only have two options, though, it’s an either-or situation: either I will live for Christ, or I won’t.  I know the price with which I have been bought, so there is no choice at all, I must live for Christ, I must “Live Redeemed.”  For weeks I have wrestled with how to do that practically, though.  Right now, in this painful moment, in the midst of this war, plagued by this weary flesh, how do I walk in righteousness?  I needed Him to break it down into simple steps for me through His Word, to give me a clear guide, one breath after the other, and one foot in front of the other.  I need Him to take me by the hand and teach me how to walk in righteousness each part of this constantly shifting and quaking path, one step at a time.

Last week in His faithfulness He led me back to Psalm 37, and I have been clinging to it as a lifeline ever since.  When I find myself struggling to breathe, struggling to hope, struggling to take another step I recite the simple yet challenging commands contained in that passage.  I made a very simplified list of just the commands and have them up all the time on my laptop and posted on the refrigerator.  The full text of Psalm 37 is beautiful and powerful, I meditate on it every morning and evening, but my simplified list is like a compass in my hand, I can quickly and repeatedly glance at it throughout the day to be certain I am walking in the right direction.

Do not fret Be not enviousTrust in the LordDo goodDwell in the landCultivate faithfulnessDelight yourself in the LordCommit your ways to the LordTrust in the LordRest in the LordWait pat

As the earth repeatedly shifts and quakes beneath our feet and I am left struggling to stand and walk in this valley, I am strengthened through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit and His Word.  I am learning to consistently cry out to God immediately in the moment the earth tremors.  As I cry out for help I also affirm His truth that He sees our plight and has not abandoned us.  I frequently look to the heavens and tell Him in that moment that I trust Him and I am waiting on Him.  He is good and faithful, He is righteous and just, He will neither abandon nor forsake my family or me.  His Spirit and His Word testify within me that He holds each member of my family by the right hand and He will not allow us to be overtaken.  He alone is our refuge.

Lord, help me to not fret, and to not be envious when evil seems to prevail.  Help me to fix my eyes on You alone and to trust You fully.  Open my eyes to see the good I need to do, and strengthen me to do it.  Help me to live with a focus to bring glory and honor to You as I dwell in this land, and to daily long to dwell in Your land yet to come. Cultivate faithfulness in me as I regularly feed on Your Truth.  Cause my heart to continually delight in You, open my eyes to each and every outpouring of Your grace, thereby restoring to me the joy of Your salvation.  Enable me to commit my ways to You, and to trust You.  Give me grace to cease striving, to rest in You, and to wait patiently for You.  No matter the challenges before me, may my eyes be so fixed on You that I am not even tempted to fret.  Empower me to surrender to You that which angers me, and to forsake the wrath that is so easily justified.  May Your Word so richly indwell me that that which is designed to cause me to fret will instead strengthen my faith to wait all the more eagerly for You.  Lord, lead me, teach me, equip me, strengthen me and sustain me to walk in righteousness as “a child of Light” that Your name may be praised.

“Mark the blameless man, and behold the upright; For the man of peace will have a posterity.  But transgressors will be altogether destroyed; The posterity of the wicked will be cut off.  But the salvation of the righteous is from the LORD; He is their strength in time of trouble.  The LORD helps them and delivers them; He delivers them from the wicked and saves them, Because they take refuge in Him.”

Psalm 37:37-40 [NASB]

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Prayer Journal      August 1, 2016

  • thanks
  • for me to have peace and joy that only comes from having Jesus in my life
  • for me to live as a free person
  • for me to walk as a child of light
  • for me to grow in my faith and to grow in my love for God
  • for me to be thankful for today without worrying about tomorrow
  • for me to look for opportunities to do what’s right and be kind
  • for me to remember that I’m in a battle, but not against flesh and blood, but against the evil one.
  • for me to pour my heart out to other people as God pours into me

~ Sarah Harmening

Entrusted Forgiveness: Part II

In a previous post I made a statement that I found myself questioning pretty soon after I wrote it.  At that time I desired to correct and expound upon it, but did not feel the Lord’s release to do so. I had almost forgotten about it until this morning when I felt the gentle prompting that now is the time to correct it.  In the post, Entrusted Forgiveness, I  wrote, “He will hand my precious gift of forgiveness back to me so I can personally gift it to them.”  As I continued to study forgiveness in scripture in the days and weeks after that, I became more and more convinced that I was incorrect.  At first glance it might not seem significant, but in the heart of the forgiver I believe it is.

My understanding as I wrote that statement was that I would need to extend forgiveness to that person personally and directly if they come to me, so the Lord would grant it back to me to do so.  I now realize that understanding is in conflict with the concept that entrusting something to the Lord means He forever holds it, and I am not to take it back.  I believe the same should be applied to my forgiveness.  I believe having a spirit of forgiveness is achieved by the offering and release of that forgiveness to Christ.  In obedience to Christ I forged and offered it, Christ is now and always will be the mediator of it.  If that person is broken and sorrowful, Christ will pour out the peace of His forgiveness and, to a much lesser extent, mine on that person.  I am liberated from the concern of “if” or “when” that will happen, it is fully entrusted to Him.  In the future if this person were to speak words of sorrow and request forgiveness and I took back control of my forgiveness, I could be tempted to wonder if they were genuine, which could then cause me to wrestle with releasing it all over again.  As I have fully entrusted that forgiveness to Christ I can rest in His dispensing of it.  He alone knows the hearts of men, and He will not dispense it until sorrow and repentance is genuine.  Maintaining a spirit of forgiveness by fully entrusting my forgiveness to Christ and never taking it back liberates me.

I find great peace in entrusting my forgiveness to Christ, but must also acknowledge the pain of the wound that necessitated forgiveness was not instantly relieved in that process, it is still present.  After a failed attempt at Biblical reconciliation, one of my daughters looked at me with tears flowing down her face and questioned, “how am I supposed to not hate [them]?”  Her words were justified, it is legitimate anger.  In the presence of deep wounds it can be very difficult to discern what is simply the agony of the wound, what is anger, and what is a potential root of bitterness.  Anger alone is not a sin, what we do with the anger determines whether or not it becomes a sin (Ephesians 4:26).  It is not unrighteous to be angry when wronged, but we must quickly address it, we must “not let the sun go down on [our] anger,” or it will very soon become a stronghold of bitterness.  Daily, we as a family must and do ask the Lord to reveal in our hearts the iniquity of bitterness so we can repent should it be found. My daughter asked that question because she knows she is called to love her enemies, and for now this person is very much acting as an enemy (Luke 6:27-28).  She spoke longing for righteousness but recognizing the impossibility of it within ourselves alone.  She already knew the answer, but we spoke it anyway.  When the pain is deep we must sometimes start by praying for the Lord to grant us the desire to forgive, our flesh certainly does not want to, but He is faithful and will create the desire if we ask.  Once the desire is birthed we must go through the painful process of surrendering and entrusting everything that accompanies that wound and the forgiveness to Christ.  It is the agonizing process of crucifying our flesh, but as we fix our focus on Him, meditating on our knowledge of Him through His Word it becomes much easier.  We find rest in knowing He is our gentle Shepherd who weeps with us and intercedes for us, and at the same time that He is righteous and just and does not leave unrepented of sin unpunished.

The Lord has been so gracious to me as I have been searching my way through this journey of forgiveness. In the past week alone He provided two profound opportunities to pour into the lives of others.  As He intersected my life with the lives of two different strangers to have the opportunity to be His hands and feet to them in two different ways, He gently spoke to my heart “this is why you entrust your pain and forgiveness to me.”  Hebrews 12:1 immediately came to mind in that moment,“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” [NIV].  I long to run the race well, I don’t want to miss a single opportunity He has prepared in advance for me (Ephesians 2:10).  If I cling to my right to be angry at this person, or if I tightly grip my forgiveness refusing to entrust it to Christ, my hands are no longer free to be His, and it will hinder and entangle me in this race.

This race is all that truly matters, everything else is meaningless.  I am running Home as purposefully and quickly as I can, and I intend to run so as to win the prize.  I know the wisdom and truth of His Word, and recognize it is for my good and His glory that He calls me to throw off all that hinders and entangles.  I am liberated to run through entrusting my forgiveness to Him.  I am set free to race by relinquishing anger and resisting bitterness.  May I run in a way that brings only honor and glory to Him, and through the throwing off of everything that hinders and entangles may I leave a legacy of freedom and joy in Christ that causes others to hunger and thirst for Him.

“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.  Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.  Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air;  but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 [NASB]

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Artwork: Sarah Harmening

Anthills of Pride

We have fire ants in our yard.  They are dreadful creatures that Scott is continually chasing around the yard.  As he poisons each mound they just pack up their eggs and move to a new location, it’s a constant never ending war between him and them.   Their bite is terribly painful, we’ve all experienced it, so Scott is determined to continue the war for himself and us.   I was reminded of those relentless fire ants as I was thinking about the battle of pride in the wee hours this morning.  Recently my family has been privy to an example of the painful ramifications of glaring pride, and it has served as a vital yet dreadful reminder of its insidious danger to each of us.

I battle pride.  Sadly, I’ve been aware of it for many, many years, but I am constantly amazed at just how quickly it continues to sneak in unnoticed in new form.  Just like those pesky anthills, as quickly as I address pride in one area of  my life it pops up somewhere else, and so the chase goes to crucify my flesh just like Scott chasing those ants.  Each mound in our yard is slightly different than the other, but they are all anthills.  The same with my pride, each time it pops up it is in slightly different form, but ultimately it’s all the same, pride.  Whether it’s wrong priorities, a critical spirit, hurt feelings because a perceived need wasn’t met, anger because I did not get my way, refusal to admit I am wrong, blaming others for my failure, desire to be in control, jealousy, or lack of contentment, it’s all rooted in the same source: pride.  That’s just a few of the endless ways it manifests itself as it’s constantly evolving and changing to pander to the selfish desires of my flesh.

It seems like we don’t hear that much about pride these days, like perhaps it’s not one of the “big sins.” I wonder if we unintentionally think of it like anthills, it’s annoying and we should probably deal with it, but it’s not that big of a deal, it’s just an anthill.  Scripture speaks clearly and boldly to the contrary.

“When pride comes, then comes dishonor, But with the humble is wisdom.” Proverbs 11:2 [NASB]
“Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before stumbling.” Proverbs 16:18 [NASB]
“A man’s pride will bring him low, But a humble spirit will obtain honor.”  Proverbs 29:23 [NASB]

Be not confused, when scripture says pride goes before destruction it is not a metaphor.  I am reminded through the example that has played out before us that unchecked pride will have devastating ramifications.  It has compelled me to check my heart before Him daily crying out to Him to reveal the iniquity in my own heart that I may repent and be cleansed.   I know I have been guilty of viewing my sinful pride as annoying anthills, but today I am reminded that I am but an ant, and as an ant those anthills of pride are mighty mountains standing between me and holiness.  I cry out to Him today in unison with the voice of David in Psalm 51.  I praise Him knowing He will hear my cry, He will blot out all my iniquities, He will create in me a clean heart, and He will renew a steadfast spirit within me.

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Artwork: Sarah Harmening

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Sowing in Tears

I will risk sounding like a broken record by saying we as a family are in a season of suffering.  Because of Sarah’s absence pretty much everything we do brings a staggering sting of pain with it.  In addition there are some other unresolved issues surrounding her death that have proven to be extremely painful as well.   Only days after Sarah’s departure I found myself regularly saying both to myself and our girls, “just do the next right thing.”  It became a mantra of sorts that persists to this day, a basic plan of survival in the midst of the crippling trauma.  Seek the Lord, determine the next right thing and do it.  Not too far in I began quoting 1 Peter 4:19 along with the mantra, recognizing that each choice to do the next right thing, particularly the painful right things, was an act of worship and obedience to my faithful Creator.

“Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.”  1 Peter 4:19 [NASB]

Last Monday night brought with it the realization of a painful challenge we knew was a looming possibility.  Our wounded hearts ache all the more now as what was a very disappointing possibility the day before has become a painful reality we must deal with.  That night my weary flesh wanted to give up and run away, wave a white flag and cry defeat, I was too tired and the next right thing was too much, but then I sat down and began reading Sarah’s journals.  She reminded me “there is a reason to keep pressing on and doing good when people even hate you for it” and that in the end “it will be completely and totally worth it.”  Tuesday morning I included that entry (below) in the post, The Little Cricket Martyr.  I included it because what she wrote reflected her faith and heart for perseverance in spite of potential opposition, which went well with the topic.  There were a few other entries I read the night before that I thought about using, but at the last minute felt led to go with this one instead.  It wasn’t until after I published it, though, that I went back and meditated on the passages of scripture she had referenced in it.  I started by reading Psalms 125-128, what a blessing each verse was for me, but when I came to Psalm 126:5-6, I was moved to tears.  I immediately knew the Lord had prompted me to include this specific journal entry because I desperately needed the blessing of this particular passage.

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“Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting.  He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, Shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.”  Psalm 126:5-6 [NASB]

As we continue to plod through this long dark valley I realize now I was wrongly beginning to view my persistent flow of tears as failure in some way, starting to entertain the lie that perhaps it meant I was no longer trudging on in pursuit of my Lord.  As I read this passage, though, I was flooded with the reassurance and comfort of His truth.  I weep, I weep because my heart is shattered, I weep because my husband’s heart is shattered, I weep over my children’s pain, I weep over our parents’ pain, I weep over sinful circumstances beyond my control, I go “to and fro weeping.”  If I stop there, if I only weep and no longer sow, If I no longer “carry my bag of seed,” if I no longer do the next right thing that would be the failure, that would be sin.  Oh how I praise God for His Word of encouragement that He sees our tears as we continue to sow, that He sees us obediently carrying and scattering our “bag of seed” through the pain, and He assures us a harvest of joy is coming.  As we persevere in doing the next right thing, in sowing through our tears we are promised to “reap with joyful shouting.”

I was blessed beyond measure as I studied Psalm 126, looking at context, original language and reading commentaries.  After I finished studying Psalm 126,  I went on to read the other passages she shared, 2 Corinthians 13 and Acts 11:19-26, each a blessing and encouragement.  But it wasn’t until I finally read further down in her journal entry that I realized that my sweet Sarah had been so struck by the exact same two verses, Psalm 126:5-6, that she listed them out separately, what a treasure.  I was so full to overflowing with encouragement that I immediately called Scott at work to share all The Lord had shown me.  If you are in the valley with us, take heart and cling to this hope with us.  We will see a mighty harvest and rejoice all the more over the fruit of the precious seed we have sown through tears and weeping.  May we never put down our bags of seed, though tears readily flow and weeping persists may we continually persevere in spreading seed. May we continually trudge forward in obedience as we entrust our suffering souls to our faithful Creator in doing the next right thing and making Him known.

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Artwork: Sarah Harmening

The “Little Cricket” Martyr

Sarah loved the book Little Women, her face lit up everytime she talked about it.  She identified with Beth, one of the main characters, who not only happened to be a third daughter in a family of four daughters, but sadly also died at a young age.  Beth was very reserved, quiet and shy, much like Sarah. The quote Sarah copied in her journal below is about Beth.  Sarah loved this quote, and I’m certain she loved it because her gentle and quiet spirit identified with it.  Like Beth, Sarah was very much a “little cricket” easily missed or overlooked against the backdrop of this loud and busy world.

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“There are many Beth’s in the world, shy and quiet, sitting in corners till needed, and living for others so cheerfully that no one sees the sacrifices till the little cricket on the hearth stops chirping and the sweet, sunshiny presence vanishes, leaving silence and shadow behind.” ~ Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

In addition to Little Women, Sarah also loved stories of faith.  She was constantly devouring testimonies and books by and about those who were persecuted and martyred.  She had been captivated by the faith of persecuted Christians and martyrs for several years.  She longed to possess the faith of the martyrs, she longed to be willing to lay down her life for Christ.  The day before the bus crash, as she and I discussed the most recent horrific martyring of Christians in Egypt, she shared that she used to worry if she would have the faith to persevere if she were in that situation.  She shared she had found peace, though, as God had confirmed in her spirit that He would sustain and strengthen her faith if He called her to that.  She had realized her confidence was not to be in self or perceived spiritual maturity, but rather in knowing that as she walked in humble surrender to God, He would fully infuse her thereby enabling her to obediently fulfill her calling, even unto death.

Merriam Webster Definition of martyr

  1. 1:  a person who voluntarily suffers death as the penalty of witnessing to and refusing to renounce a religion

  2. 2:  a person who sacrifices something of great value and especially life itself for the sake of principle martyr to the cause of freedom

  3. 3:victim;especiall:  a great or constant sufferer martyr to asthma all his life — A. J. Cronin

I can still see and hear a conversation I had with Sarah shortly before she left for Botswana.  She stood in the den next to the couch telling me no matter what happened on the mission trip she had peace it was within God’s will because she absolutely knew God had called her to go.  There was an unmistakable gleam of absolute assurance in her eyes as she spoke those words.  At that moment I had a compelling realization, within my precious “little cricket” beat the heart of a lion.  The faith of the martyrs was now powerfully coursing through her veins.  In the traditional sense of the word Sarah was not a martyr, but this mother’s heart knows that in the truest sense of the word she absolutely was.  The fear-resolving, life-sacrificing faith of the martyrs she had pondered for years had been realized through the full and humble surrender of her heart and will to the God of the universe.  All of this clearly reflected and confirmed in the final words that poured from her heart into her journal in the days and weeks leading up to her departure.

“Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.” Act 4:13 [NASB]

Though she did not die at the hands of men seeking to destroy the name of Jesus Christ, she did die at the hand of the enemy.  God spoke to my heart immediately after the accident that Satan had requested to sift our family and that He, God, had allowed him to do so.  As the enemy unleashed his wrath on us that day, he sought to both silence Sarah through physical death and turn our family from our faith in God.  Our enemy failed to realize a powerful truth though: our God is The Mighty Redeemer.  He is The Mighty Redeemer who miraculously turns even the seemingly absolute devastation inflicted by the enemy to be used instead for His own glory and honor.  The enemy sought to silence Sarah, but instead our Redeemer launched the powerful testimony of our “little cricket” around the globe within 48 hours.  I continue to be awe struck by how God has and is using Sarah’s life and testimony.   It has been such a beautiful reminder that He takes ordinary people fully surrendered to Him and uses them in extraordinary ways.

The enemy also sought and continues to seek to turn us as a family away from our Lord and Savior, but instead we immediately and continually run straight to the shadow of His wing, Our Rock, Our Fortress and Our Deliverer.  The enemy strategically hurled us into the furnace seeking to destroy our faith with his scorching flames.  As we stand in the fire, Our Mighty Redeemer lavishly pours out His sustaining grace and mercy upon us moment by moment, hour by hour, and day by day.  He tenderly ministers to us in the midst of the flames kindled to destroy us.  As He faithfully sustains us through His abiding presence and precious and magnificent promises our faith is not destroyed but instead forged, strengthened and purified.

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you;  but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.”  1 Peter 4:12-13 [NASB]

Our family’s passionate prayer for the past year and a half has been to see a mighty transforming revival sweep through our church and community.  Sarah rightly wrote in her Biblical Worldview, “God uses the worst times of trial and persecution to spread the gospel.”  Like many before her, I pray that the Lord will use Sarah’s life and testimony as a seed for revival at Mount Zion Baptist Church and abroad.  I pray that the excruciating pain of her absence will be redeemed through continued testimonies of lives changed through salvation and total surrender to Him.  How I long to be able to repeat the words of Joseph to the enemy, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” Genesis 50:20 [NASB]

At this very moment our precious seventeen year old little girl is worshipping our Lord and Savior in the midst of the martyrs whose faith she aspired to emulate.  She has joined that great cloud of witnesses as they cheer us on, she and they are crying out challenging us to persevere with the same faith God provided them and longs to provide us.  “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:1-3 [NASB]

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Botswana Devotion (Day 4)  5/18/17

(and Psalms 125-128 and 2 Corinthians 13)

  • Acts 11:19-26
  • Isn’t it incredible that we get to carry on the work of the apostles and the early church?  And we have no disadvantage.  The same Spirit that lived in them lives in us!
  • Psalm 126:5-6
  • Psalm 128:1-2 ❤ – There is a reason to keep pressing on and doing good when people even hate you for it.  It may not be any time soon, but eventually you will receive your reward, it will be completely and entirely worth it.
  • 2 Corinthians 13:11

~ Sarah Harmening

“Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting.  He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, Shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.”  Psalm 126:5-6 [NASB]

“But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory.  “O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?”  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law;  but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 15:54-58 [NASB]