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.

Monday, April 25, 2016

5 Years

Five years ago this morning Mom and Dad were murdered in their home. In many ways it seems like just yesterday but in other ways it seems like it has been an eternity! On April 24th, 2011 Mom and Dad were at my house and I grilled lamb chops for Easter dinner. Amazingly, neither of them had ever had lamb chops! Mom asked where did I buy it? How did I prepare it? Later when we were going through Mom and Dad's things, I found a little notebook Mom had in her purse. In it she had written, "Sam's Club...lamb chops...Canadian seasoning". I knew Mom had to have written this on their drive home and she had intended to prepare lamb chops. 

I imagined their conversation as they were driving. How excited they must have been as they discussed the birth of their second great grandchild. We had just been given the news that my daughter and her husband were expecting a boy! I am certain they were excited for Sarah and Troy! Did they talk about the home Bible study they were starting with neighbors? Or perhaps they talked about going to Florida the following winter with Aunt Sis and Uncle Virgil. Oh the plans I know they had! All those plans came to a screeching halt early the next morning. 

I went to the jail last night. One of the young women who has been in my Bible study for nearly a year now just received word that the "deal" being offered her by the District Attorney in order to avoid a trial is 18 years in prison. She's in her late 20's. 18 years seems like a lifetime. Her world came crashing down one night that was not supposed to end the way it did. Her plans were drastically changed that night. Now she sits in jail crying, wondering, what now? My heart breaks for her as I know the guilt she carries. She longs for a "do-over". She would give anything if she could change the events of that night.

Jose Huckleberry, the young man convicted in my parents murder sits in jail now, too. Another night that ended badly. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for this coming Friday. Another young person in his late 20's. A life gone drastically wrong. Is he crying? Is he remorseful for what happened? I wonder. Does he even realize it was 5 years ago today? Would he do things differently if he had another chance?

How quickly our world can change. If nothing else, I have learned how unpredictable life is. I have heard it all my life, but now I truly know that we are not promised tomorrow. If you have loved ones still alive, call them today and let them know you love them and tell them that God loves them, too. I am blessed to know that Mom and Dad are with Jesus in paradise. It does ease the pain although I still wish I could pick up the phone and talk to them.

Several weeks ago I bought lamb chops at Sam's Club and put them in the freezer. Yesterday afternoon, I grilled them just as I had done 5 years ago. I planned it.

Jeremiah 29:11 (Good News Translation)

I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster, plans to bring about the future you hope for.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Verdict - Guilty!

I have longed for this day for 5 years! Ever since Jose was arrested in 2013, I have been following his case not only through Cinnamon Shirk our Victim Witness Advocate but also through an automated system called MOVANS. By signing up for this I receive notices whenever anything is happening in the case against Jose Huckleberry. Just a few minutes ago I received this notice from them:

1/29/2016

This e-mail is to inform you that a motion has been filed about the defendant JOSE HUCKLEBERRY and court case number 1331CR00576. The case status is now: Closed

Woo hoo! Finally! The final arguments took place this morning. The prosecuting attorneys did an excellent job! I could feel the passion arise in them as they spoke. This case was personal to them after living it for 5 years! The judge put the case into the hands of the jury around 10:30. After just over 5 nerve wracking hours of deliberations, the jury came back with a verdict. Before the jurors were brought into the courtroom, the judge told us not to show any emotion when the verdict was read. Really? I didn't know if I could do that!

The jurors filed in and the foreman stated they had reached a verdict and handed the file over to the bailiff to give to the judge. The judge then read through the verdict without showing any reaction. He then read the verdict.

In the murder of Donald Willingham in the second degree, guilty. In the murder of Helen Willingham in the second degree, guilty. In the burglary, guilty.

I know I haven't stated those exactly in the correct legal terminology but I didn't get the full description written down. The bottom line is that they declared him guilty on all counts. What a relief! We all did pretty good in holding ourselves together but when the jury had been dismissed and the judge had settled things out with the attorneys about setting a date for the sentencing hearing, I looked at my brother and said, "Ok, can we show emotion now?" I looked over at my sweet niece, Anna Johnsen and although she wasn't making a sound, the tears were flowing down her cheeks! How can you hold back 5 years of emotions?

As the verdicts were read, one of the jurors began sobbing. I can't imagine what this week has been like for them! They had to see horrible pictures, including the autopsy photos. They had to hear over 7 hours of confession as this messed up young man described stabbing 2 elderly people in cold blood in a very brutal fashion. I am grateful to these individuals who gave up a week of their lives, focused on hours and hours of testimony, and came back with a just verdict! I wish I could talk to each one of them and say thank you! 

I have tons of notes from the trial this week and I need to get my head wrapped around it all before I can begin to convey it to you but I will do my best to get it done in a timely manner! Right now, I feel so relieved, emotionally spent, and physically exhausted! Thank you to all of you who have supported our family with your prayers! God has sustained us and brought justice to our family as well as to Mom and Dad.

Job 8:3 (Good News Translation)

God never twists justice;
  He never fails to do what is right.

Thank you, Lord that You never leave us or forsake us!

Trial - Day 4

Today's testimony was intense. I am totally drained - physically and emotionally.  We listened to the rest of Jose's videotaped confession. He was so strung out on drugs that his memory of that fateful morning is very foggy to say the least. The way he repeatedly described the stabbings was very difficult to listen to. 

Jose apparently went to their house in hopes of getting jewelry or a TV - something he could pawn easily for cash. If only he had known that Mom had very little jewelry and they only had 1 older TV in the house perhaps he would have gone to a different house. He also said something about Dad's truck that was sitting in the driveway but for whatever reason, Jose didn't think they were home. 

At first Jose said he and "the dude" were "hand fighting". But he was pretty strong for an "old dude". It turned out that they weren't just "hand fighting", as he called it, because Jose had a knife. A very large, long knife. He said he kept stabbing Dad because he didn't want him to suffer. He was obviously wounded so Jose said he wanted to put him out of his misery. He said that Dad just wouldn't stop. Jose just wanted him to stop moving so he had to keep stabbing him. The blow that caused Dad to finally stop moving punctured Dad's lung. He could have died from many of the different deep wounds but that was the one that did it. 

You could tell Jose was very upset about Mom's death. At first Jose said he was the only one in the house but another time he said someone named Steven actually killed Mom (although he couldn't remember Steven's last name). Jose said he can't get the image of Mom's face out of his head and that she didn't have to die. When Mom fell to the kitchen floor after she had been stabbed her so forcefully it penetrated her sternum and sliced her aorta open, her arms were outstretched. Her feet were perfectly together. Her body formed the shape of a cross. Her beautiful face and lifeless eyes staring up at him from the cold kitchen floor.

After that Jose just wanted to get out of there. He had to jump over all the blood to get out the door (Dad's body was found in the entryway in a very large pool of blood) because he didn't want to "track" and he took off running. He said he "woke up" and he was running. He noticed he was covered in blood so he stopped and washed himself off in a mud puddle. At that point he was coming off the drugs and he really wasn't sure what had happened - a very bad dream.

Mind you, the interrogation lasted for hours and they kept going over and over these descriptions as the detective was trying to get Jose to remember - looking for a new clue - something that would let him know if he acted alone or if others were involved. Grueling! 

Toward the end of this interview (which was over 7 hours long!) he was given the opportunity to write a letter stating what had happened and apologizing to us. It was actually a very moving letter! Of course, it would have meant a lot more if he had pleaded guilty and not put us through all this! I know he is a scared young man.

I will have to process this for a while before I can write too much more about it. I am grateful for so many people who are praying for our family during this time. It is the only thing that has gotten me through thus far. God has truly given me a supernatural peace!

I have mentioned before how I have watched Jose intensely and looked for opportunities to catch his eye. When they were getting ready to break for lunch I was watching Jose as the bailiff led him out of the courtroom. Jose turned and looked right at me. I smiled at him and he smiled back at me. I felt that was a breakthrough. 

The state and the defense both rested their cases at the end of the day. In the morning both sides will give their closing arguments and it will be handed over to the jury. With the detailed videotaped confession, and very little offered in the way of defense, I really expect the jury to declare him guilty but you never know until the verdict comes back. Pray for wisdom and discernment for the jury!

Either way, whether they declare him guilty or innocent I want to contact him. He is currently serving a prison sentence for another crime he committed after this so he will remain incarcerated regardless of the verdict making it possible for me to write to him. I need to give that serious consideration.

I see Jose as a broken young man. He grew up in the foster home system, suffered a lot of abuse as a child, and got into drugs at a young age. He fell into a lifestyle of robbing for money to buy drugs. Such a waste of his life so far! But Jesus loves him. Jesus loves to take broken, hurting people and turn them into new creatures!

2 Corinthians 5:17 (Good News Translation)

Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come.