I believe that Clay’s services were exactly what he desired. I hope God let him see it. He was honored. God was honored. Jesus was lifted up. It was beautiful.
Of course, I was exhausted. The past two months were the difficult months in caring for Clay. He required more attention, and during the last month, I only left the house once or twice. He needed constant care. Then, the planning and preparation was tiring. So, I slept really good Saturday night.
But, I couldn’t sleep through church. I had to be there. Honestly, I thought it was going to be harder than the funeral. I wasn’t sure if I could go in with a smile, and I didn’t want to fall apart. That sanctuary is where God started and finished this work. It is a very sacred place to me. The people in my church have walked beside us, known every detail, helped constantly, watched us cry snot and tears at that altar so many times, watched us fight and struggle in prayer, and held us up continuously. So, I knew it would be emotional to go there without Clay.
We started going to FNT almost 16 years ago. Clay’s brother, Ron, and my grandmother had both started attending and had been telling us about it. They would talk about the depth of the preaching and how Lee’s words had ministered to them. Clay and I were at a point in our life…young married with small kids….where excuses to miss church were easily found. We were getting lazy with church attendance and growing more and more disconnected from church friends.
We were both raised in small churches with small youth groups, surrounded by close friends and families. So, we had a desire to raise our kids in a similar setting. From what Ron and Gammy told us, FNT was very much like our childhood churches. So, we decided to go and just see.
I’ll never, ever forget it. Lee and Carla both came over and spoke to us to greet us. They were loving, humble, sincere, and very laid back. But, when Lee stepped into the pulpit, he literally looked different. The anointing on him to preach is an amazing thing to witness. Sometimes it changes his countenance.
He preached on holiness. Ouch. We are called to be holy, like Christ is holy.
When you are living a complacent Christian walk, and going to church every few weeks, and finding every excuse not to read your Bible, it’s kind of hard to live a holy lifestyle. Now, don’t get me wrong. Clay and I were not living in gross sin. We were just sleeping. That’s how I think of it. We were asleep in our faith.
But, the Lord woke us up that morning. I was so convicted, y’all. I remember feeling like I couldn’t sit still, and being uncomfortable, but also LOVING it. I remember thanking God for convicting me. I felt His love that morning. It was like He looked down on me and had compassion because He knew I couldn’t be asleep in this life. He knew what was ahead for me. So, He woke me up.
Clay and I got in the car and sat in the parking lot for 15 minutes. I cried a lot. We had been at the same church for a while and I didn’t want to leave. God had done so much in our lives while in that church. My heart was broken. But, we both knew God was moving us here. We committed to attend FNT right there in the car. After just one service. We became members.
Now, 16 years later, I know that moment where God woke us up, was for May 2, 2016. He knew this was coming. He placed us under Lee and Carla’s leadership so we would learn and be prepared. Lee has often shared that he has been walking through his own valley for the past 8 years. They have made many sacrifices and suffered their own losses, and although they didn’t write a blog about it, he preached to us about how God was helping Him. He taught us how to walk through adversity with grace. He poured into his congregation all the excruciating lessons God was teaching him.
And, he did it with no shame. He never tried to hide the bad parts. He was real, transparent, open, and honest. It’s not about us, anyway, right? We don’t have to put on perfection and act like we are something great. It has nothing to do with us, really. It’s all Jesus. If we are willing, He lives through us and does everything. So, being real is powerful. It helps other people. Lee’s honesty helped me and Clay more than he’ll ever know.
God sent Lee and Carla ahead of me and Clay. Then He gave us the wisdom to soak it all up, so we would be prepared for our Red Sea crossing. And, we were. In every way. We were fully prepared.
You can see through these short paragraphs that I feel a tremendous amount of emotion toward our church, so going there yesterday morning felt like a tall task. But, as soon as I walked in the doors, the peace of God flooded me, and, the service became a continuation of Clay’s funeral. Lee acknowledged our family and the work that God had done at the service. He praised God for the things that have come from Clay’s life.
Jimmy, my brother-in-law, spoke and thanked the church for all they’ve done. It was perfect. He said everything I would have said. My dad talked for a minute. We worshipped. The Holy Spirit was strong in that room.
There is one particular place at the altar in our sanctuary where I have sat and prayed many, many times. For some reason, I always went to the same spot. For a few years before Clay’s diagnosis, I found myself right there almost every Sunday. Praying, crying, pleading with the Lord. My prayer was for Him to use me. He placed a desire in my heart to be used of Him. Not just to live for Him, or be a Christian, but to be used by Him in a great way.
I would pray for Him to change me….make me more like Him. I asked Him to strip me of my pride and selfishness. I begged for strength to make sacrifices that would allow God to use me anyway He saw fit.
One morning, as I sat there in prayer, the Lord gave me a vision. I was standing in a pulpit, in front of a casket, looking out to a large crowd of people, and I said these words, “This is for you.” I was telling the people that God allowed this death so He could save lives.
I prayed about that vision for many months. “God, what does it mean? Who is it? Why did you show me that?” I knew it was from Him. Y’all, I imagined every possibility. I wondered if it was my parents, my sister, my in-laws, even my kids. I asked God to show me if He was planning to require such a high price for me to know Him. I wasn’t afraid of it. I didn’t fear it and I didn’t dwell on it. I simply told the Lord that I didn’t want that vision to be fulfilled, but I would do whatever He asked. Then, I put it out of my mind.
But, I can tell you this. Not one single time did I imagine that Clay would be in that casket. Not once. The thought never entered my mind.
When he was diagnosed, I had never told anyone, but that was one of the first thoughts that came to me. God gently comforted me and said, “I knew this was coming. I have prepared you. Walk with me and I will use you and help you.” The strength of God filled me immediately. And, He used that vision to prove to me that He knew.
My favorite thing God did, though, is that He gave Clay the same exact resolve. Our hearts were in perfect tune throughout the entire ordeal. We never one time asked God “WHY?” Never, y’all. I’m not just saying that to sound good. We never asked that question. Because we always knew.
I didn’t feel released to share this with you because so many of you were believing God to heal Clay. And, we always believed He could. We knew He could, and we prayed with you that He would, if it was His will. I know God used that desire in your heart to draw you closer to Him. You spent more time in prayer and God used it to give you an urgency to pray. And I hope it changed you.
But, I tell you now, because I want you to know that GOD DID NOT FAIL US. He did not let us down. “He is not cruel,” as Clay said.
Clay’s name went before God probably millions of times over 16 months, and I believe it was a sweet fragrance to Him. Our prayers did not change His mind, but Clay and I never wanted to change His mind. All we both wanted was the will of God. The perfect will of God. Clay stood firm in that until his last breath. He never begged for his life, he simply prayed, “I trust you, Lord.”
Please don’t read these words and let yourself think for one second that Clay and I are anything special. Y’all, we’re not. I promise. God did everything. It was all because of Him. He saved us. He prepared us. He put the desire in our hearts to be used by Him. He led every step we took. He made our path straight. He strengthened us. He did it all.
The only thing we do…..is surrender. Surrender. Stop trying to do everything on your own. Stop trying to figure things out. Surrender. Tell God that you are willing to let Him use you. And, don’t be afraid. Please don’t be afraid. God will not take you through something He doesn’t prepare you for.
Don’t be afraid to surrender because of the price we had to pay. God wants to use every single one of us, and He has a plan for your life that looks very different than His plan for mine. Trust Him. He knows what is best and He sees what we cannot see.
Many of you have asked me what I think is next. Will I continue to write? What will our lives look like? This is all I can tell you for now…..
God’s promises are still true. He even sent me a rainbow to prove it. A rainbow was perfectly visible right over my house Saturday evening just after the services. God was writing in the sky for all of us to see that He has not left us and His promises are true.
Yesterday morning, I walked to my favorite place at the altar in our sanctuary. I knelt where I’ve knelt probably a hundred times before. I went back to the same place I was when God showed me that vision, and where He spoke to me so many times. I knelt right there and I simply said, “Lord, I will follow you.” Wherever He takes me. Whatever He desires to do. I will follow Him. I will not be afraid. I will not retreat. I will not draw back, now. We’re waaaayyyy to far into this, now!
And, my kids are right here with me. Filled with strength and resolve to follow Jesus.
On Tuesday, September 12, my heart went to heaven. My affection for the things of the world evaporated. My greatest desire, now, is for Jesus to come and take us all home. So, my focus will be on heavenly things. My desire will be for God to use me in an even greater way so that I’m ready to see Him face to face.
For now, I will continue to write. It is going to be my healing. I know it. I will continue to be raw and real with you. And, I continue to pray that God uses it to help you.
This is the last thing I’ll say today…..About five years ago, I was kneeling in that same spot in the altar at FNT, and the Lord told me that I was going to write a book. I told Clay because I just wanted to get it out in the open. I couldn’t believe it, but I knew He was saying that I would write a book. I remember telling Clay, “What in the world would I write a book about?!”
When he was in the hospital at MDA, just before surgery, I was reading my blog to him one night. He looked over at me, with the sweetest eyes, and with the sweetest voice, and said, “You know you’re writing your book, right?”
I love y’all.