Christmas, joy or misery?

christmas cardLet’s talk about Christmas for a few minutes. I love Christmas. I mean I really LOVE Christmas. I think many people can relate… lights, traditions, cookies, decorating, songs, ornaments, presents, the whole nine. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right?

Jon and I got to have 4 Christmases. One dating and the rest married. And over those brief seasons, we’d already established some family traditions and plans for Advent. New Christmas pjs. Coffee and cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning. Opening one present on Christmas Eve. Reading Luke 2. Christmas cards to each other–that one was new to me! But one of Jon’s quirks was that he loved giving and receiving cards.

Incidentally, as we drove to our honeymoon cruise ship, I had to read each wedding card aloud to him! I admit, I was more interested in seeing the money or gift cards fall out. But I digress.

When it came to decorating our tree, I adored unwrapping each ornament and reliving the memory associated with it. A clay bride and groom. A little gold airplane from the National Air and Space Museum. Blown glass from Tennessee. A seashell from the Bahamas. A beluga whale from the Georgia Aquarium. A wooden owl from Galena. Our Christmas tree represented the fulness of life together.

Atkins family ornamentEvery year we rode the train into Chicago for Garrett’s popcorn, window displays on Michigan Avenue, lights, and the Cheesecake Factory (one piece to split–for the train home, of course) But my favorite part of our day was Christkindlmarket, a traditional German market set up in the heart of downtown.

First on the agenda, find an ornament. I guess that’s obvious, I suppose. Mission accomplished–hand painted, delicate, snowy scene on a glass teardrop. We loved milling through the booths hand-in-hand, sampling German food and admiring the hand-carved nativity sets, of which we planned to start our own this year. The idea was to buy Mary, Joseph and Jesus this Christmas and to add another figure each year. Another of the simple pleasures was mulled cider or hot chocolate in a boot. There’s something about a steaming beverage inside a ceramic boot that is pure delight.

city lightsAnd in all of our celebrating, we wanted to exalt Jesus. We desired to walk through the Christmas season with expectancy, rejoicing in Christ’s first Advent and joyfully anticipating His second! Jon led me well in enjoying the good things of Christmas, but focusing on the ultimate thing.

But, this year as “The holidays” approach I had some deciding to do. Should I run from them? Should I expect that they will always be hard and that’s just the way it is? Should I live November through January with a sense of miserable dread?

Several things could lead me there. Christmas symbolizes the final normal. It’s the last event in my memories of Jon not marred by illness or death. For his first trip to the ER was December 28th. Christmas seems like it will predicate memories of “the lasts”–the last month of Jon’s earthly life, our last date, the last dinner I cooked for him, the last movies we watched together (Ironically they were Steel Magnolias and P.S. I Love You. When he died shortly thereafter, those movies felt like a sick joke).

I can vividly picture many more lasts. Approaching Christmas also means I’m coming to the “last of the firsts.” You know, my first birthday without him, first Thanksgiving, first Christmas, first New Year’s and then we’ll be to the year anniversary of his death.

So, yeah there’s been a lot to consider.

Well, several weeks ago I heard someone say. “The holidays are always just so difficult for me. I just dread them because of the memories. Because of the loss.” I was moved with sorrow for this person and for myself.

But then I thought, “Ami you have a choice.” I can choose to run from the hard things, or I can choose to face them head-on as I have faced every other facet of grief. Some things will be challenging this Christmas season, but so will grace continue to be magnificent. I’m sure there will be tears, but there will also be overwhelming joy.

So, I choose to live. The tree is going up. Music is being played. Cookies are being baked. My heart is ridiculously excited! I’m in awe of God and all He’s doing. Grace is abundant. Some beautiful things are happening. Not deserved, only grace.

A lovely idea still taking shape is the desire to intertwine old memories with new. Perhaps the Chicago trip will have to include Hannah’s Bretzels. What in the world is a bretzel? I have no idea, but I hear they’re kind of amazing.

So with the choice before me, I remembered that Christmas isn’t really about me or Jon anyway. To be trapped, wallowing in misery during this season is to completely miss the point.

But here’s what is. God became man and dwelt among us. Jesus so thoroughly obeyed the will of the Father that He was willing to take on all the weaknesses and infirmities of human flesh. Still fully God, but also fully man. What a great mystery! Yet He became the very nature of a servant and obeyed even to the point of death.

Expect Jesus. That’s the reality of Christmas. My pastor said that. And one day he might sue me for plagiarism because I’ve probably stolen lots of his ideas. Nonetheless, expect Jesus in life right now. Expect His transforming work of grace. And expect Him to come again. As the Jews so longed for Messiah, so we long for Him to return!

Thinking on Jesus increases joy. My pastor said that too. But really, I think Isaiah said it first.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of darkness, on them has the light shined. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy…” (Isaiah 9)

And as Isaiah thought on the coming Messiah, his joy overflowed.

Jesus was coming.

And he would be the Son of God.

He would be Wonderful.


Mighty God.

Everlasting Father.

Prince of Peace.

He would bring a kingdom that would never end.

And listen to this from Luke 1. “Because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

How then could I live in misery?

Jesus is light. Jesus is peace. Jesus is complete satisfaction.

And Jesus is JOY.

first christmas

she said yesChristmas morning


Rejecting Imaginary Days

There is no such thing as imaginary days.

By God’s grace, the barrage of lies has subsided. It used to be daily that I would awaken to immediate grenades and atom bombs, but now the attacks are rare. The truth of the gospel has continually defeated them. “It’s true, I am a wretch. But back off Satan. Jesus has defeated you.”

Yet, occasionally there is a different stealth tactic. Minor side note: I smile at myself for using military analogies when I know I’d be a blubbering mess at the first hint of a sharp command. But I digress.

Sometimes the stealthy lies are accusations, but sometimes they are questions. Recently the lie was “What if God took Jon because He knew Jon would flake out? Did He see future days where my husband wouldn’t have passionately pursued Christ?” You can imagine the sorrow surrounding those thoughts.

But God used a friend’s profound words to permanently defeat that lie. “There are no such things as imaginary days.” For imaginary days reflect an inaccurate view of God’s sovereignty.

Therefore, what ifs and imaginary days reside with Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.

If God planned the last day of Jon’s life, then there were no more days! They didn’t exist. How quickly and how marvelously those words penetrated my heart. There were no more days. David had something to say about this in Psalm 139:

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” (v13-16)

How freeing it is to reject the lie of imaginary days! I rest knowing that God chose the best for Jon and for me. I rest believing that God didn’t foresee some egregious failure, and therefore decided to “take him out.” I rest knowing God developed him into the man He wanted him to be. Jon dying at the height of his earthly walk with Christ was in God’s plan from eternity past. Even more beautiful to me is that Jon’s spiritual decline lies merely in the realm of the imaginary. In God’s sovereignty, it didn’t exist.

By grace Jesus was the BEST thing to Jon, but my husband stilled failed. He was still a sinner, but a sinner covered by Christ’s righteousness and greatly loved by God.

The truth is that the completed work of Christ not only cancelled out the record of debt against him, but also imparted ALL of Christ’s righteousness to him. The $50 word for that is justification. God was also transforming Jon to become what he was already declared to be. And this is sanctification.

Another friend shared the imagery of a line graph. The line may have some zig zags, but over the course of time there’s always an upward and forward trend. I love that! A believer’s sanctification is ALWAYS forward. The idea of two steps forward, four steps backward is just heresy. Furthermore, God always completes the work He starts (Philippians 1:6).

And so at death, the work of sanctification in Jon had reached it’s proper perfection. He got to trade sanctification in for glorification. Never ending new. Spotless. Perfect. That’s  awesome.

All that to say, I’m learning to reject imaginary days. And not just the imaginary days of Jon’s life, but the what ifs and the imaginary days of mine.

I’m not guaranteed future days, but if they come, they will be the real days of God’s plan, rather than the ones I create in my mind. Of this I am certain, in joy and in sorrow, in trial and in triumph, God’s real days will be BEST. They will be ridiculously better than the feeble products of my imagination.

God orders my days. He knows His plans for me. Therefore, I rejoice in THIS day, a real day given by God.

Impostor? Not anymore.


Yes, sometimes I think I have a gigantic sign hanging around my neck labeled “impostor.” I desperately try to cover it up with scarves, sweaters, pretty smiles, you name it. But still I see it there, peeking out threatening to expose the true me.

So, I’ve decided to hang it in plain view for all to see.

Mockingly, it jeers its litany: I struggle to trust God on a daily basis. I often believe I am ineffective for Christ. Why would God want to use someone like me? I have dishes in my sink and clothes on the bedroom floor (at least they’re clean). I don’t live life well without someone to take care of. I am a weak, fragile, sheep who can never get her act together. I’m no longer a normal person with a normal life. I just pretend to be a teacher. I’ve got everyone fooled into thinking I have responded in faith… Impostor.

And so the list goes on. Some of it is true. Some of it is lies.

I’m reminded of a professor in college who always said. “Well you should just go get your white t-shirt, your black sharpie marker, and write on it in big letters. I DON’T READ MY BIBLE.”

He’s right. Although some of those things are true, I no longer lug around my impostor sign. What? You just said you hung it there for all to see!

Well, I did, but Someone took it.

Because here’s the REAL truth. Someone came along with his own sign, and labeled it Beautiful. And all around he wrote the words, redeemed, justified, chosen, adopted, reconciled, new, valuable, precious, beloved…

And so this Someone took his Beautiful sign, removed it from his neck, and put it on me! Then he did the most unbelievable thing. He took my IMPOSTOR sign, hung it on Himself, and displayed it in plain view for all the world to see.

“It is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace.” (Hebrews 13: 9) This is the grace I need to hear. Perhaps you need to hear it too? For surely I am not the only one who tries to take back my sign.

How incomprehensibly lovely it is that I cannot take it back! Someone won’t let me. He tells me constantly, “No, this is who you are now. Beautiful. Because I made you to be so.” (Ephesians 1:3-14, Isaiah 62, Romans 8)

So then my only response left is, “Someone, I adore you.”

Impostor? Not anymore.

Journal Entries: I’ll let them speak for themselves.

IMG_20130717_112154_853I have kept a journal since I was 14, and I’ve learned that I need to use a leather bound book, lest it fall apart before I’ve adequately filled its pages. These journals are nothing spectacular, just a compilation of written prayers to God, notes on sermons I’ve heard, and reflections from my alone time with God. When I look back though, I weep at all God has done in me.

I see the foolish little girl with her extremely specific list- “Characteristics of My Future Husband,” whose consuming desire was to marry immediately upon finishing college.  I can look back on new-believer zeal, yet lacking wisdom and grace. But I also see the faith that knew nothing was impossible for God. I could look upon the college girl, questioning and seeking to develop her own convictions. There are the single years of longing and learning contentment in Christ. I could find the book that marks a fundamental shift in belief, that is, when grace really started to make sense.

There are pages for financial pressures, family crises, and pages pleading on behalf of loved ones. There are pages of struggle, fear, and doubt, and pages full of joy and thanksgiving. And there are many, many pages filled with Jon.

I started a new journal after Jon died. For how could I possibly write about such agony on the last pages of an almost spent journal? Something as big as death required a new volume. This morning, however, as I searched in a brown, leather book for some notes I’d written on Isaiah 40, I was quickly drawn back to 2012 and the beginning of 2013. To the year leading up to Jon’s death. That was not so long ago, of course. It’s not even been nine months since I last got to kiss him and tell him I loved him.

So, let me step back to the time before life was radically altered.  I’m calling this post “Journal Entries.” I’ll try to let them speak for themselves. I’m not exactly sure why I even want to share some glimpses of them with you. But just so you know, I open this window into my private world with a little trepidation.

3-3-12  “Jesus has abolished death for me, and that truth is a consuming fire. You are the God who is guarding me. If I can completely entrust my soul to you, I can entrust the rest of life to you as well. Lord help me not to run from trials or try to short change the work you’re doing in me. Thank you for financial difficulties. Thank you for the possibility of endometriosis. I trust you will provide for the surgery. Thank you that we have not been able to get pregnant. Teach me what you want me to see.”

3-23-12 “God you are sovereign in all things, Lord even in the results of surgery. It is odd because when a doctor says you have a healthy reproductive system it should be cause for praise and rejoicing! But I admit I’m frustrated because it seems like the surgery was a waste and for nothing. I still have pain, and we don’t know why. Lord speak to my heart. Jon prayed right before surgery, “And we will praise you regardless of the results.”  How ludicrous it is that I’m having a hard time praising you for ‘healthy’. I suppose it is that it gives no answer to ‘why no children?’ Help me to praise you God.

O God! My eyes just landed on the verse I wrote down a couple days ago– Your thoughts are precious toward me. You think tender, loving thoughts. You are a good Father who always does right.”

4-11-12 “Lord you are beautiful. You are holy. You always do good. Transform me by your grace. I know you don’t need me, and that I don’t deserved to be used by you. But thank you for letting me ‘play in the sand.’ I want to be where you are. I want to be a part of what you’re doing. ‘Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord; His going out is as sure as the dawn; He will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains water the earth.’ (Hosea 6:3) God you desire ‘steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6) God you want me to be near you. You desire that I delight in you as much as you delight in me!”

6-4-12 “Redemption is not about me God, but about you! ‘Behold your God!’ I want to gaze on you and adore you. You are mighty and powerful. Yet you are also a shepherd. ‘He will tend his flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in his arms; and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that area with young.’ This incredible description of you in Isaiah 40 is too big to comprehend. ‘The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.’ I rejoice in who you are! Surely, you who have chosen me will also protect me and uphold me. When I think on who you are, there is no room for fear. You uphold me with your righteous right hand, the hand of blessing! You reminded me that you delight to give. Forgive me for slipping back into my faulty perspectives, for thinking you are a ‘begrudging’ Father.

Yesterday you gave an abundant gift to my husband that was not a need or anything important. It was just a beautiful, tangible reminder of your overflowing joy, generosity, and delight to give good to your people! Thank you for the Rockford Air Show tickets! And not just any tickets- VIP chalet tickets, front row seat! This is incredible. God you are marvelous. We hadn’t even prayed for them, yet you delighted to give something that gave Jon immense joy. It was so awesome to see his face light up like a kid…

Thank you for teaching me experientially! You are always good in blessing, joy, and in sorrow. And you will do what brings you the most glory. There is great confidence in knowing I can pour my heart out to you with boldness. I know that all the ‘plans’ I’ve conceived in the past were nothing compared to what you had in store. When things don’t happen the way I think they should, your way is better. Yet you delight in the asking, in the total dependency on you.”

6-8-12 “Lord I am radically dependent on you today. Already this morning I have failed and relied on my own understanding. Thank you for the transforming power of the gospel. Thank you that the blood and righteousness of Christ covers me. It’s amazing that you can look on me as perfect when I still sin every day. Thank you for the freedom to fail because I can rest in Christ’s perfections. God I’m struggling again with intense desire for children. How do I know if it has become an idol? Lord I think it comes back to an accurate perception of you. Everything you do is good. So if it is good for us to conceive, you will not withhold it. If it is good for us to NOT conceive, you will not withhold it. Lord, above all I desire for you to be magnified! The desire to feel life inside me and to be a mom is a good thing. It’s a desire put there by you! But that desire must not be my chief end or consuming passion. I know honestly, though, that sometimes it is. I need the power of Christ to want YOU the most! Thank you God for not withholding yourself from me. The request to know you more deeply is always answered affirmatively. Lord you have abundantly blessed me far more than I can ask or think. I praise you!”

8-1-12 “I’m sorry for my stubbornness. I have so much more selfishness than I own up to. Lord my husband works so hard, and I so often take him for granted. I remind myself of all that I adore, his tender heart before you, his consuming passion for the gospel, his quick forgiveness, how he makes me laugh, how he leads me. You have blessed me with an incredible gift in Jon. Thank you that marriage is based on promises not performance.”

10-3-12 “Father I admit that I have been deeply struggling the last couple days. I thought with great hope that this would be the month for children. Lord when it was not, it knocked me down much harder than I anticipated. Lord I couldn’t understand why it seemed you were answering every prayer except the one most near and dear to my heart. I know my emotions led me to a deep pit, and I wasn’t sure how to get out. Forgive me for falling into the trap so often labeled “If I respond right this month, God will bless.” I know I can’t earn favor, and that I don’t need to. Lord I settle my soul on the Rock of the Gospel. I am chosen, reconciled, cleansed, forgiven, adopted, and purchased. This is who I am in Christ.”

10-20-12 “Thank you that I am already beloved. It is not about me doing anything to gain more love. Because of Christ and the cross, I am free from a performance driven life.”

12-20-12 “Do I still know that you have dealt bountifully with me if another month the answer is no? God I want to. I want to exalt you and praise you. I know you always deal bountifully with me. You gave your Son. But do I believe you are more than enough, that you satisfy? Will you be enough if my arms remain empty? My head knows truth, but my heart asks questions. Lord I don’t claim to understand our continued childlessness. You are beyond my understanding, but you are faithful. You are my inheritance. The joys of this world are temporal, fleeting, but you are eternal. My soul praises you even in my questions. I willingly turn them into worship. The place of highest joy is with you. This I know.”

12-27-12 The gospel reminds me that what I legitimately deserve is a cup full of God’s wrath. This would be mine to drink if I was given what I deserve each day. So to be handed even a completely empty cup, is cause for gratitude! The tiniest drop of blessing should blow me away by the unbelievable kindness of God. My cup overflows. Because I deserve every ounce of God’s wrath, therefore any drop of blessing makes my cup full and overflowing. Rather, the reality is that Christ has already given me every spiritual blessing.”

12-31-12 “Father you have brought us so far this year… to a new church where we are so blessed by the gospel emphasis, by a pastor who loves and cares for us, by new and deep friendships, by abundant ministry opportunities. God you have not only given Jon a new job, but a much better job. And you have brought us to a new city! 2012 stands out as a year of blessing… Lord you don’t need us, but I pray you would use us. Father expand the work you want to accomplish in us and through us…”

1-1-13 “God here we are on the brink of a new year. But you already know what this year will bring! I praise you for the “good” and the “bad,” the trials and the blessings because truly everything is good with you. ‘Teach me your way O Lord’  My prayer is to grow in passion and intimacy with you.”

2-9-13 “Lord how do I even begin to put into words where my heart is? How do I write about the death of my love? How do I describe the depth of emotion? How do I write that I am living my worst fear? I didn’t know I would kiss his face, his hands, his hair and weep in indescribable pain. I don’t understand, but I know this: you are good. And you are doing good…Though my flesh doesn’t want your will, I still know you are faithful. You are still abundant grace and mercy. You are still peace. You are still my God. Jesus I cling to you.”

I see no need for extended commentary. I’ve already tried to cram an entire year into 3 pages! But I’ll say this. It is God’s grace that Jon and I remained childless. I’m well aware that had we conceived before Jon died, I would soon be having a child. Though I longed for a little person who looked like Jon, a piece of him, it was God’s grace that said no.

I can see God using tragedy to utterly transform me, and i can see how He is answering countless prayers through these unfulfilled dreams. “Lord be exalted. Be magnified. Let your gospel shine through Jon and through me.” He’s not answering the way I thought, but  He’s answering nonetheless. He’s replaced my fear with peace. Of course, I still struggle. but He’s transformed my thinking. God delights in me. Nothing changes that. I’m astonished at the zeal of God’s transforming grace. It’s uncomfortable grace, but surely my cup overflows.

Prove it God. But He already has.

2013-09-19 09.28.52I was at the beach with family in Hatteras, North Carolina and we were doing a little shopping. As you know, shopping holds little allurement for a four year old boy. But my nephew Aidan and I found a rocking chair. He climbed up in my lap while we waited for his mom and sister to finish. Sitting facing me, he examined my necklace, gently rubbing the texture of the front, turning it over to look at the back.

Now before I go on, you need a little insight on Aidan. He is “all boy.”  Rough and tumble, silly, hilarious. He loves pretend guns, pretend arrows, legos, and pirates. He does boyish things. But there’s a tenderness too.

2013-09-03 19.15.09The necklace he was so thoroughly discovering is, of course, Jon’s thumbprint. I never take it off.  And I’ve found that every child that I’ve gathered in my arms has to touch it. From babies in the nursery, to my former kindergarteners, something about the shiny silver pendant is irresistible. Oh how endearing is their careful examination! For it’s the way children understand their world. And everyone knows I’m a toucher too. I suppose I’m still extremely tactile in the way I figure out the world! I guess I never grew out of that stage of life. Well, at least I don’t put random objects in my mouth. So, anyway I totally get that little kids need to touch intriguing things.

As Aidan turned the pendant over, he noticed the words on the back.

“What does it say Aunt Ami?”

“It says ‘Love always, Jonathan’ It was written by Uncle Jon.”

I could see the gears turning in his head.

“Do you remember Uncle Jon? Not Aunt Carol’s Uncle John (for my sister’s husband is a John too), but my Uncle Jon?”

Still he thought.

“Do you remember him reading stories to you on Christmas morning?”

Reading Good Night Moon

Illumination. A huge grin of remembrance. But his grin quickly gave way to thoughtfulness.

“Yes, but now he died.”

“Yeah, that’s true buddy. Uncle Jon died.”

He thought again, sadness crossing his little face.

“Why did Uncle Jon want to die so now I don’t get to know him?”

Of course, tears sprang to the corners of my eyes. Thoughtful questions from kids always produce this response. It’s one reason I just love small people. They ask what’s on their minds.

Christmas 2010

“Well buddy, he didn’t want to die. But Jesus decided that He loved Uncle Jon so much that He just had to have him there in heaven. He decided it was better for Uncle Jon to be there with Him instead of here.”

“But I don’t know who heaven is.”

“Well heaven is a place. It’s the place where God is. It’s the place where Jesus is right now, and where Uncle Jon is.”

With assurance he replied, “And just because we can’t see Jesus, doesn’t mean He’s not there.”

Now my voice waivered, caught in the beauty of his confidence. “You are exactly right. Jesus is there. And guess what? One day Jesus is coming back. And we will see His face. Isn’t that wonderful?”

“And I will see Uncle Jon too.”

“Yep, as you get older you’ll understand more and more. And if Jesus becomes your Savior, you really will see Uncle Jon again.”

Then with all the faith and expectation a little boy can muster, he proclaimed.

“Yes, I will see him.”

And I was struck by the profound simplicity of child-like faith. How often we adults muddy the waters and complicate things! How easy it is for children to believe. And so Jesus said, we must  become as children for “their’s is the kingdom of heaven”

Faith. Everyone believes in something. And in our culture faith has almost become a buzz word losing the depth of its meaning.  “Keep the faith” “He came to faith” “Have faith” Have faith in what I wonder? A nebulous belief that somehow something or someone cosmic is working in your favor. A type of karma perhaps. What goes around comes around. No, I can’t believe that. There’s so much more.

I mean even atheists have faith. Faith that there is no God. For surely they must dismiss plenty of empirical evidence that suggests otherwise. But I digress. Even Christians fall into the trap of misplaced faith. We put faith in our government. Faith in that fact that we are America (be sure to pronounce that ‘Murica), the home of the free and the brave. We put faith in our education system. We put faith in medical technology, financial security, success, prosperity, the fences that guard our homes… We look to these things to be our savior. Sometimes it’s other people. And yes sometimes we put faith in ourselves. I hate to tell you folks, but all these people and things will fail. If you haven’t seen that yet, don’t worry, it’s coming.

So then where is there hope of someone who will not fail? I would submit to you that true faith rests in the person and work of Jesus Christ. In the character of God. And in His revealed Word. This isn’t an apologetic, so I’m just going to assume you’re all here with me, without further need to convince.

So what is true faith?

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.” Hebrews 11:1

This speaks of confidence. An expectation. Faith is knowing that unseen things are true. I came across some beautiful commentary on Hebrews 11 that I’ve been tossing about in my mind the last several days.

“Faith is not a vague hope grounded in imaginary, wishful thinking. Instead, faith is a settled confidence that something in the future– something that is not yet seen, but has been promised by God– will actually come to pass because God will bring it about. Thus biblical faith is not blind trust in the face of contrary evidence, not an unknowable “leap in the dark”; rather, biblical faith is a confident trust in the eternal God who is all-powerful, infinitely wise, eternally trustworthy—the God who has revealed himself in his word and in the person of Jesus Christ…” (ESV Study Bible)

So then, biblical faith is persistent confidence in the truths about God. It is confident expectation that He will do what He says He will do. And at the center of biblical faith is Jesus Christ.

As I continued to read Hebrews 11, I mulled over the faith of the Old Testament believers. Though they didn’t get to see the promises fulfilled, their faith was in the coming Messiah! They looked forward to a time when One would come who would crush the serpent’s head. Hey guess what? That’s gospel. They had to believe the same things we do– That there was a better Rescuer. A better Priest. A better Sacrifice. A better King.

Think about all they didn’t know, however! They didn’t have the benefit of looking back to see the finished work of Jesus. Isn’t their faith astonishing then? Absolutely yes. But more astonishing than that is their God. Because faith is a gift. (Ephesians 2:8-9). Therefore, the marvelous faith displayed by Abraham, Moses, Rahab and many others was a result ONLY of God’s faithfulness to give them power to believe. They couldn’t have drummed up true faith on their own any more than we can. So what if we change our mindsets? Perhaps Hebrews 11 isn’t the “Hall of Faith,” but rather the “Hall of God’s Fame.” For the point is not, be like Abraham. Or be like Joseph. Or be like David. Rather, the paragraph leads to its climax at the beginning of chapter 12.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (12:1-2)

Looking where? To Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Not to ourselves. Not to our spouses. Not to America. But to Jesus. This is why their faith was so great… It was firmly rooted and grounded in the greatness of the coming Christ. And all these thoughts led me to some substantial application. Just as they couldn’t see it all, neither can I. And I might not ever. You see, one of the constant cries of my heart over the last 8 months has been,

“God don’t waste Jon’s death! Please God do something big!”

At times those cries have been uttered with the attitude of “Prove it God. Prove to me that this is good. Prove to me that you are accomplishing your purposes.”

So this brief study on faith revealed my sin. God doesn’t owe me anything. And how truly arrogant it is of me to demand proof from God who is holy, majestic, transcendent, Creator, Redeemer…

I think Job tried that once. And God merely said, “Who are you? Were you there when I created the world?”

One of my favorite songs says it well. “Who has given counsel to the Lord? Who can question any of His Words? Who can teach the One who knows all things? Who can fathom all His wondrous deeds? Behold our God, seated on His throne. Come let us adore Him. Behold Our King. Nothing can compare. You will reign forever! Let your glory fill the earth!”

Behold our God. There is a difference between asking in humility that God would use Jon and me and demanding that I see evidence of why He’s crushed me.

How dare I require proof. He is God and I am not. For He already went so far as to give His own Son.  And that’s just it. He already proved that He would give far better than answers. He gave Himself. God didn’t have to reconcile Himself to man. But He did. The God who’s wrath was righteous, who was completely just, was also the God who conceived the plan whereby justice and mercy could meet. Because of the cross of Christ, I can have the sweet, sweet confidence that I know God will always do what He says He will do. Job never had the benefit of seeing the cross, but I get to.

And the higher I exalt Christ, the lower I see myself. For gazing at Jesus shows me the beauty of His holiness and the ugliness of my sin. As a result, the cross that bridges the gap must get larger and larger. God’s character is enough to trust Him. Yet he gave us the finished work of His Son. How then can I not believe?

John Piper said, “the gospel is the good news that because God did not spare Christ, He will not spare any omnipotent effort to give everything that is good for us”  Wow! Think about that for a minute. “He will not spare ANY omnipotent effort to give EVERYTHING that is good for us.”

I think that’s the irony. As much as I have pleaded with God to “not waste Jon’s death” and arrogantly asked Him to “prove it,” I already know Jon’s death isn’t wasted. I already see some fruit. I don’t deserve it. Yet it is God’s generous mercy.

So, God brought me again to the place of surrender. “Lord you owe me nothing. And I deserve nothing, but you’ve already given me everything in giving me yourself. Forgive my arrogance in demanding anything from you. Even if I never see Jon’s death resulting in what I think is ‘big,’ you are doing good. You are accomplishing your purposes. You don’t need me. You don’t need Jon. I don’t believe Jon’s death is wasted, but even if it was, that is your good and sovereign choice.”

“So return me Lord, to the profound simplicity of child-like faith. The waves have subsided for a time, but when they threaten again to drown me, keep me looking to Jesus, the perfecter of my faith.”

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Some days I just feel crazy.

I haven’t had one of those “I am legitimately losing my mind” kind of days in a while. But today it’s here in full-force. I woke up just sad. I hate days I wake up sad. Because then the whole day feels like a struggle for joy. I suppose it is grace that I’m not waking up sad every day anymore. But when they come, they hit hard. I really did just want to stay in bed all day. And I can’t seem to stop crying. It’s days like today where I feel like I can relate a little to Charlie in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It’s the feeling of everything swirling around, the feeling of being trapped inside your own head and not being able to get out.

There was constant confusion the first few months. And now it’s seldom. But it still throws me every time an “I’m going crazy” day hits. So I guess it’s more than just a sad day.

I’ve been trying to quantify the struggle. Because that’s what I do. I analyze. And I ask God to help me boil it down to the truths He wants me to see. I hardly ever do this, but I’m typing before I’ve fully processed. Usually I write things in a journal first, and then later they get transferred to the blog.

But I don’t know. Today it just seems like I need the act of typing and the clacking of keys to make me feel like I’m accomplishing something.

These deep days are never about one thing. Usually it’s a combination of things that have been building for a while. I’m struggling with being alone. I’m struggling with my new life. I’m struggling with feeling of value to anyone. Then there are some aspects of struggle I just can’t write here. And another thing, I’ve been getting to spend lots of time with people recently. But why do I still feel so lonely? And why is it so hard to preach the gospel to myself today? And all of this makes me feel a little crazy.

There’s been a lot about introversion on Facebook lately, and maybe it’s a bad thing for me. Because now I’m analyzing all these character traits! Which in turn makes me realize I have more introversion in me than I thought. And I think it makes me nervous. It makes me wonder if a result of grief is a fundamental shift in personality. Or if I’ve just never realized there was a label for the desire to have solitude! I think under normal circumstances, I’m somewhere in the middle. It’s like a mean game though… 23 Signs You’re Secretly an Introvert. I’m convinced it was written by someone out there bent on making me even more tied up in my own head. Why the hype all of a sudden? I’ve been content to know that I was introspective, but I think I’ve headed down this nasty spiral today: “Have I always had introverted tendencies? If so, why does this label “introvert” bother me so much? Or are these tendencies just heightened as a result of loss? And if I do have them, I must not be totally introverted because I think I’m going nuts from so much time by myself!” I don’t know the answers. And I know I may not be making much sense.

For example, take crowds. I don’t remember if I used to feel alone in a crowd before losing Jon. I don’t remember it ever being a problem.

I don’t remember if I would have wanted to sit in the corner and observe rather than participate. But I do know that when I had Jon, I could be in a large crowd and be totally ok. Even if I was not by his side, I knew he was there. Like a safe haven. The place where I knew it was ok to be totally me, not wondering how I was perceived.

But now I sometimes feel like I’m going to hyperventilate. Is this introversion or is this just grief? And does it really matter which one it is? Probably not.

Another thing I’ve been thinking about is that Jon was really good at getting me to not take life so seriously. He drew the silliness out in me. And I think it makes me sad that I’m not that way anymore. And it makes me miss his goofiness that much more.

I miss that every trip to a grocery store or Walmart was an adventure. I miss him riding down a hill on the shopping cart shouting “I’m the king of the world.”  I miss him dancing in the middle of the aisle every time that stupid Bieber song, “Baby Baby” came on…every time, without fail. I miss him 80s power walking like Richard Simmons so he could be the first one to spot people in their pajamas. I always won that game though, despite his best efforts.

I miss how we would play silly games and people would look at us funny (or sweetly). One day, we were waiting in the self-checkout line and every time I said an adjective Jon exuberantly acted it out– silly, happy…. So then I just started trying to get him to act out ridiculous ones… charming, dashing, terrified, pensive, manly, heroic, shy… I just laughed and laughed. It was our own little game of reverse charades. We noticed the clerk looking at us as if we were nuts. But I just smiled at her and thought, “Let her think we’re nuts. This is what happiness looks like.” He made me not care.

My sister-in-law once said- “Does he do these things all the time?”  And my playful answer was, “Yes. And I just go with it. Life is definitely never boring.”

So all this talk about introversion just makes me wonder if I’ll ever have those times of silliness again.

Maybe this is my skewed, biased view, but Jon had this rare quality about him. I can’t think of one word to describe it, but it seemed like a sense of utter delight with life. Excitement, joy, passion, charisma… He told me once that it was his personal mission to get people with monotonous jobs to smile. You know, checkout clerks, subway attendants, toll collectors…  “Somebody’s got to make their day better.”

I think other aspects of my struggle today comes down to an identity crisis. For one thing, I didn’t realize that no longer teaching Kindergarten would bother me. Even though it was my own choice to not go back. But now everyone’s headed back to school and it does. Perhaps teaching has become an idol. “I am a teacher.” It gave me a definitive identity when God took the rest– wife, encourager, cheerleader, lover, wannabe mother, wannabe pastor’s wife. But even this last week, God reminded me that He wants teacher too. “God can’t I keep just this one? I’m a good teacher. Can’t I keep that? You’ve taken everything else.”  But again God said, “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” He wants even my identity as teacher. He wants my identity to be in Christ. So if He wants these education skills to go dormant, that’s ok. It’s His life. This is the cost of true discipleship. But today the cost weighs heavy.

On the other hand, I’m so thankful for what I get to do now. I’m thankful that I get the privilege of being totally devoted to ministry. And I know I’m following God’s plan. I love getting to talk with people, encourage, and counsel. I love that He is perhaps developing other gifts.

Most days I have such great joy in that. Just not today. Today I feel like shouting and throwing things. Or maybe just doing nothing but lying on the couch. Today I’m wrestling with questions like, “Have I reached that place where I’m expected to be ok? After all, it has been almost 7 months.” and “Is it still ok for me to tell people that I’m struggling? Is it still ok for me to feel crazy?”

As I alluded to earlier, I’ve really enjoyed getting to invest so much time in people. But I feel so drained. Yet I don’t want to be alone. It’s this weird paradox.


So I left my ramblings mid thought, and got to spend the evening with some lovely friends. And it was a good thing too. For I was headed down deep, and I knew it. I’m thankful God gave me grace to know I had to reach out. I can’t expect people to be mind readers. “Do y’all have plans tonight?” This was His love for me when I just couldn’t get enough truth in my heart to stop crying and to distill the crazy thoughts.  And this is why I can’t understand how it’s possible to handle grief without Christ. For I would have drifted more into isolation, and who knows what else today.

I loved just being with them, and seeing the silliness in their own interactions together. I loved seeing their affection for one another. I loved hearing them pray for one another and for me. It was good. And it was really good to share my “pit of introspection” with another human and not just my computer. It was not through words, but my friends reminded me why Christ made believers a body. We need each other. I’m thinking of Galatians 6 that says “Bear one another’s burdens.” That verse is referring to a crushing load that’s too heavy for one person. Sometimes the best way to preach the gospel is just to do life together. Today I needed someone to bear my crushing load with me. We had some spiritual conversation tonight, but more than that I got to see the corporate quality of the gospel played out. This is the church. Jesus purchased for Himself a people; peculiar, holy, blameless. This is the kingdom of God. To be a burden bearer is to imitate Jesus, who went so far as to bear the full burden of sin.

I thought about going back and editing what I wrote earlier today. But then I thought better of it. I can be honest here. I have to be. Or I will help perpetuate the myth that Christians are shiny people with all their stuff together. Because it really is ok for me still to struggle even if Christian culture sometimes, sadly portrays otherwise.

When a sheep is broken, the shepherd doesn’t just say, “Just get up and walk sheep.” Rather, He carries it. I’m thankful to be in a local church that carries broken sheep. Even this one.

And I still say

“I come, God, I come
I return to the Lord
The one who’s broken
The one who’s torn me apart
You struck down to bind me up
You say You do it all in love
That I might know You in Your suffering

Though You slay me
Yet I will praise You
Though You take from me
I will bless Your name
Though You ruin me
Still I will worship
Sing a song to the one who’s all I need

My heart and flesh may fail
The earth below give way
But with my eyes, with my eyes I’ll see the Lord
Lifted high on that day
Behold, the Lamb that was slain
And I’ll know every tear was worth it all

Though You slay me
Yet I will praise You
Though You take from me
I will bless Your name
Though You ruin me
Still I will worship
Sing a song to the one who’s all I need

You’re enough for me.”

Though You Slay Me (Shane & Shane, With John Piper)

Jon was supposed to die: A crossroads day

???????????????????????????????Jon was supposed to die. I know that’s a provocative statement and probably somewhat controversial. Some with differing views of God, may disagree, but this blog still remains just reflections through my personal walk with grief. It’s still about setting up signposts for myself, so that when I’m through the valley, I won’t forget how closely Christ walked beside me in it. Rather how He carried me through it. But, I do want to encourage you too. My intention isn’t to be controversial, but at the very least I know what I’m about to write will be thought provoking.

Last week I met with Jon’s cardiologist. I wrestled for awhile with setting up this meeting, but eventually realized I had to. My heart in meeting with the doctor wasn’t retributive in any way. I prayed a lot about my motives before I went. I just wanted to express to him my understanding of God’s sovereignty over Jon’s death, and see if he could shed any additional light on what medically caused Jon to die.

I’ve struggled with guilt since Jon died. Perhaps this is a a battle for anyone deeply grieving. But, for me I think the rapid events that led to Jon’s death have made the temptation toward guilt stronger than had he died, for example, from cancer. Does that make sense? With cancer we would have known he was dying. But the night Jon died, it didn’t register what was happening even when the doctor in the emergency room said, “It’s been over an hour. You have to tell us we can stop.” He meant giving the permission to stop CPR. How vividly I remember my near hysterical response, “Are you telling me my husband is going to die? How can this be possible? How can you ask me to make that decision?” I think I just kept saying, “How is this possible?” over and over. As I’ve mentioned before, God did give grace to finally say, “He’s yours.”  But the temptation toward guilt sometimes seemed unbearable. But maybe someone who’s walked through cancer with a loved one can tell me if there is also a battle with guilt.

“I should have taken him to the ER sooner. I should have pressed the cardiologist harder when we were there on Wednesday. Why was Jon so stubborn? I should have taken him straight to Rockford and not Kishwaukee. When he was in the hospital in December, why didn’t they do more tests then?” I should have. I should have. I should have. And why, why, why. Satan and my mind knew how best to buffet me.

But anyway, after I left the cardiologist last week I was astounded by how much God’s sovereignty at last “sunk in.” Like at the experiential, heart level. I’ve known and maintained God’s sovereignty throughout, but now it seems I really know it. One new piece of information the cardiologist had to offer was just how drastically Jon’s valve had changed in less than a month. Of course I never knew the results of the 2nd echocardiogram because Jon died two days after he had it. The doctor told me that he had reviewed the echo on Friday (the day Jon died), and had dispatched a note to his nurse saying that she needed expedite Jon’s angiogram and get it done first thing the following week. Let me rephrase that. He was shocked at how much more deterioration he saw, and knew Jon’s more invasive tests needed to be sped up. But, he wrote that note after 5:00pm on Friday, so no one ever saw it. Jon died that night. It was too late.

After I heard these things, I realized that Jon’s valve had deteriorated much more quickly than the cardiologist was used to seeing. Jon  went from “His valve looks ok. You can definitely wait till summer for surgery” to his body shutting down. And no one could see it. There was more stress on his heart than anyone understood. So here’s my new understanding of God’s sovereignty; Jon was supposed to die.

I may have believed God’s sovereignty this whole time, but last week was the first time I could say those specific words. God could have changed any number of factors leading up to Jon’s death, but He chose not to. He could have had the doctor review the echo the day we were there or on Thursday even.  He could have enabled us to see the cardiologist sooner. Believe me, we were on the phone with the office a lot! We also saw a nurse practitioner at the cardiology office the week before Jon died.

He could have stopped Jon from getting pneumonia or the flu on top of his valve problem. For it is very likely, that one of these was the case.

But He didn’t. And He didn’t allow anyone to fully see the severity of the situation.

And yes, there could have been mistakes made. But that doesn’t matter. Mistakes don’t change the fact that God is sovereign. God even uses human mistakes to accomplish His purposes. So there really is no one to blame.

So I recognize the controversy here. There are those of you whose minds are reeling. “So you’re saying God ordained Jon’s death?” Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Though we have live in an age of stunning medical technology, doctors still cannot see everything. They are not God.

Because here’s the truth. No person held Jon’s life in his hands, except Jesus Christ. The day and time of Jon’s death was ordained before he was ever born. Just as the day of your death and my death is already known by God.

And some might be thinking, “So how in the world is this comforting?” Well, because I also know that God is good. And because I know God’s character, I can trust His sovereign plan to be good.

So, I sat on my couch the day after meeting with the cardiologist writing and mulling over these things. And I penned the words “Nothing any human does can thwart your plans God. The ‘what ifs’ wouldn’t have changed anything. And God you do use horrible things for good. This is redemption. This is gospel.”

I sat there just talking with God and thought. “Lord I feel as I’m on the brink of seeing some truth in a magnificent way. I think I’m standing right on the precipice of something big in my heart. So you work God. Make your truth clear. And I’ll stay here with you till we hammer this out.”

With a rushing “holy stars and stripes batman” type of clarity, God flooded my mind with truth from Scripture. I don’t think I can really communicate the intensity of that moment with Him. Have you ever been there?  That place where you know you are at a cross-roads of belief where truth penetrates so deeply that it’s life changing? That place where it feels like you can identify with Moses when he took his shoes off because he was treading on holy ground?

How can one communicate these things? Feebly I think.

“I know you are working a reversal. In my eyes, Jon’s death was the worst thing that could have happened to me, but God you are changing it to something infinitely good!  Something I’ll look back on and say ‘That was good. God meant it for good. I wouldn’t change it.’ And I’ll say ‘God your plan is so much better!’ Death bringing forth life. Perhaps Jon’s death is bringing forth a life in me that I never imagined. You are using it to accomplish something great in me. And Jon would want that. Because he loved you far more than he loved me.

The theme of reversal is all over the Bible! Think of Job, Joseph, Daniel, Rahab, Ruth, Esther, the Samaritan woman, the prodigal son, and Paul just to name a few. They all experienced real, tangible reversal in their lives. Joseph was thrown in prison, but then exalted as 2nd only to Pharoah! Daniel was throw into a pit filled with lions, but his accusers were the ones that got eaten for dinner! Ruth was a barren widow, but she was redeemed and included in the line of Christ! The Prodigal squandered all of his inheritance, slept with prostitutes, and got so hungry he wished he could eat pig slop. But O how his Father looked for Him! And then exalted him and lavished grace on him when he returned. “Bring the robe. Bring the ring. Kill the calf. We’re having a party! My boy’s come home!”  And then there’s Paul. Shipwrecked, beaten, jailed, you name it, but the gospel went to Rome and then to all of Western civilization! Countless have believed as a result. Reversal.

Then there’s the imagery The potter smashes the clay and reworks it into something more beautiful. “Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles?’’ (Isaiah 45) Or “can I not do with you as this potter has done?’ declares the Lord. ‘Behold like the clay in the potter’s hand so are you in my hand?’’

There’s a beautiful sentence in Isaiah 29. “You turn things upside down.” And that’s just what God does.

And what about the vineyard? The vinedresser prunes every branch that it bear more fruit. Sometimes he must strip it down till it looks barren. Till it seems that there will be no more fruit. But the branch is still very much alive on the inside because it is connected to the vine. (John 15) I learned this astonishing thing about wine grapes the other day. The vines that struggle the most, produce the best, most high-quality grapes, and therefore, the best wine. The most intense, lovely flavors come from the vines that have had to push their roots deep to get to the water and the nutrients, in essence to struggle for their very existence. So winemakers will intentionally create “distress.” It’s true. Do a google search. So on the heels of that thought, my brain took it a little further. Wine grapes are a lot smaller, more compact, and bundled more closely together than table grapes. Therefore, the flavor is also more saturated. So here is this lovely thing in of itself. But how does it become a much more valuable product? You’ve got to crush the grapes first.

And I think about Jon. God already did the most spectacular reversal in his life… death immediately turned to life. No more faulty heart valve. No more weakness. And no more struggle with sin.

And all these people, and all the imagery points to the ultimate reversal!  On the cross Jesus reversed the curse of sin and death. He reversed the ledger of debt taking all of it on Himself, and canceling out the record of debt against me. He made himself to be sin for me, so that I might be made righteous. It looked like He was defeated. Yet He rose again! So in His is death and resurrection He triumphed openly over His enemies making Satan truly a naked dog on a leash. The serpent doesn’t believe it yet, but Jesus has already crushed his head. The reversal has been made. The victory is accomplished. He will one day reverse even the curse on creation. And there will be no more death.

Can you see me just about leaping as I type this? Don’t you just want to shout with me? “Hallelujah! What a Savior!”

So God really did hammer it all out in my heart that day.

“O Lord there have been several crossroads days on this journey with grief, and I think this is one of them. You literally, truly are making a reversal out of the “worst.” And the greater the “worst,” the greater the reversal of good! You give back more than you take. The good is always in ridiculously larger proportion than the bad. Jesus was made the lowest, and now He is exalted, supreme, in His rightful place. O God if you love me enough to reverse the very curse of sin, then surely you are reversing the ‘badness’ of Jon’s death!

I can expect something beautiful. God is working a reversal–A real, physical, tangible transfer of bad to good, not just a nebulous concept. Some things I’ll not see till eternity, but I can also expect God to do immensely good in this life.

I don’t know how God’s working, but I can anticipate that He is.

So when guilt stealthily creeps in, I can look back and say, “God you illumined my heart to these things in a radical way. I know your lessons are true.” Satan tries to sift me, but I don’t have to be sifted.

And when I think of my Jon, though he would have wanted to stay, he would have wanted Christ more. And now he would not want to come back. He’s more alive than any of us. Perhaps there was a time of surrender where he said, “God do what you want with me. Do what you want with Ami. Do what you want to make us more like you.” In fact, I know there was.

“O my soul praise you! Lord I just humbly bow and worship. That seems to be the only response I can give.”


Jesus’ Stunning Grief

So yesterday I recounted the story of Lazarus and of how Jesus grieved. Go back and read that one if you haven’t already. It’s called “a shocking story, but with fresh eyes”  Today follows closely on its heels and ties it all together.

And I said I would explain how Jesus’ grief relates to the “next” for me. And so I will.

Several months ago, I had the thought, “I wonder what it was like for Jon to see Jesus’ face. How beyond my comprehension that must have been!” But then that thought was followed by a selfish one, “But what about me?”  I have no biblical proof for this, but in my imagination I see Jesus coming to get Jon, rather than Jon just waking in the presence of Christ. Does that make sense? Must be too much influence of that silly show Touched by an Angel as a kid. So my thought spiraled down this way… “But what about me? Did he look back? Did he ask Jesus if I was going to be ok? Or was there no more thought of me?” And of course, if all thoughts of me were utterly erased at the sight of His Savior, then that would be perfectly right. For it’s true, I think that “the things of earth grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”  But my internal battle continued…”And God, if you were there with exuberant delight welcoming Jon home, how were you also there weeping with me?”

Of course I knew the answer to that question. I know God is omnipresent. And I know that all believers are indwelled by the Holy Spirit. But all previous assent to these truths seemed irrelevant. So I battled for days, “God did you leave me all alone? How could you have been there? Did you weep with me?”

Here’s where Lazarus’ story comes in, and how the truths from it have become stunning to me. In the midst of my deep struggle with basic truths such as God’s sovereignty, His omnipresence, His compassion, HIs love for me, His promises to never leave me, God brought my friend Elizabeth.

She shared her own story of the death of her fiance just months before her wedding, how God carried her through the depths, and how He eventually brought her husband Rob across her path. She could share with me what loving two men looks like, and how God equipped Rob to “handle a woman with grief.” She could tell me what grief looks like several years down the road. She answered my questions before I ever asked them. We sat at my house talking for hours crying and laughing together. And it was Elizabeth who reminded me of Lazarus in John 11.

So I went back and started studying it with fresh eyes. I began to see the radiance of this story for the first time. God’s truth resounded emphatically when I saw Jesus weeping with His friends, angry at sin and death, and in awe of the power that was about to course through Him–all in one moment! And I realized finally, “Yes, Lord you were there delightedly receiving Jon, and you were there broken by grief, weeping with me.” I think I have in the past taken the totally personal nature of God for granted. Yes, there have been other times when I’ve been acutely aware of God’s presence, but in general it’s easy to forget just how invested in me He is. Another truth so shocking was that He was also there with every other believer for whatever they were facing at the exact moment! All the beauty of the promise, “I will never leave you or forsake you” rushed upon me. And the truth of God’s intimate presence was startlingly real. Perhaps I’m learning these basis truths experientially. You may be thinking, big deal. Of course these things are true.  But I encourage you to view them as magnificently as they really are… not just as Sunday school lessons you’ve heard all your life.

The God who created everything knows me and loves me. He is more intimately aware and concerned with my life than I am.

Since then, God keeps using this passage to teach me. He reminded me that love doesn’t always look the way I think it should, but in His love He sometimes does things I don’t understand. As with Lazarus, He’s doing more than I think. Also, though God didn’t raise Jon after four days, he will be bodily raised one day! And I’ll get to see him. And laugh with him. And hug him. And most importantly, worship God for all eternity, alive together!  But even before that, when Jon died he was absent from flesh and present with Christ. For the death of a believer is really him stepping into new life. As Jesus said of Lazarus, “His illness doesn’t lead to death.”  So, for Jon his illness also led through death! In the immediate days of sorrow, it was NOT comforting hear folks say, “But we can rejoice, for Jon is with heaven with Christ!” I didn’t care. I wanted him back. Thoughts of eternity didn’t help assuage the grief. But I think now I’m starting to see the beauty of the words, “O death where is your sting? O grave where is your victory?” For those chosen by God, saved by grace alone, through faith in Christ alone, death is death only for those left behind!

Likewise, the depth of Jesus’ grief has thoroughly comforted me. How marvelous is Hebrews 2:17 ‘Therefore, He had to be made like His brothers in every respect, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because He Himself has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.”  He had to be made like his brothers in every respect. Therefore, he also had to know grief like his brothers. Jesus fully satisfied God’s wrath for me, and He did it as one who knew all the weaknesses of human flesh, yet without sin.

And we don’t just see Jesus’ grief for Lazarus, but also his much more profound grief in Gethsemane. I was reading Knowing God by J.I. Packer and came across these words about the garden. I certainly don’t think I can improve upon them so I’ll just give you the quote.

In discussing how you would see Jesus presented in the gospel of Mark, Packer says, “Your final impression will be of One for whom this experience of death was the most fearful ordeal. In Gethsemane, ‘horror and dismay came over him, and he said…’My heart is ready to break with grief’ (Mark 14:34 NEB). The earnestness of his prayer (for which ‘he threw himself on the ground,’ rather than kneel or stand) was an index of the inward revulsion and desolation that he felt as he contemplated what was to come. How strong was his temptation to say ‘amen’ after ‘take away this cup from me,’ rather than go on to ‘nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt’ (Mark 14:36 KJV), we shall never know. Then, on the cross, Jesus bore witness to inward darkness matching outward darkness with his cry of dereliction, ‘My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?”

My first thought after reading this paragraph was that Jesus even grieved perfectly. Though there was tremendous grace in the ER to say- “God you’re good. He’s yours,” how many times since then have I doubted or railed against God? I have not always grieved well. And I have not always said, “not my will but yours.”  But O how beautiful it is that Jesus already grieved perfectly! And His death and resurrection are sufficient for my failure to grieve perfectly. He’s sufficient to remind me of Himself when I doubt.

I wonder how much greater was Jesus’ grief because He had never been separated from HIs Father. Never was there a fractured relationship due to sin. Never was there less than a perfect union. I can’t say that I’ve ever sweat blood.

I’m humbled by these instances of Jesus’ grief. But this is the humanity of the One who is also God. Words to an old hymn just sprang to mind as I type, “No one ever cared for me like Jesus… O how much He cares for me.”

So how does Jesus’ grief relate to pressing in to God’s “next”? Well, Jesus’ own grief was temporary. And so shall mine be. It will not last for eternity. For after the cross and death Jesus was raised, exalted and seated at the right hand of the Father. And now I’m called an heir with Christ, one day to be glorified with Him. One day to never see sin and death again. For as Paul said “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us.” (Romans 8)

It is because He grieved that I can have a “next.” It is because He said “not my will by yours,” then suffered unto death that I know life, and freedom, and joy and peace. So I return to the passage I began with yesterday–  “If God be for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will he not also with Him graciously give us all things?”  God is for me. There is such power in those simple words. Moreover, these verses have “to do with knowing and enjoying God, and not with anything else. The meaning of ‘he will give us all things; can be put thus: one day we shall see that nothing–literally nothing– which could have increased our eternal happiness has been denied us, and that nothing–literally nothing– that could have reduced that happiness has been left with us. What higher assurance do we have than that?” (Packer)

How then could there not be “next”? Not just in eternity, but in this life also. This is hope. This is confident expectation.

a shocking story, with fresh eyes

Rainy day reflections...
Rainy day reflections…

I’ve been thinking a lot about Jesus and grief. Well, duh. That seems like an unnecessary sentence. Of course these are the two biggest themes in life for me right now. My confident expectation is that the first will always be the biggest theme. But I’m coming to realize that the second will over time make way for other themes. Just recently a friend encouraged me to press in to the reality that God has more in life for me.  It’s not deserved or earned, but God does have a “next” in store for me. That was hard to believe for awhile. It is still is hard to believe sometimes. For a long time it felt like my “next” had died with Jon.

But grief is not the only theme by which God intends to characterize my life. My wise friend is right. It’s time to live with expectancy that God is doing more in me and through me than I understand. Of course He is. Through no merit of my own, He’s weaving my story into His story. A tiny part in the grand plan of redemption. So then, it is not really my story at all, but His. And as He ties my life to His story, what beautiful assurance there is in the generosity of my God! For “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” That doesn’t mean that God is promising the house, the family, the health, the wealth, and the prosperity. But what He is promising is Himself. He already gave the most costly thing He has. So therefore, no good thing will finally be withheld from me. I know who He is. And I know He is doing good. (Romans 8)

So It’s not my grief that I’ve been reflecting on most recently. What I should have said is, I’ve been thinking a lot about Jesus’ grief. And herein lies a vast storehouse of comfort.

I said there’d be a “Part 2” to my previous post, and so there will be in due course. I think my dearest friends already know what it looks like, for they bear it with me. There’s more to say, but perhaps Part 2 will come after some months as time changes the shape of grief for me. But for now, it’s the riches of my Savior’s humanity that have captured my attention. He is bringing me to more fully understand the words of Isaiah 53- “surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” And it is in viewing Jesus’ grief, that He so clearly reminds me of the “next.” Let me explain, but first let me tell you a story.

In my desperate place God keeps meeting with me in distinct ways through His Scripture. He continues to shore up these lessons and illumine my heart. He’s made several instances in Jesus’ life to be shockingly beautiful to me. Specifically, I’m talking about Jesus’ grief for His friend Lazarus, and His grief in the garden of Gethsemane.

So let’s talk about Lazarus. Pretend you’ve never read this story before. Read it with fresh eyes. Did you know that John is the only gospel writer to include the story of Lazarus? I suppose it’s because John was writing to present Jesus as God. And he certainly does. But in John 11 we see the cohesive unity of Jesus’ deity and His humanity. Here’s the scene. Lazarus, Martha, and Mary are close friends of Jesus. We don’t know how they came to know Jesus, or how their friendship blossomed, but it’s evident that He loved them. Knowing how Scripture plays out, it’s safe to say that His love for them was stronger than even “family love.”

So Jesus received word that Lazarus was close to death, and everyone expected that He would go. They expected that He would rush in and save the day. After all, they’d seen Him do it before. He had turned water to wine, fed a multitude, gave sight to the blind, calmed a raging sea… Therefore, they believed He could heal His friend. And they were right. He could have done that. But what Jesus actually did was incomprehensible and seemingly callous. He stayed where He was for two more days! Let that sink in for a minute. He stayed. What would you have done for someone like family? You would have hopped on the next plane to Jerusalem! You wouldn’t be able to heal your friend, but out of love you would have wanted to be there.

John 11 tells us however, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when He heard that Lazarus was ill, He stayed two days longer in the place where He was.” Did you catch that?  Let me paraphrase. Because He loved them, He stayed. Now since you’re reading this story for the first time, doesn’t that sound ludicrous? If He loved them, how could He stay away?  Yet He did. If He really had the ability to heal His friend, wasn’t it just cruel not to go?

Let me blatantly foreshadow for a second. He is going to show them something they certainly didn’t anticipate… that His love for them was bigger than what they knew. And that sometimes love doesn’t look at all the way it is expected to look.

So Jesus tells His disciples that the illness does not lead to death. Whew! The sigh of relief penetrated their hearts and a glimmer of hope sprang to every face. Lazarus was going to be all right. A quick aside- I knew that glimmer of hope for a moment. “Ok we’ve got him back, but it’s still touch and go.” My husband was going to be all right.

Back to my story.

But a few sentences later, Jesus plainly tells them that Lazarus has died. How then could His words be true- “His illness does not lead to death”? Did He lie? For Lazarus really was dead.  As a first time reader, my confidence in this Jesus certainly is starting to wane. He’s either delusional or merely a charlatan. But yet I can’t put the book down and I cling to a frail hope that “maybe he knows what he’s doing?”

Finally Jesus comes to Bethany only to encounter loud mourning and lamenting. Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Had He made a mistake? How could He not have cared? Why hadn’t He come earlier? And Martha and Mary both cried out, “But Lord if only if you had been here…”  Even in their deep grief they were confident that Jesus could have saved their brother. No doubt though, there must have been the questions stirring inside, “But why didn’t you?” I think I’ve played that question 1000 times.

Beautifully, the scene shifts to some of the most tender words in Scripture. “When Jesus saw her weeping… He was deeply moved in His spirit and greatly troubled.” Don’t let the language trip you up– This is Jesus grieving! It’s Jesus full of sorrow over His friend’s death. It’s also His great compassion for His other friends. This is Jesus carrying their sorrows and bearing their griefs! It’s also Jesus indignant over the curse of sin and death. But then the words get even sweeter, “Jesus wept.” Have you wept over the death of a loved one? Then you know the crushing emotions He felt.  If Isaiah 53 is true, then Jesus, manifesting His full humanity, experienced the full weight of grief. Isn’t that kind of amazing?

But wait there’s more! Jesus commands that the stone be rolled away. What!?  Are you kidding me? You would have said just what Martha did…”But Lord, he’ll stink!” They still couldn’t see it. So often neither can we. Yet Jesus responds, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So the story reaches it’s dramatic climax.

“Lazarus COME OUT!” Can you imagine it?  Can you imagine Jesus’ authority as the words rumbled out, His deity on full display? I wonder if Jesus hadn’t specified, “Lazarus,” if ALL those who had gone on before would have also been raised by the sheer power of His voice?

Out stumbled a figure still bound tightly in all his grave clothes. Hold on a minute, the Bible has mummies? Yep. But this was no wraith or zombie. (Good, because I’m not a huge fan of zombies).

It was a perfectly well, living, breathing, raised from the dead, Lazarus.

Now the Bible doesn’t say this but I can imagine the celebration that night was unparalleled! In my head I see Lazarus, having been cut loose from his wrappings, run to Jesus and embrace Him in an unashamed bear hug. And in my imagination I see more weeping, but weeping mingled with laughter.

So how does this relate to the “next” for me? What are all the conclusions and implications from this story? Well I fear this post has already gotten lengthy, so you’ll just have to come back tomorrow for the rest.

Well, I’ll at least give a quick teaser…. Because Jesus loved Jon and me, He stayed. He stayed His rescuing hand, and with exuberant delight welcomed Jon home. Like Lazarus, Jon’s illness did not lead to death, but through it.

But what about me? Was He there weeping with me too? The truths God keeps cementing in my mind very clearly lead me to say, yes.

So this is grief

jon goofy

I want to talk about my grief for a few minutes. I suppose I’ve learned some things about it over the last several months. By the way, I know the picture above doesn’t really go, but it makes me smile before dealing with such a heavy topic. I don’t know what grief will look like a year or five years down the road, but this is what it looks like now. This is part one. There’s too much for one post.

I recently finished reading A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis and I was comforted by how closely his thoughts mirror my own. He writes of the sense of utter confusion and shock that overtake you in the beginning. He writes of the fear that memories of his beloved would fade. That’s a big one for me! I can also understand the wrestle for joy, the temptation to feel guilt, the hard questions, and the desperate cries for help. It was good to see someone who was undoubtedly one of the great Christian authors struggle the same way I am. I get it when he says, “The act of living is different all through. [His] absence is like the sky, spread over everything.”

Grief doesn’t look the way I thought it did. Though I had experienced some grief before Jon’s death, they were much different circumstances. I had not experienced losing my other half. So here are my thoughts. Deep grief is messy. It’s not linear, and emotions and questions you think you’ve resolved, rear their ugly heads without any warning or explanation. It’s a weight that threatens to crush. It’s the feeling of an unending battle. Or a wilderness that stretches unbroken.

There’s a lot of loneliness that comes with the death of a spouse. A lot of loneliness. I’ve gone from having evenings of quality time with the one I love to evenings, and now days by myself. And even when I’m with people, I’m still lonely sometimes. It’s really easy and tempting to take the loneliness and run to other things besides God–exercise, shopping, ice cream, people, Duck Dynasty (ha!)… But I’m learning to run TO Christ in the loneliness, to meet Him as my true companion, and to know the comfort of His presence. I’ve filled many pages in my journal, but I admit I haven’t fully figured out this loneliness thing.

Likewise, the “Why me?” syndrome is a seductive trap. How quickly my thoughts spiral to destructive places when I start comparing my lot with others. The constant emotional roller coaster is teaching me how desperately I need God. And how I must cling to truth of the Gospel to combat my emotions. “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. Indeed I have a beautiful inheritance.” (Psalm 16:5-6). And this verse is true because of Christ. He holds my lot because He died for me. He is the pleasant place. He is my inheritance.

There’s also the temptation to put guilt for Jon’s death on myself. And that’s something that’s just a lie. God knew the number of Jon’s days before He ever created him. God is sovereignly working all things for His glory, and my good. God’s plan of redemption is so much bigger than Jon and me.

Speaking of lies, many of those pop up too.– “Ami, you know that look that passed between you and Jon, well it wasn’t real. You just imagined it.” And another popular one, “God is punishing me for loving Jon too much.” Again I look to my arsenal of truth.

  • “You are precious in my eyes, and honored and I love you.” (Isaiah 43:4)
  • “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)
  • “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15)

Another thing that’s been a big deal for me, are the conflicting thoughts of remarriage. Now I’m really letting myself be vulnerable before you. So please handle my words with care. I only bring up this facet of grief because I’m trying to paint a picture of how it looks for me. I was shocked at how quickly the idea of remarriage surfaced, which of course led to more guilt. “Do I not love Jon as deeply as I thought? How can I even have these thoughts! It’s only been months!” I didn’t anticipate dealing with this topic for a long time. But it’s actually one of the biggest conflicts of grief for me; I desire to love and be loved again. Yet I long for Jon. And I worry about the criticism of others. Yep I struggle with that. It’s called fear of man. The topic of remarriage spirals me to questions I can’t answer like, “How will I love someone else like I love Jon? How could I handle another man kissing me? What happens to all my pictures? And my wedding rings?” And so on and so on.

But thankfully, some wise people reel me back in, and remind me that God is big, and that guilt is not grace. I don’t have to answer these questions now. They remind me that if God does ever bring someone into my life, He will meet me with abundant grace, just like He does now. And he would meet that guy with grace to handle a girl who is a widow. And they remind me that enough love for two people is not a hard task for the One is in control of everything. So, I think you get the picture. Grief is a place of conflicting emotions and thoughts you don’t anticipate.

And then there’s just the plain old “missing him.” I miss everything about him. His quirks. His goofiness. His hideous green sport coat (that came out only for costumes these days) His passion for the Gospel. I miss his touch. His smile. This is a place I could park at for awhile, but I’ll keep going.

Yet among the loneliness, fear, lies, and conflict, God tells me that He is the one that truly satisfies. This is true. ”How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.” (Psalm 84:1-2) I want to stay in this place as long as He wants me to. And whatever state I find myself I want to serve with undivided devotion.

So this is some of what grief looks like for me. I’ll stop here for now. Just two more things. I was reflecting on the imagery of the wilderness yesterday, and not coincidentally, God brought Isaiah 43 to mind. “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people the people whom I’ve formed for myself that they might declare my praise.” (43:19-21). So I thought, “God are you making a way for me? Is there a river in my desert?” Then the most beautiful thought flooded my mind. God already has made a way in the wilderness. He has already done a new thing. He made a way at the cost of His own Son. And in my desert, Jesus is the Living Water.

Finally, Christ knows grief. Perhaps some of the agony of Gethsemane was that of grief? “Surely He has born my grief and carried my sorrows.” (Isaiah 53) Yeah, He really did. He really does. Talk about Hope!

Hey, so maybe your husband hasn’t died, but I bet you have suffered in some way. I bet you can relate to the wilderness feeling. And I bet you can relate to lies and temptations. It would be ridiculous of me to think that the death of a spouse is the deepest form of human suffering.  Everyone suffers. But if you’re in Christ, He gives you drink in the wilderness too. And we will declare His praise! This is awesome.

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