He Triumphs.

“Please, I need to be alone with him.”

Silently the room emptied, a click of a door latch the only sound. The horror of the last few hours spun in a torrent.

“OH GOD, HELP ME NOT TO HATE YOU FOR THIS!”

honest momentsAlone with my beloved, I fell across his body, allowing my emotional flood gates to crack and finally rupture. The words were born of anguish and desperation, for I was totally aware that left to myself, I would hate God. He had utterly crushed me (or so it seemed). How could I continue to love Him? But what a fearful thing to hate Him.

It was a cry flecked with anger and accusation, but painted with sorrow and dependence. I pleaded with God for help. There were no more words, just the groaning of a shattered soul, who knew she was incapable of faith.

Minutes before I’d had grace to say, “Yes, Lord. He’s yours. My hands are open, and I give Him back to you.”

I had meant it. My hands were open. But alone with my husband’s lifeless form, the flicker of light threatened to extinguish itself entirely. Both were honest moments before God—the open hands and the desperation.

“Simon Simon, behold Satan demanded to have you that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:31-32

That day and many days thereafter I felt like sifted wheat, violently shaken so that my faith would fail.

But as Jesus confidently prayed for Peter, so does He intercede for me.

He was so confident in his prayer for Peter that he said, ‘When you have turned again,’ not ‘If you turn again.’ So even though Peter stumbled in denial, his faith did not fail utterly. That is what the Lord prays for us. This is one piece of our great security and hope.” (John Piper, The Dawning of Indestructible Joy) piper quote 1

Some scenes become branded on hearts forever. The weeping woman collapsed over her husband’s hospital bed is one of them. But these days I see it from a different angle.

Almost three years later, it’s tragedy turned triumph. It’s an image that stirs worship almost more than any other; the triumph isn’t mine, but Christ’s on my behalf. It’s a scene emblazoned with the gospel. And ideas like redemption, resurrection, restoration, life, and eternity emboss themselves across the memory.

MY FAITH DID NOT UTTERLY FAIL. IT WILL NOT UTTERLY FAIL.

How astonishing, these words! For with the benefit of hindsight, I know just how deep the days would become. Were it not for God Himself drawing me ever nearer, I would have hated Him. So faithfully and gently He shepherded, drawing me back, carrying the broken lamb, reminding me what is true.

It is good that I knew my radical dependency and comprehensive insufficiency. That I love Him today is only because of His love, grace, and power.

And there is but one cause. The Great Intercessor has secured my standing before God. He confidently carries me and equips me with the everything good, “working that which is pleasing in His sight.” (Hebrews 13: 21) Though Satan attempts to destroy, Jesus triumphs over him openly, utterly crushing his head.

Rather than faith failing, it grew exponentially. Faith was fortified with a substance stronger than steel; that is, the power that raised Christ from the dead. And even the fortifying was not of my own effort.

I HAVE A SAVIOR WHO LOVES ME AND DID NOT LET ME BE DESTROYED.

It’s pleasing in His sight that I draw ever nearer to Him. How precious then, He has turned a horrifying scene to one of beauty. Even in my desperation, He was drawing me near.

He triumphs.

“Now unto Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24-25)

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Flashback to “A Crossroads Day”

Resurrected an archive. Perhaps someone needs it today…

My husband Jonathan died nine months ago. He was also thirty. We had been married two-and-a-half beautiful years. Jon’s death was unexpected, the result of a faulty heart valve.

I’m still in this, but God is carrying me with astonishing grace. He has met me abundantly in the waves of sorrow. He has not let the grief drown me, nor will He.

Jon was a passionate follower of Christ. He lived with reckless abandon for God and the gospel. Jon adored me, but he adored Jesus more. He lived to proclaim the truths of redemption, propitiation, adoption, and reconciliation.

I always told him God had great things planned for his life. This is still true.

Jon’s Last Day

I’ve struggled with guilt since Jon died. Perhaps this is a battle for anyone deeply grieving. But for me, I think the rapid events leading to Jon’s death made the temptation toward guilt stronger than had he died, for example, from a terminal disease. With a terminal disease we might have known he was dying—but the night Jon died, reality didn’t register…

Read more here.

Read the extended “director’s cut” edition here


And many months later:

For my sister, Builder of Bikes

Daily Quotes

Surrounded by giant cardboard boxes, bike parts, and tools (of which we did not know all the names), I could sum up the situation in a few choice words—overwhelming, infuriating, and daunting. My sister stared at the instructions, tears forming at the corners of her eyes.

But she took a deep breath, gathered her resolve, and set to work. Somewhat reluctantly, I followed suit. Building bikes is not for the faint of heart. We’re smart girls, but certain aspects left us completely bewildered, putting our ingenuity to the test. Some steps seemed to be left out of the directions altogether.

If a woman had written them, they’d be more more detailed. “Use pliers with cable cutting ability, or just use scissors.”

Trial and error. We had to disconnect and reconnect brake cables three times. We didn’t realize the handlebars were backwards. There may have been frustration involved.

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Visions of husbands deftly using wrenches and pliers with cable cutting ability danced across my mind.

We shouldn’t be building bikes.

Not because we weren’t capable in the end, but we shouldn’t have to.

I felt anger rise at the brother-in-law who left her, preferring adultery and divorce. I still want to punch him. She should not be a single mother. I watched her composure crack, tears streaming. Not many see a window into my beautiful sister’s vulnerability. But I saw.

“Sometimes I feel stuck, like I’m caught on a never ending cycle. Like God has held me to the fire far too long”

“Sometimes I feel abandoned.”

“I’ve tried to be a strong testimony of grace, of resting in God’s goodness. But sometimes I’m tired of trying.”

Yet it is with abundant grace she shepherds the hearts of her children, pays the bills, works, home schools, and shoulders all the household tasks. I think it’s easier to see grace from the outside looking in.

I had no eloquent words of wisdom. I just wanted to listen and share the sorrow with her.

Being a widow can be excruciatingly difficult, but I think my sister’s lot is harder. I want her to be cared for as I have been cared for. But sometimes, folks don’t always see those affected by divorce. They think it gets easier.

I want her family restored. I wish she didn’t have to walk this path, and I wish my niece and nephew didn’t know brokenness. I can’t fix the suffering. But I know the One who will.

So to my sister, Builder of Bikes, I want to tell you what I see.

I see the radiance of Christ in you through every soft word and patient conversation you have with your children. You live with consistency before them; God is working through you in more substantial ways than you know. You’ve given me an incredible example of parenting through suffering.

I see the sacrificial way you raise them, constantly pointing their hearts to Jesus.

You bravely face the hard things.

I see Christ reflected as you’ve struggled through deep emotions. By grace you have refused bitterness.

You’ve wept with me also, sharing grief, understanding things others cannot. And we’ve allowed each other to struggle with faith. Invaluable.

I see mercy and compassion for others. I see a daughter of the Most High, clothed in righteousness, being transformed exponentially in Christlikeness.

I believe God is doing good. And I believe He will give you beauty for ashes, not only in eternity, but in this life also. I pray for grace to surround you. I pray the love of God overwhelms you. I pray you will be guarded with peace.

I see your strength. But I want you to know you don’t always have to be strong.

You have a great High Priest who gets it. He knows your weaknesses. He carries, and He has promised never to leave you. I know it doesn’t always feel that way. I struggle sometimes also. So I need truth too.

But we can stand on this—God keeps His promises. 

He will not leave.  He will never be unfaithful.

“He will tend his flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in his arms; He will carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” (Isaiah 40:11)

It seems like you bear the weight of the world, but your Shepherd bears you. You are cherished, and you are loved.

He gently leads. “A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick He will not quench.” (Isaiah 42:3)

How patiently our Father teaches us to “ride our bikes.” When we fail to trust, still He’s there keeping us upright. And when we fall He cleans our scraped up knees.

And on the day we finally see Him face to face, we’ll know it was worth it! We’ll know for certain that He writes astonishing stories, exquisite in detail, lovely beyond comprehension, woven seamlessly into the story of stories. He’ll be resplendent in glory!

And we will also see total restoration. 

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)

Christmas morning two children received their gifts with joy. With exuberance, they couldn’t wait to learn. So my sister, Builder of Bikes, set out to teach them to ride.

 

You are utterly enjoyable.

You know every ugliness.-2
Stopping in my tracks, I reread the simple statement. And it whacked me in between the eyes like a two-by-four.

“The infinitely self-sufficient God has come not to be assisted, but to be enjoyed.” – John Piper. 

Enjoyed.

God doesn’t need my help. Jesus came to be enjoyed.

Questions formed. Do I enjoy God? Or do I merely enjoy His things?

How easy it is to love the marvelous gifts I receive from God—life, provision, protection, salvation, comfort, adoption, reconciliation, and on and on. It is good to enjoy God’s gifts. He is a Father who delights to give good things to His children.

But do I enjoy Him more than His gifts?

Had I merely enjoyed the things I received from my husband, I’d rightly be labeled a horrible wife.

But my relationship with Jon was much more than things. I enjoyed his goofy child-like enthusiasm and passionate pursuit of anything he set out to do. I cherished his quirks and all the things that made him distinctly JonI even came to love his “no writing in books” ban.

I adored evenings curled up on the couch together and the warmth of his hand folded around mine. He chose me and loved me despite my flaws. I appreciated his wisdom and discernment. And I savored how his smile could light up a room.

Oh how greatly I enjoyed him! Moreover, how great was our mutual enjoyment!

What about God? How quickly I forget. Often I relish His things more than I relish the Giver. I could rightly be called a horrible daughter.

Ever the writer, I set out to make a list.

“Lord remind me how I enjoy you.”

I enjoy your masterful artistry. The sky is a multifaceted painting, each day ushering a new design. You expertly blend varieties of blues, grays, pinks, and oranges. It’s stunning because you are stunning.

If I enjoy anything beautiful and good, it is because you enjoy it first. Gorgeous sunsets. Music. Laughter and singing. Love. Affection. Deep conversations.

All of these reflect your character.

I enjoy you in the quietness of a rainy day. For you are rest and peace.

I cherish our constant conversation, the ebbs and flows, the picking up right where we left off. Your words flood my heart in seasons of fear and doubt. You are trustworthy. You are comfort; scripture tells me truth when I cannot tell myself.

I love to tell you who you are. Sovereign protector. Redeemer. Provider. God you are holy, merciful, and just.—At the cross they collided harmoniously!

Sustainer. Satisfier. Exalted above all. Refuge. The list is exhaustive!

Furthermore, who I am flows directly from who you are. I know myself accurately only when I first know you. My identity is thoroughly wrapped up in your identity.

  • You adopt.
  • You guide.
  • You lead.
  • You cherish.
  • You secure.
  • You shelter.

Therefore, I am adopted, guided, led, cherished, secured, and sheltered.

I enjoy being thoroughly known and thoroughly loved. You know every single ugliness, even the ones I dare not let others see. Yet you stay. More than that, you enjoy me too! What an unfathomable thing, Lord!

You are the subject of every sentence, the main character of every story.

“He Himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” Acts 17:25

“For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” Isaiah 57:15

With vibrant clarity rings the truth about God.

O Lord I do enjoy you! You are utterly enjoyable.

Brave Because He is Brave

I've BEEn adopted-2I have an unabashed love affair with children’s books. One of my favorite genres, I adore rich illustrations, flowing language, and whimsy. Words evoke emotions, and stir the imagination. I love when authors paint masterful imagery amid simplicity. A story well told is a fresh spring breeze.

Several nights ago I awoke to a peculiar though instantly recognizable sound. I listened in the stupor of the half-asleep, not sure I hadn’t merely dreamt it. There it was again, and I smiled at the unmistakable call of an owl. No joke. Despite my residential neighborhood, an owl must have been right outside my window! I’m not sure I’ve ever heard an owl in the wild before.

One of my favorite picture books sprang to mind.

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen is the story of a little girl who goes “owling” with her Father. She’s waited her whole life for the privilege, and the night spreads before her quiet and mysterious.

“It was late one winter night, long past my bedtime, when Pa and I went owling. There was no wind, The trees stood still as giant statues. And the moon was so bright the sky seemed to shine. Somewhere behind us a train whistle blew, long and low, like a sad, sad song.” 

And so we’re whisked along through eyes filled with wonder.

“I didn’t ask what kinds of things hide behind black trees in the middle of the night. When you go owling, you have to be brave.” 

How vividly I imagine a little girl clomping through the snow, trusting her strong father to lead the way. Perhaps she is a little nervous, a bit afraid of things that hide in the night.

But “when you go owling, you have to be brave.”

Brave.

Once I asked my kindergarten students, “Why was the little girl brave?”

Without hesitation and with full confidence, a small voice eagerly replied, “Because her Dad was there.”

What a gentle reminder of a bigger Father! As with any great story, Owl Moon points to the biggest story. Why do we love heroes? And redemption? And family? And good versus evil?

We long for the ultimate Hero. We long for the ultimate Father.

The little girl was not afraid because he was brave. She trusted her father. He was enough to face the “kinds of things that hide behind black trees.” He protected. And she was safe to enjoy the beauty of the night rather than fear the unknown.

How clearly the gospel rings from the pages of a simple children’s story!

I have a Redeemer who protects, provides, and is infinitely brave. I’ve been adopted, and I have a Father who loves me and makes me dwell in safety.

He knows the unknowns.

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.” Isaiah 26:3

But I don’t always trust my Father perfectly. Sometimes I fear the things that hide behind black trees. I forget to enjoy His presence. I forget to marvel at the adventure.

But He remains the same. Strong. Trustworthy. Brave.

Jesus trusted, therefore I can trust.

Jesus was brave, therefore I am brave.

“I knew then I could talk, I could even laugh out loud. But I was a shadow as we walked home. When you go owling you don’t need words or warm, or anything but hope.”

The owl continued his song in the night, and I drifted back to sleep–safe, warm, and protected.

Precious Thoughts on a Day Long Dreaded

The rhythmic crashing of waves upon the shore, a landscape dominated by water and sky, and the sun’s penetrating warmth: all are reasons I adore the ocean. The horizon stretches endlessly, intersecting with the very curve of the earth. How naturally worship comes! What a powerful, majestic, God I have! He is grace. He is mercy. These are not unusual thoughts when I dwell on the depth and plenitude of the sea.

Of all the wonders of the beach, I suppose I don’t often gaze at sand, however.

precious thoughts
It was a windy day, the precursor to rain and storms. I lay on the beach towel, soaking in the rays, yet aware of the more than average wind. Sighing, I closed my book, and propped my chin on folded arms. From my vantage point, I had an up close and personal, lavish view of nothing more than sand.

Alone with my thoughts, I contemplated “the long dreaded day.” Two years, eight months, and three days I was married to Jonathan Atkins. Two years, eight months, and three days had he been gone.

As always on significant days, my thoughts swirled with the supposed implications.

I’m facing a day most widows never experience. So many get to be with their husbands for decades.

Does it mean he was just a minor character in the story of my life? Does it mean our marriage is invalid because it was short? Does it mean he no longer influences me and others?

Sometime I have feared fading memories, and shied away from the words “new chapter.”

Sand whirled, reacting to the force of the wind. My face inches above the beach, I gazed at an indiscernible pattern, noticing individual grains whisked along by something outside itself.

“How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you.” (Psalm 139)

If I tried to count the grains of sand in the square foot in front of me, it wouldn’t take long to realize the futility of my endeavor. How ridiculously more impossible to number all the grains of sand on every beach and under every ocean!

But this is the best I can do to rightly imagine the number of God’s thoughts toward his own. I cannot fathom their exhaustive nature. How truly precious!

How could such a great and glorious God care so deeply, so intimately, for little creatures such as we are? This is exactly what astonishes David. God is so great, yet He shows extraordinary care for His own. “ (Commentary, ESV Gospel Transformation Bible)

His thoughts about me are vast. 

He deals with me in more unique and intimate ways than any human ever could. By God I am thoroughly known and thoroughly loved.

“When I awake I am still with you.”

“In your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”

I contemplated the true implications. Jon being gone longer than we were married doesn’t change anything. He still has lasting influence. He’s still a major character.

New chapters are good things. For without them, there would be no forward plot, no grand themes, no riveting climax.

Before I was born God established the course of my life, a sub plot in His epic redemptive tale. He was sovereign over the length of days I had with Jon. He orchestrated our meeting, and His timing was perfect. To wish for more time, is at its root to doubt God’s character. It is to doubt the vast, detailed, and thoroughly perfect nature of His plans.

I closed my eyes, breathed in the salty air, and rested in the beauty of being loved and being known. On a day I long dreaded, I realized I had nothing to fear.


This post appeared by Ami first at Intentional By Grace

And they shall be radiant.

My 30th birthday was epic. Yep, I know it’s a totally overused, dumbed down by pop culture kind of word, but I distinctly remember Jon’s enthusiasm.

“Babe your birthday is going to be epic!” 

I think he embraced the words “go big or go home” long before they ever became a catch phrase.

“Mrs. Atkins,

Your full cooperation is needed both today and tomorrow as we celebrate the epic milestone of crossing over into a new ‘decade.’ Your assistance is required. Please DO NOT leave school when you get out at 11:30. There will be a driver arriving to pick you up and transport you to the next stop on the birthday weekend. Your vehicle will be picked up at a later date.

Thank you for your cooperation and have a nice day.
Sincerely,
J. Atkins Cab Co”

And so it began. He had planned an entire weekend of surprises. New boots. Earrings. An afternoon seeing “Wreck it Ralph.” Dinner at The Melting Pot. And the next day, we took a trip to Galena, one of my all-time favorite, quaint towns. He also planned a surprise dinner with friends on another night.

The birthday fun never seemed to end.

Reminiscing about my favorite birthday mingles with a word that tumbles around my mind like clothes in the dryer.

Radiant.

And they shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall be like a watered garden and they shall languish no more. Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow…and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness declares the LORD.” Jeremiah 31:12-14.

Those who look to Him are radiant, and their faces will never be ashamed.” Psalm 34:5

Life felt radiant on my 30th birthday. Glowing smiles and twinkling eyes fill every picture. I was cherished, immensely loved, and I was excited.

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But there came a day when I wondered if I would ever be radiant again.

In the early weeks emotions were lava. “Lord, these words “they shall be radiant” magnify my sorrow and even make me a little angry. How could I ever be again? I want to reflect your goodness, but how will brilliant light reflect from a shattered life?”

I tumble the word over and over. Beautiful, flourishing, stunning, dazzling, and brilliant: connotations vividly spring to mind.

“Ami you seem exceptionally well these days.”

“Thank you. I am well.” 

How marvelous that others notice! My friend’s recent words penetrate my heart with joy.

I am well. 

The tumbling word greets me like a warm blanket. Radiant A healed heart, gladness, joy and dancing: I am well.

From whence does brilliance come? “Those who look to Him are radiant…”

True radiance results from beholding Christ. Because Jesus is light unimaginable, the gospel spoken and believed has the power to make my life shine.

The grain. He is the Bread of Life.

The wine. He is the Vine.

The oil. He is the Oil of Gladness.

The flock. He is the Great Shepherd.

A watered garden.  He is the Living Water.

My life might have felt radiant 3 years ago, but if it was, birthday fun and being spoiled didn’t cause it. If there is ever radiance, it emanates from Christ alone. It’s not found in circumstances, relationships, money, or things.. Rather, radiance resides in all Jesus is, all He has done, is doing, and will do

“My people will be satisfied with my goodness.”

God is good.

“And we all with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the LORD who is the Spirit.”  2 Corinthians 3:18

The more I see Jesus, the more I am transformed. O Lord, that my life would be a stunning reflection of you!

33 today. It may not be an epic day, but better than epic birthdays is to be satisfied with the goodness of the Lord. My heart is glad.

I don’t know if my life radiates Christ. Certainly there are times when it doesn’t! I struggle and sin just like everyone else. But I want it to.  

Lord this is my prayer. Make me more like you. Transform me. May your reflection shine more and more accurately from my life.

Radiant

A letter I never knew existed

all together

Fresh words.

I soak in every detail. True to character, tears flow freely. His voice resonates from the page, the writing so very much him. I haven’t heard new words from the heart of my husband in almost three years. But now I gaze at a letter I never knew existed.

How can I describe what fresh words feel like?

It’s like coming home to open arms, a tight embrace, and a gentle kiss. It is sun peeking from behind the clouds. It is wind in a sail. It’s a spark that lights a bonfire.

Fresh words are gifts of tangible grace. They are overwhelmingly beautiful. I know I write about grace a lot; I just can’t help it.

“Oh Lord, I didn’t even know I needed such a gift. Thank you!” 

My God cares uniquely and intimately for me.

I slow down and read the letter again. It isn’t even my letter, but one Jon wrote to his brother. Yet I get to see the man I adore speaking truth to himself and to Ben—

God completely destroyed me, but in a very loving and caring way. I realized that my survival mode and not asking others for help was rooted in a self-sufficiency, which is nothing more than pride. I didn’t want to admit that we were having financial problems because then people would see that I don’t have it all together and that I am not as ‘spiritual’ as I would seem.”

But I don’t have to have all my stuff together. Christ is the One who holds all things together (Colossians 1). This has produced in my heart an incredible freedom to struggle and wrestle. Because of the cross I am free. I am free to struggle. What a liberating thought! “

A proud wife moment. This is the man I married. He loved Jesus more than anything. Even in his struggle, he knew the truth. He didn’t have to hold it all together; Christ held him together. 

Fresh words, a lavish gift from the heart of the Father, given to my weary soul. Jon spoke truth. Almost three years later, I still get to be encouraged by it.

In the long journey, God constantly imprints four words, a lavish, gentle refrain.

My grace is tangible. 

How true! How utterly marvelous! Sometimes grace is a listening ear. Sometimes it’s a vase of flowers. Sometimes it’s a letter I never knew existed.

How extravagant is the love of God for His own! Because of the cross of Christ, I am the recipient of grace– overflowing, abundant, never ending, running over, grace.

God didn’t have to give me fresh words. They weren’t earned or merited.

He just loves me.

Perhaps your gifts of grace aren’t fresh words, but what are they? Have you forgotten? If you have met Christ at the foot of the cross, then He just loves you too. His words are always fresh.

“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23

Father, sometimes the days are long. Thank you for evidences of grace. Help me see and rejoice over the smallest graces. Thank you for the real, tender unique care you give to each of your own. Your words are always fresh. They are better than any human words. Let me never take them for granted. 


More Thoughts on Grace:

Tangible Grace. God Carries Me.

It’s Heaven Because Jesus is There

Good Shepherd May I Sing Your Praise

An Oak of Righteousness? Two Years After Death

This post by Ami appeared first at www.anewseason.net

Joy and Sorrow: A Beautiful Dance

Stirred anew by the beauty of the gospel, an overwhelming sense of illumination spread like fire in my heart. Joy and sorrow intermingled, two cords of the same braid. I call it a beautiful crushing.

It’s the place where God reminds me of my desperate need for Him, and just how much I’ve been given in Jesus. The worship gathering continued, but I lingered, astonished by a singular concept.

For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive, But if her husband dies, she is free from the law, and if she marries another man, she is not an adulteress. Likewise, my brothers you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to Him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.” Romans 7:2-4 

  • I no longer belong to my husband.
  • One day I may belong to another.
  • I already belong to Jesus.

I’ve read this passage countless times since Jon died, but never have its contents seemed so radical.

Sorrow and joy wove an intricate dance, somehow moving harmoniously together. I still miss belonging to Jon, but joy swelled at thoughts of renewal, reversal, and redemption. Joy blossomed at the idea of belonging to another. A year ago, sorrow would have vastly outweighed joy, but now they feel more compatible.

joy and sorrowI’ve long since realized that counter to cultural expectations, joy and sorrow may be equally present. The ultimate oxymoron, one does not necessarily exclude the other. For Christ had deep sorrow over the weight of sin, but also deep abiding joy to do the Father’s will. Joy and sorrow mingled at the cross, and learned they could dwell together.  And if I didn’t know death, I wouldn’t understand their harmony.

Joy and sorrow: a profound illustration of the gospel, yet death and remarriage exemplify it further. While Jon was here, we were bound to each other by a covenant made before God and man. And of course, I cherished that covenant. As hard as it is to process, at his death, we were no longer bound together.

Clearly the analogy breaks down, for marriage to Jon was not sin, nor was I captive to him. But the application is clear.

“Before receiving the gospel, we are ‘married’ to sin because we have broken God’s law and are chained to its verdict and mastery.” (Commentary, Gospel Transformation Bible)

I once was bound to sin. But now I belong to Another. I belong to “Him who has been raised from the dead,” free from the law’s condemnation and sin’s inescapable vice.

I belong to Someone. 

In marriage Jon was mine and I was his. How I loved belonging to him and miss belonging to him! And how I long to belong to another again someday. However, infinitely more precious than belonging to a husband, I belong to Jesus. I am Christ’s and He is mine. I’m not guaranteed remarriage, but I already belong.

Joy and Sorrow. Death and thoughts of remarriage: an intermingling I wouldn’t have chosen, but I marvel at such a beautiful dance.

Lord, no longer belonging to a husband is a hard thing to grapple. Sorrow. But to belong to You is inestimably better! Joy. In Jesus, I belong. And I always will belong! Oh, God, use the intermingling of sorrow and joy to draw me ever closer to you; through them I see all that Jesus accomplished. I marvel that Jesus embraced sorrow, so I would have joy.


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Recipe

Guest post by Jill Neff.

I know every word by heart, but today I look at the card as if I expect it to speak to me. Flowing handwriting, faded with time, passed down from one generation to another. The ingredients sit silently in a line on the counter, like little toy soldiers, waiting for me. And I know if I don’t start soon, this pie will not be finished in time.

I linger, letting my mind wander back in time to a young bride. She walks through the field to the house next door. A gentle woman she now calls mother-in-law waits to teach her the intricate secrets of baking so the bride can indulge her new husband’s sweet tooth.  Her recipe book quickly fills with everything from sugar cookies and date nut cake to chocolate and coconut cream pies!

Reluctantly, I’m drawn back to the present, reminded by my “little toy soldiers” that I need to get moving.  How quickly time goes by.

The new bride is now white-haired, and those hands that so eagerly worked in the kitchen are quiet now.  No more enticing smells rise from the oven and no sweet treats cool on the counter.

I should not dawdle, but today I am compelled to consider this faded old card.  The white-haired, long since bride is my mother, and her recipes are now my recipes.

But time is not my friend. Yesterday we sat together, quietly talking as the world flowed by around us. These days, I gently provide context when she can’t remember, but I do most of the talking. And try to imagine what it will be like when the last ray of recognition leaves her eyes.

I wonder how long my brother and his sweet wife can continue care in their home and how my siblings and I will manage.  I try to be brave, but I am not.  I try to trust, but it’s hard.

And I try to pretend she will not forget me, BUT SHE WILL.

Dementia. It splatters paint with a broad brush with no regard for the subject or the canvas. There are good days. And there are bad days lurking just around the corner in the shadows. Changes and questions without answers abound.

“Will she stop loving me when she no longer recognizes who I am?”

A quote shared by a sweet friend burns deeply in my heart, “Forever remember me loving you!” 

I cling to them like a drowning man to a life preserver.  My biggest fear exposed, yet in five little words, I find my answer.

My mom won’t stop loving me.

She just won’t remember that she loves me.  There’s a big difference.

The Holy Spirit has a deeper lesson for me today.  Walking this path may bring constant changes, but I am walking with the One who is UNCHANGEABLE!   I am walking with the One whose love is everlasting and who will never forget that He loves me, even when my fainting heart thinks otherwise. 

Unchanging promises and never-ending grace. 

There is no other way to do this journey, but with my God. Truth brings peace, and my soul is quiet.

All this. From a faded recipe card.

Lord, when the journey seems unbearable, help me to walk closer and cling harder to you. When the path is rough, give me grace and strength for what comes next.  And I will trust in your everlasting love and rest in your comforting presence!

~Jill


Check out another post by my awesome mother-in-law:

Love the Unlovely?

And for my own thoughts on in-laws:

I won’t shut them out.

Adoption and the County Fair