Glimpses into the eternal. They are the little gifts, the sneak peeks–Jon’s death is not meaningless. God is using it for his kingdom and his glory. And for the spread of his gospel.
Here we are about five months since Jon’s death, and throughout God has wonderfully and mercifully given some windows into some of his purposes.
I’m so thankful for the specific examples of God’s working. Thankful is not a strong enough word, but I cannot think of another one that encompasses my thoughts. Strengthened? Encouraged? Comforted? Broken? Overwhelmed? Perhaps I just need all of these words. I know “overwhelmed” regularly peppers my vocabulary, but it just fits. Perhaps they will bless you too? Perhaps they’ll remind you that God is doing more than you can imagine.
God doesn’t have to give me any explanation at all, however. Were he to say, “I took your husband, and you must trust. That is all,” he would be perfectly right and just. He doesn’t owe me anything. Yet he is a merciful and faithful High Priest having experienced suffering and the weaknesses of human flesh. And he loves me.
So, he’s given an “appetizer” so to speak, a foretaste of the feast to come. By that feast I mean eternity with him, where there is no need for the sun because of the radiance of God’s glory!
The other day a brother from our church shared his admissions essay for seminary with me. This man’s story of salvation is incredible. He was thirty-five and had been to church maybe six times in his whole life when God began to show him his need for Christ. When Jon and I witnessed his baptism over a year ago, we both though it was possibly the most Christ-exalting baptism we’d ever seen.
This guy is a firecracker. A “miracle-grow believer” like Jon was. You know, one of those folks who grows leaps and bounds in a short time. Jon saw it early on, and couldn’t wait to invest in Eric. I was so floored by what I read in his essay. Though Jon’s life is a small part of how God is leading and directing this man, his words about my husband are overwhelming to me. Staggering really.
“After coming to know Jesus and sharing my story I continued to face challenges and at times it felt as if I was under attack. The most notable personal attack was being hospitalized and nearly dying as a result of diabetes, prior to Christmas.
While that experience was terrifying and absolutely life changing, perhaps the most trying challenge was the death of my outstanding, Christian friend Jonathan. He was a member of our church and was only thirty when he passed away, very suddenly of heart complications. Jon was following Christ’s path to be a lead pastor someday and his value to me as a teacher and friend will be missed. I have not missed one Sunday service since his passing. The silver lining out of the sadness and grief that came following his death was the realization that I needed to step up within our church and help serve in any way possible.
I recently learned that Jon told his wife Ami that he knew I would become a pastor someday… I firmly believe I’ve been called into ministry and the Lord has been preparing me for the past thirty-six years through some amazing life experiences. As His now humble servant, I’m completely confident in this path He has laid out before me. After all, if I have lived thirty-five years without acknowledging Him, how much greater will every day be now that I do have Him in my life?”
Another beautiful glimpse… I received this message from a college friend a couple days after Jon died, and her words affected me so deeply because I know her actions toward her husband were the same as mine to Jon sometimes. It’s crazy that she saw Jesus in me, though I know the reality of my heart. I think her story also greatly comforted me because it was an immediate example of God making something as horrifying as death into something tremendously beautiful.
“After delivering my 3rd child (on Christmas day) my emotions have been pretty haywire! I cry pretty easily and get way too overwhelmed, too often. The Lord has blessed and has given MUCH grace and strength- far more than I deserve, really. But believe me, I still have a lot of growing up to do spiritually! It wasn’t a half hour before Dan found out via Facebook that your husband passed away that I had allowed my flesh to have control, and in doing so, I brought Dan to tears (NOT an easy thing to do, but leave it to me to do it!) Without going into much detail, my tongue can really do great harm, and Dan’s feelings were greatly hurt that night. Not only was he hurting, but I was struggling spiritually and we both needed the Lord to intervene somehow.”
“Ami, I want you to know that what you wrote on Facebook that night about Jon’s death stabbed me in the heart like a dagger and it’s been on my mind ever since! Believe me, the Lord used your Spirit-filled words to get my attention and point me closer to Him! I strongly regret what I said & how selfishly I behaved towards Dan that night back in January, but I am humbled by and truly thankful for friends like you who are sensitive to the Holy Spirit and allow Him to use you to point others to Christ! I can get choked up just thinking about it. Though you’re going through an extremely trying and difficult trial right now with your loss, please know that the Lord has used and will continue to use it for His name’s sake!”
I don’t share that story to point to me. For I know that any beautiful response comes only from Christ. But in that first numb, shocking week God knew I needed to see some “tangible grace.”
Finally, God has created a strong bond with a friend who has the same heart valve problem Jon had. His death cemented our friendship, and in a literal way, saved her life. These next words are Carrie’s words.
“As I’ve gone through the last few weeks, God’s grace has been abundant, just as He promised. His timing in bringing me to surgery and Jon’s death was not arbitrary…let me back up a few years to Freshman Speech class…the second memory of that class was Jon Atkins. We found out we shared the same heart defect. He asked me out once, but I declined… I don’t remember much about our valve conversation, but I never forgot him. To this day he is still the only person my age that I knew who had AVS. Looking back now, I would have never imagined how God would use that in my life. Years have passed since then….Fast forward to recent months. I learned of Jon’s death right away through Facebook. I can’t put into words my immediate thoughts…. Having AVS, always in the back of my mind is the knowledge that there are people who die from this, and now I know someone who had. And then as I read Jon’s testimony and saw the man he was, I just asked God, “Why him?”
“I know God is good and working His plan…He has answered the “why” for everything in His Word; the ultimate answer is His glory, His preeminence, and the furthering of His Kingdom through the gospel. But God knows my frame, my weakness, and sometimes He kindly, tenderly, and intimately, shows us an answer to the why. On Tuesday January 29th (4 days after Jon died) I had an echo and appointment with my cardiologist… the echo had changed pretty significantly, but symptomatically things were fine. I was tired, who isn’t? We made a follow-up visit for April 9th…”
“A few weeks passed, the fatigue was really bothering me. All along I was just praying God would give me wisdom, and the back of my mind were thoughts of you and Jon. So I called my doctor and asked to see her sooner. She did another echo, and nothing had changed. Still the only symptoms were fatigue and low BP. So she ordered a battery of blood tests, and a heart catheterization. We got what I thought was the answer when the blood-work came back–low Vitamin D. I was relieved, however truthfully in the back of my mind I was still concerned. But as my natural tendency, I managed to convince myself that it was just the Vitamin D.”
Once Carrie got the Vitamin D result, she seriously considered canceling the heart catheterization. She was feeling better. Yet she went any way. The doctor who did the cath said, “weeks, months, but don’t wait a year.” So they scheduled surgery as soon as it was possible, merely a week and a half later.
“I think I mentioned Jon to just about every doctor or nurse I talked to, and I told them how God used my friend’s death to encourage me to be vigilant about getting the valve replaced… And I’m so grateful for how God worked and led. The surgeon said the valve was ugly– that it was good timing to have it replaced. There was no other damage to my heart. God answered prayer in amazing ways! I cannot dwell on the ‘what ifs’ or ‘if onlys’ when I think about the last few weeks. But I can think about what I know in my heart. That is, in some sort of way, God used Jon’s death in my life and in my ‘heart’ journey (physically and spiritually). In some ways Jon’s death gave me life…. I do not remember a lot of the details right after surgery, but I remember thinking, “God you did not waste Jon’s death.”
I admit when I first received this letter from our friend, there was a rush of mixed emotions. Sorrow. Anger. And finally joy. As I read her words, I was reading the exact things that we were told. Yet Jon didn’t make it to his heart catheterization. And yes there was some anger, “God why did it have to be Jon’s life? Why couldn’t his life be saved? Why was there so much more damage to his heart?”
But finally, my heart gave way to joy. “Thank you God for saving Carrie’s life. Thank you that her children still have their mother, and her husband still has his wife.” It also reminded me again of God’s sovereignty. In both cases, medical technology, advanced as it is, couldn’t see the severity of the situation. And in both cases God had a plan before time began.
There have been more glimpses, equally just as special. Yet I think these three encapsulate what I mean pretty well.
So what’s the common denominator? It’s Jesus, who is sovereignly in control of all things, who holds all things together, and is bringing all things toward their final completion. On a grand scale there are no coincidences. A Sovereign God leads my life. A Sovereign God is working out His master plan.
“Now in putting everything in subjection to Him, He left nothing out of His control.” (Hebrews 2:8)
Also in these stories is the common theme of redemption. God redeemed a broken man, turning him instead into a whole, new, spotless, vessel. God redeemed some harsh angry words, turning them instead to forgiveness and reconciliation. God redeemed death, so that rather than horror and tragedy, it is life. And God redeemed Jon, so that his death was not truly death at all– rather, absent from the body and present with the Lord. These stories also remind me of the beauty of Christ’s church. These three folks I mentioned don’t know each other, and would probably not have much in common. Yet each one recognizes Jesus as Lord, Master, Savior. And each one acted toward me as body truly would toward itself– “Part of me is hurting. I’m compelled to take care of it.”
It’s phenomenal to think of the love of God. He knows my frame and remembers it’s dust. So when my faith waivers and grief seems crushing, He gives me small, lovely glimpses. He doesn’t have to. But that’s just what grace is. I’m so thankful that God is still using him. And in a greater way then I know.
Yet my darling man would quickly shift the focus. He would say this is just a small taste of Christ. Just a glimpse of God’s great story. And truly it is. For His plan is infinitely bigger than just Jon and me.
Of course, there is much I will never understand for I’m reminded that “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
And also “Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases.” (Psalm 115:3) Praise God I know Him, and can trust that all He pleases is good.
By the way, I’m not being stoic. I know that God is not only working in the lives of others, He’s doing some big big things in me. And some of it I cannot even see yet. I am not the same. And this is good.
For Jesus is becoming sweeter, and eternity more near.