In the months since Jon died I’ve wrestled tremendously with God’s plan for my life. With accepting this new life. It’s a gift, God? Taking my husband is a gift? And I am coming to understand that it is. But, among the initial confusion and blinding shock were thoughts of “What now, God? Do I move? Do I stay?”
It’s been a time of stripping away. God has said “I want every dream you’ve ever had for life. I want it all. I want all of you.” He has brought me to to the place where I know the meaning of the words “all I have is Christ.” He has brought me again and again to surrender. It’s yours Lord. Take it. Yet He’s carried me. He’s shown me that Christ really is enough. And His grace has been abundant. He has led and comforted in tangible ways. So, as I wrestled with these questions, God reminded me that He had called Jon and I to serve at our church. The church in Dekalb.
He reminded me that He had moved us closer to be more intricately involved in the ministry here. The timing of the move was impeccable. Were I still in Rockford, my church family would be 45 minutes away. And even when so many things still felt fuzzy and confusing, God began to impress on me was that He isn’t done with me in this place. He still wants me here. He still wants us here. Jon’s death did not change God’s leading.
Our church is my family. Truly. I have been so overwhelmed by the response of the body of Christ after Jon died. And I want to give back to it.
Our church is a gospel-centered, Acts 29 church plant. And some may ask, “What do you mean by gospel-centered?” I mean viewing the Bible and all of life through the lens of the gospel. I mean recognizing that I not only needed the gospel for salvation, but also need it daily, hourly, and in minute by minute application to my life. The gospel is the good news about Jesus. He is God, but He humbled Himself and became a man. He was born of a virgin. He lived a perfect life without sin. He paid the penalty for sin on the cross. He died and was buried. But He didn’t stay dead! He rose again, and is one day coming back. He is the hero of every story. He is the great Rescuer. The Bible is a story about God and a narrative of His plan of redemption. The gospel not only entails the plan of salvation, but also encompasses all the facets of God’s redemptive plan–justification, sanctification, glorification, adoption, reconciliation, propitiation, imputation… As a church, the vision is that these truths permeate everything.
We typically average about 120 people on Sunday morning. We’re made up of many new believers. It’s been so refreshing to see adults who were far from God put their trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior, and display their commitment to following Him by baptism. It’s been awesome to be in a vibrant, growing ministry. God knew Jon and I needed it.
As we discussed my future over the course of the last few months, my pastor has asked, “Ami what do you want to do?” And every time I said, “I know what I want to do, but it’s no longer available.” You see, since I was a teenager my desire has been to serve the Lord in a “ministry” capacity. I have wanted to be a pastor’s wife. I know that sounds absolutely ludicrous to most, but nonetheless, serving with a husband in ministry was my burning passion. It’s a passion much greater than teaching in a classroom, though I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Kindergarten’s own type of ministry!
And it seemed like it was a dream God was finally giving. Jon was going to become one of the pastors of our church this summer.
But with the death of Jon was the death of that dream. Or maybe not. God stripped it away, but is it possible that He might want to give it back? As I again sought counsel from Jamie and his wife Cher a few weeks ago, Pastor Jamie said some marvelous words. “Ami you were a pastor’s wife with Jon. But you still are a pastor’s wife. Not just you with Jon, but you. It’s just who God made you to be. What if you could still serve in that capacity? What if you were to raise support and build a ground up ladies’ ministry here at TcD?”
And my heart immediately said, “No way. You’re filling me with much anxiety. You’ve got the wrong Atkins. I couldn’t do this. Raise support for a ministry that doesn’t even exist? Crazy.” Jon was the visionary, the entrepreneur, the dreamer. I’m none of those things. I was content to be his cheerleader.
But I thought about Jamie’s words. The next day as I got ready for church I said to God, “I don’t need to know the next step Lord, but I do just need you to meet with me today.” The sermon was in I Cor 4 and though it may not have truly been the scope of the message here’s what resounded with me. “What would you do for Christ if you knew you could not fail?” “We’re called to be stewards of this gospel with great amounts of thanksgiving…” “To want more than Christ is to want too much. But God is generous. You have already received everything in Christ. Paul is saying that the gospel is so big that it compels him to give it all up. Christ is everything.”
And so clearly in my mind was the Holy Spirit. “Ami you are a pastor’s wife.” So it became one of those days where I was utterly broken. Weeping uncontrollably, the thoughts were “You mean you could be giving this dream back God? You might want to do more than I can imagine? Who am I? Just a little life. Not equipped. Where would I even start? But if you want it I’ll do it. I give you financial security. My identity is not in my classroom. I give you what’s comfortable. I trust you. If you lead, and you equip, I’ll go.” Perhaps I cannot fully communicate here the depths of those moments with God.
I was overwhelmed by the thought that even though Jon has died God might still give me the opportunity to do what I’ve longed to do…teach ladies, disciple, write, speak, share the gospel. How marvelous and utterly incomprehensible is His love!
But there was another struggle that I couldn’t put words to for a few days. Stepping out of my comfort zone, beginning a new ministry–feels like the beginning of life without Jon. God was asking me to start life without Jon. And that’s a really hard thing. It’s like a crushing weight. It felt like accepting that though I was Jon’s whole life (after Christ, of course!!), he may be only chapters in mine. Though he will be intricately intertwined in any endeavor, he is nevertheless, not here. Even now putting that on paper makes sorrow and fear well up inside. I’m having a hard time with this. I can’t stop loving him, and I don’t have to “get over” him, but God does want me to live. In the words of a wise friend, “It’s not healing or moving forward. Comfort. Always comfort.”
So here we are finally almost at the conclusion. But there just one more detail. A couple days after the “crossroads” day with God, I was invited to the home of a younger college student in our church so we could get to know each other better. And honestly I didn’t want to go. It had just been one of those hard days. I didn’t feel like giving or being a blessing to anyone. But I asked God for grace. And I went.
As we sat there talking, God did an incredible thing. Her willingness to open up about some struggles and questions she had caused me to say, “God I don’t know how to help. I don’t know how to encourage. You have to do this.” And then it was just phenomenal how much Scripture kept coming to mind. And it was only God who could do it! Not me. It was so beautiful to point her to the gospel application and see it resonate so clearly. It was beautiful to see God work in my weakness and in spite of myself. God reminded me of the burning passion I’ve had for so long. He reminded me of what I had forgotten. And in my spirit was the willingness to take a risk. “Yes God. I know this is what you’re compelling me to do.” So I’d say that evening was definitely one of mutual encouragement! Perhaps I needed this dear friend much more than she needed me.
So here I am. I no longer teach at Christian Life School. Which I forgot to mention, was a decision that Jon and I had already made together. When we moved to Sycamore, we decided it was my last year teaching. He wanted me to work closer to home so I could be involved with ministry! We also thought that if I had gotten pregnant I would stay home with our child. But God had different plans. Better plans, I know I’ll realize some day. I don’t get to make decisions with Jon anymore. But I can still make this last one with him. That my friends, is yet another evidence of God’s tangible grace.
So what now God? I wait. I rest. I take a crazy step into the unknown. So far my vision for ministry includes one-on-counseling, small group studies, large group teaching, outreach at a women’s center, writing for real… We’ll see how God brings it together! It’s not about me. And I’m not the one who will do it. If He wants this to blossom, He will do it. And He will provide. I was told I need to start composing a support letter… scary.
But here’s the truth.
“You gave such great excitement to open the Word. This what I need to do. O God you are good. And I was struggling so much before going. But you worked in my weakness. Lord it just seemed like you were confirming ‘Yes, this is way I’m taking you beloved.’ It was like that great desire for ministry was burning inside again. Thank you for tremendous grace. Lord you are faithful. You are big. Show me your ways Lord. Teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me. These words in the Psalms indicate that you do teach! You do lead! You do guide! Your paths are based on your faithful covenantal love. And your covenant is based on Christ. Unconditional. I’m reminded of my great need and dependency on you. You don’t need me, and I can’t do this. Your paths are ‘chesed’–steadfast love. This is who you are- ‘emeth’– faithful. And together these prove that you are absolutely dependable to fill your promises. (From Psalm 25) You have already given me everything in Christ. Nothing then is too hard.”