Treasure In Earthen Vessels

Discovering the Indwelling Holy Spirit

When There Are No Words April 12, 2018

[Dedicated to Drew Wright, a true soldier of the cross, who in his darkest moments and deepest sorrow gave glory to God.]

 

The saying “There are no words” grips my heart. I don’t use it lightly. To me it is an expression of deeper pain than the little inconveniences of life can bring. I did use it recently though, in the days following Christmas Day 2017. An event occurred that brought such deep wounding to my soul that there was nothing else to say.

 

By all accounts it seemed to be a normal Christmas for Susan and Bill Wright, friends of my family for over 30 years. Since they were expecting their first grandchild, it was sure to be a memorable one as well. What could be more joyous in this joy-filled time of the year than the anticipation of a new baby? Friends rejoiced with them as they waited and celebrated life at every stage.

 

Their son, Drew, and his beautiful wife, Shannon, were 32 weeks pregnant with Baby Asa James. He was already held tightly in their hearts, but it would be a little longer before they could hold him in their arms. Shannon’s parents had moved from another state to live closer to their first grandchild as well. The entire family was entirely prepared to welcome this special little guy into their lives.

 

Yet, three days after Christmas something went terribly wrong. There had been no way to prepare for the events that would unfold over the next five days. Drew’s first message on Facebook on December 29th stunned readers:

 

“Yesterday morning was the hardest day of my life. My best friend and bride, Shannon, passed from this life and entered heaven. We don’t know all the details, but Shannon became unresponsive and was transferred by ambulance to the hospital. She never regained consciousness, but gave birth by C-Section to Asa James Wright.”

 

The tragic news shocked family, friends, and members of the church where Drew serves as Student Pastor. As the story spread on social media, hundreds and perhaps thousands of Christians began to pray for the family and especially Baby Asa, as his tiny body clung to life. The next Facebook report was a request from Drew:

 

“Asa is the most beautiful thing and looks just like his momma. Asa is in critical condition and is being treated by doctors for his best chance at survival. I humbly but boldly ask that you would pray. Pray for Claudia and Todd as they lost their daughter, pray for Clayton and Lindsey as they lost their sibling. Pray for my family as Shannon was the daughter and sister they’ve always wanted. Pray for me. I am hurting and broken, but I know God is good. Lastly, pray for a miracle for Baby Asa. He needs our Big God to show up in a big way.”

 

During the next few days, friends and family surrounded Drew and his infant son with support, comfort and prayers. Because of the Internet, I was aware of what was happening to my friends. A picture of Baby Asa’s tiny body connected to high-tech medical devices with tubes and tape was difficult to take in; yet many prayer partners helped bear the burden of brokenness and grief.

 

More questions than answers filled our hearts as we continued to call upon God for a miracle. How could this be happening? How will this young man survive such sorrow? How can he declare that God is good in the midst of sheer heartbreak? Is there any purpose anywhere in this tragedy?

 

On December 31st, Drew’s closest friend and co-worker, Cody Brumley, spoke for many hurting souls:

 

“In the mighty wake of hurt, we do not seek God’s deliverance from it…we seek God’s presence in it. We run to God bleeding, broken, confused, in disbelief…because nowhere else can we be comforted, answered, loved, and pieced together.”

 

With each report the heart-wrenching pain grew worse. Another picture showed Drew’s youth group praying and calling out to God in behalf of their leader. A part of me wanted to pull away and know less about this tragedy, yet my efforts to protect myself were futile. We are a body—the body of Christ—and when a part of us hurts, the whole body hurts.

 

Later that same day, the family was told that the doctors had done all they could for Baby Asa and that they would begin to focus on an end-of-life plan. Once again, Drew informed his prayer partners:

 

“We still hope for a miracle, but are coming to grips that this may be God’s outcome. Specifically pray that Asa’s short life will have an ongoing ripple effect for the sake of the gospel and God’s goodness in the midst of tragedy.”

 

A picture surfaced on January 2nd that caused me to finally utter the phrase: There are no words. Drew held Asa close to his heart while others encircled him, laying their hands on his shoulders as he prayed and dedicated his baby son to God. He described those moments like this:

 

“Today we got to be together to celebrate and dedicate Asa James to the Lord and his story to the glory of God. Sometime in the near future he will most likely breathe his last breath, but in the midst of hurt and pain and questions and fear, I am filled with joy—joy unspeakable that has no words, but just is living in me. God, only you know the impact this young man’s story will have and we trust you with that. God, I trust in you through all of this. I know that Shannon is getting to be what she was designed and destined to be—to be a mom. And today I am thankful for that. Thank you to everyone for your prayers and continued prayers for me, my family, and this community. Pray that God will use this as only He can….”

 

Drew’s prayer reminds me of a prayer by another young man, who facing something so painful and indescribable, prayed “Nevertheless, not My will, but Thine be done.” Just like his Savior, Drew yielded to the Father’s greater plan. For it is there in the place of surrender, that true joy—the joy he spoke of—can be found.

 

The following day, January 3, 2018, Asa James Wright slipped away from us and entered heaven where he is held safe in the arms of Jesus and his adoring mom.

 

When the family announced that a memorial service for Shannon and Asa was to be held the following Saturday, my heart pondered how they would prepare for such an event. The sorrow seemed too deep—the wounds too raw. The faith of many, including my own, had been tested. Would the faith of many stand and not fail?

 

As I prayed for my friends about what the next few days held for them, the Holy Spirit took me on a journey down memory’s lane. You see, there had been a time in my own life when tragedy had robbed me and my family of a loved one. We too had felt the pain, the emptiness, and the confusion that comes when a loved one is snatched away too soon. In that moment I heard His gentle whisper:

 

“It was in those dark days when it felt like you were living in a dream and not knowing where you were or how you’d get through the next day or the next hour, when you needed a strength much greater than you own, that something supernatural showed up and carried you.”

 

Oh, how well I remember what my sweet Jesus had done for me in those dark days. For when there are no words, there is grace.

 

His grace had held me up. His grace had strengthened me. His grace had gotten me through that dark valley and carried me safely to the other side. I instantly knew that He would do it for my friends as well. And He’s likely done for you, too.

 

Jesus promises to comfort us in our sorrows, to heal our broken hearts, and to give us peace that passes understanding, if we will trust Him. His Word has never failed His followers and it never will. And so we trust. ~ Janie Kellogg

 

‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,

Just to take Him at His Word.

Just to know that He has promised,

Just to know “Thus saith the Lord.”

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!

How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er;

Jesus, Jesus, Precious Jesus,

Oh, for grace to trust Him more! ~ Louisa R. M. Stead

 

 

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Erica the Beloved May 15, 2017

[I have created a new category on my blog called “Amazing People” for stories of those special individuals who have touched or influenced my life as well as the lives of countless others. Erica Rutherford was such a person. I know you will enjoy her touching story, and in the end you will understand why I call her—Erica the Beloved.]

 

I will never forget the first time I saw Erica. It was January 6, 2003, and my husband and I had just arrived at the Oasis of Hope Cancer Treatment Hospital in Tijuana, Mexico. We came here as a last resort since all conventional efforts to treat my husband’s fast-growing prostate cancer had failed. Isn’t that what you do—one last ditch effort to halt the inevitable?

 

It felt strange being in another country, although the atmosphere at this facility and the warmth of the staff were comforting. I had done my research and believed this place to be what its name suggested: an oasis of hope for those who had none.

 

Knowing no one, we made our way to the dining hall for the evening meal. There she was—Erica. The fact that there was not a single hair on her bald head was totally overshadowed by her award-winning smile. Her soft hazel-green eyes sparkled with hope. With her pretty head tilted to one side and in a slightly slurred voice, Erica introduced herself as “Erica the Wonderful.” Within seconds, I knew that she was indeed wonderful, just as she had claimed. My heart struggled to accept that this wonderful young woman was in a battle for her life. Although cancer had invaded her twenty-seven year old body, she vibrated with life as she spoke of future plans.

 

Within a few days Erica and her mom, Carol, seemed like family to me. Each morning, the resident missionary held a Bible study and prayer time for family members and any patients who could make their way to the third floor. Our hearts fused together as similar stories were shared about the war in which we were all engaged—beating cancer. It didn’t matter what kind of cancer we were fighting—it was clearly the same enemy that had attacked our lives. If we had nothing else in common—we had a genuine hatred for the “C” word.

 

Erica had tongue cancer. Her doctors had misdiagnosed her illness over and over, wasting valuable time while giving the edge to the disease. It started as a small sore on her tongue, but like most mouth sores, it didn’t go away in a few days. The doctors tried to tell her that she had herpes or that it was from the Pavlova virus. There was just one problem—Erica was still a virgin who had never even kissed a boy in her life. She had not done drugs nor taken a drink of an alcoholic beverage. There was simply no explanation. Carol described her daughter like this: “I don’t even know where this child came from—she was so special.”

 

After watching Erica around the hospital for a few days, I took the liberty of renaming her “Erica the Beautiful.” Since she was both wonderful and beautiful, I had only added another dimension in describing the angelic creation of God that she was. Yet, as I now contemplate this one called Erica, not only was she “Erica the Wonderful” and “Erica the Beautiful,” she was much more. Those who saw her carrying her IV stand up the stairs instead of waiting for an elevator might call her “Erica the Incredible.” Those who heard her stories of numerous surgeries and countless Chemotherapy and radiation treatments might think of her as “Erica the Courageous.” For the fortunate souls who heard her testimony of God’s saving grace, she was “Erica the Faithful.” To all who had the opportunity to simply be in her presence, she was “Erica the Charming.” To her loving mom and family members, she was “Erica the Adorable.” And to all of us whether family, friends, or only a brief acquaintance, she was “Erica the Unforgettable.”

 

I have often marveled at the confidence of the Apostle John. John did not refer to himself as “John the faithful disciple,” or “John the eloquent writer,” or even “John the close friend;” but rather, “John the one whom Jesus loved.” What confidence! What an amazing relationship with the Savior! I believe that is the same relationship Erica had with the Lord Jesus. She was the one whom Jesus loved. Yes, even greatly loved. And while we knew Erica as wonderfully beautiful, incredibly courageous, faithfully charming, and adorably unforgettable, yet the One who created her knows her best as “Erica the Beloved.”

 

Our stay in Tijuana lasted only three weeks, but my relationship with those I met there continues on today. In time, we all had to say good-bye to the special person in our lives that had brought us to the Oasis of Hope Hospital. Yet, we stayed connected through phone calls and emails for our hearts had been linked for eternity. Within two months of arriving back at home, on March 31, 2003, God’s holy angels came and carried our angel, “Erica the Beloved,” to be in the presence of the One who loves her most. She was and is His Beloved. ~ Janie Kellogg

 

 

The Delightful Daughter ~ A Tribute to Tracey Lynn Everett January 20, 2015

We all have people who’ve touched our lives—parents, soulmates, children, grandchildren, friends—and then there are those people who’ve touched our world. Tracey Lynn Everett was one of those.

She was the oldest child of Gary and Shelia Everett, my precious lifelong friends. Her two younger brothers, Brian and Bradley, mirrored my two sons, Brian and Brent, in many ways. The four B’s were almost exact in age, likes and dislikes, and not to mention, partners-in-mischief. Tracey, being the older sister/friend, brought some sanity and calmness to our times together.

Tracey was one of those teenagers who never went astray. You could say she was the model child, the obedient child, the sensible child, the studious child, the perfectly-mannered child, the loving child, and the respectful child. You know what I mean—the good child.

While I have listed many traits to describe Tracey’s character, there is yet another, and perhaps the one most remembered by those who knew her. She was the delightful child. Wherever Tracey was, there was delight—joyful, cheerful, exuberant and overflowing delightfulness!

She brought smiles to the faces of little children, a sense of warmth and belonging to her friends, family, and co-workers; and yes, she brought delight to her parents, teachers, ORU college professors, and those for whom she worked.

Tracey never married, and some might say it was because she didn’t find her soulmate. I reject that idea altogether. I believe Tracey totally found her soulmate—He was also her Savior and Lord, her Best Friend, and her closest Confidant. His name is Jesus, and she loved Him with all she had. She not only sang about Him as the Lover of her soul, she sang to Him in passionate praise and worship.

When Tracey was taken from this earth, some would think her life was cut short, her God had failed her, and we are left with only heart-wrenching sadness. They would bemoan the fact that forty-six years just wasn’t enough. I reject those ideas as well.

I believe that Tracey’s Soulmate left her on earth for as long as He could bear to be apart from her. He was confident that forty-six years was plenty of time to be with her family and friends this side of eternity; and knowing exactly what He was doing, He sent his most-trusted angels to carry her to His side.

It is true that we are left with great sorrow over our loss, an emptiness that words cannot express, and grief that only time can attempt to heal. But our loss is His gain. With that in mind, I would like to turn your attention away from our sadness to another scene, one just as real as our broken hearts.

It is a scene in Heaven. Jesus is there. The Disciples are there. The Patriarchs are there. The Heroes of faith are there. The renowned saints who blazed the trail before us, along with the countless saints whose names we’ve never heard, are all there. Our loved ones—grandparents, moms, dads, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, cousins, perhaps even children—who’ve gone ahead of us are there. And now, a place that we thought could not get any brighter is brighter still—because Tracey Lynn is there too.

I believe our sadness is countered by the delight on the face of our Savior. At last, His Beloved is by His side. She is home. She is with Him. How can sadness exist there? It can’t, and we can pray for the same on earth. No sadness here either—for if our Lord is happy, we must be also.

It is often said of departing saints that upon arriving in Heaven they will hear these comforting words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”1 But if you would indulge me a little writer’s privilege, I am almost certain that Tracey heard different words as she entered there on January 12, 2015. Picture her crossing over the portals of Heaven and dancing past those pearly gates as these words resounded throughout that glorious place: “Well done, good and delightful daughter!”

And a delightful daughter she was to Gary and Shelia, and also to our Heavenly Father. So, our beloved Tracey, although we miss you dearly, we simply must chime in with the greatest invitation ever to fall on human ears: “Enter into the joy of your Lord.” ~Janie Kellogg

1Matthew 25:23

 

The Man Who Taught Me Faith ~ A Tribute to Pastor Norman ‘Doc’ Shuman December 4, 2014

Filed under: Amazing People — Janie Kellogg @ 3:43 pm
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I have had the privilege of sitting under many great men of God in my lifetime, but none have impacted my life as much as Pastor Norman ‘Doc’ Shuman. I was 22 years old when I first stepped foot into the church he was pastoring. From that moment on, my life would never be the same.

Oh, it wasn’t a beautiful sanctuary with stained-glass windows and filled with hundreds of well-dressed people. No, it was a double-wide mobile home custom-built to serve as a place of worship for a congregation of 30 to 40, most of which were new Christians. Little did I know that it had a reputation as “one of those churches” that might not be preaching the truth of the gospel. I reckon folks didn’t understand church plantings back in those days.

I guess I either didn’t know or didn’t care, since I was spiritually starving and simply had to find some answers soon. I had walked the isle many times in various churches trying to find God so I could give my life to Him. I had visited one-on-one with preachers, Sunday School teachers, and a host of empathetic friends. When at last I had reached somewhat of a desperate state, the Spirit of God led a lady to call me and invite me to the church where Doc Shuman was preaching.

I will never forget that memorable night. I walked in the door of this makeshift church and was met by the dear lady who had invited me there. She slipped her arm around my waist and helped me find a seat. She never left my side. The pastor’s wife was playing the organ with an anointing that I had not heard since I was a child. Joyful sound and newness of life permeated the room. Tears began to flow down my face and I did not stop crying the entire service, feeling literally enveloped in the Presence of God.

And what did I hear from Pastor Shuman that night but faith—the very thing that had eluded me for years. I had done all the right things….taken all the necessary steps….prayed the correct religious words, but nothing ever happened in my heart. The Bible tells us clearly that “without faith it is impossible to please God.”1 So no matter how many times I followed the instructions given to me, without faith new birth simply could not happen.

Within a few weeks of soaking up the rich messages of faith in Pastor Shuman’s sermons from God’s Word, I began to believe what I was hearing. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”2 Bingo! It happened as naturally as breathing, and I graciously received God’s amazing gift of Salvation. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”3

For 12 years I sat under the life-giving teaching of Pastor Shuman. He taught me so much about the Word that my soul grew in unmeasurable portions. He taught me to worship to Lord unashamedly, as he himself danced before the Lord with great rejoicing. Having a great singing voice, he would break into song in the middle of his sermon. He was one-of-a-kind, and I expect there will never be another Doc Shuman.

He and wife, Betty, also known as “Sister Momma,” blessed my family in a thousand ways. Besides pastoring the church that grew to approximately 200 people, they also founded a Christian School. They taught our children to respect and honor God, home, and country. They not only taught it, they lived it before their very eyes.

Throughout the years of their ministry and even today in their 80’s, they have planted numerous churches, funded many a mission effort, and continued to preach and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Always having a concern for kids, Pastor Shuman called only a few months ago to see if I still had some of the children’s church material I wrote 30 years ago.

Today, this humble and awesome man of God is being laid to rest. My heart is heavy with great sorrow, but my memories are priceless. I know that today he is dancing in the presence of the Blessed Savior that he loved so much.

My heart will forever be grateful for this dear man who taught me faith. ~Janie Kellogg

Additional Note: Perhaps sorrow has been added to sorrow, as today Pastor Shuman’s son-in-law, Johnny Quinn is being buried as well. While at the funeral home with family members to make arrangements for Pastor Shuman’s service, John suffered a massive brain aneurism. He was rushed to a major medical facility, but never regained consciousness. He died two days ago. It seems unimaginable that today this family is attending a double funeral service for their loved ones. A sweet family friend said it so well, “There just are no words.”

1Hebrews 11:6; 2Romans 10:17; 3Ephesians 2:8