On how to love your grieving friend.

HelpfulSeveral months ago I endeavored to write all the beautiful, practical ways people have ministered to me in grief.

I could fill chapters with the “Helpful,” for I’ve been cared for abundantly. I’m overwhelmed by friends who know my flaws, yet love me deeply.

I do not take you for granted. You are all extremely Helpful.

But, I also knew I should include the “Not Helpfuls.” Grief can be an awkward thing, and we don’t all have the gift of mercy. And that’s ok. I’ve learned to give grace. I know there are plenty of times people give me grace also!

This list did not flow easily from my heart to the keyboard. I agonized over it, and wrote and rewrote for weeks, constantly praying that I would communicate hard things in the right manner.

The goal is not to point fingers or call anyone out. Rather, my hope is that the “Not Helpfuls” would really be tools to equip folks to better understand and care for their grieving friends.

You can find the full article over at Intentional By Grace.

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When Shampoo Makes You Sob

 

shampoo 1My husband’s shampoo is still in the shower

I haven’t really thought about removing it.

I used to smell it often, letting memories run over me like water. If I closed my eyes long enough, it’s almost like I could feel him in the shower with me. Almost.

This may sound funny, but Jon always smelled good. I loved the combined aroma of his deodorant and cologne, and I loved the smell of his hair, and the scent of his skin after a shower.

Sometimes I lay curled behind him while he slept, just enjoying the closeness and memorizing the way he smelled.

I guess smells are powerful things for me.

For months after he died I would bury my face in his dress shirts. I wept the day they no longer smelled like him, staining the sleeves with tears and mascara.

It’s been a long time since I opened his shampoo. But today I ran out of my own. So I opened the cap and let the royal blue liquid fall to my palm. The reaction was visceral, a return to the type of ache known only by those who have experienced death.

I let the memories come. As I lathered my hair, the tears came too. I leaned hard against the shower wall, sobbing.

Grief no longer has a stranglehold on me, and it’s been a season of peace and rest. Yet, my friends who’ve walked this path before me are wise in their counsel.

They’ve said that it doesn’t truly end. We can often put it away like winter coats  when spring comes. We enjoy the delights of warmth and bask in the sunny weather.

But sometimes we take those coats out and put them on in the middle of summer. Sometimes we need to ache and sob again.

It’s not a bad thing, as some would have us think. Rather, It’s another occasion to be deeply aware of the Comforter, to know that mingled with my sobs He pleads with sobs of His own, with groanings to deep for words.

It’s an occasion to remember my Father is perfect. He loves, provides, cherishes, and gives His children only good gifts. It’s another occasion to acknowledge our neediness before a God who knows our frames and remembers we are dust.

My Savior says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

It’s a time to boast in our weakness as the apostle Paul did.

“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Strength is not refusing to be weak. Strength is resting in the power of Christ when weakness threatens to undo us.

So let the memories come. Your God is big enough for weakness.

He’s big enough when shampoo makes you sob.

Holy Spirit you are my Comforter. How incomprehensible is your tender care. How overwhelming to think about how you pray for me. I’m utterly dependent on you. I’m weak. But you are big enough. Your grace is sufficient. 


 

This post by Ami, appeared first at aNew Season Ministries

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vivid memories.

dJsnFx“You kissed my nose,” she flirted, playfully.

The plane cruised, but the fasten seatbelt sign remained lit. There was nowhere for me to go.

Laughing, the girl behind me couldn’t possibly know how the words pierced, the pain so acute it was physical. I laid my head on the seat, still in its upright and locked position, closed my eyes, and let a book fall to my lap. The memory was vivid, as real as the tears beneath my lidded eyes.

Are you going to marry me today?”

He turned, face brimming with delight. Handsome. So handsome in the pinstriped tuxedo. Shyly I met his eyes. Happiness. I spun around, throwing my arms to the sides so he could admire a dress worn only for him.

You are incredibly beautiful!”  He pulled me in and bent down to kiss me. But in his sheer joy, he missed.

You kissed my nose!” I flirted playfully. Rapture. In that moment delight could not be robbed.

I, Ami, take you Jonathan to be my wedded husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for richer or poorer, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.”

On your wedding day, the last phrase rolls glibly from your tongue because death will never “do us part.”At least, that is, until both are old and go sweetly into the night, holding hands.

Yet death showed up, and ripped delight from me. Too short. Not enough time to live through better and worse and richer and poorer. In its wake it left a life radically altered.

I’ll be honest. Sometimes my heart cries out, “Prove it! Prove it God that this is good!”And I can’t say I always feel “radiant over the goodness of the Lord.”Alone. People don’t understand a woman so deeply grieving. They think my life will return to normal. But there is no normal.

When flying on an airplane seems monumental, when couples laugh and touch, when a mindless comment stirs vivid memories, still my heart clings to a figment of grace that flickers in the corner of my mind. God you are good. You are doing good. I will bless Your name.

As the flight continued, I opened my journal and penned all the words you just read, writing them as a widow of seven months. I’ve given a glimpse of life at that time.

Now I’m almost to the year and a half mark. I’m thirty-one. I’m childless. I am alone. Yet, truly I am not alone for God has carried me with tangible grace.

I love the phrase “tangible grace”. For it reminds me that grace is real and identifiable. I could recount innumerable ways God has met me with grace in the depths. He’s taught me to live again, to rejoice in the new normal, to be radiant over His goodness.

Recalling these words from months ago, the grace that leaps to the forefront is this: God already proved it.

He proved He’s good by his Son’s death on a cross. He turned his back on the Beloved, so that I could be beloved.

Romans 8:32 gives words of life and peace. “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?”Think about it. If God has already done the ultimate good through Jesus’sacrificial atonement, will He spare any omnipotent effort to do good to me?

“All things”in this verse doesn’t mean the picket fence, the big house, or the fantastic kids. It doesn’t even mean that I’m guaranteed another husband someday. But it does mean that God will sovereignly use all things for His purposes–redemption and reversal.

If it had been good for God to rescue my husband, He would have. Therefore, somehow grief is good.

He’s already proven it.

 

 

 

 

When sorrow hits: Getting the truth in.

“I lay in a heap, crumpled on the bathroom floor, sobbing. The pain was wave upon wave, crushing me, threatening to drown me in its intensity. I was not pregnant…”

No one is exempt from sorrow. It comes in many forms- wayward children, illness, death, financial struggle, you name it. But when life is turned up-side-down, how can we take hold of truth?

For the rest of the story check out my guest post at intentionalbygrace.com!

Good Shepherd may I sing your praise.

34289_408142328268_7795625_nIt was a beautiful South Carolina day. Hot. But beautiful. By 7:00 it had finally cooled off, though. Good. I didn’t want to be sweating through the ceremony. I stood hidden from view at the top of a flight of stairs. The music was playing, the bridesmaids were taking their turns. And then it was just me. I took a deep breath, and  then the sky captured my attention. Gorgeous rays of sunlight burst through the clouds casting their hues of pink, orange, and yellow. Joy was overflowing! I couldn’t see him, but I knew he was down there waiting for me.  The song began to reach its crescendo.

“You spread a table in my sight,
Your saving grace bestowing;
And O what joy and true delight
From your pure chalice flowing!

And so through all the length of days
Your goodness fails me never:
Good Shepherd, may I sing your praise
Within your house forever.”

As I stepped around the corner, people began to stand, every eye on me. But I saw only one face. His. My thought in that moment- -“Lord I praise you for this tremendous gift. Good shepherd let this marriage be yours. Let this life be yours.”

I met my dad at the bottom of the stairs. As we came down the aisle, my groom had tears in his eyes, and he never stopped looking at me. The significance was not lost. There is a better groom coming. Jon was just a reflection.

Four years ago I married my best friend.

the man who made me laugh 1000 ways every day.
who persisted till he got what he wanted.
who who never stopped pursuing me.
who mirrored the extravagant love of Jesus toward me.
who taught me to understand that God’s love was far more lavish than his own.
who was quick to forgive and to seek forgiveness.
who felt that the price at a gas pump should always end in a 5 or a 0.
who reminded me to not take life so seriously.
who taught me how to argue without shouting.
who danced to “Baby Baby” in the middle of Walmart.
who could not handle dishes left in the sink or clothes on the bedroom floor.
who gave me goofy nicknames. (Luvapotamas wotamas was his recent favorite).
who had a “no writing in books” ban.
who made me mad and frustrated sometimes.
who said every night, “Quick lovee! Huddle for warmth!” as he circled me in his arms.
who lived life with the passion of 20 people.
who didn’t understand the meaning of acquaintance. You just met. You didn’t know it yet, but you were his new best friend.
who told me he loved me 1000 blue m&ms.
who shared my delight in a new kid’s book (not because he cared about kids books)
who had to watch every movie preview and all the credits till the very end.
who loved Jesus more than anything in the world.
with whom time was cut short.

I had forgotten about the middle verse of our wedding song.

“In death’s dark vale I fear no ill
With you, dear Lord, beside me;
Your rod and staff my comfort still,
Your cross before to guide me.”

Such words fall on deaf ears amid the rapture of a wedding day.

But O how true they are. Cherish your loved ones, my friends. Let their imperfections become endearments. Life is fleeting. But in joy and in sorrow, He is still beside. His comfort is tangible. The way of cross is before the way of the crown.

Yet don’t forget the end refrain.

“Your goodness fails me never! Good Shepherd may I sing your praise within your house forever!” 

Your saving grace bestowing. Your goodness fails me never. The best groom is coming. Amen.

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“I remember.” The fight for joy.

psalm42-11-iphoneRattling around my brain was a rant, a pointed tirade. Thoughts and emotions were angry, lava on the page, a written tantrum. I’ve been trying to compose it for a couple weeks. Finally, the Holy Spirit intervened, softening my heart before I hit, “publish.”

It was an extremely me-centric post complete with all the all the ways I perceive people to be careless in their words, all the ways I’m still hurting, all the ways people don’t understand, all the ways I want the focus to be about me.

But I deleted the whole thing.

Let me try again. I’ve had a blog hiatus for several weeks, not because I didn’t want to write, but because I couldn’t. It’s been a rough patch. Joy was the carrot dangling from a stick, always ahead but just out of reach. The imagery of a battle is also fitting. It’s been a constant fight to rejoice, and I grew tired of fighting. I grew weary of “talking to myself.” It was much easier to listen instead. Thoughts and emotions spiraled down. The weight of doubt began to crush. I reasoned, “Well, I’m in good company. Even Spurgeon battled this type of spiritual depression. Clearly, David and the other psalmists knew it also.”

I understand when the psalmist says “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night.” (Psalm 42:2-3) I wanted God, but He didn’t seem to be listening.

I think of the verse that says God keeps tears in a bottle, symbolizing that He’s intimately aware of sorrow. I imagine my tears fill an olympic-size swimming pool.

It’s also been a season of doubt. The same old lies snuck in. God does not hear me. God has forgotten me. “Beauty out of ashes? Well that’s just crap.”

You get the point.

I’ve set a familiar scene and delineated the rising tension. Here’s the relief.

“These things I remember…”

“Why are you cast down O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God;  for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.”

“My soul is cast down within me; therefore, I remember you.” (Psalm 42)

I remember. 

My confident expectation is in the God who created me, pursued me, purchased me back, and won me through the blood of His Son. Jesus more than any other knows what it is to be forsaken. He was alone, so I don’t have to be.

I remember the joy and delight of intimacy with God. I “shall again praise Him.” Delight will come again.

I remember that He is the Rock, the stability when waves toss me about.

I change. He changes not.

My Savior provided the very thing I long for, intimacy. I have total access to the presence of God.

I remember who God is. He is good and sovereignly uses all things for my good. He empowers the impossible—“Rejoice always.”  But for grace through the accomplished work of Christ, it is a crushing command. (I Thess 5:16-18)

I don’t rejoice always. I don’t always have an abiding attitude of trust, or take pleasure that all things in my life are according to God’s will.

But Jesus accomplished what I cannot. He rejoiced always. He gave thanks in all things. He prayed without ceasing. His performance is the standard, but it is also my standing. Rather than crush me, in Christ the command allures. It brings me to dependence.

Because I know the good news of Jesus is real, I can rejoice. I can have abiding trust, overflowing thankfulness, and unceasing dependence.

O my soul, hope in God!

I remember.

“Lord I gave in to the lie that you do not hear me, that you aren’t listening. But, I remember. I actively recall and bring to mind your goodness. I remember the days of delight and abundant joy. I remember the “glad shouts and the songs of praise.” I know they will return. Let me say with the psalmist. “Hope in God!” When my emotions scream the opposite, I tell myself what is true. You are salvation. You are steadfast love. You are the Rock. You allure with lasting satisfaction. You remind me that ‘I will never leave you, nor forsake you. Know that I am with you. You will never be alone.’ Yes, Lord Jesus. This is true.”

Epilogue: 

I can’t walk this life alone. God uses His word and the community of faith so beautifully. He brings me back. I’m so thankful for a friend who pointed me to Psalm 42. Even amid his own struggle, he was an instrument of grace to me.  I’m thankful for a sermon that crushed me with the weight of “rejoice always,” but rebuilt me with the beauty that I am able to rejoice because of my standing in Christ. So, I lift my head, I hope in God and I see these marks of lavish grace!

Chicago Dogs and the L

577028_10150663361503269_1450451404_nSliding his arm around my shoulders, he grinned, eyes twinkling. His face was a blend of excitement and adoration. When he smiled, small mischievous creases appeared at the corners of his eyes. They were my tiny wrinkles.

“You just love this don’t you?”

I laughed, cupped his chin, and planted a playful kiss on his mouth.

“Yes, I really do.”

Decked in our Cubs gear, we were riding the L toward Wrigleyville. I was a kid in a candy store. It was my first exposure to the infamous elevated tracks of Chicago. I peered out the window at the city below. I observed the myriad of humanity sharing the car with us. I fought the urge to be a tourist, wanting to capture everything on my camera. I took it all in, relishing the freshness of a new experience, enjoying the closeness of my husband.

It was Jon’s 30th birthday. Life had its sorrows, problems, and longings, but that day was carefree. The world could have crumbled around us, but we had God and each other. That was enough. How funny love is sometimes. I wanted to spoil him for his birthday and give him a day devoted to something he loved, joyfully sharing in a sport to which I had little actual allurement. So I bought the tickets, got the shirts, and said, “You’re not allowed to work on this day.”

Yet he delighted to spoil me. It was his birthday, but so much of his happiness stemmed from giving to me. He loved the childlike excitement that blossomed in me at the thought of a new adventure. I loved the childlike excitement he had all the time.

There was mutual joy in giving to the other.

“Look Lovee, I bought you your first Chicago dog! You can’t really experience Wrigley without it.” He was a 5 year old boy eager for praise.

I looked down at the conglomeration he proudly bestowed, all beef hot dog, poppy seed bun, yellow mustard, white onions, sweet pickle relish, sport peppers, tomatoes, kosher dill pickle spear, celery salt, and not a hint of ketchup in sight. It wasn’t exactly what I would have chosen.

“All right Andrew. (Jon’s middle name and one of my favorite terms of endearment) Here’s to getting the full experience!” I laughed as I took a bite of the mess before me. It was really good.

The Cubs lost. Not a surprise.

Late that evening we rode the Metra home, our fingers entwined, my head on his shoulder. We were content.

I love this memory.

Jon’s 32nd birthday quickly approaches, but there will be no extravagant plans this year, just quiet celebration of cherished memories.

It’s his second birthday with Jesus. But perhaps there are no birthdays there. There’s no need to grow old when life is eternal. As for me, I love that I smile as I type. So far, as I think of this “second,” there is joy and not sorrow. I know sorrow may come.

But, the world may crumble around me, and still God is enough. I am content.


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The day before, blowing out candles with our little Plesics.
The day before, blowing out candles with our little Plesics.

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Here’s my penny. Thoughts on letting go.

Approaching life with open hands can be a difficult thing. It’s like the toddler who desperately clenches his fist around a penny while his father offers him treasure of far greater value.

“But it’s my penny. I want it.”

Now there’s nothing wrong with the penny, but this stubborn child has no idea of the true riches before him. Imagine that his father not only lavishes him with love and affection, he also meets every need, he is faithful, he protects his son, and he dreams bigger dreams than the boy can fathom.

“Son, give Daddy the penny. I have something better for you.”

“No! I want it. It’s mine!”

So he kicks and screams and throws a full-blown tantrum, not understanding the heart of his father, nor trusting that his father is good.

I think that’s me sometimes. Perhaps it’s all of us.

I was reading a book by Nancy Guthrie today and came across this statement.

“The truth is, eventually, we will let go of everything in this life. Life is a constant barrage of having things and people we love ripped away from us…. leaving us raw and stinging with pain. But when we recognize that everything we have and everyone we love is on loan to us from God, when we we learn to hold loosely to the things and people we love, we can then embrace the freedom that comes from entrusting everything to his care.” 

Well, I’ve been thinking about “letting Jon go” over the last couple months, and at first I wasn’t sure what that actually meant for me. I’ve processed so much over the last year, so I didn’t know what was left. I had already said, “God my hands are open. Take him. Take all my hopes and dreams. They’re yours.”  And I meant it.

But I suppose, as with grief, letting go is also a process. Perhaps it is really just continual surrender. Yeah, I think so. My penny starts to seem beautifully alluring, and therein lies the temptation to tighten my fingers around it. For me, the penny is comprised of dreams like being a wife again, being cherished and adored, being held.

You see, God had brought someone else into my life, an incredible man who didn’t run from a woman with grief. The prospect of loving and being loved by another man was again on the horizon! It seemed that mine would be the story of Job, or better yet Ruth. I fully thought that God was “giving it all back.” I was ridiculously excited.

Now before I go on, you must know that this romantic relationship is no longer happening. And you should also know that this man is godly, honorable, and handled things with exceptional grace. I have nothing but good to say. Four months together was not purposeless or arbitrary. Rather, they made me face letting go.

It’s a deep, deep thing to enter into a new relationship after the death of a spouse. A lot of grieving happens first.  And as I found out, some crazy, unexpected sorrow and the need to process it happens within.

But here are some things I realized.

I know I’m able to love again. I am able to give love freely to another person who is not Jon. That’s a beautiful thing to treasure.

I learned also to surrender what I thought should happen and when I thought it should happen.

I saw that relationships still take mutual grace and forgiveness.

I learned to remind myself that Jon was not perfect. We had our ups and downs. He failed me and I failed him. Yes, he really was wonderful, but I had to remember that I can’t over romanticize him, nor turn my memories of him into idealistic fantasies.

I learned that letting Jon go does not mean I love him less. It does not mean I don’t still cherish the memories. It does not mean that he is not still part of me. It does not mean that I have to remove all my pictures of him. But it does mean that grieving him is no longer tyranny. Life is ahead, not behind.

Finally, I’m willing to be loved in an entirely different manner than the way Jon loved me. Believe me, that was a big one. Lots of turmoil. Lots of processing to get there. For letting myself being loved differently means letting go of his personality, his quirks, his lavish affection, his extravagant words of praise, his silliness, his excitement. The implications are huge. For it means having realistic expectations. It means being excited that someone else could be totally opposite.

The lessons are exponential.

The last crossroads is much more significant, however, because it also involves surrender to not be loved at all. I admit, my first reaction to “breaking up” (dumb, dumb words) was anger. “What the heck are you doing to me God? Haven’t I had enough?”

But I’m thankful God always draws me back, reminding me that life is about His kingdom and His plan. After some needed repentance, I stand with open hands saying, “God, if being a widow is your plan for me, then it is good.” Even if He takes my penny never to return it, He is still good. His grace is still marvelous. It’s true though. Letting go of desires, people, and things is continual. I’m sure I’ll keep learning to hold them loosely, and to openmy hands for God to take them.

For I am already more loved, cherished, and adored than I can understand. Letting go of my penny means knowing that Jesus’ love for me IS enough. It’s also knowing that He is the treasure of infinite value. He wants to give me something better. Himself. Because of what Christ has accomplished for me on the cross and through His resurrection, I can know the sweet, sweet freedom of trusting Him.

I’ll stop kicking and screaming, Here’s my grubby, little hand open to you.

He is abundant. Reflecting on a year after death.

chicagoHow do I cogently and concisely say these things? How do I sum up all that God has taught me in the year that life was most radically altered? Probably not concisely at all. The task feels a little like trying to catch sand with a sieve. There’s just too much. I’ve let you all view this year up close and personal. I haven’t hidden the depths or the waves. I’ve let you see the reality of grief, but also the reality of grace. So, I didn’t think writing the “anniversary” post would be so difficult. But I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to say, and I guess I just have to dive in.

The day after Jon died I posted the following note on Facebook.

“It’s surreal to be writing this post, but I feel like I must. I know that many of you already know, but my precious Jonathan went to be with Jesus last night. His heart got too big for this world. Thank you all for your thoughts, messages, and prayers. I am not ok, but someday I know I will be. When God gave me Jon, he gave me someone far better than I could have hoped for myself. Jon lavished love on me, and adored me. But more importantly, he adored his God. His life resonated God and the gospel. He was so driven for others to have the true hope found in Jesus Christ. Yes I’m weeping, I’m numb, I feel like throwing up, I can’t breathe, I don’t know what to do or how to respond, and it all feels like a really bad nightmare. But, this I know and my husband knew — God is good. He is doing good. I do not understand, but He has a plan and purpose much bigger than I can see. Jon told me this again and again over the last several days.  And this is my confident expectation–Jesus Christ paid the penalty for my sin. He perfectly fulfilled God’s law. And He is my redeemer. He chose me, He adopted me, His blood canceled the record of sin against me, and He gave me all His righteousness. This he did for Jon too. And so in the midst of the greatest pain I’ve ever felt, there is rejoicing. Jon is worshiping, and his heart is perfect. I believe God used Jon greatly in life, and He will do so in death as well. I don’t know what I need right now. But I know this “Hallelujah All I have is Christ, Hallelujah Jesus is my life.” He is abundant. So, pray with me, and weep with me. I sound a lot braver in writing than I look and feel in person. I know many hard days are ahead. But no matter what comes, “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end, they are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)”

It seems like someone else must have written those words. Surely I didn’t compose them. My mind was too numb, too fuzzy, and too unable to comprehend what had just happened. But I suppose they must have come from me, yet only because of God’s enabling grace. I wonder, did I believe them?

Yes. The answer is yes.

As I think about encapsulating this year, it seems fitting to revisit these words with new clarity and understanding.

“I’m not ok, but someday I will be.”

It took a long time after Jon’s death to feel ok again. And it definitely got much worse and stayed worse before it got better. I didn’t understand then just how hard the “hard days” would be. Though I’ve allowed this year of grief to be public, there’s much more that never made it to Facebook or the blog. There were more sleepless nights, more puddles of tears, more questions, more moments of anger, more irritation with well meaning but thoughtless people, more love and care from others, more deep longing, more fear, and in the midst of it all, more grace.

It’s beautiful to look back and be able to say “I’m ok.” But really I’m a whole lot more than ok! Truly grace is one of the biggest themes. There was exponentially more grace than there was grief. Grace. It’s accompanied by words such as astonishing, overwhelming, marvelous, tangible, beautiful, and lavish. Yet even these cannot quantify the grace of God. Grace, that undeserved, unmerited favor of God lavished daily on His own. And it really is new every morning. It’s staggering to think that through Jesus, God offers endless grace.

In the weeks leading up to the anniversary, I’ve felt the return of many “sorrow triggers.” It’s not wrong to be sad, to weep.. And while it’s been good for me to process through them again and necessary to grieve the last days of Jon’s life, someone reminded me, “Where are all the triggers of God’s grace over this year? Find those.”

I found them. And It would take chapters to recount them all to you.

“But more importantly he adored his God. His life resonated with God and the gospel.”

When I think about themes, another that comes to mind is “relentless pursuit,” It’s how Jon lived, and it’s how God has taught me to live this year. As God relentlessly pursues me, so do I want to relentlessly pursue Him. I had to have all my idols stripped away. I had to go to the wilderness to enjoy deeper intimacy with God.– And just how beautiful it is! So prone to wander is my heart, but He delights to bring me back. I had to learn obedience through suffering. And I had to learn by experience that Jesus really is the only lasting satisfaction in this world. I’m still learning! But more than anything else, I want God to do whatever He wants in and through me. I want my life to resonate God and the gospel.

If you were to look back at 16 years worth of journals, you’d see variations of a common prayer weaving through them.“Lord my life is yours. Take it and do with it what you will. I want to know you. I want to be consumed by you. I want to see your glory.”  And God is answering. But prayers of those sort aren’t usually answered according to my “wisdom.” The way up is down. To see the beauty of stars, there must be darkness. The cross proceeds the crown. God seems nearer in the valley than on the mountain.

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 the dream plan, so thoroughly imagined, that surely it will be reality. But sometimes God shatters the dream plan. Yet His shattering is never arbitrary. Loss and brokenness. They are words that fill with dread and fear, but they are also words that have potential to represent life, love, beauty, repentance, and vision.

He is teaching me to say with Paul…

“Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and may share in His sufferings becoming like Him in His death…” (Phil. 3:8-10)

The benefit so vastly outweighs whatever cost we perceive, that there really is no cost at all! As deeply as I love and miss Jon, the cost seems nothing when compared to the benefit. Losing Jon. Gaining Jesus. Far surpassing worth.

“It all feels like a really bad nightmare.” 

How marvelous it is that even a nightmare was part of God’s sovereign plan before the beginning of time. I see the beauty rising from the ashes. And I realize, that though I never would have chosen for Jon to die, I wouldn’t trade it. That’s a heavy thing to say. It’s one that doesn’t come easily or flippantly. It’s one I’ve mulled over for a long time. But if I believe that God is good and sovereign, then I know the reality that He did the BEST thing.

“And this is my confident expectation.” 

Jesus Christ, my confident expectation. Amen. Do I even need to elaborate? I mean you could honestly stop reading and just start praising God right now. Jesus Christ, my confident expectation. Just dwell on all those words entail. Marvel with me for a minute. Jesus Christ. Do you know Him? I mean not just about Him, but KNOW Him? Jesus is God. King. Redeemer. Savior. Friend. Master. Lord. And He became man. He lived a perfect life without sin. Take a minute and let that sink in. Without sin. I can’t say that I’ve lived without sin! Neither can you. He met all the standards of God’s righteous requirements, that is perfection. He was tempted as we are, but without sin. And He took on all the weaknesses of human flesh so that He would KNOW and be like those for whom He came to die. He offered His life up as the substitutionary sacrifice for sinners. He took my place, willingly. He took God’s wrath for sinners like you and me who have no possible hope of being “good enough” to get to God. Because how good is good enough? Instead God came to us. Jesus paid an infinite debt we cannot pay. And the best part is that He didn’t stay dead. He rose again and is yet alive. He lives. He is King. And He is coming back. Therefore, “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  (Ro 6:23)

And He is my confident expectation.

If you’ve read any other my other posts, you know this is the one message I can give. It’s the one message Jon could give. But it’s the best news you will ever hear.

“Jon is worshiping. And his heart is perfect.”

Yesterday I came across the phrase, “A believer’s best day is his last day.”  Amen. There have been times through this year that the thought of heaven wasn’t comforting. I just wanted Jon back. But how selfish. He wouldn’t want to come back. He gets to be in the presence of God! Perfectly worshiping without sin! He gets to look on the face of Jesus. Even typing those words spreads longing through my heart. I want to look on the face of Jesus! And I can’t even comprehend how beautiful it will be.

“He is abundant.”

What better way to tie this all up? He is abundant. Jesus is overflowing, spilling over the edge abundant. More than enough. Praise God that though I deserve a cup of wrath, I’ve been given a cup of blessing. I have a generous God who lavishes me with grace and good things.

Yes, even in this year.

2nd first date love this thing

Frustrated? With myself? With life? Yes.

Lately I’ve been feeling frustrated. Frustrated with the condition of my heart, with life, and with ministry. One would think, however, that after the most intense wilderness time of my life, my heart would never wander or go astray again. For it’s true that God uses the wilderness to draw His own to the deep satisfying intimacy only He can bring. It seems logical to think then that the depth of closeness I’ve experienced with Christ over this year would be easily maintained. Doesn’t it? After all, He has taken me through my unimaginable.

I think it’s almost comical that the struggles of feeling distant from God, struggling for illumination from the Word, wanting my own way, making my own plans, and telling God what I think should happen, have all crept up again. I’ve been a Christian for almost 17 years, so these struggles are not new. I’ve experienced the ebbs and flows enough to be familiar with them.

But certainly, shouldn’t I have figured it out by now!?! I mean God taught me to trust Him when the bottom fell out. He brought me to new depth of intimacy with Him. He made me to experientially know that He alone satisfies. I’ve received His astonishing grace. I’ve tasted and seen that He is good. I have been able to say, “Hallelujah, all I have is Christ! Hallelujah, Jesus is my life!” and REALLY mean it!  So how then, does my heart still go astray? How then do I find myself still seeking satisfaction in other things? Shouldn’t following Jesus be easy now?

I suppose I should not have been surprised to realize that as the “place of abundance” (Psalm 66) peeks over the horizon, how quickly I’m allured by the abundance more than my great Savior. My heart persists, as Luther said, in being “an idol factory.” And as in Lewis’ famous illustration I continue to be a child making mud pies in the slums when I am offered a holiday at sea.

So think I’ve reached some important conclusions.

I am still desperately needy.

I am still at war with my flesh. Caught between the already and the not yet.

God is faithful, while I am yet faithless.

Jesus is the true satisfier of my longing soul.

In any relationship real intimacy is two-sided. Mutual pursuit.

I must surrender my will, my plans my desires. To be a living sacrifice is a continual action.

I thank God for His steadfast loyal love.

Let me elaborate a bit. Psalm 107 identifies four groups who’ve experienced exile in different ways. Some wandered in deserts and were hungry and thirsty. Some sat in darkness, held captive in prison. Some through their own foolish sin experienced affliction and poor health. Some were caught in angry storms. But all finally saw their great need. “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble and He delivered them from their distress.” (v6)

The redeemed received deliverance, and their hearts were moved to praise. As you’ve probably guessed, this Psalm foreshadows ultimate redemption in Christ. “The steadfast love of the Lord becomes flesh and blood reality before our very eyes in Christ.” (ESV, Gospel Transformation Bible) In Jesus, God once and for all answers the cry of the needy. Sometimes deliverance is a change in situation. But not always. Sometimes it’s a change in heart.

Today, deliverance for me was realizing again that Jesus “satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry He fills with good things.”  He fills. He is THE good thing. In my struggle, I again find rest beneath the cross.

Likewise, as God pursued faithless Israel, so does He constantly allure me with His jealous love. He desires intimacy with me. Yet still I’m wayward.  It’s deeply distressing to think that I still make idols after just how much God has done for me. But I do. Though I hate them, I still create little gods to worship. But praise God that He is jealous for my affections! Praise Him that He is not willing to share first place! Because of His Son, He will NEVER stop pursuing me! So He draws me back. He causes me to realize that empty pursuits don’t last. They don’t satisfy.

As an aside, I heard a fantastic sermon this weekend by one of our elder candidates on this very topic. I love how the Holy Spirit does that! Sometimes I think sermons are just for me. Paul Dawkins expounded these truths beautifully and powerfully from the book of Hosea. Go listen to it here. Seriously. I mean, I can’t be the only frustrated Christian out there? It’s well worth your time. You’ll be strengthened and encouraged. In the sermon Paul said, “If God allows you to be frustrated in your faith, sometimes it’s an invitation to greater intimacy.”

Both in wilderness and in abundance God desires deeper, growing intimacy with His own. To His people, He calls Himself “Husband.” (Hosea 2) And just as in human relationships, intimacy with God doesn’t just happen. It grows because of commitment, devotion, and mutual pursuit. It takes effort. By that I mean that it is foolish for me to think my own devotion to God cannot fade. It’s foolish to think that my natural tendency will not lead me astray. I often need to be led back.

With my faithlessness in mind it’s even more astonishing to think that God will ALWAYS pursue my heart. It’s marvelous to think that His commitment and devotion never falters or grows the slightest bit dim. Therefore, as a husband desires willing devotion from his wife, so does God desire the same response from me, devotion motivated by His own unfathomable love and provision for me. Devotion that is precipitated by grace.

So I return. I repent in humility and again surrender life, plans, and desires to Him.  It’s a continual action often needed many times a day. I think this is what it means to be a living sacrifice. The effort is not merely “trying harder.” Rather it is obedient surrender flowing from the power of the cross. On my own I will fail. I will make idols. But thank God for His steadfast, loyal love. Thank God that the power of the gospel enables me to surrender, to return.

I suppose frustration is a good thing then. For it reminds me how jealously God desires my affections and how deeply He wants to give me Himself. What greater thing could I ever want?