Monday, April 23, 2018

Nina

I had the great honor and pleasure to sit and talk with an extraordinary young woman named Nina (pronounced with a long "i" - nine-na).  Nina had used precious vacation time to attend every single day of Mom and Dad's trial.  At least one of her parents attended all of the hearings leading up to the trial and Nina had attended hearings when she could.

I spoke with her briefly during the trial but did not have an opportunity for a longer conversation.  You see, she had been married to Jose, the man convicted of killing Mom and Dad.  She had two precious children with him.  And she was deathly afraid of him.  He had become abusive toward her even while she was still pregnant.  But it was not until he threatened the life of their young son that she knew she had to leave him.  She said she could take the beatings he had for her but she could never stand for him to be abusive to their children.

I had felt for many months that I needed to sit and talk to her face to face.  I knew God was placing this on my heart.  I thought it was because I needed to know more about Jose.  The only problem was she lived in Springfield, MO and I was in Springfield, IL.  A long five hour drive separated us.  I could not seem to find time to make the trip and so finally decided to just set time aside and come.

I contacted Nina and she was very open to meeting with me.  She said, "Name the time and the place and I will be there." Wow!  She is a single mom of two children who works nights.  Her response was amazing to me!  We decided to meet at a Starbucks and although I arrived a few minutes early, she was already there.

She was very open and honest with me.  She did not balk at any of my questions.  As we talked I realized I did not need to know more about Jose.  I needed to know more about Nina.  Although I did learn a lot of things about Jose that I had wondered about, I learned much more about Nina and what an extraordinary young woman and mother she was.

Even though she never had the pleasure of meeting Mom and Dad, she was forever affected by their deaths.  Through tears, she told me she somehow felt responsible for their deaths.  If only she had been able to help Jose...  If only...  I have had a lot of "if only" thoughts, too.  I had to share a bit of my story with Nina and I hope it helps her to know that we are only responsible for ourselves.  It was not Nina's job to help Jose.  She could not fix him.  She did what she had to do to protect her children.  That was enough.

Nina was contacted by reporters throughout the whole ordeal after Jose was arrested for Mom and Dad's murders.  She refused to speak with them saying it was not her story to tell, it was our story.  But our stories intersect.  Yes, her story is different from mine but it touches mine.  She does have a story to tell.

I know she is struggling with life and facing many problems as a single mother doing her best to provide for their needs.  She is diving head long into all her issues and handling them in the best way she can.  She deeply loves her children and will do anything for them.  I encourage her to tell her story because her story will help someone else just as my story helps others. 

And the same is true of your story!

This, after all, is what Paul was talking about in his second letter to the Corinthians.

2 Corinthians 1:4 (The Passion Translation)

He always comes alongside us to comfort us in every suffering so that we can come alongside those who are in any painful trial.  We can bring them this same comfort that God has poured out upon us.

We can all know that our suffering has a purpose!  Does that not thrill your soul?  We all have suffering but what will you do with yours?  Will you try to hide it?  Will you wallow in self-pity?  Or will you give it to God and allow him to use it for His glory?  To help someone else who is suffering in the same way that you have suffered? 

Will you have the courage to tell your story?

I just have to end with the Scripture that has been on my heart since my brother, Dave called to tell me Mom and Dad had been murdered seven years ago.

Genesis 50:20 (New Living Translation)

You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.  He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.

Satan thought he had the last laugh when Mom and Dad lie dead on the floor of their own home but, no, God had an even greater purpose!!  God is using it all for good!  He is saving the lives of many people.

If you remember from earlier posts, Mom's last word to me was simply this:

Hallelujah!

Hallelujah, indeed, Mom!!

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Anniversary

I am in Missouri visiting my brother, Dave.  While here, I wanted to visit Mom & Dad's grave site since I will be leaving on the 24th.  April 25th is the 7th anniversary of their deaths. 

It was pouring down rain all morning - since at least 5 a.m. when I first heard it raining.  It reminded me of the week of their deaths.  It was raining so hard on April 25th, 2011 that police dogs could not get a scent.  The day of the funeral a week later it was still raining.  On Easter Sunday, April 24th, 2011, I tried to get Mom and Dad to wait until Monday to drive home but Dad wanted to get home before the predicted rains began.

After Dave, Susie and I went to church and then brunch at Mama Jeans, I went out to the cemetery to put some flowers on their graves...in the pouring rain.  First I ran into Price Cutters to get some flowers.  As I was picking out some flowers the thought struck me that Mom would have preferred that I would get flowers for her sister and best friend, my Aunt Sis rather than putting flowers at the grave site.  I made a mental note to be sure and order some flowers for Aunt Sis for Mother's Day but proceeded to purchase the flowers that I thought both Mom and Dad would like.  At the checkout the clerk said, "What pretty flowers on such a dreary day.  Is it a special occasion?"  I responded, "Yes it is," without any further explanation.

I drove to the veteran's cemetery on the south side of town as the rain continued to pelt the earth but as soon as I pulled up to section K, the rain stopped.  I got out and went to the grave, arranged the flowers and took pictures, as I do every time I take flowers there.  I cried a few tears even though I know they are in a much better place but I just miss them so much.  After a bit I made my way back to the car and pulled off.  Then it began raining again.  It rained the rest of the day.

I know God stopped the rain for me today.  It's not a big deal...I would have still done what I did had it continued to rain...but He did that for me.  That's the kind of God I serve.  One who cares about the smallest details.  That is just how He loves us.

1 John 4:16 (a) The Passion Translation

We have come into an intimate experience with God's love, and we trust in the love he has for us.  God is love!

I know I can trust Him and His love for me.  The rain stopping was a little thing but it spoke volumes to me today.  But I can only love Him because He first loved me!

1 John 4:19 English Standard Version

We love because He first loved us.  

Thank you, Lord, for loving me while I was yet a sinner!  Thank you for showing your love for me each and every day!  Help me to show Your love to others in the same way.





Friday, April 6, 2018

Another Easter

Even though it was not on the anniversary of Mom and Dad's death again this year, Easter is still a hard time for me.  Easter was the last time I saw Mom & Dad, spent time with them, worshipped with them, prayed with them, and talked to them.  It was a wonderful visit and I am so grateful I had those days with them just before they left their earthly bodies but it has left every Easter since then bittersweet for me.

Even though their deaths weigh more heavily on me during the month of April the truth is, I miss them everyday and I suppose I always will.  This year marks 7 years since their passing.  I know they are in a much better place but I am not.  I look forward to the day I will see them again.  What joy that knowledge brings to me!

Ironically, it is because of Easter that I know that day is coming.  So I strive to focus on that fact and rejoice that my Savior lives.  Yes, Jesus died a cruel death after being tortured and ridiculed.  He bore all my sins and yours, too.  He was separated from His Father for the first time ever.  He lay in the grave physically dead seemingly and defeated.  But then came Sunday...

One of my favorite "Easter" hymns growing up was Christ Arose.  I love how after talking about "low in the grave He lay..." the music builds and then comes "Up from the grave He arose, with a mighty triumph o'er His foes, He arose a Victor from the dark domain, And He lives forever, with His saints to reign.  He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!"

By the end the music is at a crescendo.  It always gives me goose bumps to consider Jesus' victory over death!

My ladies Bible study group just began a new study called, Goliath Must Fall by Louis Giglio.  Tonight we considered that truly satan is dead.  Jesus defeated him and we know how it ends, with satan's eternal death.  We do not need to fear him or his demons...ever!  Jesus gave us all authority over him.  It IS finished!

Romans 8:38-29 (The Passion Translation)

So now I live with the confidence that there is nothing in the universe with the power to separate us from God's love.  I'm convinced that his love will triumph over death, life's troubles, fallen angels, or dark rulers in the heavens.  There is nothing in our present or future circumstances that can weaken his love.  There is no power above us or beneath us - no power that could ever be found in the universe that can distance us from God's passionate love, which is lavished upon us through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One! 

Hallelujah!  Christ arose!




Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Suffering

A question I have often considered, especially since my parents were murdered is if God is in control, then why do Christians suffer? Of course, we bring some suffering on ourselves by our own actions. Some is due to the fact that we live in a broken, fallen world where Satan temporarily reigns. But couldn’t God just keep some suffering from us? Yes, I know that God could do that but He also knows that we grow through suffering. I have read quite a few biographies of successful people. Every single one of them say they became successful because of their difficulties. It was through problems, hardships, and failures that they learned and grew. God knows how we are wired and what we need in order to grow!

Consider this Scripture passage:

2 Corinthians 1:3-6 (TPT) All praises belong to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he is the Father of tender mercy and the God of excellent comfort. He always comes alongside us to comfort us in every suffering so that we can come alongside those who are in any painful trial. We can bring them this same comfort that God has poured out upon us. And just as we experience the abundance of Christ’s own sufferings, even more of God’s comfort will cascade upon us through our union with Christ. If troubles weigh us down, that just means that we will receive even more comfort to pass on to you for your deliverance! For the comfort pouring into us empowers us to bring comfort to you. And with this comfort upholding you, you can endure victoriously the same suffering that we experience.

Besides our own growth, our suffering will help others! I can’t tell you the number of times God has put someone in my path who has experienced great loss. By sharing about my Mom and Dad or what I went through with my husband and his suicide, they are greatly encouraged! In many ways, it minimizes my loss and definitely encourages me as well as them! It’s quite amazing! And we don’t go through it alone!

Isaiah 41:13 (NLT) For I hold you by your right hand— I, the LORD your God. And I say to you, ‘Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you. 

God is always right here. Already aware of all that we need. But He does want us to come to Him; to bring our burdens to Him. He doesn’t want us to even begin to try and carry them alone!

Isaiah 26:3 (NLT)  You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!

I've had the honor of praying with a young lady who, because of a traumatic brain injury, has been unable to walk or talk for more than 8 years. Since the age of 13 she has been in this helpless state. I have frequently contemplated how she and her family have suffered. When I was praying with her a few weeks ago, I read this passage to her:

Romans 8:17 TPT And since we are his true children, we qualify to share all his treasures for indeed, we are heirs of God Himself. And since we are joined to Christ, we must also inherit all that he is and all that he has. We will experience being co-glorified with him provided that we accept his suffering as our own.

I am still trying to unpack everything God is telling us through this verse. As I continued to read Scripture to her that day, every verse I kept seeing had to do with being still before the Lord. I knew I had to shut up and just be still. I had some praise music playing and I invited God into our midst and sat silently before Him. I was in awe as His perfect peace invaded the entire room! In the midst of her suffering, there was great peace! Only in our suffering can we experience this peace. It seems to be the only thing that slows us down enough to make us sit at His feet and meditate on who He is!

Psalm 112:7 (TPT) They will not live in fear or dread of what may come, for their hearts are firm, ever secure in their faith.

No matter what comes our way, we can count on God to see us through! Jesus came to earth knowing how much He would suffer. He did not have to leave His throne on glory for us but He did because of His great love for us! As Jesus died for us, we must also die to ourselves. When we accept Him as Lord, we become a NEW creation!

This summer some of my grandchildren and I were watching some caterpillars in the herb garden. We’ve watched as some of them began weaving cocoons. In this cocoon, they appear to die. The good news is they do not die. Of course, it is the necessary process in order for them to achieve their destiny.

2 Corinthians 5:17 (NASB) Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

We ARE made new in Christ! It is glorious! We just have to grab hold of it, surrender to it, then spread our wings! God will do the rest.

I have long favored the words of Habakkuk 3:17-18 but I want to share what was happening when he penned those words. In chapter 1 he was complaining to God about what the Israelites were facing. The Babylonians were coming and it was not pretty! Here is God’s reply to Habakkuk:

Habakkuk 1: 5-7 MSG “Look around at the godless nations. Look long and hard. Brace yourself for a shock. Something’s about to take place and you’re going to find it hard to believe. I’m about to raise up Babylonians to punish you, Babylonians, fierce and ferocious—World-conquering Babylon, grabbing up nations right and left, A dreadful and terrible people, making up its own rules as it goes."

Sound familiar? So much like the terrorism we see in the world today! Yet just 2 short chapters later, knowing these ferocious people were coming and God was going to allow them to take over Israel, Habakkuk was still able to state this:

Habakkuk 3:17-18 (NLT) Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!

Hallelujah! He stated, “I WILL rejoice…I WILL be joyful!” It was a conscious decision he made to be joyful. He is faithful and we can always depend on Him – no matter what life brings our way.

2 Timothy 2:11-13 (TPT) You can trust these words: if we were joined with Him in death, then we are joined with him in his life! If we are joined with him in his sufferings, then we will reign together with him in his triumph. But if we disregard him, then he will disregard us. But even if we are faithless, he will still be full of faith, for he NEVER waivers in his faithfulness to us!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Grief is a funny thing...

Lately, I've had several people who wanted to talk to me about grief.  Grief is such a funny thing.  You just never know when it will hit.  It's been 6 years since my parents were murdered.  Yet it will still hit out of nowhere.  Just when I think my life is back to normal and the grief is over, it comes washing over me in waves.  I've learned that, for me at least, it is best that I just let it come.  Trying to stop it is as fruitless as trying to curtail a tsunami. However, sometimes I can erect a temporary dam in order to postpone it to a more private place and time to grieve.  

Last week I attended the General Baptist Summit in Evansville, IN.  So many memories, all of them good, flooded my mind and my conversations with many old friends.  Not just my friends but friends of Mom and Dad as well.  I love going and reconnecting.  

Howell General Baptist Church, the very first General Baptist church, had a dinner at the church one evening during the convention.  I went and also took a tour of the historical church building.  It was beautiful!  The church had prepared a booklet telling about the church and it's history.  As I tucked the booklet away the thought hit my mind that I could not wait to share it with Mom.  Almost as soon as the thought entered my mind the realization that I would never share another thing with her here on this earth hit me, and it hit hard.  I was able to reign the cascading thoughts in and push them away from my mind with all the activity and things going on at that moment. But I did wonder how I could have had the thought of sharing with Mom in the first place.  After all, almost everyone I had talked to just that day mentioned how much they missed them.  I knew full well both of them were gone.  How could this thought have leaked into my mind?  I have to admit, it is not the first time something like this has happened to me. When will these thoughts stop?

After I came home  and was unpacking, I came across the booklet again.  I was powerless to stop the flood of grief that filled my soul.  I did not fight it.  What good would it do?  Allowing myself to mourn all over again was better (and I might add, easier!) than trying to convince myself that it was silly to be in such anguish so long after they had died.  I expect that this will happen even 20 years from now.

I have not studied grief like my cousin, Deborah Braboy who has a doctorate degree in psychiatry with an empasis on grief counseling but I am learning from my experiences.  If you were to ask me about how long it will take or how to control your emotions as you deal with the loss of someone you love, I can only say it will take as long as it takes and just allow yourself to feel the loss when it strikes you.  Cry when you must, ache for them when you feel the emptiness, and know that every time you do that, you are respecting their memory, their very lives.  It is okay.  You will survive.  You will always miss them.  Some days will be easier than others.

Now, mind you, I do not wallow in despair and depression crying every day.  That would not honor Mom and Dad.  They would want me to live my life to the full and enjoy my family, my work, and my ministry.  After all, the joy of the Lord is my strength!  If your life is put on hold or you are living in depression every day as you deal with grief, then by all means, get help!  Go to a godly counselor!  Living stuck in grief dishonors the very life you lament.

The beauty in my parents case is that I know I will see them again!  "Hallelujah!" was the last communication I had from Mom through a text.  Hallelujah, indeed!  I look foward to the day I see them again but in the meantime, my life goes on.  God still has a work for me to do here on earth.  As my Dad would say, if you're still breathing, then God still has good things for you to do!  

Consider these Scriptures:

Ephesians 2:10 (NLT) For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.

Ecclesiastes 3: 10-11 (NLT) I have seen the burden God has placed on us all.  Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God's work from beginning to end.

I do not know the outcome.  Why Mom and Dad were murdered.  Why bad things happen to good people.  But I do know that I trust God.  Even here in this fallen, broken world, I know that God has a plan and He is in control.  Take comfort in that fact.  

Ecclesiastes 3:1-4 (NLT)  
For everything there is a season, 
a time for every activity under heaven.  
A time to be born and a time to die.  
A time to plant and a time to harvest.  
A time to kill and a time to heal.  
A time to tear down and a time to build up. 
A time to cry and a time to laugh.  
A time to grieve and a time to dance.

Father, I pray for all who are reading this post.  Bring comfort to their souls.  If they do not have a relationship with You, I pray You will reveal Yourself to them. Oh, that they would surrender thier life to You.  Teach them to live without fear.  Bring them to a place of sweet trust in You and who they are in You.  In Jesus' name, I pray, Amen.

Yes, cry if you must but then wipe away your tears and dance.


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Detective Jamin Sackman

Six years ago today...a day that changed many lives forever.

Six years ago today Jose came into my parents home and before he left he had stabbed them both to death.  Now he sits in prison.

Six years ago today my parents were brutally murdered.  My brothers, their grandchildren, their great-grandchildren and I will not see them or speak to them again in this life.

Six years ago today my aunts and uncles lost a special brother and sister. Long conversations, visits and times of prayer will not happen for them again until they get to heaven.

Six years ago today neighbors and friends of my Mom and Dad in Springfield, MO were left in fear and bewilderment. Who could have commited this crime? Will he or they come back?

Six years ago today police were called to a crime scene. This scene was so horrific it changed their lives and the way they view their work.

Six years ago today Detective Sackman was one of those officers called to a home on Swan Drive on the Southwest side of Springfield, MO.  What he encountered definitely changed his life forever.

He was eventually assigned to the case and became the lead detective. He was relentless in pursuing justice for the elderly couple he had never met in person but whom he connected with in a very unique way.

In the years to come he would visit their graves at least weekly. He often brought flowers especially on anniversary dates. He spent hours day and night following even the slightest lead. No detail was left uncovered.  He visited many possible witnesses and suspects, often in the middle of the night.

He put himself into shoes he never would have cared to fill in this life. He tried to think in a way so foreign to him in order to solve the crime and recieve justice for my parents.  This went on for years!

I often tried to encourage him to let it go. Several times I told him to spend more time with his young family instead of spending nights on the streets hoping to hear something...anything...that would lead him to thier killer(s). God knew who had done this. He would take care of them. But Jamin would not quit. He would not let up the least little bit.

He spent nearly five full years pursuing their killer. He was determined.  If it were not for his faith in God he might have given up.

Isaish 50:7 (New Living Translation) Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore, I have set my face like a stone, determined to do His will. And I know that I will not be put to shame.

Early this morning I received an e-mail from now Investigator Sackman letting me know he was thinking of me today and bestowing God's blessings on me.  May God richly bless you, Jamin!  My family and I appreciate you as well as all the other detective's who worked relentlessly with you!

Philippians 1:3-4 (The Passion Translation) My prayers for you are full of praise to God as I give Him thanks for you with great joy! I'm so grateful for our union together in Christ!

Please join me in praying for Jose that He will come to know God's saving grace!

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Sentencing Hearing

Just 4 days after the 5th anniversary of  Mom & Dad's deaths we finally have come to the end of the road. At least for now. As we saw today, the possibility of new trials will most likely continue to loom over us. And then there's the thought that someone else was involved with Jose. If detectives are able to charge this other person, that would mean a whole other trial.

Right now, I choose not to dwell on those possibilities.

When we arrived at the courthouse today, prosecutors told us that the defense would be introducing 2 motions. One for an acquittal and one for a new trial. They said there had been a ruling in another case before the Missouri Supreme Court that occurred after this trial and the defense felt it would support their case for either an acquittal or new trial. This made me very nervous. I was not expecting that to happen!

We had to listen to arguments we had heard twice before in different hearings. Then the defense brought up the Missouri Supreme Court ruling that he said supported their position. Of course, the prosecutor brought out facts of that case the defense had omitted. In the end, the judge ruled against them. Big relief!

Then came time for considering the sentencing. My Uncle Jay Willingham, Dad's younger brother, spoke first. He talked about the impact Mom and Dad had on the lives of all their siblings and also on every community they ever lived in. Everywhere they went, they allowed the light of the Lord to shine through. Uncle Jay was visibility shaken. I know how much he looked up to both Mom and Dad. Then my cousin Cindy talked about the day they died and how it had impacted her life. Then it was my turn.

My brothers had decided I should speak on their behalf as well as our children and my grandchildren (yes, I'm the youngest but the only one with grandchildren yet). I talked about the impact that Mom and Dad had on all of us. My brother ,Stephen, had lost his best friend, our Dad. They would talk for hours nearly every single week. The long conversations we all had with Mom and Dad. Many deep spiritual conversation. We could always go to them for advice. And not just us but our children, too.

Even though most of their grandchildren were in their 20's at the time of their deaths, they were very close to them. I know my kids had many long conversations with them regarding Scripture, and other spiritual matters. They had deep relationships with their grandchildren!

Only one of their great-grandchildren had been born before their deaths. Three more have come along since then. They will never have the benefit of having those talks with Mom and Dad. They will have to rely on our telling of memories in order to know them.

After talking about all this I said that even though this was supposed to be a victim impact statement, I needed to stress to the court that our parents were not victims. Just as Jesus lived in victory even when He was nailed to the cross, Mom and Dad lived in victory because they served Jesus. God was in complete control of their lives. Jose would not have been able to touch either of them if God had not allowed it. His angels were itching to get into the fight but God held them back that morning. We do not know why God allowed it but we do know that He has a plan and we trust that plan. He will use this horrific evil act for good.

I also stated that God has a plan for Jose's life, too. It is our hope and prayer that Jose will respond to God's call and follow Him no matter what happens to him or where he ends up. I told the judge that we know he will be fair and just in giving his sentence and we will respect whatever that sentence is. No amount of time served will bring Mom and Dad back.

At this point, both sides stated their thoughts about what the sentence should be. After just a few minutes the judge gave his decision: 1st degree felony murder, count 1 - Life; 1st degree felony murder, count 2 - Life to be run consecutively to the first sentence. Felony burglary - 15 years to be run congruently with the first Life sentence. Then the judge added that the 1st Life sentence would run consecutively to the burglary sentence he is currently serving. I forgot to ask the prosecutor how much longer he has to serve on that sentence but it does mean that the time he has been serving while awaiting trial will not count toward this sentence.

I felt so many emotions at that point! Relief was the biggest. When I heard the word, "consecutive" on the second Life sentence, I was elated. We really didn't expect that. If the courts continue to treat the parole possibilities the same as they do today, it will be 51 years before Jose will be eligible for parole.

I do pray that Jose will choose to turn his life over to the Lord. I hope he has an awesome prison ministry! I sincerely meant it when I said that God has a plan and a call on his life. He has a plan for each one of us if we will just choose to answer His call.

Ephesians 2:10 (Good News Translation)

God has made us what we are, and in our union with Christ Jesus He has created us for a life of good deeds, which He has already prepared for us to do.

Jeremiah 29:11 (New Living Translation)

For I know the plans I have for you, "says the LORD. "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.