"Joy" is a staple of faith that Christians, myself included, have thrown about a bit carelessly. It's one of the things that we promise to new believers will always available. It sets us apart from the world. It's something we encourage people in tough times to hold onto, and say things like, "Don't lose your joy, because it's there and you just have to grab onto it." In fact, experiencing it in the midst of a trial is the ultimate sign of faith. Right?
Well, I call bull on this one. I've learned how wrong I've been in my beliefs about and experience of joy in the Christian life. I'm still working through this one, so I ask that you read this post through the lens of a disciple's heart seeking diligently to know and believe her God. I'm also speaking from personal testimony and experience. Finally, I'm speaking from active grief. There are many days that I feel frozen in time and heartache, so this may not flow well or be as wordsmithed as I would like. Please, be gracious in your reading of it.
When I learned of my nephew's suicide, I screamed and fell to the ground. I was alone in Alaska, 4,000 miles from my nearest family member, and I was immediately engulfed in darkness. I cried out. I pleaded with God. I threw things and felt the earth give way underneath me. Once back in Texas with my family, I spent my days both in shock and trying to care for them, and spent my nights awake in darkness on my face before God, desperately needing to feel even a faint hint of comfort. I was trying to believe... but what I was supposed to hold on to, I just didn't know. I was not turning away from God, but leaning in desperately to Him. I would not be a believer who walked away. That much I knew.
It was also the Christmas season, and all around I felt taunted by invitations to joy. I was committed to be faithful even in the worst of situations. But "joy" was not something to behold in the midst of such heartbreak and anguish. I wrestled and asked God how He could dare to promise something so beautiful as joy in a world so broken as this one. Are you kidding me? Did He really expect me to feel the depth of grief that covered me and experience joy at the same time? That didn't seem like a comfort to me, but rather a cruel taunt of insufficient faith.
As someone longing to believe, trying to believe, trusting God to tell and show me the truth, I knew that my God does not taunt or tease His children. His heart is for me, not against me. So I leaned into His character and sought to know Him more.
This is what I can say to you from experience: Joy was not mingled with my grief. Joy itself was not present. Joy did not show up and make me strong all of a sudden like the miracle I hoped it would be.
Instead, I lay brokenhearted in tears night after night crying out to God over His Word. And the truth I found was that my God knows grief like no other; He knows the loss of a child; He knows what it is to scream and shake the earth and darken the sun itself in absolute anguish over the loss of His precious Son. There is no other response to such a thing. I don't believe that joy wasn't present at the cross in the midst of wrath poured out. If it had been, the grief itself, the suffering, would have been less than what was required. It would not have honored the loss that was so great.
So where does joy fit in?
"For the joy set before Him," Christ endured that cross (Hebrews 12:2). It was the promise of joy—the assured, absolute position of that joy waiting for Him on the other side of this horrible thing—that Jesus set His eyes upon to give Him strength to carry on.
Jesus said He came so that I might have His joy in me and that my joy would be "full joy" (John 15:11). That is the promise. But as I seek to experience that promise, my personal understanding of it in the depths of grief is not that the joy itself is present and full and canceling out suffering. As I try to faithfully believe and hold onto His promises, the comfort I experience is not in joy now but in the promise of joy to come.
When Lazarus died and Jesus came to his family, Jesus wept (John 11). He chose to be present, in the moment. He didn't rush past the experience of grief. He sat in it with the sisters, even though He could have prevented it all together. He could have hushed their tears and told them what was about to happen in resurrection. But instead, He was with them in their grief and let them experience the full weight of it. Without the loss, would their experience of the miracle to come have been as full?
James told the early church to "count it all joy" to experience trials (James 1:2-3). He didn't say feel joy instead of pain in your trial. He said consider it, put it in the tally markings on the joy-side of the equation when trials come. The deeper I experience suffering, I can believe--consider it, count it as mine--the increased depth I will experience the joy of Christ. Knowing the real tally score that is waiting at the end produces steadfastness in me to keep going.
God was and is present, active, speaking, and I believe, weeping with me. I grabbed that promise of joy and continue to choose in my grief to believe that one day, my God will make all things new. He will dry every tear. We will experience the fullness of our salvation in resurrection. And because of the depths of suffering I have experienced, I can count on knowing the fullness of His joy on that day.
So in the darkness and in the tears, I held that promise of joy like a lifeline to a drowning woman. I believe in joy of the Lord—that it exists fully and completely and is already credited as mine—because I believe in the Promise Keeper. And one day, I will experience it wholly. I have and will see glimpses of that joy and ecstasy during my walk with the Lord. But right now, I see only in part and not the whole (1 Corinthians 13:12). Right now, my trust in the Promise Keeper gives me strength to endure. The joy is set before me, and I will faithfully walk forward through the depths of despair and heartache to receive the prize.
In the meantime, I will continue to grieve as God's grace enables. I will no longer encourage hurting believers to try to feel joy in heartache, and I won't expect it of myself and then feel guilty for not mustering up enough faith. Instead, I encourage us all to reach out and take hold of the promise that is ours in Christ Jesus. Feel the hurt. Scream. Weep. Hold on to the promise and endure. And experience His presence. The Promise Keeper is with us in suffering.
This is a tribute video for my nephew and the family and friends who loved him.
I wanted to let you guys see pictures and hear in my own voice all that God has done this year, so I filmed a short video update for you to watch! The video includes updates on Lighthouse Young Adult Ministry, Love Alaska and its initiatives, as well as prayer requests. Please take 5 or so minutes to watch and pray with me over Alaska!
Also, please excuse all of the plane noise! I filmed about a mile away from Lake Hood, which happens to be the world's busiest seaplane landing base. With it being such a pretty day, the air traffic was especially busy that day!
NOTE: If you would like to share this video, feel free to do so through emails and social media. I encourage my supporting church partners to show the video as a missions report to your congregations! However, I would ask that if you share this on Facebook please do not "tag" me directly in it. I still experience deep resistance here in relationship building in lots of areas, so I must be sensitive in publicizing certain aspects of my work.
I have a confession… I think feet are gross. Boy feet are even grosser. I grew up with three brothers, trust me! So when I read of the foot-washing model Jesus gave in John 13:1-17, I immediately think about the fact that those were dirt-road-walking, sandal-wearing boy feet that Jesus washed. It makes it somehow an all the more sacrificial, humble act of our Lord, in my book.
But when I take a deeper look, Jesus’ actions bring to mind two words in my heart: lavish love.
1 John 3:1 says, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”
What if I take into account that the Father of lavish love sent Jesus to wash those feet? What about the fact that the man who kneeled to wash those feet was the same God who knit those feet together in the womb? Does it change how I view the act He modeled?
The picture now changes in my mind to one of a loving parent overseeing a baby’s bath time. This was not a mechanical, disconnected act of service. A heart of lavish love overflowed in Jesus and onto those feet. Those sandal-wearing disciples had more dirt on them than most babies, but the heart of lavish love wasn’t put off by the dirt.
Those little toes needed tender care. In that moment, they were dipped into water and delicately but thoroughly scrubbed with a gentle touch. All the while, Jesus knew every step that those feet had taken and would one day take. He loved them in a way that is non-shameful or guilt-inducing, but intimate and tender—right where they were and in the midst of their immediate need. He didn’t make a point of judging the kind of or amount of dirt and grim on their feet, nor did He compare one man’s feet to another. He just washed them. Underneath the dirt were those same little toes He’d knit together in the womb, now clean and holy and with the hardest and darkest parts of the journey still ahead. How His heart must have both overflowed and ached in that moment!
In John 13:14-15, Jesus says, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”
There are feet EVERYWHERE in need of a holy washing by a loving Father. Whether on a short-term mission trip, in a full-time ministry capacity, or just on a trip to the grocery store, there are people all around that God has placed in our paths. But are we carrying our buckets and quick to kneel to the task?
Or are we so busy looking at the dirt or condition of the feet around us that we start choosing which feet we feel comfortable enough to wash? Do we orchestrate the circumstances where we can wash only a particular group of feet?
God calls us to be washers of the feet He’s lovingly created in this world. He’s calling us to love lavishly and overflow the Creator’s heart into the lives He puts in our paths. He’s not asking us to pick the amount of dirt and grime that we feel comfortable with and approach those feet. Instead, He’s asking that we show up where He leads us with a rag and a bucket of soapy water, trusting Him bring the feet He created right to us and us to them.
I want to be ready to hit my knees with my bucket in hand at all times to meet whomever God places in my path, and let the love of the Father do the work only He can do.
Sorry for the lack of posting (thus the following long post), but we arrived safely to Anchorage and my new home! However, the internet wasn’t installed at my house till Wednesday, so I’m playing catch up now.
DAY 10… 3,953 miles!
Mom and I made it from Glennallen to Anchorage on June 1, but we made a stop along the way to take a look at the Matanuska Glacier. Of course, there were a couple of other stops along the way… quilt shops. Mom identified three on the way to Anchorage, so of course, we stopped. She earned it after all that crazy driving on windy mountain roads, in rain and snow, pulling a trailer! And the smile on her face when we got there… well, she was happy!
Once we finished quilt shop hopping, we drove on into Anchorage and pulled in at the Alaska Missions offices housed in the University Baptist Church. We completed 3,953 miles from White Deer, TX to Anchorage, AK, crossing two countries and many mountain passes and rivers to get there. But we made it, praise Jesus!
Later that evening, I signed the lease on my new duplex with my roommate Sarah. Thank you to everyone who prayed for me to have a place to live by June 1! My friend Linzay did a fabulous job in finding us this place to live. It’s a great location, lots of room, and just plain cute. Abby-Li even has a backyard! Day 10 ended with me worshiping in prayer on an air mattress cuddling with my dog in ALASKA! What a way God made for me. I can’t praise Him enough!
We also made time to see some more sights before Mom flew home. We watched the bore tide come in at Turnagain Arm one evening from Beluga Point. Another day, we visited the Native Alaskan Heritage Center to learn more about the various native cultures in Alaska. We also drove down to Seward and made a stop to hike up to Exit Glacier. Gorgeous! I told Mom as we were standing by it that the song “Awesome God” kept going through my head. “There is thunder in His footsteps and lightening in His fists.” You can really stand in awe of the shear power of God when you see things that massive created by His hand and His weather events. It was truly amazing!
Then we drove out to Resurrection Bay and walked along the beach. Abby-Li met waves for the first time and was thoroughly confused by them. We saw a sea otter and some more eagles. And the scenery was again just plain beautiful. The whole drive down to the Kenai Peninsula is gorgeous. I wonder if I’ll ever get used to the beauty of this place.
Mom flew home Wednesday evening. I thought I would have some serious tears to cry after I dropped Mom off at the airport. I know a lot of people were praying for that moment. As I pulled away, I prayed out loud, “Okay God, it’s just You and me again. I know am not alone.”
I turned on the radio, and Moriah Peters’ song “You Carry Me” was playing. The following phrase was the first thing I heard after my prayer:
I don’t need to know what’s next
You’ll be with me every step
Through it all, through it all
I can see You carry me
I just laughed and sang along as I drove back to my new home. I’ve spent the last couple of days organizing and unpacking a few more things to make this place feel more like home. But every time I go to a store with brands or foods I’m not used to, people with accents much different than mine, get weird looks for saying “y’all,” or drive down an unfamiliar street, I’m reminded that I am a sojourner on this earth. While I’m working to make this my “home” for now, I’m more comforted by the fact that this is NOT my home. Home is with Christ, and He dwells with me.
So that’s the long update. The journey of 3,953 miles is over, but the real journey of life in Christ simply continues. I pray that those of you who follow my journey will live as sojourners in Christ along with me, wherever you may be!
We woke up in Whitehorse, Yukon on Day 7 after several really long and tough driving days. So we slept in, took our time with breakfast, then drove over to the Yukon River and downtown Whitehorse for a walk. Because we are book people, we visited a local bookstore. I’m now reading “Women of the Klondike” by Frances Backhouse. Mom also grabbed a Great North book and some general Canada swag.
Then back on the road! In general, it was a “short” drive at only 10 hours (they’re all short compared to our 14.5-hour day), BUT… we crossed the border back into the USA and ALASKA!!! It felt so good to see that sign!
When we stopped for a picture by the welcome sign, we ran into a guy with a U-Haul truck coming from Georgia. Here’s a weird thing we’ve noticed: there have been a ton of U-Haul’s driving past us going the opposite direction. This guy is one of less 5 we’ve seen heading the same direction we are. It’s like playing that “slug bug” car game, except we call out “U-Haul!” when another flies past us. Anyway, we find it interesting.
We ended the day in Tok, Alaska and were so ready for bed. Lots of relief and general exhaustion from long travel days led to some great sleep that night!
So our eighth day was our side-trip day from Tok to Chicken, Alaska. We unhooked the trailer at our cabin in Tok to make the drive without it to Chicken along the “Top of the World Highway” (Taylor Highway), which is a very curvy, bumpy road. Just one of many on this trip! But Mom and I spent the day panning for gold!
To be specific, we spent four hours panning. It was hard work, but we estimate that we mined $12 in gold! Mom still has the gold fever… I do not.
The prospector who helped us was originally from Indiana and has been here for 30 years. I hope Mom’s fever passes quicker than that. Unfortunately, he told her where to find gold in Texas… Lord, help us all!
Back to Tok for the night.
No pics today… mostly napping. Sorry!
Technically, we could drive another 8 hours to Anchorage and be done, but we have hit a wall. Pulling the trailer has been SLOW and tough on the bumpy, curvy mountain roads. Long days have caught up with us. Mom has done most of the driving since we left the US… her choice. She’s not confident in my trailer + mountain driving skills. So to breakup the last leg of driving, we’ve stopped in Glennallen, AK. When we got here and grabbed a late lunch, Mom said, “I think I’ll take a nap, then go to bed.”
I think that about sums up today. We are looking rough. We are feeling rough. Ready to be in Anchorage tomorrow!
Day 4 has been our favorite so far! We drove from Calgary, Alberta to Banff and Jasper National Parks along the Icefields Parkway. G-O-R-G-E-O-U-S. If you ever doubt the majesty of our Creator, DRIVE THIS ROAD!
We saw glaciers! And glacier-fed lakes! And Elk! We stopped first at Lake Louise and saw our first glacier. Beautiful! Then we drove to Bow Summit and hiked a quick 10-minute hike up to the Summit viewing area to see the most beautiful lake we have EVER seen: Peyto Lake. It’s also a glacier-fed lake. A lady who works for the park service was next to us taking pictures and told us the lake is the most beautiful it’s been in 20 years, and this is the perfect time of year to view it. It gets mirkier as the season goes on. I can’t begin to describe the beauty and the blues of this water. The pictures don’t do it justice. We were in awe of God yet again! Then we drove to the Columbia Icefields and saw the Athabasca Glacier. MASSIVE. Again, we marveled at our Creator God. The drive was gorgeous all along the way, too. Definitely worth the trip.
Then we drove to our campsite just outside of Jasper. When we arrived, we were given a pamplet about avoiding elk and warned that they are calving on the property and have been charging people lately. Also received a pamphlet on avoiding the bears.Good to know. I enjoy a good pamphlet, especially one that keeps me safe.
Mom and I managed to get the trailer backed in and our tent set up in the rain. The rain stopped long enough for us to get a fire started and hot dogs cooked, but it started up again and put our fire out (literally and metaphorically). So we went to bed. Mom slept well. I did not. We brought two air mattresses but one had a hole in it. So I volunteered to sleep on the ground. FYI, I’m officially too old to sleep on the ground. It was a rough and pretty cold night. It rained non-stop. Our arctic sleeping bags and hoodies kept us warm, but the dog sharing mine made it impossible to zip mine up all the way. I caught a few cool breezes throughout the night. Needless to say, we packed up as soon as the alarm went off… still raining.
Day 5 was mostly driving… 14 hours driving… over 600 miles and mostly raining… BUT we officially made it onto the Alaska Highway in Dawson Creek just as the sun came out (for a little bit). We stopped for a leg stretch and a pic then drove on. Ended the day in Fort Nelson, British Columbia. I enjoyed my bed and slept as soon as my head hit the pillow.
Day 6 was mostly driving again… 14.5 hours driving… over 600 miles and mostly raining plus a major snow storm. Mom was driving, so I’ll interview her briefly:
Kerri: “Mom, how would you describe driving in the snow today?”
End of interview.
We had narrow, two-lane mountain roads and serious snow and wind. We were not expecting that. We went through Summit Pass at one point, which is the highest summit on the Alaskan Highway. I was praying hard, ya’ll. Out loud. IN JESUS’ NAME. We came up to one pass to find a girl stopped in the middle of the road, blocking it completely. She had Nebraska plates and was standing outside of her car crying in the raging snow. The snow was a foot and a half deep. She came to our window and said it was stuck and wouldn’t go.
My mom is a rock star, people. She told the girl, “I’m going to push you then. Get in your car, put it in neutral, and I’m going to try push you forward.”
We bumped her several times and pushed her forward a ways till she could put it back in drive and take off down the hill. She was free and we were able to keep going. It was scary. Several large semis had pulled over, others were plowing through. And we made it! White knuckles the whole way. We were thankful that we had snow tires on the back tires of the car or we would have been stuck. The trailer in snow and ice was dangerous. BUT GOD!
Besides the rain, snow, long bridges, and lots rough roads (including some gravel road stretches), we also saw a couple of moose, some bison, several black bears, a read fox, and stone sheep (found only in Northern BC and Southern Yukon).
We made it to Whitehorse, Yukon and are again ready for bed. By tomorrow afternoon, we will cross into Alaska!!
Today was a much-needed short day of travel. Our first two days were over 10 hours, so today’s 6-hour or so drive was nice!
We left Great Falls, Montana, this morning and crossed into Canada. I was worried about crossing the border… not because we look like sketchy people! 🙂 I was worried because if they had wanted to open our trailer for an inspection and look through it, there was no way we would be able to get that thing packed again! My dad is the master packer (it’s a weird but useful talent), and everything has its place with zero room left. To unpack it without him would be disaster for Mom and me. BUT PRAISE JESUS! It only took about 5 minutes to get through the border crossing at Sweet Grass, MT/Coutts, Alberta. And they didn’t even ask me about the dog who was sticking her head up front. Easy peasy! We’ll take it!
We paused for a few quick pics and met a lady traveling on her own with her little pop-up camper all the way from Mississippi to Alaska. She stopped to take a pic, so I offered to take her pic for her. A lady making that long trip on her own deserves to be in her own picture!
We made good time to Calgary and drove out to the Olympic Park. Mom, Abby-Li, and I stretched our legs and walked up to the top of the luge then over to the bobsled run. It’s been a beautiful day in Canada! Sunny and warm, great for getting out and about.
After a mid-afternoon lunch, we checked into the hotel for a nap and a chilled out evening. Tomorrow is another long day with lots of drive-by and pull-over sightseeing along the Icefields Parkway and then a camping night! We’re excited!
We may not have wifi to do updates over the next few days, and my phone is on airplane mode while we travel. Mom’s international phone plan was way cheaper than mine, so we’re using her phone unless there’s an emergency. But stay tuned and keep praying for us! It’s been such a treat for my heart and Mom’s to see the beauty of God’s creation as we go along. Thanks for your prayers!
We are on the road to Alaska! We have a 10-day road trip planned to move me to Anchorage. Mom and my dog, Abby-Li, are riding with me as we pull a 5’x8′ trailer behind my Ford Explorer for nearly 4,000 miles. We will try to post briefly every couple of days or so to keep you posted on our progress. More real-time updates are available on my Facebook page at facebook.com/kerrionmission.
We left my hometown of White Deer, Texas, at 6:15 a.m. on Monday, May 23 and arrived in Cheyenne, Wyoming, in 10 hours and 45 minutes. We covered 530 miles across the Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma, Colorado, and barely into Wyoming.
We can report a thoroughly uneventful trip, for which we are grateful! We saw lots of great countryside, antelope, and prairie dogs. We had decent gas mileage in spite of our heavy trailer and climbing in elevation. Thankful for a safe day 1!
Another long day on the road, but we did a little sight-seeing to break it up and stretch our legs. We covered all of Wyoming and about 3/4 of Montana. We spent about 14 hours traveling today, including a stop at the Little Bighorn Battlefield Memorial in Montana. It was a great stop and let us walk around for a bit to avoid “saddle sores.”
Abby-Li has been a real trooper on the road and loves standing on the center console every once in a while just to make sure we are staying on track. The rest of the time, she snoozes in the backseat.