Holy Work

“It’s holy work,” my heart whispered to my mind as I walked down the hall toward screaming siblings.

“It’s holy work,” the Spirit said as I knelt down to empathize.

Holy work.

Sometimes I get it right. Perhaps my children smell the fragrant aroma of the riches and grace of Christ. Perhaps their subconsciouses catalog the beauty of a redeemed life.

It’s holy work to show them Christ, to be their first and deepest exposure to the gospel, to give them their first constructs of what God is like.

Sometimes I get it wrong. They surely smell the stench of sin.

The trenches of daily life are the litmus test. Does the Jesus we proclaim on Sunday permeate our days on Monday?

We take the call to make disciples seriously. The work of shepherding, a holy calling. Jesus, the gospel-they are not add ons, not once a week “gave my tithe, filled my pew, did my duty.”

Jesus is our life.

In the same way speaking to a hundred women or leading Bible study is holy work, so is wiping another bottom, reading another book, washing another dish.

And loving them when they seem unlovely is an act of grace, a gift of worship.

I push back against mediocre, “Mommy needs a glass of wine” parenthood.

This much unseen, soil cultivating, seed planting work is valuable and important.

The messages they receive at home become a part of who they are. What am I telling them about their identity?

At a recent medical appointment the practitioner spoke about his young son, “I love him, but sometimes he’s a total expletive.”

I switched my next appointment to another doctor.

Because the little ones are image bearers also. They are gifts of grace.

They are sinners in need of Savior. But they were created for good and honorable things.

They were created to know the One who shows them their true selves.

So I do holy work, and pray they will know him.

Let the Children Come

She was a sad puddle of two year old, face down on the floor.

A combined Good Friday service with another church wound down in the background.

“I want more water!”

“Come here sweet girl. The cup is full. We filled it all up.”

The puddle remained. I held a sleeping Henry.

People flooded through the auditorium doors, and I felt the stares at the screaming child, now stomping her foot.

The puddle turned into a tree, rooted on the spot. And I didn’t want want to wake her brother.

“Charlotte I’m going to go get Daddy and come back.”

I looked back, and she poured the water on the floor.

//

I rocked Henry reflecting on stares and looks from people I don’t know. Church can be a hard place for small people (and their parents).

But stares and looks are trivial compared to the cross.

And the cup.

I offered her clean, cold water. It was there, but she couldn’t see it.

I’ve been the two year old.

“But Lord I want more water!!”

“I am the living water.”

The best, thirst quenching water. It’s Him. And he’s always full, overflowing. He gives and gives and gives.

He even gave himself.
And looked into another cup not full of cool, clean water, but overflowing brimming over with wrath.

It was there, and he could see it. But he drank it all.

Wrath satisfied.

He died for those little stomping feet.

//

“Let the children come,” he said.

There is room for puddles on the floor.

Gospel Thoughts on Re-wiring my Brain

I love light bulbs, the “aha” moments when all of a sudden two truths align and things make sense. I’ve been pondering a big one that feels life changing, or at least brain changing.

But first, a little background. Sanctification is becoming what you have already been declared to be. (Through Jesus, and only Jesus, you are justified or declared righteous.) You could call it spiritual growth or growing in Christlikeness. It’s a life long process. The Holy Spirit works in the heart of a believer, and the believer responds.

Here’s the flip of the switch.

What if sanctification isn’t just heart change but also literal brain change? What if “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” is in part re-wiring neural pathways?

What? That’s crazy!

Ok, I see you scratching your head. Don’t write me off just yet.

Have you ever heard the phrase “Neurons that fire together wire together?”

I have in several contexts, but I confess I haven’t really gotten it.

During my brief CrossFit days (I wish I still did it) I heard it in context of weight lifting; the more repetitions you do, the more automatic a movement becomes.

I’ve also heard about firing and wiring from occupational therapists as they provide deep pressure on arms and legs, from head to toe, and across the body. By activating those neurons together, they are teaching a child to regulate his nervous system so he can calm and focus.

Recently I heard it in a “Discipline that Connects” course (from Connected Families) David and I are taking. And this time all the bells and whistles went off in my brain.

Messages sent to the brain create neural pathways, and repeated messages fire faster and travel more easily. The more we use a neural pathway, the more it becomes a super highway.

Therefore, the more I am “large and loud” or angry and frustrated with my children, those responses are more easily triggered.

If I want to change the pattern, I need to change the pattern. My brain needs new messages. And it needs the repeated messages of interacting calmly and connecting with hearts before discipline.

My heart exploded with understanding and praise to God for a few reasons! Over the last four years I’ve been on a mission to seek God’s heart regarding shepherding our children. I have ready many books and studied Scripture as David and I have built our overall philosophy.

I have also been “putting in the work” to understand and process my own childhood trauma.

All of this creates and reinforces neural pathways.

As I have learned strategies to remain calm in high pressure parenting situations, I am literally re-wiring my brain. And the more “reps” I do across different circumstances, the more I’m becoming who I want to be.

When I kneel down and talk to my children instead of shout at them, neurons are doing some important highway construction— in my brain and in theirs.

I am encouraged that something physical is happening. Maybe if someone measured brain activity there would be a difference.

There is growth even if it feels SO slow sometimes. There is growth even if it feels like construction is at a stand still or an excavator dug a hole across the path.

I know my understanding of brain science is simplistic, but maybe, just maybe I’m also dismantling some neural pathways related to my own abuse and neglect.

But there’s better news! For a Christian, it’s even bigger.

If the strategies I am learning are rooted and grounded in the gospel, this is not mere behavior modification.

As I repeatedly remind myself of the truths of the gospel related to parenting (or any other struggle), those truths send neurons firing across my brain. The resplendent reality of the gospel physically changes my brain. What I actually believe about God, myself, and others physically starts to change.

Over many years a highway (among others) called “Identity” has formed. Construction on it will probably never end—an I-90 in my brain—but it’s getting bigger and better.

Perhaps brain change and heart change are connected.

Only God changes the heart, but as thinking changes so does the heart. What a complex mystery. Sanctification is God’s work. But I respond by recalling truth.

When I tell my small people…

“You are made in God’s image. Jesus loves you and died for you. He came to save sinners like you and me.”

Or
“Mommy needs Jesus also. Let’s stop and ask God for help.”

Or
“I know you are having a hard time. But I love you.”

Or
“You are called and capable. You are responsible for your actions.”

Or
“God created you. He can use your big heart, persistence, and determination for his glory.”

Or
“I’m on your team. We can figure this out together.”

…perhaps those repeated messages, will one day lead to heart change. Perhaps they will internalize the truths firing across the super highways in their brains.

That’s really good news.

Maybe all of this is a little too nerdy. But imagining neurons racing across my brain, is immensely encouraging. Some things are rewiring, some past highways demolished. God is a work in me. And I will keep actively repeating messages of truth.


Ephesians 4:20-24

“But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness”

Six Years.

At six years since his death, the life I had with Jon is an ebbing memory. This anniversary is markedly different than the rest; death feels like different lifetime ago. It may have much to do with hands full with a cute chunker named Hudson. At six years some memories remain vivid, but many of the mundane, insignificant days are gone. I can still watch our wedding video and hear his voice on the 30 second voicemail I have memorized. I can read his emails and listen to his sermons. But these are memories still. The nuances of our days have faded. I used to be fearful of the day when my days with Jon became less sharp, less clear in my mind. But they’ve arrived. And it’s ok.

Of course I miss Jon. Sometimes sorrow is still there. But I live in the beautiful now; I’ve been given so much joy. This is the first anniversary of his death where I have not had a strong need to process what I feel about it.

Suffering was a gift I never wanted. But I’m thankful for it—

“God has walked me through the valley of the shadow and shown me what true beauty really is. He showed me what love really looks like, and he built a depth of beauty in my story that a life without suffering would never have known.” – Kara Tippetts, The Hardest Peace

This year with our vivacious little buddy, I’m acutely aware of God’s sovereignty. I’ve said it before; if Jon had not died, I wouldn’t have David, and I wouldn’t have Hudson. And I cannot imagine life with out these two. They’re delightful. And they’re supposed to be part of the story.

Before Hudson’s birth I worried that I would have mixed emotions and sorrow because I never had a child with Jon. On that day there was sheer joy. But I’ll not lie and say that there haven’t been moments since then when I’ve missed the curly, dark headed, blue eyed copy of Jon that never existed.

Yet the imaginary baby isn’t the one I needed. My little boy with fine, straight, sandy hair was the one God had planned all along. Hudson is the sanctification I didn’t know I needed. Boy is he sanctifying! And I’m so thankful. Keep transforming my heart, Lord Jesus.

I’ll admit though, Hudson’s gorgeous blue eyes are a cherry on top.

Days with Jon may be fading, but there are fresh joys and new mercies every day. He has left an indelible imprint on my life in many ways. I will always cherish him. Jon is in part why my marriage to David is rich, deep, and strong. He taught me to discuss without shouting or slamming doors. And the work God did in my heart flows over into life with David. I think were I still as combative as I was in the early days with Jon, I might try and run right over my strong but gentle giant, David. 

God’s ways are good.

I’ve been reading Psalm 18 recently, and it’s one of those stop you in your tracks, slow down and marvel at our incredible God kind of Psalms. I can’t read it without a few tears.

“The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of destruction assailed me; the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.” Psalm 18:4-6

“He sent from on high, he took me; he drew me out of many waters. He rescued me from my strong enemy and from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me. They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the LORD was my support. He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me.” Psalm 18:16-19

In this Psalm I see a penetrating metaphor of deep grief. I see myself when death was fresh. I was there encompassed by the cords of death, some days wondering if I’d make it out alive. But God always heard my cry. He drew me out of the waters of deep sorrow, tended my wounds, and healed them by the power of the gospel and his own dear presence. He has restored, redeemed, and renewed.

But let me never forget that this Psalm is actually about Jesus. And without redemption of my soul, all other redemption is futile. Ultimate deliverance and rescue were accomplished through his death and resurrection. I’m enjoying so many blessings right now, but Jesus is the abundant place. He would still be the “broad place” even if there weren’t any other blessings. Grief was not my real enemy. Sin and death- these are the enemies too mighty for me. And Christ already and forever defeated them.

Praise God!

I’m thankful for the years I had with Jon. His passion for Jesus was magnetic. It was a spark that spread to everyone around him, and I hope it always burns bright in me.

At all Costs

Boy, has it been awhile friends!

It’s hard to believe Hudson is already seven months old. Today! Today is his seven monthiversary. Let’s just say, life with a baby is wonderful, radically new, sometimes crazy hard, and thoroughly life altering.  I adore my new role, but it is not without challenges. I’m learning much, and God is refining me in new ways. There’s a whole lot of sanctification going on over here.

I haven’t been writing as much as I’d like (I hope to rectify that soon), but today I have a piece featured at Risen Motherhood. Hooray!

You can find the article, At All Costshere. Hope it encourages.

Love, Ami

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https://www.risenmotherhood.com/blog/at-all-costs

*This picture may not be used apart from this blog.

5 Years. Grace and Mercy.

Last night I tossed and turned, waking up bleary eyed and running on fumes. Pregnancy has a whole lot to do with it, for sure. Sleep has gotten weird.  But that wasn’t the main thing really. I couldn’t turn my mind off. The tired hamster in my brain ran in circles all night. Today is five years since Jon died.

Five years rings with the sound of a definite milestone. For whatever reason our brains are wired to view the multiples of 5s and 10s as more significant than others. These are the years folks throw parties or take vacations to celebrate. I don’t know, it’s just the way we think.

So, I was feeling a little stressed about today. Life has been busy preparing for the baby. Birth class, the great purge of miscellaneous junk, wrapping up work, etc. etc.  There hasn’t been much time for the quiet reflection I always crave.

I was stressed about what I was thinking and feeling because I didn’t know what I was thinking or feeling about today. And if you know me at all, you get that it’s just not how I function. I think things through with a mortar and pestle, till they are a finely ground powder. It’s a milestone year. I should have this figured out. But I haven’t had time to journal and nail down the themes.

So here we are this morning, and I’m rambling away. Five years is what I say every year, both an instant and an eternity.

The day before he died I was driving to work, very early before the sun rose. Not my favorite thing at all. But as I drove east a radiant sunrise burst across the horizon of empty fields and endless sky. I jotted down a thought later that day, “Reminded by a gorgeous sunrise that light comes after dark. Spring comes after Winter. What mercy and grace the Father gives!”

How much more significant are those words now. Looking back, I can see ways God prepared me for Jon’s death though I had no idea at the time.

What mercy and grace the Father gives. These are never ending themes that only grow bolder with each anniversary.

There’s been a lot of life since Jon died, some of it insanely hard, some of it marked by piles of kleenexes, some of it full of belly laughs, some of it overflowing with redemption. And it has all been saturated with grace and mercy.

My little hamster can lie down and take a rest. Grace and mercy, some of the most beautiful words on earth, are sufficient to describe what I think about this milestone.

My God does all things well. His glory he will not share with another. And justice must be satisfied. Enter Jesus. “He bore the wrath reserved for me, now all I know is grace.”

All I know is grace.

I once was lost in darkest night
Yet thought I knew the way
The sin that promised joy and life
Had led me to the grave
I had no hope that You would own
A rebel to Your will
And if You had not loved me first
I would refuse You still.

But as I ran my hell-bound race
Indifferent to the cost
You looked upon my helpless state
And led me to the cross
And I beheld God’s love displayed
You suffered in my place
You bore the wrath reserved for me
Now all I know is grace.

Hallelujah! All I have is Christ
Hallelujah! Jesus is my life

Now, Lord, I would be Yours alone
And live so all might see
The strength to follow Your commands
Could never come from me
Oh Father, use my ransomed life
In any way You choose
And let my song forever be
My only boast is You”

Music and words by Jordan Kauflin. © 2008 Sovereign Grace Praise


What has gone before…

That’s going to come out of me?

He was an irresistible week-old newborn, and it was his first Sunday at church. When his mom held him to her shoulder he bore the trademark “I’m just gonna mold completely to your body” newborn snuggle. Talk about baby fever right there!

And then I thought, “That is going to come out of me? That baby is huge!”

Now, it must be said that this little guy is a perfectly average, healthy baby. He wasn’t a 16 pounder.

Though you’ve likely read between the lines, (and noticed the picture) I should probably bring some of you up to speed. I suppose you can tell that I haven’t written in awhile. I guess there is less need for deep processing in the happy, hustling and bustling seasons. Well, I do write all the time these days, but technical reports for work don’t really seem to count.

Anyway, for those who don’t know me in real life or at least on Facebook, I am 5 1/2 months pregnant with our first child! Hooray!

And he’s a boy! We are so delighted to be having a son. He’s a gift long prayed for. The feeling of little kicks from the inside, hearing his heartbeat, seeing him move on ultrasound; these are among the best things I’ve ever experienced. We already know his name, but I’ll save that story for another day.

But I digress. I met a sweet little newborn at church. He was adorable; thoughts of awe and terror simultaneously flitted across my mind.

“Wow God you are amazing!”

“But someone that big is going to come out of me?”

Being pregnant has produced its own set of fears. Fears about labor and delivery. Fears about parenting. Fear that something would happen to our baby—There I’ve said it out loud. It’s uncharted territory, a completely new avenue in which I am learning trust.

I’ve wanted to be a mom for as long as I can remember. It’s one of those desires that had to be stripped away for me to see what it had become. An idol. It was a dream I had begun to worship, something I thought I had to have to be happy. It was a good desire I had let turn into an ultimate desire.

You may remember that my first husband and I tried to get pregnant for a year and half before he died. God did a lot in my heart over that year and half. But the battle was real and intense. So often I prayed for a child. So often I tried to hold my hands open to the Lord.

And when Jon died, all the hopes and dreams of being a mom shattered also. I remember when I started my period about a week after he died: I crumpled on my bathroom floor and sobbed.

So here I am, turning 35 tomorrow and pregnant! They say I’m of “advanced maternal age.” That makes me smile.

And I am amazed at God’s goodness and grace. In the years of widowhood He taught me much about living with open hands. He was good when my hands were empty. And He is good now.

The day I found out I was pregnant, I again knelt on the floor, tears streaming. Y’all know I have a strong relationship with crying.

“Lord, even from the very beginning this baby is yours. I hold my hands open to you. Do what you want with this little life. I pray you would give us grace to point this baby to Jesus. ”

But sometimes open hands are hard.

We’re five and a half months down this path, and already we’re trying to make decisions for the good of our son.

Am I eating the right foods? Taking the right vitamins? Drinking enough water?

Do I go get a Tetanus shot because I cut my toe on a screw?

The flu. Severe dehydration. “I think we better go to the hospital.”

In all this I’m starting to understand that trusting God with our son is life long. We can try to make the best, most informed decisions but ultimately God is sovereign.

He is weaving this little one together in his mother’s womb. Our son is fearfully, and wonderfully made. How much richer are those words now! God will do what brings himself honor and glory.

We’re going to make mistakes. Sometimes we’re going to have no clue what we’re doing. Maybe a lot of times. I’ll probably freak out. Meltdowns will happen—both from me and the baby.

Sometimes we’ll even sin against him. What?! I’m not going to be a perfect parent?

I see your looks of incredulity, but yes friends it’s true.

Therefore, as I learned to preach the gospel to myself in marriage, widowhood, and marriage again, so must I learn it now.

I’m well aware that my highly sensitive heart and strong need for introspection can lead an internal dialogue of fear. We all have our sin tendencies. So I have to change the dialogue.

  • God is the perfect parent. Therefore I don’t have to be.
  • If God did not spare His own Son, will he spare any omnipotent effort to do good to me? (or to my son?)
  • The cross and resurrection prove that the Lord is trustworthy. He always does what he says he will. Because I have been made alive, new, redeemed I can trust God.
  • My Father has promised to sanctify me. He is committed to transforming into the image of his Son. Therefore, he will give grace to admit when I am wrong. Grace to say, “Mommy is sorry. Please forgive me.”
  • God loves our baby far more than we do.

It still feels surreal sometimes. In a few short months we’ll be responsible to keep a tiny human alive, to meet his needs, to instruct him, to protect, to shepherd him. We pray many things for our baby, but most of all we pray he would know Jesus.  Because who’s the real Shepherd? Who’s the real Provider and Protector? It certainly isn’t me.

That I think, is the sum of what God has called us to do—point him to the marvelous grace found in Christ alone. We are channels, channels only to the one who is the answer to all fears, to the one who fully satisfies.

For Everything a Season

Folding laundry may be my undoing someday. Seriously, it’s my least favorite chore. The clothes are clean, and they’re doing just fine over there in a tumbling mountain not hurting anybody, thank you very much.

We seem to produce a lot of laundry for just the two of us. My husband is a giant, so that makes a difference, I suppose. Eventually my love of order trumps the chaos.

One day it occurred to me what a privilege it is to get to fold laundry. It’s a lovely side effect of God’s lavish grace on my life. I have another husband to love, care for, and to serve. I missed the every day things of being a wife.

Here we are in the beautiful mundane, the place of dishes and laundry, of ministry, work, and cooking dinner.  I should note that upon reading the draft, David interjected “Except nothing’s ever mundane when I’m around.”  He makes me smile.

Life buzzes with the hum of daily tasks. Ordinary days. After several years of deep sorrow, waiting, and big changes, this season feels a little foreign. I haven’t been here for awhile. I don’t always know what to do with it.

But I love it.

After loss, tiny moments become treasures. Playing games, seeking new adventures, dancing around the living room together, having quality time, being held tightly,—all are things I soak in.

Oh that I could bottle up these mundane days, storing them to revisit through a trip in Dumbledore’s pensieve. And if you don’t know about the pensieve, I’m not sure we can be friends.

I’m thankful for the beauty of mundane days. I well remember how much I longed for them. But sometimes I feel guilty about this calm and peaceful season. Maybe that seems weird.

Perhaps it was easier to worship God in the midst of trial than it is in the normal, typical every day sort of days. Am I wandering away from God because something “big” is not going on?  But what about my friends who are sufferingly deeply? Is it wrong that I am not suffering also?

But the older I get, the more I see how God often deals in seasons.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die: a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and  a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.”

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

As physical seasons reflect reversal, redemption, and newness of life, so do life’s seasons. They reflect the character of our God, and His unrelenting zeal to transform.

J. I Packer put it this way.

Live in the present, and enjoy it thoroughly; present pleasures are God’s good gifts. Though Ecclesiastes condemns flippancy, he clearly has not time for the superspirituality which is too proud or too pious ever to laugh and have fun. Seek grace to work hard at whatever life calls you to do, and enjoy your work as you do. Leave to God its issues; let Him measure its ultimate worth; your part is to use all the good sense and enterprise at your command in exploiting the opportunities that lie before you… We can be sure that the God who made this marvelously complex world order,… and who compassed the even greater redemption from Sin and Satan knows what He’s doing, and ‘doeth all things well.’ even if for the moment He hides his hand. We can trust Him and rejoice in Him even when we cannot discern His path.”

Therefore, I get to enjoy the lovely early days of still being considered “newlyweds.”  Life is not about always being happy, but sometimes happiness is part of God’s grace. There is no need for guilt. God is sovereign over the ebbs and flows. His narratives are complex, and there are appropriate times for every emotion. Of course, beauty and calm are His good gifts.

A year and a few weeks ago, some of my dear friends experienced the deaths of their twins born too early. Apart from Jon’s death, being with them that night was one of the hardest things I’ve experienced. Grief was deep and heavy. But what a privilege it was to hold their tiny, perfectly formed babies, to see God’s grace surrounding them, to cry out to the Lord for them, and to weep and ache with them.

In the same week these friends remembered what would have been their babies’ first birthdays, David and I traveled for a family member’s wedding. We were in the thick of wedding preparations and all the delights that come with them. It was an exhausting, but immensely joy-filled week. What an tremendous privilege it is be in a wedding and to share in a couple’s radiant joy!

Seasons. Contrasts. Walking beside others both in joy and sorrow are God’s good gifts.  Likewise, in my life sorrows and joys are equally God’s good gifts. Though it’s not always easy to understand, both kinds of days teach me the gospel, pointing me to Christ.

  • I remember the sorrow and suffering of the cross.
  • I recall the triumph and joy of the resurrection.

Both are necessary.

As long as this season lasts, I’ll just keep soaking up the sunshine with raised hands and a thankful heart.

Thank you Lord, for good and beautiful gifts in every season.


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4 Years: Victory, Reversal, Redemption.

Today marks four years since Jon stepped from this life to the next. That seems like a long time. It’s a quiet ache today though—a remembering, an honoring, and a cherishing. This morning I listened to the one voicemail I still have from him. I basically have it memorized.  In 33 seconds he says, “I love you” three times. And it brought a smile instead of tears.

This anniversary is markedly different than the other three. Getting married again has something to do with it, I suppose. And if I felt like emojis were appropriate for blogs, I’d follow that sentence with a winky face, a kissy face, and pink hearts. It’s been a year of overflowing light and joy. As I reflect on this year of fourths, themes of reversal, redemption, victory, and love captivate my heart.

I was tempted to hook you with story of a “trauma trigger,” a moment of deep sorrow to illustrate that they still sneak in. They are rare, yet at times still powerful. I still struggle remembering the night Jon died. I fight the fear of losing my second husband, and I fear something happening to me— only because I don’t want him to know death or to experience crushing grief. But this is not a post primarily about fear.

I may yet tell that story, but for now God’s turning my heart a different direction.

Reversal

Death is a broken thing; the result of sin, we were never meant to experience it. But God can make death beautiful. Through it he caused me to run to Jesus and to understand my desperate need for him. Pain and sorrow led to me know Christ in an all-together richer and deeper way. Through death, Jon no longer has to deal with temptation, sin, or weakness. I’ve said these things before, but important truth is worth repeating.

Christ’s death was also beautiful, for by it we know salvation; we know reconciliation, justification, adoption, grace, mercy, peace, and infinitely more.

And death can be redeemed. It will be reversed. Christ is risen from the dead. Therefore, those who die in Christ will also be raised for eternity with him.

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Talk about reversal. 

This year God also reversed my circumstances. No longer “widow.”

I wasn’t promised a second husband, but in a very real, and physical way I get to reflect what Jesus does for his people. I’m so thankful.

There were days I doubted that God still had beautiful things for me in this life. But he is a generous father. Even if he had never reversed my circumstances, he would still be good.

However, some things shouldn’t be reversed:

  • I still desperately need Jesus.
  • Christ is still my security and my stability.
  • My hope is not in my circumstances.
  • David is not my savior. He is a good gift, but not the ultimate gift.
  • My value and worth are not determined by being a wife again.

I remind myself that Jesus is the greatest treasure. The things that were true in the valley are still the bedrock when “life feels good.”

Redemption

God gave me a good gift in Jon, and he has given me another good gift in David.

Early in our dating I assured David that I would love again and just as deeply. I’m thankful God has faithfully brought this love to fruition. It’s a magnificent thing.

Some folks seemed shocked at how a second love works. I still love Jon. But I also love David. Love multiplies; there is no need for intimidation. There is no second place.

I think the words I spoke as I took him to be my husband sum it up the best:

David, ours is s a story of beauty out of ashes. It is one of redeeming grace. As Boaz redeemed Ruth, so are you a kinsman redeemer. From the start you never ran from my story. You never let the word “widow” and all its unique challenges derail you. Rather you have embraced it all with immense grace, with gentleness, with compassion, and with bold confidence. You have even wanted to know Jon and who he was. You have called my story beautiful. Thank you for cherishing me. Thank you for lavish love. God has precisely and uniquely equipped to be the man for me. And I utterly adore you.

You are my kinsman redeemer, but you are merely a picture of the Ultimate Redeemer. We all were desolate and forsaken. But Jesus bought back His own, making her a gorgeous spotless bride. May our lives ever radiate the extravagant love of Christ.

And we get to see how God writes our story. Our story that is just a tiny part of His grand story. And I can’t wait for life with you. With so much joy, I take you to be my husband.”

There is tangible redemption in this life. And it is just a glimmer of true redemption.

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Victory

“And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces.” Isaiah 25:7-8

“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death where is your victory? O death where is your sting?” I Corinthians 15:54-55

Four years after death I think I more fully realize what Paul meant in First Corinthians. He was looking forward to the time when death would have no sting because it wouldn’t exist. He was looking forward to the immeasurable hope of the not yet.

In light of future glory, the trials of this life truly are light and momentary.

For a long time I could not sing “Christ is risen from the dead trampling over death by death. Come awake, come awake, come and rise up from the grave!… O death where is your victory?” without tears of sorrow. The words felt like a lie. For death surely stings, and “sting” doesn’t even being to come close to reality. But now I sing these marvelous words through tears of joy. One day there will be no sting.

Spiritual death is already swallowed up in victory, and one day physical death will also be swallowed up. Jesus is victorious, the Champion of champions.

“But thanks be to God who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him every where.” 2 Corinthians 2:14

He is the general leading the lavish victory parade. And I am the willing captive following in his triumph— set free from the captivity of sin and death, and gladly captive to Christ.

May I not be “preoccupied with the victorious Christian life, but with the victorious Risen King” (Scotty Smith)

The victory is His.

Love

So on this fourth anniversary, I’m mostly just thankful. Trials will come again. There will be future grief. But there will also be future joy.

At first I was nervous at how much Jon and David are intertwined in this post. — Would people not understand? Would they think I love one or the other less? Would they think it wrong to mention David in an anniversary post?

And then I remembered what an exceptional blessing it is to have both of them in my heart.  They are intertwined in a way that only God can do. It’s a testimony of God’s love and grace. He didn’t have to give me either.

So, I honor my past and embrace my future

Reversal. Redemption. Victory. Love. Four powerful words that point to Jesus Christ. And He is what it’s all about.


Here’s the beautiful song:  Christ is Risen from the Dead (Matt Maher)

What has gone before:

Not Performance. Not fear of Punishment.

mine

“Live for the Audience of One.”

I remember the injunction clearly, and pondered what it meant for me, a teenager and new believer. I knew salvation was by grace alone, through faith in Christ alone. I understood my need, responded to his relentless pursuit, and experienced his saving power. I saw radical transformation, wildfire growth if you will. And I wanted to follow Christ with all my soul.

“I am no longer who I once was,” my heart rejoiced!

But many facets of this thing called the “Christian Life” were still fuzzy. Audience of One?

“Well that must mean ‘to live for God’s approval alone.’ I suppose God is more pleased with me when I don’t do certain things, but do other things. If he’s the audience then I must perform, right?”

And so, I tumbled into the trap of performance. Do this. Don’t do this.

My failures crushed me. I couldn’t measure up. “Didn’t read my Bible every day this week. Epic fail. God must love me less.”

I may never have said the words aloud, but if I was honest, I thought they were true. I knew I’d been saved by grace, but I lived like I still had to earn it.

I’d love to tell my teenage self some things. I suppose I had to learn them over the passage of time, but if I could, I’d save her years of guilt ridden, faulty belief.

The Audience of One already approves.

Have you forgotten who He is?

As a father grins at his lisping child, stumbling through one line in the Kindergarten play, so does the Audience of One beam. Everyone else sees a gymnasium, but a father sees Carnegie Hall.

The father approves, not for the merit of the performance, but because he looks and says, “Mine.”

I’d say to my teenage self, “Christ justified you. By His blood you are declared innocent. He took your sin, and put it on Himself. Not only that, He gave you His righteousness. You belong.”

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:1

“But God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with Him and seated us in the heavenly places in Christ.” Ephesians 2:4-7

Justified.

Just as if I’ve never sinned.

Just as if I’ve always obeyed.

He approves. On my best days and worst days, God loves me just the same. He looks at me and sees His Son.

“The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by his love; He will exult over you with loud singing.” Zephaniah 3:17

He looks at me and sees a daughter, no longer slave to sin but heir with Christ. I’m in the family. I belong. A proud father, he beams, “That one’s mine.”

Furthermore, He does not punish His own.

One root of a performance driven life is the fear of punishment. “If I don’t do xyz, I will be punished.” However, if I believe the gospel is true, I know that Jesus already took my punishment.

“By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also  are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.” I John 4:17-19

Jesus is very definition of perfect love. And His death and resurrection are the ultimate manifestations of perfect love, therefore crushing the fear of punishment. Because of Christ, believers stand confidently before God.

“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” I John 4:10

Propitiation is one of my favorite words. The consuming fireball of the Father’s wrath should have been hurled at me. Instead it was hurled at Jesus, and on the cross He took it all. He drank the cup of wrath completely.

Propitiation is “a sacrifice that bears God’s wrath and turns it into God’s favor.” (ESV Study Bible)

I will not face wrath. I do not fear punishment. In Christ I am the recipient of lavish, never failing, never ceasing, tangible, incomprehensible grace.

Sure, God disciplines His own, but that’s a vastly different action than punishment. Punishment exists to exact justice and judgment. Discipline is to instruct and to train.

Sure, my actions have consequences, and when I sin and need to repent. BUT my sins are covered by the blood of Christ. There has been atonement.

To live for the Audience of One isn’t fear of punishment. And it isn’t performance.

It is worship, the delight that flows from all Jesus accomplished on my behalf.

“Our obedience is not a fearful striving to please God but a thankful and joyous response to the love with which he has already embraced us and provided for us by the sacrifice of his Son. The gospel is indeed news of great comfort and joy!” (Gospel Transformation Bible)

The Audience rejoices, not on my merit, but because I belong to Him. My lines may be lisped, my song sung with cracking voice, but He looks and says, “Mine!”

Only one was an audience, the Audience of One. The smile of the King’s approval swept through the choir like fire across dry wheat fields. When the song was complete, the Audience of One  stood and raised His great arms, then clapped His scarred hands together in thunderous applause shaking the ground and sky, jarring every corner of the cosmos. His applause went on and on unstopping and unstoppable.”  -Randy Alcorn


I first published this post two years ago under the title “Mine.” I regularly need to be reminded of who Jesus is and who He has made me to be. So I thought it was worth revisiting. As I read through my original thoughts, some necessary additions came to mind. For why do we perform? Fear of punishment. Misplaced identity. Not knowing God’s character. A faulty understanding of grace. I hope this post has strengthened and encouraged you. Believer, I pray it makes you sing with confidence. I pray the truths of justification, adoption,  and propitiation resonate deeply with you today.

Our need for Jesus is exceedingly great. Without him we are doomed to face wrath and judgment for sin. He is the only true Savior, and through Him we know peace. Through Him we are reconciled to God, declared righteous, and no longer face wrath. Justification and propitiation– they aren’t just “theology” words. They are life-transforming realities.

And for the heart that is still struggling-