Death is Not Good…

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”  Romans 8:28 [NASB]

Sharing our focus of looking for redemption for the anguish of Sarah’s departure has become a little bit of a double edged sword.  We want to consistently point to the hope and redemption that God so faithfully brings in fulfillment of His promise to work all things together for the good of those who love Him (Rom. 8:28).  However, in focusing so much on redemption we have learned there is a risk of some misconstruing that the redemption might somehow make Sarah’s death “worth it”, or even “good”.  It can lead to such an excitement in some about what God is doing that sensitivity is lost to the deep loss that precipitated the need for redemption to begin with.  Statements about Sarah’s death being “worth it” or “good” are like daggers in the hearts of those grieving her absence.

Almost immediately after the accident our prayer as a family was for God to allow us to see redemption for the unimaginable pain we were experiencing.  We knew redemption would in no way eliminate the pain or make the pain “worth it” or “good.”  We would never willingly choose this painful journey, but we knew redemption could fuel our perseverance through it.  Redemption does not answer the question “Why?”, it answers the question “How?”.  When we look for and see redemption, it does not indicate that is “Why” God allowed Sarah’s death, instead it shows us “How” God is faithfully fulfilling the promise to use all things for good to us, even the worst thing, death.

God has been so faithful to answer those prayers for redemption.  We have received countless emails, texts, cards and letters all testifying of the impact of Sarah’s life and testimony on them.  What a tremendous blessing every single testimony  has been to us, each poured over us like a healing balm.  God is indeed mightily redeeming the taking of Sarah’s life and he is turning the evil intended for harm to use it for good.  God is using the devastation of Sarah’s death for good, but that does not make Sarah’s death good.

Death is not good.  Parents having to bury their child is not good.  Sisters grieving the absence of their sister is not good.  Grandparents mourning the death of their grandchild is not good.  Sarah’s death is not good.  When God proclaimed creation “good” and “very good” there was no death in it.  God’s perfect plan did not include death, death is an enemy introduced through the fall.  While we as Christians have the glorious Hope of eternity, that does not remove the pain and anguish death inflicts through the void left in the earthly lives of  grieving families.

We do not grieve for Sarah’s future, we grieve for ours here without her.  We grieve because there is a massive void in our home where Sarah once was.  Our entire family dynamic is forever altered by that wretched thief called death.  God did not create us with death in mind, death is worthy of grieving, deep, broken grieving.  Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus, knowing He would raise him, so it is certainly acceptable for us as believers to weep at the death of our loved ones.  Praise God, though, that as we grieve we do not grieve without Hope (1 Thess. 4:13-14).  Though this temporary separation takes our breath away, we know eternity is looming and with it a glorious reunion.

We are so very blessed to have so many faithfully walking alongside us simultaneously grieving our unimaginable loss and rejoicing over stories of redemption with us.  Some days grief prevails and they weep with us, and other days stories of redemption prevail and they rejoice with us (Rom. 12:15).  Their balancing the two, grief and rejoicing, never losing sight of one for the other, but carrying both together in sensitivity to our broken hearts continues to bless us immensely.  What a privilege and blessing it is to be part of the body of Christ, knit together through the love born of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, filled with longing to bear one another’s burdens, overwhelmed with compassion to weep with those who weep, and subject to the selflessness that rejoices with those who rejoice.

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Artwork: Sarah Harmening

 

 

 

Why Sarah? Why Us?

When Scott and I wake each morning it still seems incomprehensible that Sarah is gone.  Also incomprehensible is that 38 other students and adults on the very same bus have already made or will make full recoveries.  I have avoided seeing the crash footage for the most part and don’t want to know any more details than what I already know, but based on what I do know it is safe to say that the hand of God delivered those 38 other people on the bus from physical death.  Not only did He deliver those 38 people from physical death, He also miraculously delivered each of them from severe injury (severe injury meaning life altering spinal cord or traumatic brain injuries).  It is undeniable that the hand of God clearly protected those other 38 people, so why not Sarah? Why are we left grieving the absence of our daughter when the hand of God was clearly delivering others at that exact moment?  Did He abandon her and ultimately us as her family?

I suppose one could be tempted to think perhaps Scott and I had not prayed adequately for her safety, perhaps failure to pray on our part or hers is the reason she alone did not survive?  Thankfully, I can confidently report that is not the case at all.  Her journals testify she had prayed over this trip for months.  In addition to Scott’s and my prayers in the days and weeks preceding the trip, I was so fearful and burdened about Scott not driving the bus that I spent a particularly prolonged period in prayer the afternoon before the crash.  The Lord led me to Psalm 91 and I prayed it at length over my precious Sarah.  As I prayed through that Psalm as well as other scripture that afternoon, evening and the next morning before they left I walked through the process of entrusting her to Him once again.

I cried out to God that afternoon, praying verses 9-12 specifically.  I reminded the Lord that we as a family love Him with all of our hearts and that we have made Him our refuge.  I entreated Him to honor the prayer of this Psalm in our lives, that He would protect Sarah as she traveled, that He would set His angels guard around her, that they would bear her up in their hands and protect her from harm.

“For you have made the LORD, my refuge, Even the Most High, your dwelling place.  No evil will befall you, Nor will any plague come near your tent.  For He will give His angels charge concerning you, To guard you in all your ways.  They will bear you up in their hands, That you do not strike your foot against a stone.”  Psalm 91:9-12 [NASB]

I thought about that prayer after the accident, at first thought it broke my heart that He had apparently chosen to disregard the very prayer I felt He led me to lift to Him.  I had believed as I prayed Psalm 91 that He had specifically led me to it, that He led me to pray that prayer for my child, to entrust her to Him as I put her on that bus.  I obeyed in prayer but He had apparently not honored the very requests He led me to bring before Him, had He?  In the days following the accident I prayerfully went back to Psalm 91 and reread it once again.  God opened my eyes and spoke to my heart to show me how in His faithfulness He had inspired, heard and graciously answered the cry of Psalm 91 in the life of Sarah that day, though painfully not at all in the temporal way I had intended.

God did indeed set His angels guard around Sarah the day of the crash, just as I had petitioned through Psalm 91.  I believe that, though Satan was allowed to sift us by taking Sarah’s physical life, God Himself set limits on what was inflicted on her, sparing her physical pain and suffering, and for that we are all deeply grateful.  He has consoled me that He honored my prayer that His angels be set guard around her, and that she was no less held and protected than any other person on that bus.  He commanded them to bear her up in their hands, and I am confident they obediently did just that as they ushered her directly into His presence.

The day before she left, as I prayed Psalm 91 over her, verse 14 struck me, “Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name” [NASB]. I remember requesting of the Lord as I prayed that day, “you know how much Sarah loves you, so please deliver her, keep her safe as only you can.”  However, as I look back I am struck by His promise there, that He “will set him securely on high,”  which of course reminds me of the verse Sarah chose for this mission trip, “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2).  Sarah was already crying out to Him and trusting Him to set her securely on high, safely upon the Rock that is higher than us. When His angels ushered her into His presence He fulfilled that promise, she was swiftly and safely led on high to “The Rock that is higher than I.”

As I prayed Psalm 91 for Sarah the day before the crash,  I prayed for His provision and abiding presence with her through the words of verse 15, “He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him” [NASB].  How precious it is that even as sweet Sarah was on that bus she was doing exactly what this verse said.  She recorded in her journal that she was nervous and she called upon Him, seeking Him through His Word.  She even testified in her journal that He answered Her in her trouble at that moment.  He kept His promise in the Psalm prayed over her the day before, and He quickly answered her on that bus setting her at ease.  This mommy’s heart agonizes that her child was not rescued physically as every other mother’s child was on the bus that day.  Even so, I can testify without a doubt that He did “rescue” her from death, delivering her to Life everlasting through the blood of Jesus, and He has most definitely honored her.  The testimony of a quiet little girl few knew has been propelled around the globe by His faithfulness and for His glory.   She set her heart in the preceeding weeks and days to be on mission to be used by Him, saying she knew He would do “something incredible.”  Indeed, He has been faithful to do something incredible, and as He has brought glory to Himself through it, He has also graciously and mercifully honored our precious Sarah.

Verse 16, the final verse of Psalm 91 that I had prayed over Sarah before she left is,  “With a long life I will satisfy him And let him see My salvation” [NASB].  Of course my heart as I lifted this prayer to God was for Sarah’s physical life to be long, but I also acknowledge that is a finite perspective.  In spite of being painfully grieved at her absence, we rejoice that, like Sarah, we all know that this physical life is like a “wisp of smoke,” but the greatest is yet to come.  Praise God that His Word is clear that when we are in Christ Jesus we live even though we die (John 11:25-26).  Sarah is enjoying eternal life, the epitome of “long life,” she is no longer constrained by impending death, it is powerless over her.  Lastly and most importantly, God has allowed Sarah to see His salvation.  As she has seen her Savior and God face to face, her faith has become sight (Matthew 5:8; 1 Cor. 13:12).

So, Why Sarah?  Why us? I guess I don’t really have a good answer to those questions, except to answer with opposing questions, why not Sarah? Why not us?  God through His Word has prepared us, He has forewarned us that we live in a fallen world far from his original intent of perfection for us.  He told us in Genesis of the entry of sin and death into the world and He warns us throughout His Word that we will face trials and tribulations as a result.  He warns us, as Sarah pointed out in her last journal entry, that we have an adversary, the devil, who prowls around longing to devour, scheming and devising ways to steal, kill and destroy (1 Pet. 5:8, Eph. 6:11, John 10:10).  In the midst of all that bad news, though, God offers a sea of rich promises for us, all available through the blood of Jesus Christ.

I’ve shared before but will share again, that in the moments after learning of Sarah’s departure God clearly impressed on my heart that Satan had asked to sift us, and God spoke to my heart that if we will cling to Him, He will carry us through.  God clearly impressed this on my heart and ultimately on the heart of each member of our family.  We don’t know why Satan requested to sift us specifically, and we don’t know exactly why God said yes, but we accept and trust His decision.  Now we, like Peter, long to persevere through this excruciatingly fiery trial, through this sifting, and allow Him to not only use it to refine and sanctify us, but also to strengthen our brothers and sisters in Christ (Luke 22:31-32).  And so we share, and I write, knowing that He will redeem it in His time, that He will eventually exchange our ashes and mourning for gladness and praise.  May He enable us to stand as mighty oaks for Him, that He may be glorified.

To grant those who mourn in Zion, Giving them a garland instead of ashes, The oil of gladness instead of mourning, The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified. [Isa 61:3 NASB]

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Because she has loved Me, therefore I will deliver her; I will set her securely on high, because she has known My name.

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Another Mission Trip

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“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]

The verse above is so perfect for today.  Scott and I with heavy, raw, grieving hearts delivered Sarah’s younger sister, Sophie, to church this morning and watched her get in the back of a vehicle and leave on a mission trip.  There is a part of my Mommy heart that wanted to refuse to let her go, it’s certainly reasonable to say it’s too soon for that, right?  I can justify it, I’m certain I can.  But the Holy Spirit will not allow me to.  He is convicting me daily to trust my God with what is most precious to me.  I am called to entrust to Him that which is much more precious to me than my own life, my children.

As He has called me to entrust my very soul to Him, in like manner I am convicted He also calls me to entrust my precious children to Him.  I’m particularly drawn to the Psalms these days, and over and over again in them He implores me to trust Him, to fear not and to be faithful.   In great detail He repeatedly shows me throughout His Word why He alone is worthy to be trusted.  Most impactful to me right now in this regard is the account of His speaking to Job in chapters 38-41.  He alone is God, the God who laid the foundation of the earth, the God who directs the lightning, the God who alone can do all things.  The God who sets all things in motion and maintains them by the power of His Word deserves and demands my trust.

Another passage also comes to mind, a passage that I cling to for a variety of reasons but is appropriate for me today as well, Jeremiah 9:23-24.

“Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches;  but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD. Jeremiah 9:23-24 [NASB]

I love this passage because it clearly tells me He allows us to know Him personally.  Not that we can comprehend all there is to know about Him, He is infinite and we are finite, but we can most definitely intimately understand and know Him.  Through knowledge of His Word we have a clear portrait of who He is because He has chosen to reveal Himself to us there.  What blessed assurance and comfort to confidently know that He exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness, and that He delights in those attributes.  The culmination of a nurtured intimate relationship with Him through the power of His Word is our ability to trust Him fully.  We are able to trust Him with that which is most precious to us because He alone is worthy to be entrusted with them.

He has repeatedly graciously and mercifully shown Scott and me He is worthy to be trusted.  He has confirmed in the depths of the valley He alone is worthy to be trusted because He alone is willingly able to carry us through.  Though our hearts are raw and grieved may we continually, fully entrust our souls and our children to Him.  May we continue to find rest, peace and comfort in our knowledge and understanding of Him, our faithful Creator.   May we be ever reminded that He will never leave us nor forsake us, that we can always find refuge in the shadow of His wings (Psalm 64:7), and that He will sing over us and quiet us in His love (Zeph. 3:17).  May we always boldly and confidently say, “The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid” (Heb 13:6).

Swallowed up by Life

“For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.  For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling,  if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked.  For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened–not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.  He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.  So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord,  for we walk by faith, not by sight.  Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 5:1-8 [ESV]

Since Sarah left I’ve learned that she talked a lot about heaven with family and friends.  She talked about heaven with me but stopped short of saying she “can’t wait to go.”  The same can’t be said for her friends and sisters, though, she readily made it known to them that she was ready and excited.  Initially when her sisters told me she had been telling them she was excited about heaven I thought it was just a desire to be away from a fallen world and a desire to be in heaven for all the obvious reasons.  After all, we all look forward to unimaginable beauty, the presence of the Lord and freedom from the pain and suffering of this world.  As I’ve spent the past weeks reading her journals, though,  I’ve learned I underestimated her heart and desires.

Over and over again in her journals I read her frustration with her fallenness.  Her tender heart grieved over moments of impatience or sometimes struggling to love someone well.  She commiserated with Paul in Romans 7, she longed to walk in obedience to Christ but regularly found herself repenting at the end of the day for failure to obey despite her best intentions.  Her precious tender heart poured out words of brokenness into her journals each time she fell short of the standard of Christ.

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. … For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,  but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.  Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Romans 7:15, 22-24 [ESV]

Today as I was spending time in 2 Corinthians 5 it suddenly hit me.  I underestimated my child. She understood and embraced something I had failed to fully appreciate.  Her desire for heaven was not fueled by wanting to avoid pain and looking forward to the beauty of heaven, it was actually fueled by her longing for righteousness.  She understood life on this earth would be continually about sanctification, but she longed for glorification.  She longed for death to be stripped away and to be swallowed up by life.  She longed to be with her Savior in the unimaginable beauty of heaven, but she also longed for deliverance from her flesh and its constant inclination toward sin.

“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”  Romans 8:22-23 [ESV]

Sarah longed to be swallowed up by life, and in so doing she had greater maturity than her mother.  I’ve loved the Lord since I was five years old, but I also love this world.  I love good and wonderful things in this world.  I love being a wife and a mother, I love investing in college students and high schoolers, I love spending time with family.  I am convicted now that I have loved those things more than righteousness, I have never truly groaned to put on my heavenly dwelling.  I have always longed to stay here in this world, heaven is for later, I have too much to look forward to here first.

Sarah told Katelyn she couldn’t wait to go to heaven.  Katelyn told her not to say that because she had lots of stuff to do here first, that she needed to get married and have a family.  Sarah said that would be great but heaven would be better.  I never would have said that at her age. She understood so much more than me, she got it and I did not, she groaned and was burdened for her mortal being to be swallowed up by life.

I have a longing for heaven now, but I will be quick to admit it is significantly impacted by a longing to be with my precious Sarah again. But I also get it now, Sarah showed me something I failed to appreciate and I am thankful for it.  I am joining her by longing to be liberated from this body of death, to be swallowed up by Life.  I have accepted the challenge left by her testimony and have set my heart on using every part of my “moment” to point others to Him as I eagerly await abiding with my Savior and Sarah, groaning with longing to be free of death and swallowed up by life.

Journal   5/3/17

Okay so in yesterday’s quiet time I kind of gave a hint of what’s been going on, but I want to write a little more to get more of the story so I can remember all that God has done. So I just said something stupid and got in trouble.  I don’t want to get into the details because I’m sure my story is one-sided, but I kept replaying the scenario over and over again in my head and I was beating myself up about it.  I was discouraged because no matter how hard I try, I still make mistakes and make a mess of things.  But then the Holy Spirit reminded me of grace.  I will never be perfect and that’s why there’s grace. My sins are eternally covered.  And then I read Psalm 119.  Two verses really encouraged me because it was exactly where I was.  It was Psalm 119:9-11 and 28-30.

~Sarah Harmening

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Artwork: Sarah Harmening

24 Years From Now…

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All day today I’ve been thinking about a twenty-four year old guy and a twenty-one year old girl standing at an altar pledging their lives to one another twenty-four years ago. I’ve thought over and over again how thankful I am that God doesn’t let us see into the future, that they had no idea what pain would befall them twenty four years later.  In a way I wish I could send them a letter today, a letter of encouragement and hope.  They had prayed and believed their love for the Lord and one another could enable them to walk through marriage and life together, but I could tell them God would carry them together on eagle’s wings.

I would have to be honest with them and tell them that first year was going to be particularly challenging.  That twenty-one year old girl has some pretty serious selfishness that God is going to have to whittle away at.  I could tell them the hard times will be harder for a girl who craves words and a guy who struggles to find them.  I would warn them that taking on building a house, moving in with your parents/ in-laws and finishing your last year of nursing school might be a bit much to combine with the first year of marriage.  It wouldn’t matter, though, that twenty-one year old girl is pretty stubborn, so she’d probably just add more to the list to try to prove me wrong.  In fact, the twenty-four year old guy will try to tell her the same thing, but she will somehow convince him to go along.

I could tell them the happy news that before their first anniversary they will have a surprise pregnancy.  If I told them that, I would also have to tell them that it will end in a miscarriage.  Something amazing will happen in those moments though.  In the midst of building a house, going to school, preparing for nursing boards and looking for a job, that girl will forget how special that guy is.  When her heart is broken over the loss of that tiny baby, the awesome gift of who that guy is will suddenly come back in to focus for her through his tender loving care.  She will grieve the future of a baby she never got to know, but she will be reminded of the treasure God has given her in her husband.

I could warn that poor guy that as soon as they move in that big empty house that girl is going to cry almost daily with longing for a baby.  He will remind her that they had agreed to wait a few years, but not only is she stubborn, she is hurt and he won’t be able to say “no” for long at all.  I could encourage them that it’s worth it for her to quit her job to stay home with the little baby girl that will come just a little over two years after they stood at the altar.  Some will think it is foolish to only use the girl’s nursing license for a year, but I would tell her she will never have a moment of regret as far as that is concerned.

I could tell them that every two years God will bless them with another beautiful baby girl until their family will be complete in just eight and half years.  I would tell them I can’t imagine any greater blessing for them than to raise those amazing girls.  I would warn them parenting will have its tough moments, though.  One of those little girls will have the girl’s strong will and fiery temperament, much to the dismay of the girl.  I would encourage them that they will need to choose their parenting battles wisely and when they pick one to make sure they win. In the end, though, I could encourage them that the feisty, strong willed little girl will turn into an amazing young woman who fiercely loves the Lord and others.

I could tell them that even though God will give them four little girls, who look much alike, their home will be richly diverse.  I could write them a book about each child, how awesomely unique and different each will be and what joy each will bring to that guy and girl.  I would love to tell them how much they will love their life with four teenage girls.  So many bemoan the teen years, but this guy and girl are going to have so much fun in a house full of teenagers.  I would tell them to be certain they tell their teenagers that, but I already know they will.

I’m really glad I don’t have to make the decision on whether or not to tell that guy and girl what will happen on June 8, 2017.  If I did, though, I would tell them that God gave them an amazing gift in Sarah Lauren Harmening, just as he did in Katelyn, Kristen and Sophie. I would tell them it is going to hurt more than they can possibly imagine, but that God will knit their hearts even more tightly together through it.  I would tell them they will think they are not going to make it through those dark days, but to cling to Jesus because I know He will carry them through. I would tell them that the road before them heading into the 25th year is starting off very dark, and that I suspect their hearts will be broken for a long while yet.

If I could tell that guy and that girl what to expect 24 years from now, I would tell them they will love each other more deeply after 24 years than they could ever dream possible as they stand at that altar.  I’m certain that laid back, quiet twenty-four year old guy standing at the altar has no idea what he is getting himself into with that strong willed twenty-one year old girl, but I am so thankful he trusted God’s leading enough to take her as his wife. They will create a lifetime of memories together, the vast majority beautiful and precious to them, and a few dark and unimaginably painful.  Through it all, though, they will be richly blessed as they continue to cling to one another and Jesus.

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“Restore to Me”

“Restore to me the joy of Your salvation And sustain me with a willing spirit.”  Psalm 51:12 [NASB]

The song “Restore to Me” by Mac Powell and Candi Pearson-Shelton from the Album Glory Revealed has been a bit of a theme song for me the past two to three weeks.  It’s a simple but profound song based on Psalm 51:12 that resonates deeply with my heart right now.

Restore to Me
Glory Revealed
Mac Powell & Candi Pearson-Shelton
Verse 1
Hide your face from my sins
And cover my iniquities
Create in me a clean heart
And renew a right spirit
Within me
Don’t cast me away from your presence
Don’t take your spirit from me
Chorus
Restore to me
The joy of your salvation
Restore to me
The wonders of your love
Restore to me
The joy of your salvation
Restore to me
Restore to me
Verse 2
Deliver me from this hour of darkness
Through the pain and brokenness
And I will sing of your loving kindness
And of your righteousness
Chorus
Restore to me
The joy of your salvation
Restore to me
The wonders of your love
Restore to me
The joy of your salvation
Restore to me
Restore to me

Joy was one of the first thoughts I had after Sarah left us, questioning if perhaps she took it with her and we would never find it again.  But that very night as I looked into her sisters’ eyes and saw the brokenness of loss, I knew Scott and I as their parents would have to lead them back to joy.  We would have to help liberate them from the crippling bonds of grief to embrace joy.   To do so we as parents would have to make a conscious decision to not be enslaved by our own grief.  We committed to Katelyn, Kristen and Sophie that very night to be fully present in their lives, to strive daily for joy and to celebrate every milestone with them as if Sarah were still here celebrating with us.  We assured them that just as our home had always been a place of joy, rich with hope and laughter, through God’s grace and power it would be restored in His time despite the persisting pain.   

Since immediately after the accident, 1 Peter 1:6-8 has regularly echoed in my mind.

 “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials,  so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ;  and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory,” 1 Peter 1:6-8 [NASB]

I long to greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, but in the darkness of the valley the light of joy can seem so elusive.   Through this valley I have been reminded that the source of our joy is the presence of the Lord (Psalm 16:11).  All superficial, temporal pleasures of this world quickly become irrelevant and impotent in the presence of deep grief.  The only joy capable of withstanding the tides of grief is that which is rooted in the eternal, in God Himself.  His Word tells us His testimonies are the joy of our hearts (Psalm 119:111).  We can affirm this as truth as His promises alone bring us joy right now.  The promises regarding the security of Sarah’s salvation, her presence with Him and our eventual presence with Him and her are particularly sweet to us.  Our Hope in Christ and the peace that passes understanding are expressions of our joy in this valley.

I find myself pondering if our joy is found in the presence of the Lord, and He is near to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18), then perhaps His joy should be more noticeable than ever in this valley?  Perhaps our deep grief uniquely positions us to recognize and more profoundly know the joy found only in Him?  I’m reminded of times when we’ve escaped the lights of the city, driven far away and gazed into the night sky.  The stars seem so much brighter on the backdrop of darkest night in the absence of all the manmade lights.  So it is with our joy in this dark valley, all the manmade lights of superficial happiness have faded, but the joy He gives seems to shine brighter as a result.  Every outpouring of grace, every meditated on promise of His Word, each a bright light in the darkness.  Every joy that remains is directly linked to Him.

Initially I was concerned joy would only be found on the other side of this valley, but thankfully I was mistaken.  Our joy came in the depth of the valley and intermingled with mourning.   Glimmers of joy initially shone through in the very early days and continue now as we see God beginning to redeem the pain of Sarah’s absence by using her life and testimony to point others to Him.  Joy also shines through as He consistently ministers to us through His Word and His people.  Day by day, little by little He is restoring our joy.   It will be a long journey, but praise God we do not have to complete our journey through the valley before we once again find joy, it is available now, it coexists with the pain and agony.

I’m praying that as the storm clouds clear in the months and years ahead, more and more of His joy will be visibly restored to us.  I pray that we as a family, and Scott and I as a couple will choose to rejoice always,  pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances knowing that this is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus (1 Thess 5:16-18).  May we consistently be characterized as a family by joy inexpressible and full of glory, despite the pain.

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Artwork: Sarah Harmening

Below is my first journal entry after Sarah’s departure, my prayer remains the same.

6-10-2017

“For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake.  For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.  But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves;  we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing;  persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;  always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.  For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.  So death works in us, but life in you.  But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I BELIEVED, THEREFORE I SPOKE,” we also believe, therefore we also speak,  knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you.  For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.  Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.  For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison,  while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”  2 Corinthians 4:5-18 [NASB]

Lord, this passage is my heart today.  This earthen vessel is cracked and broken, shattered beneath the weight of grief.  Yet Your divine power shines through the cracks of brokenness to reveal the truth of Your Word.  Lord, You took our precious Sarah to be home with You and we are so jealous for her.  I long now to be with her yet long to minister to and love my precious babies who remain here.  Strengthen my weak and feeble being to choose to live joyously and victoriously through your power and grace.  Bind us together, Lord, knit our family with indestructible bonds that we may shine all the brighter for You together.

~ Karen Harmening

 

Pure Gold

Many people have asked me about Sarah’s and my method of Bible study.  We both prefer to spend time just in the Bible without a Bible study guide or workbook of any sort.  We prayerfully read the Word of God moving through books/ letters as the Lord leads, no specific time table.  The absence of a time table is important for our temperaments specifically as it prevents us from getting caught up in checking boxes, it keeps the focus on sitting at the feet of Jesus rather than finishing a task.  We ask the Lord to speak to our hearts and minds, to lead us as we study and pour out His wisdom and understanding on us (John 14; 1 John 2).  He is faithful to do so every single time.  We journal to record the lessons He has taught us through His Word as well as specific prayers offered up to Him.  As our memories blur in the days, weeks or months ahead it enables us to quickly and easily recall the details of a previously learned lesson or scripture reference, as well as to see the hand of God moving in regard to specific prayer requests.  We also use online Bible study tools or apps for cross referencing, looking at original language for better understanding and commentary access.  Blue Letter Bible is the one I use most regularly, but I am certain there are many other good ones.

I’ve decided to camp out in 1 Peter (and then 2 Peter) for a while since Sarah spent a lot of time there in her journals, and because that’s where the Lord specifically led her moments before she left.  I am so thankful that as we approach God’s Word in humility He promises through the power of the Holy Spirit to teach us and give us understanding and wisdom.  I’m so thankful Sarah clearly understood that, that she sought Him through His Word, meditated on it and hid it in her heart.  The more I read her journals the more I see this evidenced in the tedious and intricate weaving together of the truths of scripture that clearly forged the impenetrable and unshakable confidence of her faith, and the more I am challenged.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,  to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,  who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.  In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,  obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”  1 Peter 1:3-9 [ESV]

My time in chapter 1 blessed me this morning, I was reminded that I am an alien in this world, only here for a moment.  To quote Sarah, “we are like a wisp of smoke.” I am also blessed to be reminded of the “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven” for Sarah and the rest of my family.  The inheritance she has already received, and the inheritance we have yet to fully comprehend.  Because she was daily surrendering to Him, “Living Redeemed”, Sarah had confidence that the tested genuineness of her faith would be more precious than gold (1 Peter 1:7).  I am reminded of this by her journals as well as her Pinterest profile quote, Job 23:10.

Screen Shot 2017-06-25 at 4.16.51 AMJob 23:11-12 goes on to say, “My foot has held fast to His path; I have kept His way and not turned aside. I have not departed from the command of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.”  Even in this time of deep grief, rather, especially in this time of deep grief, I long for that to be my mantra like Job.  May  we as a family, and I specifically, through God’s grace greatly rejoice even though now, for a little while, we are distressed by this fiery trial (1 Peter 1:6).  Despite the agony of loss, and aching of heart longing for Sarah’s presence, may we continue to treasure the Words of His mouth more than necessary food.  May we continue to trust Him, believing as we choose daily to bask in His presence through His Word and prayer, not turning aside, that He will do His divine refining and sanctifying work in us so that we, too, may come out as pure gold.

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Quiet Time   12/19/16

1 Peter 1 / Isaiah 17 / Psalms 62-63

  • 1 Peter 1:3-9 ❤ – Trials are like tests, so that when you stand firm through them, your faith will be worth more than gold
  • 1 Peter 1:22 ❤ – How can I love others deeply, from the heart? I think I need to be firmly planted in The Word.  I need to realize that people make mistakes and I need to forgive.  I think I need to pray for people genuinely and I need to pray that God will help me love because I can’t do it on my own.
  • Psalm 62:1-2
  • Psalm 62:5-8
  • Psalm 63:1-8 ❤

~ Sarah Harmening