Like a scarlet thread through a black garment is the theme of grace. It stands out in stark contrast, hope amidst sorrow. In these darkest times still God’s grace has been real, vivid, and abundant. Actually, it’s been deeper than I could have imagined. It’s true that God gives grace for the moment. He doesn’t give grace for deep suffering until it’s needed. But when it’s needed, oh how marvelously God acts! And through the grief, sorrow, anger and confusion, the words “tangible grace” have been imprinted on my heart. To me it is grace that I can touch. Real people, real events, real prayer, real compassion, real action, real Holy Spirit — This is the grace I’ve experienced. Grace, of course is, God’s unmerited favor, or receiving that which I don’t deserve. Or another way… the acronym God’s riches at Christ’s expense.
You see, I don’t deserve anything. And everything I receive apart from hell is God’s grace. But sometimes we take grace for granted. Or sometimes we try to live independently of grace. I do. We’d rather think we’ve got it figured out, that we are strong. You know that philosophy that says, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” But having my hopes and dreams stripped away caused me to see grace in a totally new way. It was His grace that purchased my salvation and bought me with HIs blood. It was His grace that said it is best for Jon to go Home. I don’t totally get it, but it’s true. It’s grace that reminds me that I can do nothing. Did you hear that, nothing? It’s grace that gets me out of bed every morning. And so I just want to talk for a while about God’s marvelous tangible grace.
I’ve kept a running list, and it’s been incredible to experience God’s carrying hand over the last three and a half months. So here’s some of the “stones of remembrance” God has set up in my heart. Even on the night Jon died it was only grace that enabled me to pray out loud over my love, “God please save him! I know you can. Please. But if you choose not to, you are still good,” and then to say quietly in my heart a few minutes later, “Lord, he’s yours. I open my hands. I give him back to you.” Those words could not have come from me alone. Because my emotions were screaming quite the opposite! Because they were the last words I wanted to say. I know of course, that God had already chosen His plan. He was taking Jon home, whether I surrendered or not. But praise God for surrender.
These words make me think of a conversation God and I had had several weeks earlier. And maybe I’ve already written about it here, but I don’t recall, so forgive me…parts of my brain are still on vacation, so it seems. Anyway, I was in the car and God was bringing to mind questions about idolatry based on that Sunday’s sermon. “Ami do you give me your desire for children?,” He seemed to say. “What about if you and Jon never get pregnant? What if you don’t even get to adopt? What about financial security? Ami do you give me the desire to stay home?” And on and on he put my idols before me and said, “I want them.” In grace God helped me to pray back in sincerity as best I could, “Yes God, my hands are open. I give you back this thing that is already yours. I know you God, and I can trust you.” And then came Jon’s face flooding my mind. “Ami do you give me Jon?” And as the tears flowed I said, “God I want to say yes that I surrender Him to you. But I don’t know if I can. Actually I know I can’t. Lord you know that is my biggest fear, but if something ever happens to Him, I know you would give me grace to give Him back. You would give strength in that moment.” I had no idea, that the true test was coming, and that the very thing I feared was part of God’s sovereign plan. But, again how marvelous is God! That He really did give strength to pray those words back to Him that night, and also to continue to pray them as He’s stripped me down to only Him over these months. Again, something I cannot do- I have not responded well always. However, there is tangible grace.
It was grace that heard and answered my cry when I was alone with my lifeless husband that night. “Oh God, you help me not to hate you!” Because even though I had held my hands open, my flesh was weak. But He remembered my frame, and knew I was dust. And all through this He has kept me. That’s the beauty of the gospel. He chose me. How could He then let me go? It was grace that enabled me to talk to the coroner, and not remember a word of the conversation. It was grace that carried me through those first days that vacillated between shock and crippling pain. God gave grace to speak to my church family two days after Jon died, and again at his memorial service.
That first Sunday I knew I had to go to church. I knew it would be that much more difficult to go the following week if I didn’t go then. When I got there folks hugged me, and in love didn’t force me to speak. I walked into the auditorium and “Be Still My Soul” was playing in the background. I turned to my sister-in-law Tiffany, and said, “I can’t do this.” And I went to the bathroom and collapsed in a heap on the floor. After a few moments Tiff and my dear friend Lexi came in and just sat there with me. Neither felt the need to say anything. And finally I said, “Please pray. I need to be here.” So they prayed, and God answered with abundant grace. I will never forget how real God’s presence was that day. He was there, and He met with us. During one song, I closed my eyes, weeping. And there in my mind was Jon worshiping with exuberant face, words rushing out, and hands held high to God. I gasped thinking, he’s worshiping too. It was like my precious Savior gave me a glimpse of that very moment in heaven. As I wept and sang, I was overwhelmed with the thought that I should say something to my “family” there. And God let me speak. At the end of the service, no one wanted to leave. Everyone stayed and talked in small, quiet groups. And I think I hugged every person. It was incredible. And I knew I was incredibly loved. One young guy sobbing said, “I’ve never cried for anyone I didn’t know before. I needed this today. God was here.”
God gave grace to make funeral decisions. Let me just say, it’s not something you think you’d ever have to do at 30. Praise God for my pastor and his wife and for dear friends who were with me. God gave grace to greet hundreds of folks at the visitation. Hugging each person was a new wave of grief as that touch communicated their emotions, their hurt, their compassion, their love. Yet, it was God who enabled me to stand there. I was overwhelmed by people who knew Jon since Kindergarten, and hadn’t seen him since high school who came to honor him. I was stunned by friends who traveled hours to be there, overwhelmed to see how many lives he’d touched. I was in awe of how many unsaved folks were there who heard the gospel. I just kept turning to my pastor and saying, “There’s so many here who have not yet believed. And they need to hear.” God gave grace to plead with a young man that Jon loved dearly, “to stop running. You don’t have to have it all figured out. Just believe that Jesus is who He said He is, and that He can save you.” His heart was so broken. And I know God was working! If you know me at all, you know this is not me. I’m not an evangelist. I’m not a bringer. That was Jon. But so clearly in my heart was the Holy Spirit. “Ami you have to talk to him.” Again God’s presence was so real that evening! We planned a worship service…not a funeral. I wanted to sing and sing and just pour my heart out to God. I wanted to sing “Behold our God” and “All I have is Christ” — Jon’s most recent favorites. I wanted to hold my hands open to God, and say “Here it is. All of it. Jon. Every hope, every dream. Every bit of my life.” And grace was abundant.
And then there was Facebook. As I read through the hundreds of posts on my wall and Jon’s wall, I wept in awe of God. Again, I could not believe how far reaching my husband’s life was! I was so blessed by each message and comment. Thank you! I think it’s reasonable and not an exaggeration to say that thousands were praying for me in those first days.
And there were dear friends, family and church family. There were people cleaning my house, making phone calls, bringing groceries, telling me to eat, picking people up from the airport… I have realized that in deep grief the ones that “rise to the top” are those folks truly with the gift of mercy, or those who’ve felt deep suffering themselves. Some of the most valuable blessings were people who would just let me talk… or not talk! Or the people who just took initiative to meet a need. Or the boxes of Kleenex that showed up. Every time I look at a pile of tissues on the floor, I’m thankful someone met perhaps the most practical need. Another treasure was a new leather journal–perhaps it was the most valuable gift. For, or course I have used it to pour my heart out to God.
My church family absolutely blew me away! I got to experience what the body of Christ really should be. And we’re a young church… young in age, and mostly young in faith. This was the first death our church had experienced as a church. But our 120 or so surrounded me in the most beautiful way. There were folks making sure guests for the service had plenty to eat, folks who made gorgeous arrangements of all of our pictures, folks who cleaned our new building, folks who made programs, folks who greeted visitors, folks who guided me through financial decisions, folks who provided monetarily. There were even guys standing out in the snow for hours parking cars at the service! And all of this happened around me and without me directing any of it.
In those raw first days, I totally grasped why people do crazy things. Were it not for the gospel, I could have easily harmed myself or others. Don’t act shocked. This is the sin in you too. I understand why death sends folks spiraling into depression. Unbelievers have no lens, nothing to filter the extreme emotions. Even through the lens of the gospel, I still felt lost, crazy sometimes, like half of me was gone. (I still feel that way.) The intensity of emotions was nothing like what I had experienced before. Praise God though for grace. Praise God that He kept me. That He clung to me. Praise God that over and over He reminded my of my confident expectation in Jesus, who He is, and all He’s done.
And I haven’t even begun to talk about God’s financial provision. Someone paid off our car. Someone paid for all the funeral expenses. Verizon honored all of Jon’s benefits though he had been with them less than 90 days! Between hundreds of cards and “offerings” from the church I grew up in and our current church, an overwhelming amount flooded in.
But wait there’s more… I found 14 audio sermons of Jon preaching! What an amazing to treasure to have Jon speaking truth to me. At Jon’s memorial service my principal said, “Take as much time as you need.” And then later I found out that my school was going to pay me for all the personal days missed, as well as, replenish seven more. That’s amazing! I hadn’t washed all of Jon’s dress shirts so they still smell like him. There’s a tiny piece of his soap left in the soap box. I was able to have a beautiful necklace made from his fingerprint and handwriting. I found probably every email we’ve ever sent each other. Bless my silly ocd husband! I have so many wonderful pictures of us. I have a beautiful wedding video.
One day it was really snowy, and two friends texted me a the same time and said, “Don’t go home from school. Stay in Rockford.”– That’s significant because I live 45 minutes away from work, and hate driving in snow! I was so thankful they made the decision for me. In another overwhelming act of grace some dear friends asked if they could name their baby Jonathan if it was a boy…. and he is! I still receive cards, text messages, and Facebook messages at the right time. It seems like God is always putting me on someone’s heart right when I need it.
As the weeks began to turn to months, still God’s grace has been abundant. I think I could fill many more pages with just how good He is. He has walked me through the questions, the doubts, the anger, the fear. Yes, they’re still there sometimes. He has met with me in His word. He’s shown me how deeply I need Him. He’s shown me that it is ok to be weak, beautiful even. And it is weakness that makes the gospel magnified. It is my weakness that exalts Jesus’ strength. It is still very much a roller coaster. But it’s ok. God is letting me grieve. He’s letting me be weak. Because He is more than I can comprehend. Because Jesus took all my sin, all my weakness on Himself, I can be needy. What an antithesis this is to the world and culture around us! Praise God though that this is grace-able to do nothing to earn God’s love and favor, but freely receiving it.
So, I write all this make the name of Jesus famous. Not mine. Not Jon’s. Because I think it’s definitely clear that I would be utterly hopeless without Him. There are so many more evidences of grace I could give you! But I’ll stop for now. Are you overwhelmed with me yet? Are you in awe of Jesus Christ, God who became man, who died for sins, and rose again to give eternal life? Because I am. I think I’ve only seen a minuscule glimpse of what God’s doing. My small little life is just a tiny part of His much larger story. But oh how much He cares for me!
And one last thing, thank you all my dear friends- those I see in person, and those who are far away. God has used so many to show me His tangible grace. I have not taken any note, message, gift, or card for granted. You all have been such a valuable tool for God to work in my life. You’ve functioned truly as Christ’s church. And you’ve shown Jesus to me. Oh and just one quick rabbit trail (I know I said I was done, but this is important). I need to say that I know many are going through deep waters as well. You have your own trials. And your suffering is just as valid as mine. No need to minimize it. No one needs to think “My hurt pales in comparison to Ami’s” because suffering is suffering. And we all experience it. Oh that you would also know God’s tangible grace in a very real way! So again, thank you to many who have blessed me even in the midst of your own fiery trials.
And those closest to me and Jon need to know that it’s ok for you to grieve too. Death hurts. And it’s not “normal” for a young guy to die. It’s ok to mourn the loss of a dear friend. You all have protected me, and that is good. But let me also bear your hurt as you have born mine with me. I want to be an instrument of grace to you as well.
Tangible Grace. As I contemplate all God has done since Jon died, of course I’m reminded that the biggest grace is what Jesus accomplished on the cross. It’s because He justified me, that I can know all these other evidences of grace. Praise God for His Ultimate Grace! Salvation freely given. Never earned. Tangible.