Jennifer Lane has generously offered to gift her e-book version of Faith Adventures to every reader who comments on today’s post. You can read Anna’s interview with Jennifer about her book here: Faith Adventures Are Awaiting Us All. The winner of last week’s draw for Debbie Barrow Michael’s (last Tuesday’s interviewee) But the Greatest of these is Love is … Lynn J. Simpson.
Anna: Thank you for joining us today, Jennifer. To help our readers get to know you, we’d love to hear who you most relate to in the Bible and why?
Jennifer: I’ve always related to Martha. I’m a doer. I am task oriented, and I could always picture myself working in the kitchen, mad that Mary is sitting around talking to Jesus when there’s work to do. I’ve tried to be more like Mary as I have matured as a Christian. I think a healthy Christian has attributes of both Mary and Martha, willing to serve and a heart full of adoration for Christ.
After I lost my youngest brother to suicide in 2010, Martha’s story took on a whole new level for me. I was so moved and comforted by the story of Mary and Martha losing their brother Lazarus. Before Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, He asks Martha a crucial question.
“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.’” John 11:25-27 ESV
I felt as though I had been asked this same question in my brother’s death. Did I really believe what I had been saying and teaching about Jesus and who He is? Did I really believe my brother was in Heaven with Jesus at that moment? Really? I found my answer to be the same as Martha’s. Yes. I believe.
Anna: It’s so beautiful how Jesus sees the heart of Martha in this Scripture and her need for hope and how He led you to this Scripture to comfort and hold you too through such heartache. I’m so thankful that you’ve opened your heart to share this, as I know there are many who need this Truth to cling to. Suicide affects so many more people than we realize.
Jennifer, what is one of your favorite Scriptures and why does it mean so much to you?
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV
This verse has been so important to me. I have almost never felt competent or skilled in serving the Lord. I have felt weak so often, it seems like a natural state of ministry. God has always shown Himself powerful. He has graciously allowed me to be a part of the work He is doing in my city and in Ethiopia.
Anna: I was so encouraged by the stories you shared in your book Faith Adventures, as they epitomize the Truth of this Scripture. I think often we can shrink back from our calling of service because we feel so ill-equipped. But we forget the truth of this Scripture, which reminds us that no matter how ill-equipped we are, our God is more than able to move in on these weaknesses and fill them with His strength and wisdom.
What events, circumstances or struggles in your life have been and/or continue to be your deepest valleys? And in what ways have you experienced God’s nearness in these valleys?
Jennifer: Losing my brother to suicide was something I never, ever expected to be a piece of my life or my story. It was such a hard season. In one year’s time, I got pregnant, lost my father-in-law to Leukemia, almost lost my mother to suicide, had a baby, moved to a new home, and lost my brother to suicide. That year changed everything about my life and how I view life.
There was a moment sitting on my aunt Darlene’s couch that I will never forget. The church staff had asked us to provide a verse to print on the funeral programs. Romans 8:38-39 not only popped into my head, but it became so real in my heart.
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39 ESV
That scripture went from something that I might memorize in a Sunday school class to a truth that I would never let go of. I knew that my brother had accepted Christ, and I knew nothing could separate Him from His Savior. It was important to me to remind everyone of that truth because of the stigma and false-teaching surrounding suicide. I also knew that in the craziness of that year, The Holy Spirit had been close to me, in a way that I could have never imagined.
Anna: Jennifer, I can’t even begin to understand how hard that season was for you with so much loss and how hard it must be now for you and your family. I thank God for this powerful Scripture and for bringing it to mind when you needed it most. His Truth has so much more power than we often realize.
Thank you for being so brave in sharing this deep valley with us. I pray that God would draw those who sorely need this encouragement of His deep love in their own journeys to your words here. May they be blessed, as I have been.
Often, people apologize to us for these deep valleys: for the loss, the grief or the hard of our journey, wishing they could take it all away. What would you like to say to people whose hearts ache reading of your valley?
Jennifer: Sometimes I have this guilt, maybe it is survivors guilt, but I know that losing my brother impacted my life is such a big way that has caused me to be closer to The Lord, grow as a person, and have compassion for so many hurting people. I begin to feel guilty for the good that came out of the loss of my brother. Obviously I would rather have my brother alive. I prayed that something good would come of his loss, but when I saw the good in my own life coming from the loss, I felt guilty.
It hasn’t been just good that has come from my brother’s death. My parents are still grieving their son. I hate that the loss was so hard, is still so hard, for them. Our family gatherings are marked with sadness. We feel him missing at our meals and in our conversations. But good can come from deep valleys. I could have never understood other’s loss and hurt before experiencing it myself. I’ve used this to reach out and try to comfort others who are grieving.
Anna: Thank you for being honest here, Jennifer. Thank you for helping us to better understand those who are walking a similar journey.
My heart hurts for you and your parents. I pray that God would continue to draw near to you and them, as you continue to wade through the grief of such a tragic loss. I’m thankful that God is answering your prayer and I pray that He will continue to do so and that God will bring truth-filled encouragement to break the guilt each time it surfaces.
In what ways have you seen God minister to others through your deep valleys?
Jennifer: I’ve been able to contribute some writing to the website The Gift of Second. Also, we have had two church members lose family members to suicide since I lost my brother. I was able to reach out to them.
It has made me more sensitive to those suffering mental illness. There was a young person struggling with cutting who visited our church. Before I lost my brother, I might not have been sensitive to that family’s hardship. Instead of ignoring a tough issue, I bought a book and read about the issue of cutting, and I reached out to the family. I visited several times, and I kept in touch with them while their child was in a treatment center. I hope that in loving that family through their valley, I was able to represent Jesus and the Church well.
Anna: Oh Jennifer, I think it’s no accident God placed you in the same church as these people. I’m so thankful that you dared to reach out and walk alongside them through this. I am sure you have made a difference to them and their families.
How have you seen God build community through your deepest valleys?
Jennifer: Honestly, no. After you suffer a huge loss, it is easy to tell yourself that no one really knows what you are going through and no one really notices your hurt. In some ways that is partially true.
It isn’t natural for me to reach out to build community with people. I’m an introvert, and I struggle with social anxiety. I have to make an effort that doesn’t come naturally to me to build community with others. I have a wonderful church family, and I have friends that I love. I don’t think that those communities were built because of my struggles and loss. I think that they were built in spite of my struggles and loss.
Anna: Thank you for being honest, Jennifer. I recognize a lot of what you share here. I remember thinking those same things after my Mum died after a five-month battle with cancer. I think you’re right to point out that people don’t understand or see what we need. We all walk individual paths of grief and only God truly knows and understands the depths of it. I’m thankful that you’ve reminded us of this and our need to reach out to those who are grieving, asking God to guide us as we seek to comfort, rather than giving what we think others need.
What has been the biggest blessing of the ministry and community that have grown through your deepest valleys?
Jennifer: Last week I posted on my blog that I was struggling with sadness, and that I wanted to live in a tres leches cake (a mexican cake filled with three different kinds of milk. It is a cake texture with an ice cream taste). You can read about that here: Ministry Companions.
My sweet church friend, who moved to Texas from Mexico, made me a homemade tres leches cake. That was a huge blessing, and not just because the cake was delicious. It meant a lot to me that she saw my struggle and wanted to make me feel better. It was beautiful. I wanted to cry when she handed it to me in the church foyer. When we are honest about our struggles, that gives others in community an opportunity to step up and encourage one another. I pray I don’t miss an opportunity to encourage someone in our church. Maribel is just gifted in spotting those opportunities. It isn’t the first time she’s made me feel loved.
Anna: What a beautiful response. May we all have eyes that are open to the need of our brothers and sisters and love as Christ loves.
What obstacles have stood in the way of the ministry God has called you to through the hard? And how have you responded to these obstacles?
Jennifer: My social anxiety has been the biggest obstacle. I have a deep instinct to want to hold up in my room and not interact with people. The problem with that is that ministry is about people. In forcing myself to be involved in lives of others, go on mission trips, serve at camps, say yes to invitations, I have been able to minister to others and overcome some anxiety.
Anna: I love how God grows us as we step into our greatest fears. Thank you for encouraging us to do so, by being vulnerable in your sharing here.
What has worked against community from forming or being built up through the hard? How have you and others responded to these obstacles?
Jennifer: I think most people want to protect themselves and their time. I know I am not the only one that finds building community difficult. My social anxiety causes me to be very unkind to myself, all of my insecurities are over-exaggerated in my mind. Staying at home would just be so much easier. I know I am not the only one that feels this discomfort. Just attending church is difficult for so many, forget about getting to know people. The devil uses this to attack the Church. It is difficult to be a part of His Body, but it is worth the effort.
I know that when my mom first began going to church when I was a teenager, it was quite hard for her. She felt alone because my dad would not attend with her. She felt very guilty about the fact that she still smoked cigarettes. She was very convicted about it, and the fact that she might smell like smoke, made her uncomfortable. It was really very, very brave of her to begin taking her kids to church on her own. If she hadn’t, I might not have known Christ. I’ve had other friends that have not felt comfortable attending church, either because a spouse doesn’t want to attend or because of a difficult season they are in life. We need to have grace for those situations, and be encouraging of any effort put forth.
Anna: Thank you for reminding us of the importance of grace and for giving us an important insight into how we can best show compassion to those who are walking a similar journey to yourself and your parents.
What one piece of advice or kernel of wisdom would you like to leave with our readers from your journey through your hard thus far?
Jennifer: I have found that most of my spiritual growth happened in either times of trial or times of serving others. If trials and service bring fruitful times of growth, why wouldn’t we embrace those times.
God might bring times of trials into your life; embrace the growth that happens during these times. In the meantime, take a proactive role in making service a big part of your live. As you serve, growth will happen.
You can begin by obeying the command of the Great Commission: to make disciples, be fishers of men. You can look at other commands in God’s Word: to care for the fatherless, to care for the widow, to love the alien, or to feed His sheep. God is concerned about my obedience and your obedience. Obedience stretches you and leads to spiritual growth. It draws you closer to God, and He wants you close.
Anna: Thank you for sharing your heart with us today, Jennifer. May God use it to the Glory of His Name and Kingdom.
Jennifer L. Lane is a regular blogger on her website jenniferllane.com. Jennifer and her husband James Lane have ministered in downtown Amarillo for 19 years.
The Lanes and extended family founded the inner-city ministry for children, Citychurch, in 1996. Most days, you can find Jennifer hanging out on Instagram, at http://www.instagram.com/amarillojennifer/. Jennifer has traveled to Ethiopia twice as an advocate for orphans with Storyteller Missions and will be in Ethiopia for the next few weeks visiting orphanages.
The Lanes reside in Amarillo, Texas with their three children. They are also in the waiting stage of the adopting process to adopt a son from Ethiopia. In December, Jennifer released her first book, an eBook called Faith Adventures: Stories of Learning with an Unseen God on Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing.