No More Gloom

no-more-gloom“But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish.”  Isaiah 9:1

For me it’s been a year of “no more gloom.” Rather, 2016 has been mostly light and overflowing joy! How thankful I am for such a happy season, a beauty out of ashes sort of year. It’s been awhile since sweet didn’t mingle with bitter; I’m enjoying the stark contrast. I delight to be married to the second love of my life, my new best friend. And I stand in awe of the God who reverses, who brings light out of darkness. It’s been a pretty great year, I’d say.

Of course there’s been some sorrow. I didn’t expect my dad to die this year. His death has felt so different, though. At 79, he was completely ready to be with Christ, to leave the decay of old age. I dearly love him and miss him, but for me it hasn’t been “hit by a freight train, life altering grief.” I suppose, in this occasion joy has eclipsed sorrow. I guess after the death of a spouse, it’s easier to process the death of a parent.

But I also know it’s been a difficult year for many. The world is full of gloom. Wars and rumors of wars, corruption, violence, racial tension, an endless election cycle, civilians caught in the middle of a firestorm, refugees displaced from their countries—I’ve heard it called it the “worst year ever.”

For some I love dearly, 2016 has been thoroughly devastating. I clapped my hands and wept for joy when my friends found out they were expecting twins after a long journey with infertility. Then I sobbed with them as they cradled two perfectly formed, precious babies who were just too small to survive. I have family facing chronic illness. And I’ve wept with those whose marriages have collapsed. I’ve seen them reel with the pain of betrayal. These are the sorrows so deep they feel physical. 

If I could, I would jump in front of the crushing blows so my loved ones would never experience them.

The world is still broken, and sorrow comes.

Gloom. It is “total or partial darkness, a state of melancholy or depression.”¹ As 2016 draws to an end, people clamor for the new year, grasping for the hope of something better. We’re a people constantly searching for something better. What hope is there when gloom overtakes? What hope is there when darkness is a heavy blanket?

Oh my friends, there is an imperishable, unfathomable, confident and sure expectation. His name is Jesus! He’s the King who eradicates the gloom. He is something better.

“There will be no more gloom!”

For, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness on them has light shined. You have multiplied the nations, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest…”  Isaiah 9:2-3

As a smoldering wick grows to blazing flame, so the Light of the World penetrated the darkness. The astonishing, glorious rays of sunshine arrived. A Son was given. He multiplies our joy! He ends anguish and distress.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5

Light will always overcome darkness. 

But wait there’s more! Have you ever had the moment when a familiar passage leaps from the page, and the words are fresh and new as if you’ve never truly seen them? Hang on to your socks kids, there’s some serious truth ahead.

Our God is precise. He reverses, He reigns, and He pursues.

The God who is Precise

“But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. in the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulon and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time, he has made glorious the was of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.”  Isaiah 9:1

Now compare Isaiah 9:1 to Matthew 4:12-16

“Now when he [Jesus] heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 

The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali
the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—

the people dwelling in darkness
have seen a great light

and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death
on them a light has dawned.’ 

Do you see it? 

I’ve read these verses a thousand times, and never before noticed the seemingly insignificant detail: Zebulun and Naphtali. This is the God who is precise. He brings redemption with the skill of a surgeon and the craftsmanship of a master artisan. Way back in Israel’s history, Zebulun and Naphtali were among the first taken captive by the Assyrians, among the first to “sit in darkness.” 

BUT Jesus went to them first. The Great Light dawned first on the ones who were captives first. I don’t know about you, but that pierces my soul, and makes me sing with joy. Even now it makes me a little teary. God not only fulfilled prophecy, but He did it with exquisite precision. 

His sovereignty is not consumed by vague maybes. Instead, “I will” is the persistent drumbeat of HIs plans. Is He not then precise in His care for you? Is He not thoroughly committed to His promises?

God perfectly orders my life. In His unequivocal concern for my good and His glory, I walked through the valley of death and made it to the other side. In His explicit care, He brought me a second great love.

More than these, God became man at a precise moment in history. The Father propelled His redemptive plan forward, and brought it to its pinnacle at the cross. He didn’t send the Savior His people wanted, but the One we drastically and desperately need.

The God who Reverses

Isaiah 8 ends with gloom and anguish, but Isaiah 9 is light and joy, radiating with stark contrasts. God reverses.

  • Gloom               No gloom
  • Darkness          Light
  • Remnant          Multiplied
  • Sorrow              Increased joy
  • Captives           Liberated, delivered
  • Oppressed       Free

This is what He does for His own.

I’m reminded of the Holocaust museum in Washington D.C. Even the architecture tells a story. At first the rooms are gloomy, cramped, and chaotic. Folks shuffle through the exhibits in reverential quiet. No one laughs, and more than one tear is shed. It’s a scene of horror, a history of genocide, and a sober indictment that we never let it happen again. 

Finally, just as despair permeates, and hope is a vapor, patrons wind their way to “Liberation,” the end of the war! The lighting and design of the museum shifts noticeably as allied forces liberate captives, righting what was wrong. There is light. Dissonant, crossing beams give way to clean, straight lines. Normal conversation resumes, and the claustrophobic soul can breath again.

So much greater is God’s reversal. He makes the world right side up. He has taken this hopeless captive and set her free, trading my sinfulness for His righteousness.

And He is also the God who Reigns.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulders; and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of PeaceOf the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and uphold it with justice and righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will do this.” 

Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor. This royal title combines the idea of “doing something wonderful, extraordinary, and miraculous with the skill of giving wise advice or making wise plans.”² He reigns in infinite wisdom. 

He is the Mighty God. A mighty warrior, His power is divine, knowing no limitations. Nothing is too hard. The Lord of Hosts fights battles for me.

He is the Everlasting Father. Literally it means, “My father is eternal.” He never begins, He never ends. He is the ideal, good protector. By exercising perfect wisdom and perfect power, He accomplishes intimate, fatherly care of His people. 

And He is the Prince of Peace. Jesus comes to make an end of war: spiritually and physically. “He will limitlessly expand His influence and create peace without end.”² The world is certainly not at peace right now, but one day it will be. And even now, my heart can know peace that passes understanding. (Philippians 4:6-8)

This is our King.  

Finally, He is the God who Pursues.

“The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will do this.” Isaiah 1:9

It’s His zeal and passion that initiated redemption. We turned from Him, but “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  Romans 5:8

From eternity past, God planned to bring His people home.

He is the subject, the main character, the author, the narrator. Jesus pursues even to the point of the cross. He pursues even those who seem beyond hope.

With unassailable zeal, determination, and passion, God will concentrate His efforts to accomplish this marvelous deeds….[His people] can be absolutely sure that an omnipotent, sovereign God will stand behind the fulfillment of this wonderful plan.”² 

The blessing of His people is guaranteed. Victory is won.

Does He not pursue you even now? 

Therefore, whether 2016 was devastating or delightful, there is bright hope for tomorrow. My soul rests in the God who overcomes darkness, who shepherds me with precise care, who reverses, who reigns, and who pursues. 

I’ve got a sneaky feeling 2017 is going to be a great year; Jesus already defeated the gloom.


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¹ Webster’s Dictionary, ²The New American Commentary

He doesn’t choose the wrong color.

IMG_1794I snuggled under a blanket with coffee in hand and a stack of well loved, leather bound books beside me. Any day that includes coffee and reflection is music to my slightly introverted and massively introspective soul. Sometimes, I need to reflect on where I’ve been to know where I’m going.

Though distinguished in pattern and color, certain characteristics unite the beloved tomes. I have a decided tendency to underline key words, pepper the pages with exclamation points, deem paragraphs unnecessary, and draw boxes around the really important stuff. Smudges and tear stains bear traces of emotion, of words flowing from heart to page. My handwriting remains the same, and the pile grows larger with each passing year.

It’s just ordinary ink on paper.

I’ve written in journals for almost 20 years. Over time, themes weave from page to page. God’s sovereignty is a bright blue thread prominently stitched across the design. I couldn’t see it in the moment, but hindsight’s vantage point adds perspective. His faithfulness is gold mingled with pure, silver grace.

His love is saturated red, another color sweeping across the years. Its pigment deepened as my understanding grew. Provision, security, and longing each play their parts in shades of green and yellow. Life felt beautiful in the purples. On other pages worry and fear add splashes of gray. Repentance is a fiery orange. And then there is the black of grief. Some pages have lots of black.

All of these intertwine against the backdrop of brilliant white, a dazzling radiance, enhancing the beauty of every other stitch. Even the black.

A brilliant white–Jesus. The cross. Redemption. Lavish grace upon grace.

“…to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of His will according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ.” Ephesians 1: 6-9

I turned page after page relishing the prayers and memories. In the depths I cried out. To green pastures I was led. In the torrents I clung to the Rock. Beside the still waters I sang with praise.

My journals will probably never be read by the masses. And frankly I’d be appalled if some pages were. Yet if my ramblings last into eternity, let dazzling white be the focal point, the element unifying and completing the design!

It’s just a stack of well-worn leather books. Nothing special. Ah, but perhaps you need really look with eyes to see. A glow of intense, rich color streams from the pages, replacing ordinary ink with embroidered works of art.

I didn’t make it a beautiful thing. But God did.

“Father right now life feels flowery. ‘The sea of life’ is calm. Spring is here literally and figuratively. So much redemption and so much beauty radiates right now. Hope blossoms. The possibilities spread before me like a great feast.. Storms aren’t raging, and the sea billows don’t roll. But in this time of abundance I’ve noticed something. How tempting it is to neglect running to you with the same intensity as when the world felt blackest black. I haven’t always pursued you first. Lord ever draw me closer to you. Be the Captor of my affections even in the springtime greens. Keep me longing for my First Love.”

Keep me longing for my First Love.

Writing helps me process. Reflecting makes me remember. God is the weaver, the master designer. And He never chooses the wrong color.


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Please give them many years.

IMG_1890My friend was radiant, glowing in her white gown, a gorgeous bride. But her physical appearance paled against the backdrop of Christ radiating through her.

She’s one of those rare, costly gems.

We’ve laughed a lot over the last several years. We’ve cried a lot too, processing much grief and grace together. And we’ve dived deep into Jesus.

We’ve also spray painted countless (well 250) wine bottles, and have borne the black, stained hands to prove it. It’s been such a joy to share in the excitement of my friends’ wedding and marriage planning. Such a joy.

The edges of her veil sparkled, the tiny beadwork complemented her dress perfectly. I know the veil well; it has hung in my closet for the last six years. It’s not uncommon that I stop in my tracks and admire the delicate pattern sewn into the tulle, lingering to recall the day it adorned my own hair. Sharing my veil with Bobbi made my heart sing.

Standing behind her, with my hand on her arm, I brushed away tears, while others prayed. It felt like such a privilege to be counted among her closest friends, together bringing her marriage before the throne.

I began to speak, my turn to pray. I thanked God for such dear, beautiful friends, and asked that God be exalted in their marriage, that the gospel of Christ resonate from them. I asked God to grow them in grace and love for one another.

And then I pled  “Lord, please give them many years together.”

A sob caught in my throat. I paused long, willing myself to go on, to push through my own emotions and the collective emotions around me.

My emotion was for her, knowing she has faced the death of both parents, knowing her new husband has leukemia. He has an excellent prognosis, and doctors believe there is no reason he won’t have a long, healthy life. But sill they have faced many unknowns over the last few months.

I don’t want any of my friends to know the reality of a husband dying young. So I pray, “Lord if it be your will, give them many years. Let them grow old and gray together.”

So I suppose my sob was a little bit for me too, There was a moment of grief for the years Jon and I did not have.

But also tied in the tangle of emotions, was another face, a hazel-eyed, six foot two, giant teddy bear who has stolen my heart. I’ve been given another good gift. And I marvel that I am again cherished. So much overwhelming joy!

I have said it before—because of the gospel, joy and sorrow mingle in a beautiful dance. And they danced flawlessly in this poignant moment where time stood still.

I think it’s only when we walk through the deep grief, that we begin to understand how joy and sorrow can complement each other like intricate beadwork against a stunning wedding gown.

So clearly I saw the gospel.

On her wedding day, she was spotless, a dazzling bride, completely ready for her groom. Abundant joy overflowed. But there were still mixed emotions.

She missed her parents.

I missed Jon.

Because we’re caught between the already and the not yet, we miss them. We know we’ll see them again, but still we await eternity. There’s still sorrow because the world is still broken.

But I also saw restoration for my friend and for me. Jesus has given us beauty out of ashes. Ultimately He gives it in Himself, the best gift! He took sorrow, so we have joy. However, in great compassion, He gives beauty in ways that seem more tangible to our finite minds. Our God is that good.

Praise God for abundant, overflowing joy that is deeper, richer, and higher in the face of sorrow. Because of sorrow, joy is richer and peace is deeper. It’s one way He sanctifies.

And one day the mingling will cease. Sorrow will give way to inexplicable joy. And all the tears will be wiped away. He will glorify.

No matter how many earthly years my friends have, eternity awaits! Therefore, I pray confidently, “Give them many years.” Though they’ll no longer be joined in human marriage, they’ll  be a part of the Great Marriage. They’ll have countless years.

And so will I.

As she eagerly anticipated her wedding day, so we long for the Grand Wedding when Christ returns to claim His bride.

It was delightfully happy day. I love weddings.

Though sorrow mingled, it graciously slid to the background, and made room for an explosion of vibrant joy that captivated the fore.

What a foretaste! How we long for the true Groom, with whom the years will be unending!

Come, Lord Jesus. Come


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It Changes Everything.

hello.-2I’ve never been a part of a 12 step program, but we all know the classic “Let’s introduce ourselves” moment.

“My name is Ami. I’m 33. And I’m a widow.”

Hi, Ami.

I’ve now boiled down the sum of my existence into ten words that “define” me, and everyone turns to the next poor sap. It seems like such a sad reality.

Is this all that I am?

And of course, we’ve all been in similar situations any time a new person is added to a group.

Say your name, where you’re from, what you do, and one interesting fact about yourself. Or if we’re really getting creative, “What super power would you have?”

What do I say about myself?

  • My name is Ami.
  • I’m 33.
  • I’m originally from Virginia.
  • I’m a teacher, a developmental therapist, and a wannabe writer.
  • I walked down the runway at the Miss America Pageant when I was a kid (a story for another day).
  • I am a widow.

I don’t usually say the last one. But it’s often on my mind. And I never know what superpower I would choose. Maybe I’d have the power of instantaneous housework. Snap my fingers and it’s done. I digress.

It’s a little more defined picture, but still so limited. I’d much rather get down to the business of really knowing and being known.

WAIT A SEC. SOMETHING’S WRONG HERE.

The crevice widens, creating a gaping schism. The tectonic plates below the surface shift, altering the landscape until it’s something new entirely. As an earthquake creates a radical shift in topography, so do I sense a profound shift in my thinking.

The lame introductions are arrows landing far short of the target. None of those things define me. They’re all part of me, but are they really what make me me?

I’m not who I think I am. My thinking is fundamentally flawed.

What if I were to introduce myself this way?

“My name is Ami. I am a new creation in Christ. I’m adopted, redeemed, reconciled, and justified. I am being sanctified. And I happen also to be a widow, a teacher, a developmental therapist, and a writer. Someday I’ll also happen to be wife again and perhaps a mom, but those are all tangential. I am a new creation.”

Well, the average person sitting around the circle might look at me like I’m crazy, but I just flipped my identity on its head.

If I’m defined by my circumstances, profession, age or anything but Christ, I place my precious hopes and dreams in something fleeting, ever changing.

But in Christ, identity is constant, sure, and real.

If I define myself as wife, mom, teacher, or a myriad of other callings, what happens to my identity when they’re stripped away? What do I hang my hat on then?

I’ve walked that road. And it’s not pretty.

BUT IDENTIFYING MYSELF AS A NEW CREATION CHANGES EVERYTHING.

Identity in the cross of Christ supersedes whatever struggle I am going through. It frees me from fearing future suffering. For even if I were to walk through the death of a second husband, I would still be chosen, redeemed, beloved, cherished, biggest need already met, and lavished with grace. I would still be complete in Christ. I would still know that He is good. And I would still be me.

It reminds me that the power of sin has been broken. I am new.

I am bought with a price, and my life is not my own.

It transforms my responses to the paper cuts and the gaping wounds.

I’ve been given a new name and a new identity.

“The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married, for the Lord delights in you.” Isaiah 62:2-4

This is way God speaks of His own. What an incredible earthquake sized reality!

I am a new creation in Christ.

WHAT IF WE ALL THOUGHT THIS WAY? DANG. THAT’S LIFE CHANGING.


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This post appeared first at intentionalbygrace.com

Beautiful Church

all the reI like to sit in the second row. I want to be where the action is, up front, close and personal. I’d already taken the bread, dipped it into the cup, and returned to my seat.

Observing the familiar scene, I marveled anew at the radical beauty unfolding. The elements picture the broken body of Christ and His blood poured out for the sins of many.  A steady stream of humanity flowed down the aisle, person after person participating in the holy moment.

I’m in a building with a group of people who under most circumstances would never be friends, nonetheless, call themselves family. Something miraculous must have brought us together.

“It was couple months ago. And it smacked me in the face. I felt like I was hearing the truth for the first time. I don’t know, I guess the lights turned on. Pastor Jamie said, ‘You need Jesus to be your Savior. He died for you.’ And I thought, ‘For me? This is for me?’ Woah.”

This is how she described the miraculous.

I grin. Such a motley crew we are.

The sins of our pasts are ugly. Pride and anger. Pornography and lust. Adultery and drunkenness. The list goes on. Other sins are perhaps unknown. There’s a lot of failure represented here. There’s a lot of not being good enough. We’re not a wealthy, flashy bunch either. We’re not dressed in suits and ties. White collar and blue collar, professionals and factory workers converge to partake.

But I don’t see the sins or the failures. I don’t see folks struggling to make ends meet.I see a stunning bride, clothed in spotless white.

Joy explodes in my heart. “Oh Christ, this is your Church! And she is beautiful!”

“All the redeemed washed by His blood

Come and rejoice in His great love

O praise Him! Allelujah!

Christ has defeated every sin

Cast all your burdens now on Him

O praise Him! O praise Him!

Allelujah! Allelujah! Allelujah!”

(All Creatures of our God and King)

These, my friends—my family— are not defined by past sin and failure. They don’t have to be good enough. This is a bride made pure and clean. She radiates light, peace, and something altogether new.

Together we worship the One who ransomed us; no longer are we slaves. We are redeemed. In His death and resurrection, Jesus purchased salvation. His body was broken. His blood was shed. He took our ugly, wretched sins. Moreover, He became sin, that we would become righteous.

Let these words never fall on deaf ears! Let not the truth become mundane!

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 1 Corinthians 5:21

This is His church. I can almost see the unearthly glow.

I sure do love this motley crew.

But how much more does Jesus love it! As a groom can’t contain his emotion when he glimpses his radiant bride, so does Christ rejoice. And how much more does the Father grin as if He beholds His newborn child!

Oh Christ, this is your Church! She is so beautiful.

_____________________________________________________________________

“While all our hearts and all our songs join to admire the feast, each of us cries, with thankful tongue, ‘Lord why was I a guest?” – Isaac Watts.

 

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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.

10169271_10153380512373269_1556848296354975650_n

 

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.

Breakthrough. How Autism teaches me the Gospel.

open gatesWeek after week the toddler fought me. Our hours together were punctuated with severe meltdowns. Kicking, screaming, biting, and hitting: these were the norms (his, of course). I left each session emotionally and physically drained, weighted by sadness.

This little boy could not comprehend that I wanted good things for him. Sometimes he fought in anger, but sometimes he fought because he couldn’t make sense of his world. There is a fine line between a meltdown and a tantrum; the line is often blurry.

A family member struggled to understand, “Why is he so stubborn? Why doesn’t he just stop?” 

But he can’t stop. He doesn’t know how to help himself.

A developmental disconnect akin to a shorted circuit makes typical situations overwhelming. Slight changes in routine seem monumental and devastating, the result of an extreme preoccupation with rigidity.

Trust is not a part of his natural repertoire.

Week after week I sought him, reinforcing expectations through repetition, implementing calming strategies, returning his anger with patience and compassion. I’m constantly aware of my need for grace.

My work as a developmental therapist puts me in complicated situations every day. I regularly work with children with Autism and a myriad of other developmental issues. A common thread runs through the early sessions.

They fight.

They don’t understand.

They run.

They have meltdowns. And tantrums.

They avoid.

They hit.

They bite.

One day, something marvelous occurred. Music calmed. He let me touch his hands. He signed “more” and “please.” In 60 minutes, there was one meltdown. As we read a book, he leaned his back against me. Trust. The lights turned on. Hallelujah! We celebrated like the angels in heaven must celebrate when one sees Jesus for the first time!

Breakthrough.

I walked to my car, sank down on the seat, and shut the door. A sigh escaped, “Finally.”  And I thought of Martin Luther—

“I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through gates that had been flung open.”

After wrestling with ideas of righteousness and justification for many days, at last Martin Luther received glorious illumination, penning the now famous words—

I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God, and said, “As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the Decalogue, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!”

Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted.

At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.”’ There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. -Luther

Now before I go on, let me make something abundantly clear. I am not saying Autism is sin. But other parallels are unmistakable.

He fought.

He didn’t understand.

He ran.

He had meltdowns. And tantrums.

He was angry. He raged.

As a small child fought me, so do we fight. Without Christ we’re blinded, and our comprehension of glorious truth is short circuited.

We cannot understand that He wants good things for us; God seems like the enemy, the great punisher. When we’re honest, though, we recognize the heavy burden of attaining “righteousness.” And our failures seem to mock us, “It’s impossible. You’ll never measure up.”

We don’t know how to help ourselves. Moreover, we’re thoroughly incapable.

But how wide the gates of paradise fling open!

Righteousness is a gift—“the righteousness of God through faith in Christ for all who believe…and are justified by His grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3)

As I pursued a toddler with patience and compassion, so does Jesus pursue me. And you. As we celebrated the small graces, so does your Savior celebrate!

But how quickly I forget. Once again glorious truth is short circuited. No, I don’t lose the gift of His righteousness, but I forget that He is for me! I fail to trust. Sometimes I throw tantrums. Sometimes I try to run away.

When I look at toddler throwing himself on the floor, kicking, screaming, and eventually succumbing to exhaustion, so clearly I see myself.

But God gathers me up, pursues my heart, and again restores me to glorious comprehension. Breakthrough.

I can rest in truth.  He is for me. 


“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” Romans 8:31-32

Check out more posts about God’s character, God’s grace, and the Gospel:

 

 

The dream must shatter: Revisiting 2008.

Remember “back in the day” when people used to post notes on Facebook? It was a precursor to or perhaps a weak competitor with the blogosphere, I think. My how social media has developed. Well, I came across something I wrote in January 2009. An eternity ago, I’m a little astonished I had such thoughts.

Reflecting on the last several years, some blend together in ebbs and flows barely able to be discerned. Year builds upon year. Challenges and trials fade. For example, 2005 was stable, fairly smooth, and without major valleys. It’s labeled by no remarkable events but by the stage in life- grad school. I file it away as a peaceful year that must be consciously meditated upon to recall specific details. 2008, however, is not likely to be one of those years. Or maybe it will be. Perhaps it’s just a matter of perspective that will change with time.

But for now it’s black and white, in a word, volatile. An honest statement, yet without malice, regret, or bitterness. On the contrary, my heart swells with thankfulness because I see God’s hand moving in distinct ways. Loss and brokenness are the catalysts to something greater.

Most of us don’t wish for sorrow. Rather, we want life to come wrapped neatly in a package with a shiny bow on top. We want everything to go according to the dream plan we have so thoroughly imagined (and in some cases worshiped) that it seems it will surely become reality.

But God who loves his children more deeply than we can fathom, wants us to cling to Him, to the cross–not the “plan.” And sometimes the dream plan must be shattered for us to see beyond ourselves. Loss and brokenness. They are words that often fill with dread and fear, but they are also words that have potential to represent life, love, beauty, repentance, and vision.”

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Not my Symphony

lightning More breathtaking than fireworks, lightning exploded in the night sky. For miles around there was nothing but fields and lightning. Black filled with light; blazing paths and brilliant flashes of light sliced across rolling clouds. It wasn’t raining. But we were surrounded by God’s own melodic composition. I’d never seen anything quite like it. We drove in silence, mesmerized. Perfectly timed, a song began.

Our God is great. The Father of creation, His splendor fills the earth. The lightning crash. The thunder sings His praises. The galaxies can’t help but shout His worth. My soul must sing to You an offering. How great You are! My soul must sing, oh, let the heavens ring. How great You are! Oh, how great You are!”

An invisible drummer synced lightning and song. Percussion, strings, rhythm, tempo- all aligned in radical harmony with God’s creation. And the heavens burst with the glory of God! My struggling heart soaked it in, overwhelmed with God in His spectacular beauty.

On my mind had been thoughts of a family and the long wait. I’d been grappling with another month’s disappointment. Two red lines had not appeared. Not pregnant. “Ami I’m doing something bigger.” 

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