22 Kleenexes

tissues22 kleenexes lay strewn on the floor, the culmination of two weeks of struggle, frustration, and battle. That’s not an exaggeration; I counted them. Financial pressures, unfulfilled longings, broken teeth (yep, this happened), a first date that probably won’t lead to a second, the suffering of people I love: lots of “small” things add up to make a big thing.

This morning, tears flowed freely, unable to be stemmed. The pile of tissues grew, the wrestle fierce. I also battled anger. I was angry at myself for feelings of jealousy, angry that I could not rejoice in others’ good gifts. Crying was a better alternative to throwing dishes; we all know I have that impulse.

I’ve been here before. So many times. You’ve been here with me, and I know my words sound familiar.

But my heart struggles to believe what my mind knows is true. 

This week I heard it said, “Sorrowful tragedy sets the stage for surprising triumph.” (Platt) My mind says yes. But my heart is unsure. People tell me I’m strong, brave, and resilient, yet I’m not the super saint who never doubts, never questions. Granted, most waves have smoothed out, but even two years later, there are days I’m tempted to shout at God.

“When is enough, enough? How long must I be held to the fire?”

“For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver…” (Malachi 3:2-3)

Sometimes I feel like He’s forgotten me there.

I want God to relent in His severity. Being refined is a mercy, but a difficult one, nonetheless. I know the process creates beauty, increases value, and removes the dross. But sometimes I don’t care.

Sometimes I want to tell him I’m mad at him. Refining hurts.

But the words never come. Praise God, they never come. Rather, He replaces them with tears of sorrow.

“O my dear Father, how could I ever be angry with you? Who am I to be angry with you?”

So I cry a lot. I preach to myself. I bow in surrender and plead with Holy Spirit to intercede for me. And God always meets with me and brings me back. I tell myself the truth, and the Holy Spirit lodges it deep within.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair, persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…” (2 Corinthians 4:7-9)

This treasure. God has seen fit to wrap the treasure of treasures, the Gospel, in the weakness of human flesh. Why? It reveals that the surpassing power and effectiveness of the gospel belongs to God, and not to me.

Yet for some reason, I’ve been made a vessel to carry treasure. My weaknesses and inadequacies magnify God’s strength and perfection.

What a crazy paradox! But there is more.

  • Afflicted, but not crushed
  • Perplexed, but not driven to despair
  • Persecuted, but not forsaken
  • Struck down, but not destroyed

There have been moments in the journey in which I’ve fought despair, where I have felt crushed, and destroyed, standing on the edge of a precipice about to jump.

But here is reality. I have not been crushed. I have not been destroyed. I have not been driven to despair. And I never will be.

I’ve fought despair, but Jesus always wins for me.

He was destroyed. He was forsaken. He met despair square in the eye. He was utterly crushed. This was the cross of my Lord.

As the passage continues, likewise I can say,

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”(2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

More paradoxes.

  • Outer self wasting away, inner self renewed day by day
  • Momentary affliction, eternal weight of glory
  • Things seen, things unseen
  • Transient, eternal

Momentary. Permanent.

Affliction doesn’t always feel light and momentary, but with eternity in view, it’s a mere glimmer, a speck in God’s grand plan of redemption. God’s far surpassing power is beyond all human control or fathoming.

And He is preparing me for an eternal weight of glory. An eternal weight of glory. I don’t think I can fully comprehend that.

Therefore, by the power that raised Christ from the dead, the power that dwells in this immensely weak jar of clay, I can choose to believe.

I choose to surrender.

I choose to love the life God’s given me.

I choose to know He’s good.

I choose to believe there will be triumph in eternity AND in this life.

God triumphs amid human weakness.  Sometime I think I can’t bear anymore fire, but He has not forgotten I’m there. He watches the silver intently, holding to the flame just long enough for it to be perfected.

I tell my heart to believe what my mind knows is true.

And by grace, it does.


“Sorrowful tragedy sets the stage for surprising triumph.” Watch the video from The Gospel Coalition here- God’s Goodness in Your Pain. Believe me, it’s worth the nine minutes! counsel

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I don’t have to be tough.

toughI got up early, showered, straightened my hair, and overall just looked cute. I thought about corporate worship, and couldn’t wait to be with the church. What snow? I’d be just fine.

A southern girl living in the midwest is bound to have some angst about five months of winter (as I’ve noted before), but I feel like I’ve conquered many of my snow issues. I’m not afraid to drive in it; I think I can handle a snowy road like a champ these days. I’ve learned to accept it, dress in layers, and buy thermal socks. Therefore, when the forecast called for a blizzard, I was not alarmed.

I backed out slowly. All was well; there was no getting stuck in this driveway.Opening my garage door, I wasn’t surprised to see several inches of the white stuff and more still falling. “No problem. I’ve got this.”

Well, until I got stuck, that is.

The wheels spun, and the engine revved. But it was just a show. Hmm, that was futile.

First action step, call a friend, of course. A true gentleman, he offered to come get me. Meekly, I accepted. In the meantime, I shoveled with determination and perhaps stubbornness. At least I could get it back in the garage, right?

I’ll spare you all the grizzly details, but I ended up wet, freezing, covered in snow, mad, crying, and no closer to getting the car unstuck. The wind was unforgiving, hurling snow at places I’d already cleared. And you can forget that lovely, straightened hair.

mad

Tears stung my face. I was angry I no longer had a husband to take care of such things. I was angry I couldn’t do it, and angry I had to ask for help. When I called my friend back, I felt like an incapable wimp.

“Don’t come get me.”

“Why?”

“I’m so angry and upset that I can’t get my car out. I’m mad that I have to, and not at all in the right place to be at church.”

“Ami, you’re being ridiculous. I’m coming to get you,” my guy friend calmly replied.

Later during worship, he slipped me a note. “I need your car keys. Several of us are going to go over and get you unstuck.”

Tears formed again, yet these were full of gratitude. I’m strong in many ways, but it’s okay to admit my weaknesses.

I am weaker in physical strength than men, but that’s not a bad thing.

So, here are the lessons.

Culture says, “be a strong, tough, independent woman.” But God honors women as the “weaker vessel.” I don’t mean that women aren’t capable, but our Lord says be honored, cherished, protected. Be the fine china. My pastor put it this way, “A chivalrous man takes the bullets, does the nasty work, and gets dirty because he realizes a lady shouldn’t have to.”

“…showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel.” I Peter 3:7 ESV

“Weaker vessel” doesn’t mean it’s inferior or any less valued. Rather, it is to be protected, esteemed, more highly valued.

That’s a difficult thing for widows to hear. “Who’s protecting me now? Who is doing the nasty work? Quite frankly, I have to do it a lot these days, “ my heart cries.

Yes, that’s often true, but it’s okay to ask for help. Sometimes it’s even needed. I know that’s a challenge, but people may not know the need until we ask. While Peter is speaking specifically to husbands in the verse above, there’s broader application within the church. Men can still honor the women around them with appropriate boundaries.

More importantly, Christ already did the nastiest of work. He already provided the ultimate protection. What’s a little snow compared to my need for salvation? When I remember my ultimate weakness, it more drastically contrasts His ultimate strength.

Being cared for is a lovely thing. I miss my chivalrous husband dearly, but I’m thankful God still puts chivalrous men in my life- family, friends, pastors. I’m thankful for men who help with home repairs, lift heavy objects, and pick me up in a blizzard.

I’m most thankful for Jesus, the ultimate chivalrous man.

I don’t have to be tough.


This post by Ami appeared first at anewseason.net

When I long to be held by human arms

The room was cold.

“Oh well, better cold than hot for sleeping.”

I crawled into bed bringing the covers snuggly to my nose, leaving only eyes exposed to the elements. My feet quickly cocooned themselves in the down comforter. I lay on my side, knees bent, arms clutching a pillow. Everything was customary. But something was wrong. It took me a minute, but then I remembered; I was on my left side.

“Quick Lovee, huddle for warmth!” 

His strong arms circled me, his knees tucked behind mine. He held me close, heat radiating against my back from his very solid, very physical presence. He prayed aloud. There was security. We lay that way for awhile, content.

“Ok switch.” 

He rolled over, and I turned also, both of us now on our right sides, my knees tucked behind his knees. I held him close. And he was asleep within seconds, his chest rising and falling in a slow, gentle rhythm. I nestled behind him, warm and secure. Night after night we followed this pattern. He held me for awhile. Then I held him. Then he fell asleep. And I lay there soaking in his warmth, taking in every detail. Finally I slept.

But I have not started the night on my left side for almost two years. Perhaps it hurts too much to imagine him there behind me, knowing the reality that he’s not. Who am I kidding? It hurts regardless which side I face. I guess last night, however, realization hit me square in the eyes; what used to be such an integral part of my life no longer feels customary.

As I lay there on my left side, I welcomed the sorrow. Sometimes that’s an ok thing. Sometimes it’s a necessary thing. Nobody tells you that grief even affects the side upon which you sleep.

“Lord, how long must I be alone? Please be near me. Help me to know the security of your presence when I long to be held by human arms.”

As I continued to pray, peace flooded in, remarkable and true. I was warm and secure. I knew the very real presence of the Lord; God was near. Sleep was not an unwilling guest that lingered in the shadows. Rather, it came sweetly, and I drifted off without turning over.

I have learned much about dwelling in the presence of God. Let me say it this way, I have learned to be aware. Tragedy and grief taught me to run to Christ, to slow down, to listen, to hear His voice echo from the pages of His word, to know the comfort of the Holy Spirit, to know that my heart and mind can be guarded with incomparable peace. (Philippians 4:6)

Likewise, prayer has become a continuous, flowing conversation. I’m learning to talk to God through the mundane: showering, driving, folding laundry. And I’m learning to talk to Him when my heart is filled with sorrow. Or anger. Or fear. It’s totally safe because I have a great High Priest who intercedes for me.

Through Jesus, I have unlimited access to the Father, and I can run to Him with any emotion. He is big enough.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  Hebrews 4:15-16

Though I once was a stranger, by the blood of Christ I have been brought near. (Ephesians 2:13) Therefore, I may come boldly. I can expect grace. I can expect mercy. To be near Him, is to be in His very presence.

Through Jesus’ finished work, the Holy Spirit comforts. He draws near. He hears my pleas, and perfects my weak, inept, and often selfish prayers.

And so I say with confidence “Before the throne God above, I have a strong and perfect plea. A great High Priest whose name is Love, who ever lives and pleads for me. My name is written on His hand. My name is graven on His heart. I know that while in heaven, He stands, no tongue can bid me thence depart.”

Yet it is not every night that I welcome peace so easily. Sometimes, I must wrestle. Sometimes I must cry out. Sometimes the longing for human touch seems much more real than the presence of God.

I don’t pray perfectly. But I have Someone who does. When I long to be held by human arms, He reminds me that His arms are stronger, His security infinite. He holds me close. The safety He offers is far beyond what my husband had the ability to give.

He is near.


This post by Ami appeared first at anewseason.net

Before the Throne ©1997 Sovereign Grace Worship (ASCAP)

This Clumsy, Broken Thing

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18 

I’m really clumsy.

If you knew me, you’d laugh because that’s an understatement.

I call the phenomena “Drop the book.” It’s like my brain decides, “You’re done holding that. Drop the book.” Then the book falls. It’s real.

I have a friend who calls me “Trip,” not because I’m funny.

And I think there are things in life that happen only to me. I mean, it takes a special person to cause a spectacular splatter of gooey chocolate all over her wall and stove.

Once I accidentally flushed $150 down the toilet. You don’t even want to know.

Most of the time I just laugh at myself.

After some manifestation of my clumsiness, my husband always cupped my chin in his hand, grinned, and said, “Oh Lovee, what am I going to do with you?”

“Just love me,” was my coy reply.

A friend told me that it really is a cute elegance. I’ll go with that.

I also break things, but not on purpose.

It always seems to be something with memories attached, though–a coffee mug my husband and I bought on vacation–a hand-painted spoon rest from when we were dating.

On our first anniversary I even broke one of our personalized wedding flutes. You can imagine the tears. We never got around to replacing it either.

To date I haven’t broken a dish in anger, but I’ll admit, when Jon died I often wished a box of cheap dishes would magically appear so I could smash them to the floor.

And had they appeared, I’m almost certain they would have ended up in smithereens.

Even then I had sense enough not to hurl the Fiestaware.

Recently I broke my special spoon rest…again. I don’t remember how I broke it the first time, but I’m sure I was distraught and Jon his usual calm. We carefully fixed it with super glue, and its flaw was barely noticeable.

I think I’ll be able to mend it again, but I this time the scar will show. When memories are all that’s left, a shattered one pierces that much deeper.

So, I’ve been thinking about how God speaks of broken things.

Often being broken is a mark of humility or surrender.

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God you will not despise.” Psalm 51:17

I’ve been broken so many times. The process is painful, but it’s a sweet brokenness that teaches me to understand the fierceness of God’s tenderness. He draws near the broken hearted.

Being broken and restored also reminds me of Kintsukuroi, a Japanese repair method that infuses broken pottery with gold. How ironic that the shards are mended with scars of gold! The result– a piece far more exquisite and costly, not in spite of the scars but because of them.

In other places, broken things represent extravagant love.

“…as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head.” Mark 14:13

A familiar story, but don’t lose its radiance.Ultimate broken thing

A woman, identified elsewhere as Mary the sister of Lazarus, took a flask of ointment worth almost a year’s wages, broke it (for there were no screw tops in those days), and used all of it to anoint Jesus.

Others around the table were outraged at her ridiculous waste and flagrant behavior.

But her broken thing was an avenue for lavish affection and worship. She knew what was most important.

Finally, sometimes God combines these three: humility, scars, and extravagant love.

They intersect in the ultimate “broken thing,” Jesus.

He humbled himself even to death on the cross. Now alive, He bears the scars as a mark of His extravagant love.

He heals broken things. He mends them with something much more valuable than gold.

I marvel that He loves this clumsy, broken thing.

Father thank you for spiritual brokenness. Thank you for bringing me often to a place of surrender and humility. Keep my heart ever tender before you. Use my brokenness to manifest your extravagant love. I have scars, but you heal them with something more precious than gold, that is, Yourself. 

This post appeared first at A Widow’s Might.

 

When lies are like lions.

Am I the only one, the only one who falls prey to lies?

I reveled in the joy of peace, and welcomed reprieve from the onslaught of heavy emotion.

“Finally Lord, perhaps I’m out of the valley. Perhaps the long winter is over.”

Wonderful joy. Wonderful peace that passes understanding. Wonderful delight in my God. Then out of nowhere the lies attacked as ravenous lions, quickly debilitating me under the weight of their fury…

For the full post, join me over at  aNew Season.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

“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!

Some days I just feel crazy.

I haven’t had one of those “I am legitimately losing my mind” kind of days in a while. But today it’s here in full-force. I woke up just sad. I hate days I wake up sad. Because then the whole day feels like a struggle for joy. I suppose it is grace that I’m not waking up sad every day anymore. But when they come, they hit hard. I really did just want to stay in bed all day. And I can’t seem to stop crying. It’s days like today where I feel like I can relate a little to Charlie in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It’s the feeling of everything swirling around, the feeling of being trapped inside your own head and not being able to get out.

There was constant confusion the first few months. And now it’s seldom. But it still throws me every time an “I’m going crazy” day hits. So I guess it’s more than just a sad day.

I’ve been trying to quantify the struggle. Because that’s what I do. I analyze. And I ask God to help me boil it down to the truths He wants me to see. I hardly ever do this, but I’m typing before I’ve fully processed. Usually I write things in a journal first, and then later they get transferred to the blog.

But I don’t know. Today it just seems like I need the act of typing and the clacking of keys to make me feel like I’m accomplishing something.

These deep days are never about one thing. Usually it’s a combination of things that have been building for a while. I’m struggling with being alone. I’m struggling with my new life. I’m struggling with feeling of value to anyone. Then there are some aspects of struggle I just can’t write here. And another thing, I’ve been getting to spend lots of time with people recently. But why do I still feel so lonely? And why is it so hard to preach the gospel to myself today? And all of this makes me feel a little crazy.

There’s been a lot about introversion on Facebook lately, and maybe it’s a bad thing for me. Because now I’m analyzing all these character traits! Which in turn makes me realize I have more introversion in me than I thought. And I think it makes me nervous. It makes me wonder if a result of grief is a fundamental shift in personality. Or if I’ve just never realized there was a label for the desire to have solitude! I think under normal circumstances, I’m somewhere in the middle. It’s like a mean game though… 23 Signs You’re Secretly an Introvert. I’m convinced it was written by someone out there bent on making me even more tied up in my own head. Why the hype all of a sudden? I’ve been content to know that I was introspective, but I think I’ve headed down this nasty spiral today: “Have I always had introverted tendencies? If so, why does this label “introvert” bother me so much? Or are these tendencies just heightened as a result of loss? And if I do have them, I must not be totally introverted because I think I’m going nuts from so much time by myself!” I don’t know the answers. And I know I may not be making much sense.

For example, take crowds. I don’t remember if I used to feel alone in a crowd before losing Jon. I don’t remember it ever being a problem.

I don’t remember if I would have wanted to sit in the corner and observe rather than participate. But I do know that when I had Jon, I could be in a large crowd and be totally ok. Even if I was not by his side, I knew he was there. Like a safe haven. The place where I knew it was ok to be totally me, not wondering how I was perceived.

But now I sometimes feel like I’m going to hyperventilate. Is this introversion or is this just grief? And does it really matter which one it is? Probably not.

Another thing I’ve been thinking about is that Jon was really good at getting me to not take life so seriously. He drew the silliness out in me. And I think it makes me sad that I’m not that way anymore. And it makes me miss his goofiness that much more.

I miss that every trip to a grocery store or Walmart was an adventure. I miss him riding down a hill on the shopping cart shouting “I’m the king of the world.”  I miss him dancing in the middle of the aisle every time that stupid Bieber song, “Baby Baby” came on…every time, without fail. I miss him 80s power walking like Richard Simmons so he could be the first one to spot people in their pajamas. I always won that game though, despite his best efforts.

I miss how we would play silly games and people would look at us funny (or sweetly). One day, we were waiting in the self-checkout line and every time I said an adjective Jon exuberantly acted it out– silly, happy…. So then I just started trying to get him to act out ridiculous ones… charming, dashing, terrified, pensive, manly, heroic, shy… I just laughed and laughed. It was our own little game of reverse charades. We noticed the clerk looking at us as if we were nuts. But I just smiled at her and thought, “Let her think we’re nuts. This is what happiness looks like.” He made me not care.

My sister-in-law once said- “Does he do these things all the time?”  And my playful answer was, “Yes. And I just go with it. Life is definitely never boring.”

So all this talk about introversion just makes me wonder if I’ll ever have those times of silliness again.

Maybe this is my skewed, biased view, but Jon had this rare quality about him. I can’t think of one word to describe it, but it seemed like a sense of utter delight with life. Excitement, joy, passion, charisma… He told me once that it was his personal mission to get people with monotonous jobs to smile. You know, checkout clerks, subway attendants, toll collectors…  “Somebody’s got to make their day better.”

I think other aspects of my struggle today comes down to an identity crisis. For one thing, I didn’t realize that no longer teaching Kindergarten would bother me. Even though it was my own choice to not go back. But now everyone’s headed back to school and it does. Perhaps teaching has become an idol. “I am a teacher.” It gave me a definitive identity when God took the rest– wife, encourager, cheerleader, lover, wannabe mother, wannabe pastor’s wife. But even this last week, God reminded me that He wants teacher too. “God can’t I keep just this one? I’m a good teacher. Can’t I keep that? You’ve taken everything else.”  But again God said, “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” He wants even my identity as teacher. He wants my identity to be in Christ. So if He wants these education skills to go dormant, that’s ok. It’s His life. This is the cost of true discipleship. But today the cost weighs heavy.

On the other hand, I’m so thankful for what I get to do now. I’m thankful that I get the privilege of being totally devoted to ministry. And I know I’m following God’s plan. I love getting to talk with people, encourage, and counsel. I love that He is perhaps developing other gifts.

Most days I have such great joy in that. Just not today. Today I feel like shouting and throwing things. Or maybe just doing nothing but lying on the couch. Today I’m wrestling with questions like, “Have I reached that place where I’m expected to be ok? After all, it has been almost 7 months.” and “Is it still ok for me to tell people that I’m struggling? Is it still ok for me to feel crazy?”

As I alluded to earlier, I’ve really enjoyed getting to invest so much time in people. But I feel so drained. Yet I don’t want to be alone. It’s this weird paradox.

Epilogue

So I left my ramblings mid thought, and got to spend the evening with some lovely friends. And it was a good thing too. For I was headed down deep, and I knew it. I’m thankful God gave me grace to know I had to reach out. I can’t expect people to be mind readers. “Do y’all have plans tonight?” This was His love for me when I just couldn’t get enough truth in my heart to stop crying and to distill the crazy thoughts.  And this is why I can’t understand how it’s possible to handle grief without Christ. For I would have drifted more into isolation, and who knows what else today.

I loved just being with them, and seeing the silliness in their own interactions together. I loved seeing their affection for one another. I loved hearing them pray for one another and for me. It was good. And it was really good to share my “pit of introspection” with another human and not just my computer. It was not through words, but my friends reminded me why Christ made believers a body. We need each other. I’m thinking of Galatians 6 that says “Bear one another’s burdens.” That verse is referring to a crushing load that’s too heavy for one person. Sometimes the best way to preach the gospel is just to do life together. Today I needed someone to bear my crushing load with me. We had some spiritual conversation tonight, but more than that I got to see the corporate quality of the gospel played out. This is the church. Jesus purchased for Himself a people; peculiar, holy, blameless. This is the kingdom of God. To be a burden bearer is to imitate Jesus, who went so far as to bear the full burden of sin.

I thought about going back and editing what I wrote earlier today. But then I thought better of it. I can be honest here. I have to be. Or I will help perpetuate the myth that Christians are shiny people with all their stuff together. Because it really is ok for me still to struggle even if Christian culture sometimes, sadly portrays otherwise.

When a sheep is broken, the shepherd doesn’t just say, “Just get up and walk sheep.” Rather, He carries it. I’m thankful to be in a local church that carries broken sheep. Even this one.

And I still say

“I come, God, I come
I return to the Lord
The one who’s broken
The one who’s torn me apart
You struck down to bind me up
You say You do it all in love
That I might know You in Your suffering

Though You slay me
Yet I will praise You
Though You take from me
I will bless Your name
Though You ruin me
Still I will worship
Sing a song to the one who’s all I need

My heart and flesh may fail
The earth below give way
But with my eyes, with my eyes I’ll see the Lord
Lifted high on that day
Behold, the Lamb that was slain
And I’ll know every tear was worth it all

Though You slay me
Yet I will praise You
Though You take from me
I will bless Your name
Though You ruin me
Still I will worship
Sing a song to the one who’s all I need

You’re enough for me.”

Though You Slay Me (Shane & Shane, With John Piper)

“NO God!” But He brought me back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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