A little shot of encouragement.

So I came across these two verses today, and they were too good not to share. So here you go, just a few quick thoughts for the folks who like short chunks. Like a little shot of encouragement right in the arm. I know I’m encouraged. God’s word is kind of amazing.

“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.” I Thessalonians 5:23-24

So I stopped and thought about this for a minute.

God of peace— Because of Jesus (because of the gospel),  God is at peace with me. Praise God He initiated reconciliation with me, making peace!

Himself– This same God. This is the One who makes the the astounding promises ahead. He Himself will do the work in you.

Sanctified completely-I’m reminded that nothing can stop God’s faithfulness. There’s great assurance here that He has promised to keep us, to sanctify us completely. He WILL make us actually, what He has already declared us to be. He IS transforming believers into the image of his Son.

I love the language here- “kept blameless.” He promises to keep us blameless, which hearkens back to the way He already views us now. Perfect. Spotless. Above reproach. Crazy! What a beautiful thought that He is completing and will complete the work He began in us. Though I can’t often see sanctification in myself, it is happening. What an awesome reminder.

He will surely do it- So none of this is just conjecture or wishful thinking! It’s gonna happen. God is staking His promise on Himself. “He who calls you is faithful.”  That’s pretty incredible when you stop to think about it.

The only logical response is trust. God has put His very nature on the line. Would He possibly fail to do what He’s said? Therefore, because Christ did and is doing what I cannot do– counting me blameless–I can trust Him.

Yeah, I am kind of shocked at myself for actually keeping it short. Anyway, thanks for letting me ramble for a minute…


Glimpses Into the Eternal

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.

So what now God?

In the months since Jon died I’ve wrestled tremendously with God’s plan for my life. With accepting this new life. It’s a gift, God? Taking my husband is a gift? And I am coming to understand that it is. But, among the initial confusion and blinding shock were thoughts of “What now, God? Do I move? Do I stay?”

It’s been a time of stripping away. God has said “I want every dream you’ve ever had for life. I want it all. I want all of you.”  He has brought me to to the place where I know the meaning of  the words “all I have is Christ.” He has brought me again and again to surrender. It’s yours Lord. Take it. Yet He’s carried me. He’s shown me that Christ really is enough. And His grace has been abundant. He has led and comforted in tangible ways. So, as I wrestled with these questions, God reminded me that He had called Jon and I to serve at our church. The church in Dekalb.

He reminded me that He had moved us closer to be more intricately involved in the ministry here. The timing of the move was impeccable. Were I still in Rockford, my church family would be 45 minutes away. And even when so many things still felt fuzzy and confusing, God began to impress on me was that He isn’t done with me in this place. He still wants me here. He still wants us here. Jon’s death did not change God’s leading.

Our church is my family. Truly. I have been so overwhelmed by the response of the body of Christ after Jon died. And I want to give back to it.

Our church is a gospel-centered, Acts 29 church plant. And some may ask, “What do you mean by gospel-centered?” I mean viewing the Bible and all of life through the lens of the gospel. I mean recognizing that I not only needed the gospel for salvation, but also need it daily, hourly, and in minute by minute application to my life. The gospel is the good news about Jesus. He is God, but He humbled Himself and became a man. He was born of a virgin. He lived a perfect life without sin. He paid the penalty for sin on the cross. He died and was buried. But He didn’t stay dead! He rose again, and is one day coming back. He is the hero of every story. He is the great Rescuer. The Bible is a story about God and a narrative of His plan of redemption. The gospel not only entails the plan of salvation, but also encompasses all the facets of God’s redemptive plan–justification, sanctification, glorification, adoption, reconciliation, propitiation, imputation… As a church, the vision is that these truths permeate everything.

We typically average about 120 people on Sunday morning. We’re made up of many new believers. It’s been so refreshing to see adults who were far from God put their trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior, and display their commitment to following Him by baptism. It’s been awesome to be in a vibrant, growing ministry. God knew Jon and I needed it.

As we discussed my future over the course of the last few months, my pastor has asked, “Ami what do you want to do?” And every time I said, “I know what I want to do, but it’s no longer available.”  You see, since I was a teenager my desire has been to serve the Lord in a “ministry” capacity. I have wanted to be a pastor’s wife. I know that sounds absolutely ludicrous to most, but nonetheless, serving with a husband in ministry was my burning passion. It’s a passion much greater than teaching in a classroom, though I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Kindergarten’s own type of ministry!

And it seemed like it was a dream God was finally giving. Jon was going to become one of the pastors of our church this summer.

But with the death of Jon was the death of that dream. Or maybe not. God stripped it away, but is it possible that He might want to give it back? As I again sought counsel from Jamie and his wife Cher a few weeks ago, Pastor Jamie said some marvelous words. “Ami you were a pastor’s wife with Jon. But you still are a pastor’s wife. Not just you with Jon, but you. It’s just who God made you to be. What if you could still serve in that capacity? What if you were to raise support and build a ground up ladies’ ministry here at TcD?”

And my heart immediately said, “No way. You’re filling me with much anxiety. You’ve got the wrong Atkins. I couldn’t do this. Raise support for a ministry that doesn’t even exist? Crazy.”  Jon was the visionary, the entrepreneur, the dreamer. I’m none of those things. I was content to be his cheerleader.

But I thought about Jamie’s words. The next day as I got ready for church I said to God, “I don’t need to know the next step Lord, but I do just need you to meet with me today.”  The sermon was in I Cor 4 and though it may not have truly been the scope of the message here’s what resounded with me. “What would you do for Christ if you knew you could not fail?”  “We’re called to be stewards of this gospel with great amounts of thanksgiving…” “To want more than Christ is to want too much. But God is generous. You have already received everything in Christ. Paul is saying that the gospel is so big that it compels him to give it all up. Christ is everything.”

And so clearly in my mind was the Holy Spirit. “Ami you are a pastor’s wife.” So it became one of those days where I was utterly broken. Weeping uncontrollably, the thoughts were “You mean you could be giving this dream back God? You might want to do more than I can imagine? Who am I? Just a little life. Not equipped. Where would I even start? But if you want it I’ll do it. I give you financial security. My identity is not in my classroom. I give you what’s comfortable. I trust you. If you lead, and you equip, I’ll go.”  Perhaps I cannot fully communicate here the depths of those moments with God.

I was overwhelmed by the thought that even though Jon has died God might still give me the opportunity to do what I’ve longed to do…teach ladies, disciple, write, speak, share the gospel. How marvelous and utterly incomprehensible is His love!

But there was another struggle that I couldn’t put words to for a few days. Stepping out of my comfort zone, beginning a new ministry–feels like the beginning of life without Jon. God was asking me to start life without Jon. And that’s a really hard thing. It’s like a crushing weight. It felt like accepting that though I was Jon’s whole life (after Christ, of course!!), he may be only chapters in mine. Though he will be intricately intertwined in any endeavor, he is nevertheless, not here. Even now putting that on paper makes sorrow and fear well up inside. I’m having a hard time with this. I can’t stop loving him, and I don’t have to “get over” him, but God does want me to live. In the words of a wise friend, “It’s not healing or moving forward. Comfort. Always comfort.”

So here we are finally almost at the conclusion. But there just one more detail. A couple days after the “crossroads” day with God, I was invited to the home of a younger college student in our church so we could get to know each other better. And honestly I didn’t want to go. It had just been one of those hard days. I didn’t feel like giving or being a blessing to anyone. But I asked God for grace. And I went.

As we sat there talking, God did an incredible thing. Her willingness to open up about some struggles and questions she had caused me to say, “God I don’t know how to help. I don’t know how to encourage. You have to do this.” And then it was just phenomenal how much Scripture kept coming to mind. And it was only God who could do it! Not me. It was so beautiful to point her to the gospel application and see it resonate so clearly. It was beautiful to see God work in my weakness and in spite of myself.  God reminded me of the burning passion I’ve had for so long. He reminded me of what I had forgotten. And in my spirit was the willingness to take a risk. “Yes God. I know this is what you’re compelling me to do.” So I’d say that evening was definitely one of mutual encouragement! Perhaps I needed this dear friend much more than she needed me.

So here I am. I no longer teach at Christian Life School. Which I forgot to mention, was a decision that Jon and I had already made together. When we moved to Sycamore, we decided it was my last year teaching. He wanted me to work closer to home so I could be involved with ministry! We also thought that if I had gotten pregnant I would stay home with our child. But God had different plans. Better plans, I know I’ll realize some day. I don’t get to make decisions with Jon anymore. But I can still make this last one with him. That my friends, is yet another evidence of God’s tangible grace.

So what now God? I wait. I rest. I take a crazy step into the unknown. So far my vision for ministry includes one-on-counseling, small group studies, large group teaching, outreach at a women’s center, writing for real… We’ll see how God brings it together! It’s not about me. And I’m not the one who will do it. If He wants this to blossom, He will do it. And He will provide. I was told I need to start composing a support letter… scary.

But here’s the truth.

“You gave such great excitement to open the Word. This what I need to do. O God you are good. And I was struggling so much before going. But you worked in my weakness. Lord it just seemed like you were confirming ‘Yes, this is way I’m taking you beloved.’ It was like that great desire for ministry was burning inside again. Thank you for tremendous grace. Lord you are faithful. You are big. Show me your ways Lord. Teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me. These words in the Psalms indicate that you do teach! You do lead! You do guide! Your paths are based on your faithful covenantal love. And your covenant is based on Christ. Unconditional. I’m reminded of my great need and dependency on you. You don’t need me, and I can’t do this. Your paths are ‘chesed’–steadfast love. This is who you are- ‘emeth’– faithful. And together these prove that you are absolutely dependable to fill your promises. (From Psalm 25) You have already given me everything in Christ. Nothing then is too hard.”DSCN4052

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An elaborate proposal. I said yes.

May 22, our anniversary is around the corner, so of course, our engagement, wedding day, and beautiful marriage have been much on my mind. I’ll admit, it’s been a really tough couple weeks. But of course God keeps meeting with me grace.  I’m beginning to see God’s grace in the smallest things.  So, as I “prepare” my heart for Wednesday, today’s grace reminded me that I can be confident God will give astonishing grace on what would have been our 3rd anniversary, specific grace right when it’s needed. Grace moment by moment. That’s what He offers.

So, since I’m thinking these things, I thought I’d share our engagement story with you. I think I promised I would. It’s not polished or finely crafted, but I’ll leave it in its original form written the day after he proposedthe ramblings of a girl on cloud nine. Well, with a few parenthetical notes perhaps.

Here are the details surrounding Jon’s wonderfully planned out, thoroughly romantic proposal. And I promise I won’t be offended if you don’t make it to the end.—Just warning you now, this is the “long version” that the ladies love to hear (and to tell).

Well, Jon knew I love surprises, but also love trying to figure them out. So he started planning his proposal about a month before the actual event. It all started with a series of, shall we say “self-justified falsehoods.” One of his close friends (Chris Lynch, I think) told him that this was the only time in life that it was ok to lie, and I guess he ran with it. First, he told me that he hadn’t talked to my parents yet and wanted to talk to them in person. He furthermore informed me that he wasn’t able to meet with the “ring guy” until February (which, coincidentally was true, but the February appointment was for wedding bands. We got our rings from an independent gemologist who lives in New Hampshire-Doesn’t that sound fancy? And though Jon thoroughly researched his purchase, he never saw the engagement ring in person till it came in the mail. Crazy huh?).

At first, being the over analyst I typically am, I just thought he was being sneaky. However, as he maintained his ruse, he finally had me convinced that the ring wasn’t coming until February at the earliest. At one point I asked my mom if Jon had called recently. When she said no, I officially believed that Jon was just being compassionate and helping me not to get my hopes up. She didn’t sound sneaky at all.

Also, he actually said “Babe, I just don’t want you to get your hopes up that you’ll have a ring to show off when you go home to Virginia at the end of the month. I really wish it was possible, but it just isn’t.” I admit that I was worried because we had already set our May 22nd wedding date. I was nervous that we’d be giving folks such short notice. Actually, I had to spend much time in prayer asking God to help me be content and patient. Jon had me right where he wanted me.

Fast-forward to January 16th. We both had had busy, stressful weeks, and he told me that we were going to have a stress-free, no talking about work,, date on Saturday night. And we were also going to celebrate him paying off college debt. Hooray!  When Jon picked me up, he gave me three small gifts in the car. The first was a book of “Kiss Me” coupons (to be redeemed after 5-22-10 written on the front). I just laughed. Next, was a children’s book called Guess How Much I Love You, which is quite possibly my absolute favorite picture book. A high honor, of course. (My current students would tell you, ‘She says they’re all her favorites’) Anyone who knows me well also knows that I’m kind of a children’s literature fanatic).

But there’s another significant aspect about this book. When Jon and I first started dating we were in Barnes and Noble in my favorite section. When I saw Guess How Much I Love You, I made him sit in the little chairs while I read it to him. I know, super silly, but it was sort of a test at the time. By the way, he wasn’t embarrassed at all to be sitting in the tiny chairs reading a picture book with me. He passed the test. (This would become one of our favorite things, and a necessity every time we went in B&N)  Anyway, I digress. Back to the gifts. The third gift was a coffee mug with scenes from Guess How Much I Love You. I adore it! In the mug were red and blue m&ms. “Why?” you ask. Because I always tell him “I love you 1000 red m&ms” and he’ll tell me “I love you 1000 blue m&ms. (Ok all the men can stop gagging now) Sappy, I know. But very special to us. At this point I still didn’t suspect he was up to something because he had given me little gifts before for no reason.

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On the way to the restaurant, we stopped at Walmart to buy an umbrella because it was raining and, of course, neither of us owned one. As we walked in he told me that he must have eaten something bad because his stomach was bothering him. He immediately went to the restroom while I was looking at umbrellas. Later, I found out that the bathroom ploy was all part of the ruse. Yep, I’m sure he’s losing some romance points right about now, but don’t worry. So, I got the umbrella and waited for his “stomach issues” to subside.

Once we were back in the car he told me we were going to play a little game. “It’s the guess how much I love you game,” he said. “Guess how much I love you?” “How much?” was my coy response. “I love you like a 355 lb man loves a chili cheese dog.” And after I stopped laughing, he said “I’ve been thinking about these all day.” And he proceeded to entertain me with other silly statements of his extravagant love for me (which by the way is truly extravagant). So, here I was thoroughly relaxed and enjoying myself, with no thought of engagement. Again, right where he wanted me.

Finally, we made it to the restaurant. As we pulled into the lot, I exclaimed totally shocked, “We’re going here!! I’m so excited!” And if you’d like to know, the restaurant was Devereaux’s a very very very (did I say very) nice fine-dining restaurant in downtown Greenville. Naturally, it’s a place I’ve always wanted to go, but don’t think I ever mentioned. I was also kind of giddy that we received complimentary valet parking. I had never experienced valet parking before! Right about now I was feeling a little like a “tourist.” Anyway, Devereaux’s is in a historic building, and the atmosphere is incredible. I was so enamored.

After telling the hostess that we had reservations, he immediately asked for the restroom. “Poor guy, his stomach really is bothering him.” The hostess seated me, however, and as we walked toward the table, I noticed that the centerpiece was a dozen red roses. My honest first thought was “Wow, this IS a really nice restaurant to put a dozen red roses on everyone’s table.” Then I sat down. As I looked out across the building, I realized that no one else had roses! They were mine! Ok, I’ll admit that I was getting suspicious at this point, but I determined just to enjoy the evening.

When Jon came back, my first comment was “Are those for me?” And he went on to tell me that he had just wanted to be creative in how he gave me flowers this time. We had a wonderful dinner. The food was so pretty that I wanted to take pictures of it! I didn’t, but I wanted to be such a tourist. (Funny to note is that we later took pictures of our food on our honeymoon, special dates, birthdays, anniversaries… very quirky I think) It was all so wonderfully elegant, and the wait staff attentive.  After dessert was served Jon went again to the restroom. “My poor man.”

jon & ami-19edit


While I waited for him, I just sat there enjoying my roses thinking “Ok, I think he’ll propose tonight, but it’s definitely not going to be in the restaurant. He wouldn’t do that to me. Hmm…. I wonder if there really are 12 roses in that vase…” So I started counting them. And right about then I heard Jon say my name. When I turned to the side, there he was with another single red rose, and nervous was written all over his face. Then with a rush of emotions, I realized that this was it! I was in shock. In a happy way. He knelt down and said “There are actually only 11 roses in the vase, and you need the 12th one to make it complete. Ami, guess how much I love you?” “How much?” “I love you forever and want you to always be mine.” Everything at this point went hazy, and he had to tell me again later what he said. He also told me later that he had had a big speech prepared, but couldn’t get it out in the moment

And just like that he was down on one knee, opening a box, taking out a ring (which I didn’t even see because I just kept looking at him) “Ami Beth Walker, will you marry me?” And holding back the tears, I responded with a quiet “yes,” and then an overwhelmed, excited YES!” He put the ring on, and then stood up to kiss me. Then, immediately he announced in a loud voice “Attention everyone, I just wanted to tell you that I just asked this beautiful girl to marry me and she said yes! And I wanted you to share in our excitement.” The entire restaurant broke into applause and cheering!

Right on cue, the hostess brought over two fruity drinks. Everything was just perfect. If you would have asked me if I wanted an entire restaurant to watch us get engaged I would have said a big fat no, but in the end it was so delightful to know that my man was willing to “shout from the roof top” how much he loves me.  I was conscious that “I’m in a nice restaurant. I can’t scream” so I did these little silent screams. But when we got outside, it all came out. And Jon said, “Now that was the reaction I was expecting!”

Jon told me later that when he went back to the restroom another man came in and said “Dude you got to lay off the roses. My wife is getting jealous.” Too funny. When Jon told him that he was going to propose, the man gave Jon a $25 gift card in congratulations! He also told me that announcing to the entire restaurant was spontaneous. Also, the surprises didn’t end in the restaurant. After we got outside, he couldn’t stop hugging me and looking at my hand. And neither of us could stop smiling. We started calling our families, and I said earlier, it was raining, so Jon suggested that we just go back to his house and make calls there. Well, you might have guessed it.– There was a surprise party of about 20 of our friends waiting to congratulate us! Every detail of the evening was planned, down to having our friends park in a different location so I wouldn’t see their cars. He knew that I love trying to figure out surprises, and that I love it even more when I can’t.

So that’s our romantic engagement story. I praise God for all that He has done to bring Jon and I together. We are recipients of His extravagant love and grace. He is amazing. I am so thankful to have been given the best. We desire that our future marriage bring Him honor and glory, and that it would be a reflection of Christ and His bride. Thank you all so much for sharing our joy with us!! Our wedding date is 5.22.10.

And even now as I recall that beautiful night, I know I am still blessed, in the true sense of the word.. And these memories make me smile. I know I was given a man far better than I could have hoped. I know I am still a recipient of God’s extravagant love and grace. And the gospel in this story? Well, that’s easy! Jon pursued me and didn’t quit. Jesus pursued me and still doesn’t quit. Jon sacrificed and gave me a gorgeous ring as the symbol of his love, and another ring later as a symbol of his marriage covenant with me. Jesus gave me His life.

It’s a crazy thing to think about celebrating an anniversary with your husband in Heaven. But God is faithful. And He keeps bringing to mind this verse “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases…” (Lamentations 3)

jon & ami-21edit jon & ami-28

Tangible Grace: God Carries Me


Tangible Grace:

Like a scarlet thread through a black garment is the theme of grace. It stands out in stark contrast, hope amidst sorrow. In these darkest times still God’s grace has been real, vivid, and abundant. Actually, it’s been deeper than I could have imagined. It’s true that God gives grace for the moment. He doesn’t give grace for deep suffering until it’s needed. But when it’s needed, oh how marvelously God acts! And through the grief, sorrow, anger and confusion, the words “tangible grace” have been imprinted on my heart. To me it is grace that I can touch. Real people, real events, real prayer, real compassion, real action, real Holy Spirit — This is the grace I’ve experienced. Grace, of course is, God’s unmerited favor, or receiving that which I don’t deserve. Or another way… the acronym God’s riches at Christ’s expense.

You see, I don’t deserve anything. And everything I receive apart from hell is God’s grace. But sometimes we take grace for granted. Or sometimes we try to live independently of grace. I do. We’d rather think we’ve got it figured out, that we are strong. You know that philosophy that says, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” But having my hopes and dreams stripped away caused me to see grace in a totally new way. It was His grace that purchased my salvation and bought me with HIs blood. It was His grace that said it is best for Jon to go Home. I don’t totally get it, but it’s true. It’s grace that reminds me that I can do nothing. Did you hear that, nothing? It’s grace that gets me out of bed every morning. And so I just want to talk for a while about God’s marvelous tangible grace.

I’ve kept a running list, and it’s been incredible to experience God’s carrying hand over the last three and a half months. So here’s some of the “stones of remembrance” God has set up in my heart. Even on the night Jon died it was only grace that enabled me to pray out loud over my love, “God please save him! I know you can. Please. But if you choose not to, you are still good,” and then to say quietly in my heart a few minutes later, “Lord, he’s yours. I open my hands. I give him back to you.” Those words could not have come from me alone. Because my emotions were screaming quite the opposite! Because they were the last words I wanted to say. I know of course, that God had already chosen His plan. He was taking Jon home, whether I surrendered or not. But praise God for surrender.

These words make me think of a conversation God and I had had several weeks earlier. And maybe I’ve already written about it here, but I don’t recall, so forgive me…parts of my brain are still on vacation, so it seems. Anyway, I was in the car and God was bringing to mind questions about idolatry based on that Sunday’s sermon. “Ami do you give me your desire for children?,” He seemed to say. “What about if you and Jon never get pregnant? What if you don’t even get to adopt? What about financial security? Ami do you give me the desire to stay home?” And on and on he put my idols before me and said, “I want them.”  In grace God helped me to pray back in sincerity as best I could, “Yes God, my hands are open. I give you back this thing that is already yours. I know you God, and I can trust you.” And then came Jon’s face flooding my mind. “Ami do you give me Jon?”  And as the tears flowed I said, “God I want to say yes that I surrender Him to you. But I don’t know if I can. Actually I know I can’t. Lord you know that is my biggest fear, but if something ever happens to Him, I know you would give me grace to give Him back. You would give strength in that moment.” I had no idea, that the true test was coming, and that the very thing I feared was part of God’s sovereign plan. But, again how marvelous is God! That He really did give strength to pray those words back to Him that night, and also to continue to pray them as He’s stripped me down to only Him over these months. Again, something I cannot do- I have not responded well always. However, there is tangible grace.

It was grace that heard and answered my cry when I was alone with my lifeless husband that night. “Oh God, you help me not to hate you!” Because even though I had held my hands open, my flesh was weak. But He remembered my frame, and knew I was dust. And all through this He has kept me. That’s the beauty of the gospel. He chose me. How could He then let me go?  It was grace that enabled me to talk to the coroner, and not remember a word of the conversation. It was grace that carried me through those first days that vacillated between shock and crippling pain. God gave grace to speak to my church family two days after Jon died, and again at his memorial service.

That first Sunday I knew I had to go to church. I knew it would be that much more difficult to go the following week if I didn’t go then. When I got there folks hugged me, and in love didn’t force me to speak. I walked into the auditorium and “Be Still My Soul” was playing in the background. I turned to my sister-in-law Tiffany, and said, “I can’t do this.” And I went to the bathroom and collapsed in a heap on the floor. After a few moments Tiff and my dear friend Lexi came in and just sat there with me. Neither felt the need to say anything. And finally I said, “Please pray. I need to be here.”  So they prayed, and God answered with abundant grace. I will never forget how real God’s presence was that day. He was there, and He met with us. During one song, I closed my eyes, weeping. And there in my mind was Jon worshiping with exuberant face, words rushing out, and hands held high to God. I gasped thinking, he’s worshiping too. It was like my precious Savior gave me a glimpse of that very moment in heaven.  As I wept and sang, I was overwhelmed with the thought that I should say something to my “family” there.  And God let me speak. At the end of the service, no one wanted to leave. Everyone stayed and talked in small, quiet groups. And I think I hugged every person. It was incredible. And I knew I was incredibly loved.  One young guy sobbing said, “I’ve never cried for anyone I didn’t know before. I needed this today. God was here.”

God gave grace to make funeral decisions. Let me just say, it’s not something you think you’d ever have to do at 30. Praise God for my pastor and his wife and for dear friends who were with me. God gave grace to greet hundreds of folks at the visitation. Hugging each person was a new wave of grief as that touch communicated their emotions, their hurt, their compassion, their love. Yet, it was God who enabled me to stand there. I was overwhelmed by people who knew Jon since Kindergarten, and hadn’t seen him since high school who came to honor him. I was stunned by friends who traveled hours to be there, overwhelmed to see how many lives he’d touched.  I was in awe of how many unsaved folks were there who heard the gospel. I just kept turning to my pastor and saying, “There’s so many here who have not yet believed. And they need to hear.” God gave grace to plead with a young man that Jon loved dearly, “to stop running. You don’t have to have it all figured out. Just believe that Jesus is who He said He is, and that He can save you.” His heart was so broken. And I know God was working! If you know me at all, you know this is not me. I’m not an evangelist. I’m not a bringer. That was Jon. But so clearly in my heart was the Holy Spirit. “Ami you have to talk to him.” Again God’s presence was so real that evening! We planned a worship service…not a funeral. I wanted to sing and sing and just pour my heart out to God. I wanted to sing “Behold our God” and “All I have is Christ” — Jon’s most recent favorites. I wanted to hold my hands open to God, and say “Here it is. All of it. Jon. Every hope, every dream. Every bit of my life.” And grace was abundant. 

And then there was Facebook. As I read through the hundreds of posts on my wall and Jon’s wall, I wept in awe of God. Again, I could not believe how far reaching my husband’s life was! I was so blessed by each message and comment. Thank you! I think it’s reasonable and not an exaggeration to say that thousands were praying for me in those first days.

And there were dear friends, family and church family. There were people cleaning my house, making phone calls, bringing groceries, telling me to eat, picking people up from the airport…  I have realized that in deep grief the ones that “rise to the top” are those folks truly with the gift of mercy, or those who’ve felt deep suffering themselves. Some of the most valuable blessings were people who would just let me talk… or not talk! Or the people who just took initiative to meet a need. Or the boxes of Kleenex that showed up. Every time I look at a pile of tissues on the floor, I’m thankful someone met perhaps the most practical need. Another  treasure was a new leather journal–perhaps it was the most valuable gift. For, or course I have used it to pour my heart out to God.

My church family absolutely blew me away! I got to experience what the body of Christ really should be. And we’re a young church… young in age, and mostly young in faith. This was the first death our church had experienced as a church. But our 120 or so surrounded me in the most beautiful way. There were folks making sure guests for the service had plenty to eat, folks who made gorgeous arrangements of all of our pictures, folks who cleaned our new building, folks who made programs, folks who greeted visitors, folks who guided me through financial decisions, folks who provided monetarily. There were even guys standing out in the snow for hours parking cars at the service! And all of this happened around me and without me directing any of it.

In those raw first days, I totally grasped why people do crazy things. Were it not for the gospel, I could have easily harmed myself or others. Don’t act shocked. This is the sin in you too. I understand why death sends folks spiraling into depression. Unbelievers have no lens, nothing to filter the extreme emotions.  Even through the lens of the gospel, I still felt lost, crazy sometimes, like half of me was gone. (I still feel that way.) The intensity of emotions was nothing like what I had experienced before. Praise God though for grace. Praise God that He kept me. That He clung to me. Praise God that over and over He reminded my of my confident expectation in Jesus, who He is, and all He’s done.

And I haven’t even begun to talk about God’s financial provision. Someone paid off our car. Someone paid for all the funeral expenses. Verizon honored all of Jon’s benefits though he had been with them less than 90 days!  Between hundreds of cards and “offerings” from the church I grew up in and our current church, an overwhelming amount flooded in.

But wait there’s more… I found 14 audio sermons of Jon preaching! What an amazing to treasure to have Jon speaking truth to me. At Jon’s memorial service my principal said, “Take as much time as you need.”  And then later I found out that my school was going to pay me for all the personal days missed, as well as, replenish seven more. That’s amazing! I hadn’t washed all of Jon’s dress shirts so they still smell like him. There’s a tiny piece of his soap left in the soap box. I was able to have a beautiful necklace made from his fingerprint and handwriting. I found probably every email we’ve ever sent each other. Bless my silly ocd husband! I have so many wonderful pictures of us. I have a beautiful wedding video.

One day it was really snowy, and two friends texted me a the same time and said, “Don’t go home from school. Stay in Rockford.”– That’s significant because I live 45 minutes away from work, and hate driving in snow! I was so thankful they made the decision for me.  In another overwhelming act of grace some dear friends asked if they could name their baby Jonathan if it was a boy…. and he is! I still receive cards, text messages, and Facebook messages at the right time. It seems like God is always putting me on someone’s heart right when I need it.

As the weeks began to turn to months, still God’s grace has been abundant. I think I could fill many more pages with just how good He is. He has walked me through the questions, the doubts, the anger, the fear. Yes, they’re still there sometimes. He has met with me in His word. He’s shown me how deeply I need Him. He’s shown me that it is ok to be weak, beautiful even. And it is weakness that makes the gospel magnified. It is my weakness that exalts Jesus’ strength. It is still very much a roller coaster. But it’s ok. God is letting me grieve. He’s letting me be weak. Because He is more than I can comprehend. Because Jesus took all my sin, all my weakness on Himself, I can be needy. What an antithesis this is to the world and culture around us! Praise God though that this is grace-able to do nothing to earn God’s love and favor, but freely receiving it.

So, I write all this make the name of Jesus famous. Not mine. Not Jon’s. Because I think it’s definitely clear that I would be utterly hopeless without Him. There are so many more evidences of grace I could give you! But I’ll stop for now. Are you overwhelmed with me yet? Are you in awe of Jesus Christ, God who became man, who died for sins, and rose again to give eternal life? Because I am. I think I’ve only seen a minuscule glimpse of what God’s doing. My small little life is just a tiny part of His much larger story. But oh how much He cares for me!

And one last thing, thank you all my dear friends- those I see in person, and those who are far away. God has used so many to show me His tangible grace. I have not taken any note, message, gift, or card for granted. You all have been such a valuable tool for God to work in my life. You’ve functioned truly as Christ’s church. And you’ve shown Jesus to me. Oh and just one quick rabbit trail (I know I said I was done, but this is important). I need to say that I know many are going through deep waters as well. You have your own trials. And your suffering is just as valid as mine. No need to minimize it. No one needs to think “My hurt pales in comparison to Ami’s” because suffering is suffering. And we all experience it. Oh that you would also know God’s tangible grace in a very real way! So again, thank you to many who have blessed me even in the midst of your own fiery trials.

And those closest to me and Jon need to know that it’s ok for you to grieve too. Death hurts.  And it’s not “normal” for a young guy to die. It’s ok to mourn the loss of a dear friend. You all have protected me, and that is good. But let me also bear your hurt as you have born mine with me. I want to be an instrument of grace to you as well.

Tangible Grace. As I contemplate all God has done since Jon died, of course I’m reminded that the biggest grace is what Jesus accomplished on the cross. It’s because He justified me, that I can know all these other evidences of grace. Praise God for His Ultimate Grace! Salvation freely given. Never earned. Tangible.

A neat little summary, but not really

???????????????????????????????Each Friday marks a new week. I don’t know why I count weeks instead of the calendar date, but I guess Fridays stand out as the day my life changed forever.  So even though the calendar says 3 months isn’t until the 25th, Friday marked 12 weeks–3 months. Maybe I just have an elementary understanding of what a month is.  Nevertheless, on Fridays my mind goes to variations of, “Three months ago at this time Jon was still alive.  Three months ago I was still married. Three months ago I had a normal day at school. Three months ago I stopped for Jon’s prescription and orange juice…Three months ago I begged God to save my husband, but He was silent. Three months ago I left him at the hospital and faced that first blinding sleepless night.”  Every Friday I have these thoughts.  The only thing that changes is the number of weeks. Perhaps someday it will just be the month anniversaries, and then the year anniversaries… But that seems far away.

So of course, analytic and introspective as I am, each Friday comes with, “What truth is God nailing down this week?” Overall, that’s been a good question to ask, except when there isn’t always an answer.  For some reason, however, I’ve viewed the three month mark as a place where I should be able to easily summarize what I’ve learned.  Sounds like I’m a teacher huh?  And as any good teacher would do, I’ve been trying to distill the lessons into a neat little summary with topic sentence, main ideas, and concluding sentence.  But I’m starting to realize that I can’t yet. Perhaps there won’t ever be one short summary!  I can pinpoint some of the very real things God is doing in my heart, but I think I’m still right in the thick of it. I think there are also facets of God’s lessons that I have yet to see. I know there are some things that never will have explanation and that I never will understand. I can see some things God is doing very clearly, but other truths are still darkened.

Some weeks God penetrates my heart with “crossroads” truth—You know, that kind of truth that seems like it is going to shape your very being. For example, the week God dealt with me regarding my “resounding no” was one of those weeks. I look back and think, that was the lowest point so far, but God met me in an abundant way.  As a result, I believe I can say with confidence that I’ll always know that Christ is hope not only for eternity, but for this life also. But other weeks, in true spaghetti brain fashion, a million thoughts whiz around in my brain and stay there at a seeming academic level.  Sometimes I think I get stuck inside my own head. This was one of those weeks.  And I felt frustrated. My prayers were, “But God I want to see you. I want to hear from you. What truth do you want me to take this week? Is there something I’m missing?”

But I suppose God is reminding me that knowing Him doesn’t always come with a beautifully succinct, well-written paragraph.  But whoever said I was succinct anyway—ha! But I digress. He is too big for me to comprehend. His ways are infinitely higher than my ways. I will never have Him figured out! And praise God I won’t!  Sometimes I may not be able to boil His truth into bullet points, but He is teaching me to know HIM and to know His gospel. And with that comes complexities and intricacies that I cannot imagine. I think it was Tim Keller who said that the gospel is shallow enough for a child to wade in, but deep enough for an elephant to swim in.

But here I am trying to make sense of my world and of my God. How very human of me. And of course, we humans naturally try to make sense of the things around us. It’s a good thing. God put it in us. It’s the capability to know Him and understand truth about Him. However, some things cannot be understood. I know Christ in a personal, real way, but He doesn’t fit in my nicely labeled box.  I can know Him more and more, but I will not ever fully comprehend an incomprehensible God. It’s a great paradox. And so He asks me just to trust.

I’m finding that my schemas (Like my fancy education word? It means frame of understanding) labeled “gospel,” “Christ,” and “God” are ever expanding. Nor should they stop expanding! At the three month mark I’m standing before the vastness of God. I’m catching glimpses of how small I am and how immeasurable He is. And He is reminding me that this is a beautiful thing. I want to learn to know God experientially for the rest of my life, and if I do I still will not have begun to scratch the surface.  So do you see where I’m going?  Even on those weeks when I cannot quantify one main truth or lesson, God is still teaching me Himself. He is teaching me to say with Paul, “That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and share in His sufferings becoming like Him in His death” (Philippians 3:10). He is teaching me to know Him not through academic knowledge, but through experience and relationship.  Suffering for example, is teaching me to know in just a minuscule way how Jesus suffered for me. Emptiness reminds of His emptiness on the cross.  So often we want to know Him in the “power,” the mountain tops, the victories. But the verse says “AND share in His sufferings.” Knowing Christ is both. And I think it’s true that believers know Him far better in the valley than on the mountain.  There’s a beautiful song called “In the Valley”, and a line from it reminds me that the valley’s “where your glory shines so bright.” It’s true. When things are going well, it is so easy to say, “Yeah! I want Jesus more than anything!” But when the bottom falls out, there’s the true test- Am I really a disciple? A dead-to-self follower who knows Jesus is sufficient?

Also, He is still keeping His promises toward me. “And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6) Because I am redeemed, He IS transforming me. And He WILL continue to transform me. And He WILL bring me to perfection when I see Him face to face. These are gospel words folks! Here I go again! But I’ll gladly stand here. He justified me-God looks at me as if I’ve never sinned, and as if I’ve always obeyed.  He is sanctifying me- He is changing me to be what He has already declared me to be.  I may feel like I’m lost, but I know who I am in Christ. But you might be saying, how do you know? What do you mean? Go check out Ephesians 1!   (And then go over to Ephesians 2. That’s a good idea too.) Losing my own sense of identity reminds me that my true identity is IN Him! He will glorify me- One day I will be made never-ending new. I will actually be what He has declared me to be—perfect, spotless.  And this is good truth. This is gospel.

So when God is silent, when things don’t make sense, when I don’t understand, I can rest in what I know is truth. I have some anchors in my understanding. God is good. God is doing all things for His glory and my good. God loves me more than I can understand. God will always keep His promises concerning me. He will complete the work He began in me. Jesus purchased my salvation. No one can pluck me from His hand—even myself. (John 10:28)  Because I am His, He’ll give grace for me to understand His lessons when I’m ready to see them (2 Corinthians 3:18). And that’s the crazy mystery: God is incomprehensible, high and lofty, yet he chooses to be known. He chooses to be personal. He dwells with those of a humble and contrite heart. (Isaiah 57:15). Not only does he dwell with the humble, He exemplified ultimate humility. (Philippians 2)

At the three month mark, I can’t really offer you a neat little summary. But I can say that there really are so many things God is teaching me—who I am in Christ, His carrying grace, His deep compassion and grieving with me…There’s at least one more thing, and I think it’s the theme of my ramblings today. Learning to trust in the silence. So as I struggled with God’s silence on Saturday, here were the prayers of my heart.

“Lord much truth is rattling around my head this morning. Many thoughts on the last couple pages. Help me to see you Lord. Help me to grasp the facets of truth you have for me today. Open my eyes. Open my heart.  ‘Events are a visible sign of an invisible reality.’ What are the invisible realities of Jon’s death?  The visible ‘crosses’ of suffering provide the place that I learn to love and trust. ‘That I may know him in the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his suffering being made conformable unto his death’ So often I have prayed sincerely to know you, to surrender my life to you. I have desired to give you all. ‘O Father use my ransomed life.’  But when the suffering comes it shows the weakness of my heart! Though I am sincere, I cannot make these promises of surrender without you. This is the deepest test of faith I’ve ever experienced. And in it I’m thankful that the presence of struggle is not wrong. Rather, the struggle reveals  my desperate weakness and need. Yet there is also your abundant grace that strengthens me to lay everything at your feet. Taking up a cross can only be through you. The ability to say YES is enabled by the power of the gospel . You already surrendered perfectly. You already said, yes. This is the confidence that gives me grace to surrender, to say ‘Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to Thee.’  True also is that the cost of discipleship is sharing in your sufferings. But so often I want the power and the glory without the cross. But you are teaching me though that the eternal weight of glory truly does far surpass this temporal grief. But the temporal grief is necessary.


“I’m struggling with a pervading sense of unease and emptiness. And I’m not exactly sure why. Today pictures of happy couples, birthday flowers, babies… are especially hard. But why today? Yesterday was the three month day. I would have thought it would have been then. Lord I desire to write about your tangible grace on the blog, but again I feel uneasy. I feel very much alone today Lord, though I was with people. I had a really wonderful time with you yesterday, but it doesn’t seem firmly rooted in my heart. The lessons still seem academic. Lord meet with me today. Penetrate the depths of my soul with truth. I need you. I find myself longing often for what I cannot have… physical touch, his hand on the small of my back, a tight hug, a lingering kiss, his hand in mine, his arm around me, time together, his voice, his laughter… Why can’t I picture that last look? Why can’t I see his eyes so full of love and adoration? Today the hole in my heart is huge—“Jon sized” emptiness. But I know that not even he could fill it. But you can! And you do! I know you satisfy. Thank you for comforting me. It has been wonderful, but today I feel like there is some great truth that I am missing. I’m thinking of this Elizabeth Elliot quote Lord. ‘This is a necessary part of the journey. Even in its roughest part, it is only a part, and will not last the whole long way. Remember where I’m leading you.‘ Yes, Lord, I know you are leading me to yourself. Even the emptiness of today is part of the journey. And I realize my need for you because other things cannot fill it. You are the God who comforts. You give me yourself.”

In the evening….

“Thank you for reminding me again of the beauty of the gospel.  Thank you for reminding me of Jamie’s questions. What is beautiful about feeling empty today? It reminds me again of my desperate need. It reminds me that it is you who fills. Jesus you emptied yoursef for me. You became sin that I might be made righteous. What is broken about feeling empty? I was never meant to feel it.  And it is a result of the curse of sin. What is redeemed about feeling empty? Jesus you are sufficient for all things and in all situations! This is not merely a mechanical mantra, but questions and answers that stir my soul, and bring my focus back to you. Lord you alone fill the “Jon sized” hole. Thank you for teaching me the ‘fellowship of your sufferings.’ You were alone, so now I never have to be. Even when you are silent you never leave me. And I’m learning to trust your heart when I cannot see your hand. Wonderful, incomprehensible, Lord I surrender to your will. Jon did die. And it is your good gift. This life is yours.”



Approaching the Firsts

DSCN4389Jon and I loved to spoil each other. We were lavish in our celebration of holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries. Well, I guess we had a tendency toward lavish all the time! We both loved surprises and loved planning meaningful ways to communicate love. And people would look us in amazement. We heard things like, “I have never seen someone so sappy, and in love with her husband…”  “Wait till you’ve been married 20 years…”  “You’ll never be able to keep it up. How can you top it next year if you start this big?”  “If you keep writing mushy posts, I think I’m going to throw up.”—Thank you Pastor Jamie for that last one! You didn’t fool us though. We had your number.

But anyway, I find that I just want to talk and talk and talk about Jon, as if the words will permanently etch the memories on my heart, so that they may not be erased or grow dim in clarity.  And yes, it is a blessing to think of all the cherished times.  I don’t need to get over Jon. The cherished times remind me of just how much God has given… yes, still present tense, has given. They remind me of a love exponentially more lavish than Jon’s! So, here’s a glimpse at our lavish love, a window into some of my precious memories.

Special Days

We had decided we weren’t going to tell each other “I love you,” until we knew we were going to marry.  Believe me, I wanted to sometimes, but I wanted him to be first! One night we were on the phone around midnight, and I’m not sure what came over me, but I said, “I’m going to marry you.”  We still had not said those three important words.  On the other end he exclaimed, “What? Hold on! I’ll be right there!” Then he hung up. Ten minutes later Jon screeched into my driveway, burst out of his car, grabbed me and exclaimed, “I love you! I love you so much I can’t breathe!”  And of course, I told him I loved him too.

On Jon’s first birthday we spent together I told him to take the day off, but I didn’t tell him anything else. I surprised him with a trip to the Georgia Aquarium, Coke Factory, a picnic in Olympic Park, and a Cubs game… all in one day!  We were moving after we got married, so who knew when we’d make it back to Georgia. We had to get our money’s worth, as it were. Day trips continued to be some of our most fun and favorite quality time together. We spent days in cute little towns like Hendersonville, Pumpkintown, and Galena. We did Washington D.C. and Williamsburg when we were visiting my parents. And of course, when we moved to Illinois, Chicago was one of our favorites.  We loved riding the train and Jon thoroughly enjoyed taking me to new parts of the city I hadn’t seen before.  I got to go to Sears Tower (I guess it’s actually the Willis Tower now, but seriously who calls it that?), Navy Pier, Michigan Avenue, Shedd Aquarium, Museum of Science and Industry, where Jon had to take 537 pictures of a model train set (maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but only slightly), Wrigley where I had my first Chicago dog… We enjoyed life together.

In our first year of marriage we were pretty tight financially so we had to get creative. But it’s ok, lavish love doesn’t have to be expensive. For Valentine’s Day we literally scraped up the spare change from the console in our car and bought cake mix and pink frosting.  We also made a deal that we each had to make home-made Valentines. It’s one of my favorite memories. On Jon’s birthday that year I made his favorite meal, pork and sauerkraut with mashed potatoes, set an elegant table, and put a couple hundred sticky notes all around our apartment telling him things I loved about him.  Another birthday I wrapped up “round the clock gifts,” and even made him take them to work so he could continue to open one every hour.

The week before our first anniversary, Jon was in Chicago for job training. Boy did we look forward to our reunion! I “recreated” our honeymoon suite. I even hung a sign on the outside of our door with “Carolinian,” the name of the suite, written in delicate letters. Then I made a little scavenger hunt complete with hidden clues. Our apartment wasn’t very big, so he knew where I was hiding pretty quickly.  But I made him figure out each riddle and follow each clue! And when he figured it out, the prize was, well… Moving on.

And of course, there were so many ways Jon lavished love on me too.  Before our first Christmas Jon searched the internet for weeks to find an original boxed set of the Chronicles of Narnia—not in chronological order, but in publication order, of course, because he knew my silly soapbox that they must be read the way C.S. Lewis wrote them… Yes. I proudly stand on that one. He was so excited to give me that gift. For our 2nd anniversary Jon planned a weekend trip to Lake Geneva, and he even called my principal at school to arrange for me to have “surprise days off.” On my 30th birthday Jon told me to take a half-day off of school. I received an email that morning that said, “Dear Mrs. Atkins. Your driver will be waiting outside promptly at 11:15. He will be holding a sign. Sincerely, J. Atkins Cab Co.” And so the adventure began.

Even in the Mundane

I could keep going, but I would be remiss if I didn’t share with you the lavish love on normal, mundane days. This was the extravagance that took the form of sacrificial giving and service. And  Jon won hands down! He gave and gave and gave to me. On cold mornings he always went out and started my car and scraped away the ice. He usually made me eat the last m&m. Because he knew my love affair with popcorn, he’d always spend the extra money and buy it when we went to see a movie.  We inherited an old vacuum from his parents that needed a lot of “umph” to actually get the floor clean. And every week he would vacuum because he said he didn’t want me to have to get all sweaty gross. It could have also just been his neat freak tendencies, but nonetheless he wanted to do it. Because I’m so NOT a morning person, he was my alarm clock. And even though he never was one to push “snooze,” he graciously gave me “five more minutes” (at least twice..hehe) every day.

I’m notorious for losing bobby pins. They show up everywhere, in the washing machine, in the car, in baskets,  under the couch,  on the end table, lurking in a corner… And at first this used to really bother my slightly ocd husband. I really tried hard to put them where they belong, but it was a losing battle. One day Jon picked up a bobby pin, and said “I suppose lovee that I’ve come to adore seeing your bobby pins. I think it would make me really sad if I stopped finding them everywhere.”

Jon was an end of the toothpaste squeezer married to a middle squeezer.  A potential point of contention, of course, more so for him than me.  But I think he just lovingly reset the toothpaste tube after I used it.  These mundane things were extravagant in their own way. This was him loving his wife as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her. (Ephesians 5)

Button pushing was another form of Jon’s lavish love, for each new way he devised to “torture” me was evidence of playfulness and affection.  Remember those little boys who tried to pull ponytails in kindergarten?  Yep. You got it- Jonathan Andrew.  And if he got the desired reaction, he would clap his hands and grin in a silly child-like manner. And I would take his chin in my hand and say, “Andrew, you are such a five year old boy.”  With a smirk, the response was always, “No, I’m at least five and a half.”

His lavish love was also holding me and letting me cry sometimes. It was confronting my sin with truth. It was letting me hug him and not let go until I counted out loud to 30 (a totally arbitrary number). It was driving at night because he knew how much I hated it.  It was stroking my hair as I laid my head in his lap. It was unconditional forgiveness. It was not holding a grudge. It was pointing me to Christ when I doubted or was discouraged. It was reminding me of the gospel frequently.

Without Jon?

Among my precious memories, though is the realization that first holidays without him are quickly approaching,  Easter, Jon’s birthday, and our anniversary.  Small tangent, Valentine’s Day was actually the first holiday since Jon’s death, but the pain was still so blinding and raw at that point that every day was the same. But as these firsts draw near, I’ve already started feeling the depths that may be associated with them.  So here are my thoughts. I suppose folks may have still considered us newlyweds with only 2 1/2 years under our belt.  Perhaps we wouldn’t have stayed so lavish with one another over 50 years, who knows.— Call me a fool, but I’m not sure I really believe that! Life, children, responsibilities, whatever, could have subdued the romance at times in the future, but that is not the sole or always present mark of lavish love.  And I recognize and understand that the enduring foundation of marriage is not romance. It was not our foundation. We loved loving one another, but our bedrock was Christ and the gospel. Marriage is a covenant that is a picture of Christ’s covenant with the church. It’s a covenant based on promises not performance, just like my relationship with God! Though romance would have had its ebbs and flows, I sure hope we would have remained lavish forever!!

Let me explain, our lavishness didn’t have to be expensive, and often it was not. But as I think of the love Christ has for His church, I’m overwhelmed by His extravagance!  If our bedrock was Christ and the gospel, then our marriage was built on the most extravagant display of sacrificial love in all of eternity.

So let me unpack that one message again in a slightly different manner. Christ, fully God and fully man, was never created. He dwelt forever with the Father, and Holy Spirit. Don’t ask me to explain the Trinity! I can’t. But, three in one, God spoke the world into existence. Christ made all things, the stars, the planets, the universe… And before time He was exalted with all majesty, splendor and authority, and power.  Yet He was personal. He walked in the garden in perfect fellowship with His creation. But man in the greatest betrayal chose to heed Satan’s lies, casting himself and all creation under the weight of sin.  So marred and fractured by sin, man’s relationship to God was broken. The penalty for sin was costly–death, a fate that God never intended His beloved creation to experience.  So mankind was utterly hopeless. He could not fulfill the perfect demands of God’s righteousness. But God in His mercy clothed Adam and Eve and covered their nakedness with a sacrifice, a substitute.  And even there He foreshadowed that a perfect sacrifice would come. So God became man. Christ exalted and clothed in splendor, God Himself, humbled Himself and took upon the form of a servant (Philippians 2). On the cross, He was the perfect sacrifice. The once and complete atonement.  He paid the high cost–death, so that we might live! He rose again, ever lives, and will come again. This is the true redemption story. And one day, even all creation will be restored.  Creation. Fall. Redemption. Restoration. Does this not stir your heart? Isn’t this lavish? Isn’t this overflowing, abundant love that cannot be comprehended?

Jon and I desired our marriage to reflect Christ, and our lavishness toward another was one manifestation of that reflection.  Our feeble attempts were but a glimpse of our Savior’s love. You see, lavishness doesn’t merely refer to romance. True lavish, extravagant love is sacrificial. It is meeting the needs of the one loved. It is seeking his best.  Christ gave us that example.  The power of the gospel was transforming us to be what He already said we were—like Him.  So I will not feel guilty for lavish love. Our love was lavish because our God is lavish.

So here’s what I’m NOT saying. “Wow, look at us! We had a fantastic marriage! Don’t you wish your husband adored you this way?”  Far from it!! We’re not the example. Don’t view my precious memories as the epitome. We did not have all our stuff together. And of course, we had our junk.  We did not have it all figured out.  We failed a lot.

But here’s the truth.  Like the woman who broke her box of valuable ointment to anoint the feet of Jesus washing them with her hair, I want to love much because I have been loved much. I have been loved far more than I can comprehend.  (Luke 7:36-50)

Chicago at Night
Chicago at Night
Sears Tower
Sears Tower
Round the clock gifts
Round the clock gifts
2nd Anniversary, Mailboat Tour in Lake Geneva
2nd Anniversary, Mailboat Tour in Lake Geneva


I wept a lot on Easter.  But it was the reality of Christ’s conquering sin and death that gripped me in a way I’d never seen before.  Because Jesus lives, so shall I. And so does Jon.  Jesus “trampled death by death.”  Can there be anything more extravagant than that?

I am abundantly blessed to have been loved so by a man. But I am infinitely more blessed to be loved this way by my Savior.

As the holidays approach,  He’ll meet me each time and carry me with grace anew. This is lavish love.


“NO God!” But He brought me back.

name written“Behold I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” Isaiah 49:16.  I’m getting a necklace made from Jon’s fingerprint. So of course, last Sunday as this text was preached, God illumined my heart anew and captivated me by the parallels. I was reminded that I am God’s fingerprint, or hand print even. How could He then forget me? 

I was so thankful because I thought, “This is how I’ll use the necklace to remind myself of the gospel.” Just as I could not forget Jon, so God has not forgotten me, nor will he forget me.  He chose me and He calls me His own.  Jon’s fingerprint will forever be a part of me. His life and our love have left an indelible imprint on my heart. I’ll always love Him.

But even better than that, I am an indelible imprint on God’s heart. And it is not because of anything I have done, nor who I am. But it is because of who He is, and what He has done.  Because Jesus paid the penalty for sin, I am rightly restored to God. Because of the gospel, I am His child. Because of the gospel, I am engraved on His hand.  There is great hope. And His name is Jesus.

But how quickly do I forget. I’ll be honest. This past week I’ve been in one of the lowest places I’ve ever been, perhaps the lowest.  The deep places of the last seven weeks are new. I’ve never been here before Jon’s death.  I mean, I’ve had sorrow and suffering before, but I’ve never been brought to these depths. Since I’ve been a Christian I never have been in a place where I questioned the very root of faith, that is, hope in Christ, or more accurately Christ Himself.  But I got there this week. I feel like I relate to the psalmist who says, “Out of the depths O Lord I cry to you,” in that place where the only words I can form to pray are, “God I need you.”

I know it is ok to go to the low places. It is ok to grieve, to mourn, to question, to be raw in honesty before God.  It’s ok to not rush grief. It’s kind of where I’m living right now. But God broke my heart during worship service this morning. He showed me that somehow I was no longer just in the low place, but instead captive by it. Up to this point, though in the low places, there’s been grace to say, “But God…” In the intense emotions and the questions I could still remember who God was. I was able to remember the gospel. But I couldn’t do that this week. I couldn’t preach truth to myself. I forgot to say “Behold the risen Christ” even in the depths.  I chose to forget.  But I suppose, it wasn’t really so much forgetting as it was fighting. 

Let me be really specific. All week long God reminded me of the hope I have in Christ. He reminded me of the verse that so touched my heart. “Behold I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.”  At the beginning of the week, though I struggled, I tried to listen.  I struggled to believe God was carrying me. I struggled to recognize grace. I told God just to take me home to be with Him.

“God I don’t care about being here anymore. Just let me come there.”

Yet still, I struggled. I’m reminded of a song “Hallelujah! We are free to struggle. We’re not struggling to be free!  Your blood bought and makes us children. Children drop your chains and sing!” It’s a blessing to know the struggle is not wrong.

 But by Thursday morning, I was shouting, “No God! This truth is no longer for me!”  Here’s the circumstance. Wednesday night I had my first nightmare since Jon’s death. I awoke to my own voice screaming his name. I have no idea what the nightmare was, but I was in a sheer panic. I’ve had plenty of sleepless nights, but not that. And it scared me. It felt again like God had forgotten me.  As I drove to work Thursday morning wrestling with these thoughts, there was a magnificent sunrise, and God brought to mind what I had written the day before Jon died. “Reminded this morning by a gorgeous sunrise that light comes after dark. Spring comes after winter. What mercy and grace the Father gives!” 

But this time when the words sprang to mind, I refused the comfort. Instead I fought God’s gracious gift. I fought His mercy.

“But God do I still have a right to believe this? Is this even for me?  I mean maybe you intend for it to always be winter in my soul. Is there really going to be light? Is there really going to be spring? Do I still have hope for this life?” 

And for the first time, I answered those questions with a resounding no.

“This truth isn’t for me. It no longer applies.” Just to clarify though, I wasn’t doubting my eternal hope. I still knew my soul was secure because Jesus purchased my salvation. I can’t take back what has been bought.  But the despondency stemmed from thinking, “Yes there is hope for eternity, but this life is hopeless.” It’s kind of a crazy dichotomy, but that’s where I was. I know it doesn’t make sense.  Yet, to say there was no hope, was to doubt Christ Himself.

“But God rich in mercy…” (Ephesians 2:4)  But my Savior is merciful, lavish, and unfathomably loving. I have a Savior who knows grief.  He understands sorrow. And as I continued to battle these thoughts over the next couple days, God did not answer me with strong rebukes, though I daresay they were deserved.  He didn’t say “You foolish blind sheep! Why can’t you see? You wretch, get up and obey.”  Rather, His tender voice continued seemed to gently say, “Oh my darling child. I remember your frame. I know you are dust. I know you can’t do this.”

And He met me with grace upon grace… a note full of truth on facebook, a text from a friend at the right moment, a card, a listening ear who felt no need to respond, a principal who knows I need to step out of the room sometimes, a gift from a student’s parent, a conversation with my sister, a package full of fun girly things…

Yet I still argued. Driving home on Friday, this was my rant, “God you’ve got the wrong person. There is some saint out there way better equipped for this than me. Whatever this task is, I am not the one for it!” However, on the heels of my rant followed these words. “Lord I do want to believe. I want to know that you are enough. I desperately want to be like you. I desperately need you.”

And so I came to worship this morning begging God to meet with me. To make clear in my heart the truths He wanted me to see.  So here it is. As Isaiah leads to his climax in Isaiah 53 where he prophesies Jesus’ death, the theme is “Listen! Awake!” It could be paraphrased this way; God’s saying “Your oppressors are walking all over you, but rise up. I am setting you free.” As my pastor unpacked the beautiful truths from Isaiah 50-51, these are the verses God made leap from the page.

“For the Lord comforts Zion; He comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.” (51:3)

“And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (51:11)

And he asked this question, “What has you locked down? What is holding you back from seeing God’s promises in Christ?’ Immediately in my heart was the word, grief.  And it hit me like a ton of bricks. The low places had taken me captive. I was a slave once again. I couldn’t see Christ anymore.

But here’s reality. I do have great hope. His name is Jesus. He is hope not only for eternity, but for this life also. Sorrow and sighing shall flee away because Jesus conquered sin and death! My waste places will be like Eden because Jesus is the true Sacrifice! The comfort God brings to Zion is His own Son! Joy, gladness, thanksgiving, song; all are possible because of Christ rose from the dead!  

In chapter 52 Isaiah exhorts me to behold the glory of my Savior. Behold the risen Christ—This is why light comes after dark. This is why spring comes after winter. This is why joy comes after mourning. The hope is found in resting, looking, gazing, and beholding the beauty of my Savior. When Jon was preaching weekly he would say, “I have only one message to unpack 100 different ways.”  I think I have only one message too– Life and hope and all things are found in Jesus.  Likewise, the only thing in Scripture called the “Power of God” is gospel. This is the power available to me. Because He died and rose again, Jesus is my Great High Priest. He ever lives and pleads for me. Praise God, that when I forget, He brings me back.

So here I am full circle. “Behold I have engraved you upon the palms of my hands.” I’m there because of the wounds He bears. I’m there because He died for me. I’m there because He rose again. And I’m there because He calls me His own. What mercy and grace the Father gives! Oh that I would not forget!

I know I always give you songs, but music is a powerful communicator of God’s truth to me. This is “O My Soul Arise.”  Go listen to it! Seriously. The title is a link. I love the Sovereign Grace arrangement that makes me “aware that the battle to remember the scriptural truths contained in these verses is a battle! But how sweet it is to contend with our souls knowing that the object of our trust is Jesus Christ. He is our unique and perfectly qualified Great High Priest, and our assurance that we do not fight alone.” (Eric McAllister)

O My Soul Arise
Arise, my soul, arise
Shake off your guilty fears
The bleeding sacrifice
On my behalf appears
Before the throne my surety stands
Before the throne my surety stands
My name is written on His hands. He ever lives above
For me to intercede
His all redeeming love
His precious blood to plead
His blood atoned for every race
His blood atoned for every race
And sprinkles now the throne of grace. O my soul, arise
Behold the risen Christ
Your Great High Priest
Your spotless sacrifice
O my soul, arise
God owns you as His child
Shake off your guilty fears
My soul, arise. Five bleeding wounds He bears
Received on Calvary
They pour effectual prayers
They strongly plead for me:
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry
“Don’t let that ransomed sinner die!” My God is reconciled
His pard’ning voice I hear
He owns me as His child
I can no longer fear
With confidence I now draw nigh
With confidence I now draw nigh
And “Father, Abba, Father,” cry
DSCN2915 jon & ami-10 jon & ami-25

Credits:  Verses by Charles Wesley (1742), music and additional words by Eric McAllister  © 2012 Sovereign Grace Worship (ASCAP)

Love Stories and Weddings

atkins-109 My mind is filled with weddings and love stories this morning, prompted by the upcoming wedding of some great friends. I’ll be honest, over the last couple days I’ve thought, “Maybe I won’t go. I just don’t know if I can do it. I don’t know if I can do this without Jon.” But God’s gracious gift to me today was reminding me of our love story, and then of the greatest love story…

Love Stories

Our story is the stuff that movies are made of. I’ll never forget the first time I actually met Jon. We were with our church singles group at a blue grass “ho-down” in Pumpkintown, South Carolina. Yeah, pretty awesome, huh. Jon was wearing the most hideous, peachy-orange Hawaiian shirt possible.  I was dating someone else at the time. Jon walked up to me, and said “So, are you with him?” When, I said yes, he shook his head in dismay and walked away without another word! As I watched him interact with others that night, I remember thinking how obnoxious he seemed.

So fast forward through many details- I got engaged to that other guy. That other guy broke my heart.  (I’m so thankful he did!!). Jon also understood a broken engagement, so our friendship was cemented. But then he asked me out merely two months after the break up! My heart was still healing. Of course, I see pain a lot differently now. At the time, the loss was deep, but it really is nothing compared to death of my husband!  By the way, here’s a little tangent, this loss is different. People keep saying I will heal. But I don’t get that. My heart is not broken! I’ve been there, done that, and this loss is different. My Jonathan loved me and would have done anything to stay with me. It is not the same as a broken heart. I can’t quantify it, but losing your husband is a depth of sorrow I didn’t even realize existed.  So I know that God is carrying me, and will continue to carry me, but I don’t know if “healing” is the right word. Perhaps it’s not healing, but happiness. Perhaps God will someday restore happiness and delight. I have joy now, but maybe life will be a delight again some time. I mean, I think someday He’ll take me again out of the valley. But I’m ok being here as long as He wants me to be.

But of course, I digress.  Anyway, I told him I would go.  And at the end of our first date, Jon said, “So, where do you see this headed?”  And as kindly as I could, I told him nowhere! “No, Jon, I just need you to be my friend. We’re not going to date.”

I could fill chapters will all the details of following months. And they’re beautiful details that I’ll always treasure and love to talk about!  But the gist is that God slowly began to change my heart. At first I didn’t even realize it. And Jon did not give up pursuing me. When my eyes finally opened to the wonderful man before me, it was his pursuit that won me. He came after me, and wasn’t going to quit till he got me. And then when he got me, he still didn’t quit.  It reminds me of an even greater Pursuer.

About four months after our first date I went to a wedding in Arizona with my best friend. I had still given Jon no indication that there would ever be a future for the two of us. Jon had volunteered to take us to the airport two hours away, at 3:00am, however. And his ulterior motive was obvious. He and I had tremendous conversation all the way there while Yesenia was asleep in the back seat (well pretending to be- Ahem.) When we arrived at the airport, Jon parked and carried in our bags. As I watched him walk away, I had the strongest compulsion to hug him. “What!” I thought, startled, “Where did that come from? No way, I don’t want it!”  But whether I wanted it or not, he was on my mind, and I couldn’t shake it. And finally, as dense as I was, I realized I had more than just friendship thoughts toward him.

I spent so much time on that trip in prayer evaluating my heart and motives. Was it just infatuation? Was it just the desire to have someone because Yesenia did?  I told her, “I know all I would have to do is say the word.” But I was still nervous, so I kept praying. The wedding was on the day that would have been my wedding day to that other guy. But he was not on my mind at all! Jon was. There was no sorrow. Only joy. It was never the day the Lord intended for me. As I watched the bride walk down the aisle there was a series of extremely vivid images in my mind… me walking down the aisle to Jon, us serving in ministry… And they caught me so off guard that I gasped. So I prayed, “God I desperately need your wisdom.” The more I prayed the more God just seemed to say, “Ami I just want you to be willing.” So, by the time I got home from that week in Arizona I was willing.

Jon picked us up from the airport, and for some reason, we dropped Yesenia off, but not me (she and I were roommates). So here we are conveniently alone in the car. Of course, Jon asked about the trip and specifically about the wedding, for he had known that it had the potential to be a difficult day. I was so excited to say that God had officially closed that last chapter. I told him that I spent a lot of time in prayer. And as soon as I said it, I knew he was going to ask, “About what?” And he did. And here I faced a dilemma. “Do I tell him? Or do I figure out a way to weasel out of it?’  But what came rushing out of my mouth was, “You.”  And then his jaw just about dropped to the ground! “What? You can’t be serious!”  So I went on to tell him all that God had been doing, and that I was willing to see what where God “would take this.” We hashed out a lot that night, but there was one question I really had to ask. “Jon there’s one more thing I need to know. Why do you want this? Why are you interested in me?”

And the hugest grin spread across his face. “Where do I even begin? First of all, you are absolutely beautiful!” Then he launched into a specific, obviously well thought out paragraph about my character. “Ami I see your compassion for others, your servant’s heart, your desire to live the gospel, you have a heart for ministry, your life radiates Christ. The more I know you, the more I think ‘she’s godly’ and I want that…”

I was floored. He had been watching me for months. And he thought that highly of me? He knew why he pursued me, and was able and willing to tell me so. I was stunned. And so as they say, the rest is history.  Sometime I’ll tell you our engagement story. Now that’s the stuff forthe  romantics!

When we first started dating, there were folks who thought Jon wasn’t good enough for me. There were folks who slandered him and brought up elements of his past to others, and told me I was a fool. They were flat out wrong. I was the one who didn’t deserve him.  Jesus was transforming him, and already had transformed him. Most people however, could see what we saw, God’s hand orchestrating and guiding events to bring us together.

So as I sat here this morning reflecting on the almost 5 years we’ve known each other, 4 years together, 3 years since engagement, and 2 ½ years married, God reminded me that they were the most delightful and joy filled years of my life. I would rather have had 5 beautiful years with Jon, than to not have had him at all! I’d rather be going through the deepest valley of loss than to never have experienced what it is to love and be loved so thoroughly by another. Our story was masterfully designed and woven by God.  It was His goodness and grace that brought us together and formed two into one.  But our story reminds me that Jon and his love for me pales in comparison to God’s unfathomable love.  And now it is His grace that says it is good to take Jon away. That it is good for me to be a widow. It is part of that masterful design. He has not forsaken me. He has engraved me on the palm of His hands. He has not forgotten me. (Isaiah 49:15-16)


Jon loved weddings. I mean, you don’t understand. He absolutely adored weddings! He loved going to them. He loved dancing at them. He loved rejoicing with the new couple. He loved everything about the most “special of days.” In fact, I’ve never seen a man who was more genuinely excited about going to weddings than Jon. One of our dear friends commented that she thought Jon was more excited about her wedding than she was! I think it’s true. And with our own wedding, Jon was intricately involved in every facet of planning. He wanted to help pick out the colors, the cake, the venue… He and I spent hours meticulously planning the program and music in order that our wedding would overflow with the gospel and Jesus. We sat on the floor tying hundreds of tags on party favors that said “I love you 1,000 red m&ms” or “I love you 1,000 blue m&ms”— You guessed it. The favor was red and blue m&ms. I know, all of this may seem really weird… So, before you start thinking my husband was a pansy, he also loved trains and airplanes. And the Bears, Cubs, Bulls, and Blackhawks. Let me explain.  I think the reason Jon loved weddings so much is that he really got the symbol. He recognized that for believers, earthly weddings are a miniscule foreshadowing of the Great wedding between Christ and His bride, the church.  He recognized that one day Christ will come for His bride wrapped in splendor and majesty. And that this destitute, dumb, lame, filthy, enslaved, scoundrel of a bride will be gloriously remade into what He has already declared her to be: spotless, clean, purified, redeemed, chosen, beautiful…  (Ephesians 5)

It was more than just weddings. Jon loved marriage. One of his primary passions was teaching men to love their wives and sacrifice for them. He desperately wanted our own marriage to reflect Christ. But, just to clarify, he didn’t worship marriage. He very clearly saw that marriage is but a picture of the gospel. It is not the end all in itself. But rather, Christ, the Heir, the One who is God, made Himself low.  He pursued a bride who hated Him. With His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead, He gave his life for her, purchased her, ransomed her, lavished His love on her…And this is the greatest of love stories!  And I get to be a part of it. Of course, we know that God does all things first and foremost for His own glory! His primary reason for sending His Son was not His love for me, yet His righteous desire for His own glory.  Yet, there was unfathomable love there as well. So as I contemplate the abundant gift God gave me in Jon, I stand in awe at the even greater gift he gave me in Jesus.


So I went to the wedding. It was beautiful, gospel-filled, and much harder than I thought. As with the wedding that started it all, I had vivid pictures of me walking down the aisle to Jon. Thoughts of our own beautiful day, and beautiful life flooded my mind. Though this time there was immense sorrow, I found it still possible to rejoice with others.  I shed lots of tears, but it’s ok that my church family saw the grief  and the ugliness of loss. I made it through most of the evening. I consider that a victory.

“Lord I realize that It was not wrong for me to love Jon so– to still love him so. It was not wrong to take great pleasure and joy in Him. For he constantly led me back to supreme love for you. He was your gracious gift. Thank you for the most joy- filled delightful years of my life. Through the difficult challenges of being newlyweds, you were faithful. Thank you God for the joy of loving and being loved.  Thank you for the intimacy, the silliness, the tears, the laughter, the arguments, the reconciliation, the sacrificial love… Oh God you dealt with me abundantly! And still you deal with me abundantly.

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You have chosen me to be a part of the greatest story. Of your story. You gave your own Son. You will withhold no good thing from me. This I know. ‘Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand and marked off the heavens with a span… who has measured the Spirit of the Lord or what man shows Him counsel?’ Lord who am I to argue with you? Or to think that I know what is good? You are the One who knows all things. You are the One who gives life and being, and now somehow widowhood is your gracious gift to me. Somehow this is what will teach me to know you and love you more. I stand in awe that you would give me such a gift as Jon in the first place, but the comparison to Christ is overwhelming! That you would give me Jesus!”

There’s a song that sums this up I think….

Behold Our God -Sovereign Grace Music

Cranberries and Cooking Utensils: How Jon taught me Jesus


It was our second Thanksgiving married, but our first Thanksgiving to cook the big feast! I was so excited about our 20 lb turkey we got for $4.65.  We were cooking only for four, but I suppose we had enough for about 15!  Jon and I had so much fun researching turkey preparation and cooking methods. We even watched a YouTube video.  Of course we were having all the sides. And you can’t forget my mom’s famous pumpkin pies. So here we are, the night before thanksgiving enjoying the time together as we prepared for the next day. Jon and I were a great team in the kitchen, and cooking together was always quality time we both enjoyed. That is, of course, after we decided who was head chef and who was sous chef for a particular meal. I’m pretty sure I was head chef for Thanksgiving.

Let's see if we have a masterpiece!
Let’s see if we have a masterpiece!

We were having such a great time, but then somehow an argument arose. I have no idea what it was about! But isn’t that the way it is most times? The hurt feelings or the selfishness seems so important at the time, but then later you can’t even remember what caused the rift. I guess that’s the beauty of true reconciliation. I do know however, that I was the fighter. I never realized until I got married how stubborn and selfish I am.  And I think it’s not an exaggeration to say I started the vast majority of our “discussions.”

So on this occasion (and in many others), I was so angry and wanted to continue to fight even when Jon calmly said, “We’re not ready to talk about this right now.” You see, he consistently handled disagreements with a gospel-centered, unselfish perspective. And it made me mad. Because each time he responded rightly, I saw my own guilt and selfishness. So what did I do this time? I grabbed fresh cranberries and lobbed them at his head as hard as I could. Yes I did. With each stinging phrase from my mouth, came a cranberry flying from my hand.  Yeah, I know, ridiculous.  But by this time, I wanted him to sin. I wanted get a reaction to make me feel better about myself.  So I kept pitching cranberries.

Then Jon did something that caught me totally by surprise. Wordlessly, he bent down and starting picking them up. “Stop picking them up! Stop picking them up Come on! Fight me! !” I shouted, outraged.  But he just kept picking them up. I was livid. So I switched to cooking utensils. Now I did have at least some semblance of rational thinking because I consciously avoided the breakable items. 🙂 And I did at least stop chucking things at his head. But one by one, I grabbed a utensil from the flower pot on the counter and slammed it to the floor.  He just kept picking everything up. Finally realizing that my tantrum wasn’t getting anywhere, I ran out of steam, and stomped down the hall slamming the bedroom door.

I know, looking back, this event is pretty stinkin’ comical, and we laughed about it many times later when were were talking with newlywed couples.  But in the moment, I was so angry at his selflessness. His humility starkly contrasted my pride and obstinate fighting. As I lay on our bed fuming, the Holy Spirit started breaking my heart.  I finally realized my sin. God reminded me that Jesus died for that selfishness. He reminded me that Jon could only respond the way he had by the power of Christ in his life.  He reminded me that my sin “threw” much worse than cranberries at Jesus.  I had to remember that because of Jesus’  life, death, burial, and resurrection, I had been chosen and  reconciled. I had been served when I hated Him. Just as Jon knelt, and served when I was being wretched, Jesus showed the ultimate humility on the cross for me. So I repented and with broken heart returned to my husband.

Another occasion I was so angry that I wanted to hurt Jon with my words in any way I could. I wanted to cut him to the core. And I did.  And again, as I lay in our bedroom fuming, the Holy Spirit started pricking my soul. But this time Jon came in and laid on the bed too. I told him I wasn’t ready to talk yet. And he just laid there and let God work. When I rolled over, he immediately sought forgiveness from me before I could say anything. As if my heart wasn’t broken enough! I was the wretch! I was wrong! So as I cried because of my shame, he stroked my hair and said, “I adore you. You are so precious to me.  You are so beautiful, and I love you”.  And in that moment, it was Christ speaking, not Jon. How lavish is the love of Jesus! “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). In my heart I realized, “Ami, Jon is teaching you Christ.”  This is Jesus’ love. I am completely unworthy of it, but He calls me precious. He adopted me, and He calls me His own.

So these are some of Jon’s Gospel Lessons.

They were not lessons he was consciously trying to teach, but nonetheless so powerful because he lived them. I wanted to share these precious memories, so folks would continue to know the man my husband was. This blog is his legacy. He taught me Christ everyday through his sacrificial love. Yes, of course, there were times when Jon failed or when he sinned against me. In most arguments, not just one person is wrong. There is usually selfishness on both sides.  But Jon taught me how to argue to the glory of God. He taught me how to clarify and ask questions. He taught me how to forgive quickly and how to seek forgiveness quickly. And slowly God began to transform my heart. It’s only by His grace that I can look back and see the  fighter changing. In the last year or so, our arguments became much fewer and farther between, and less volatile when they did happen. And when I think of arguments, I also rejoice to think of the some of the sweetest times that followed.

So Gospel Lessons. So some of you might be thinking, “I don’t quite get it. What do you mean?”  By Gospel I mean the truth that Jesus lived a perfect life and never sinned. Jesus died a horrible death on the cross, was buried, and rose again on the third day.  I mean that I deserved God’s righteous wrath, but Jesus took it on Himself and absorbed all of it. God paid the penalty for my sin.  He became sin, who knew no sin that I would become righteous. (II Corinthian 5:21) The gospel is the truth that I was blind, lame, dumb dead, and in desperate need of a Savior.

Jon titled this blog  “When Mercy Found Me: Living Life Through the Lens of the Gospel”  And that’s what he did. That’s what “gospel-centered” means. It means that I need the truth of Gospel to radically influence my daily life.  I need to know its facets and be able to unpack them for myself. All the truth I’ve given above wasn’t just for the moment I first believed. I need it every day. Especially now. It is the truth that Jesus reconciled me to God, that enables me to in turn forgive and seek forgiveness from others. It is the truth that I have been redeemed, bought back, purchased, that reminds me that my my life is not my own! It reminds me even in the midst of my deepest suffering that I belong to God. It  is the truth that if God would give His own Son for me, shall He not do all things for me that are good? This grief is the craziest place I’ve ever been, but consistently God keeps leading me “to the Rock that is higher than I.” He is the One carrying me!

This post is not about me. I’m a mess. I still miss my husband and want him back.  But this is the way I process things. So, I want you to see Jon. But mostly I want you to see Jesus.

This is the wallpaper on our computer. Created by our Pastor. And one of the reasons for this post.
This is the wallpaper on our computer. Created by our Pastor. It’s missing the T in “This” because our computer cut it off. But that’s ok.