5 Years. Grace and Mercy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All I know is grace.

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

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

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

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

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


What has gone before…

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4 Years: Victory, Reversal, Redemption.

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

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

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

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

Reversal

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

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

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

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Talk about reversal. 

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

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

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

However, some things shouldn’t be reversed:

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

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

Redemption

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Victory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The victory is His.

Love

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

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

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

So, I honor my past and embrace my future

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


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

What has gone before:

On dancing. And elections.

It was late. I sat on our bed, eyes glued to my phone, unable to stop tracking the results of the national election. I readily admit I couldn’t vote for either of the top candidates, and trepidation crept in at the thought of either outcome.

He slid into the room like Tom Cruise in Risky Business, striking a goofy pose reserved only for me.

“Dance with me, babe.”

I grinned, scrambled off the bed, and we enthusiastically imitated all our favorite Dancing With the Stars moves. (Not that David enjoys the show or anything— Ahem. Ahem.) We aren’t great dancers, but we both needed the moment of levity, laughing at our rhythmical ineptitude. Such a sweet time. In the words of Andrew Peterson, we went “dancing in the minefields.”

And we lay down in peace and slept. And the sun still rose. And God still reigns.

A song runs through my mind. We danced to it at our wedding reception.

Cause the only way to find your life
Is to lay your own life down
And I believe it’s an easy price
For the life that we have found

And we’re dancing in the minefields
We’re sailing in the storm
This is harder than we dreamed
But I believe that’s what the promise is for

So when I lose my way, find me
When I loose love’s chains, bind me
At the end of all my faith, till the end of all my days
When I forget my name, remind me
‘Cause we bear the light of the Son of Man

So there’s nothing left to fear
So I’ll walk with you in the shadowlands
Till the shadows disappear
‘Cause he promised not to leave us
And his promises are true
So in the face of all this chaos, baby,
I can dance with you

“In the face of this chaos, baby I can dance with you.”  The last few months have been a whirlwind. Now, that’s an understatement, if I’ve ever penned one. We planned a wedding, my Dad died, got married, wept with loved ones facing life-altering devastation, we moved me to where David is, and we began life together. Moving to a new city threw me much further out of my comfort zone than I thought it would. And all the while, the election cycle dragged on.

But there has been incredible sweetness in the whirlwind. There is beauty in the messy. David and I are learning to be one flesh. We have the joy of loving and being loved by the other. What great joy it is! We get to point each other to Jesus. We get serve each other. We get to remind each other who we are in Christ. There is grace in disagreements. He is learning to lead, and I am learning to follow. We get to remember our desperate need for God.

Life is so much better together.

“We bear the light of the Son of Man, so there’s nothing left to fear.” Therefore, this morning my heart links dancing in our bedroom with things like elections.

In the wake of personal whirlwind and national chaos, this I call to mind.

“Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10.

We get to dance with joy. God will be exalted.

He is sovereign over all. I can dance through minefields because my greatest need has already been met at the cross. I have lost my life and found it in Christ. Therefore,

I can be kind to those with whom I disagree.

I can respect authorities and pray for our leaders.

I can believe the best in others.

I can fight for life. All life— the unborn, the refugee, the downtrodden, the outcast.

I can rest in knowing God will accomplish His purposes.

I can love.

I can delight in a husband again, and we can gracefully dance through minefields together.

And I can remember that my highest calling is to bear the light of the Son of Man.

 


Dancing in the Minefields” by Andrew Peterson

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“I WILL,” says your God.

this goodThe city is under siege, the enemy coming, and destruction is imminent. It has been foretold, and it is happening. The people have gone astray, wandering far from the God who brought them into the land. Wrath is impending. And you deserve it.

Jeremiah I want you to go buy a field. Your cousin will come and say, “Buy my field…for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.”  (Jeremiah 32:7)

So you buy the field. You sign the deed, seal it, find witnesses, and weigh out the coins.

“Put them in an earthenware vessel, that they may last for a long time. For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in the land.” (Jeremiah 32:14-15)

But still you don’t understand. Lord, what you have spoken has come to pass, but you ask me to buy a field?

I completely get why Jeremiah was so baffled. Who in their right mind would take time to buy a field when his city was under attack? That’s crazy talk.

Ah, but here’s the twist.

“Behold I am the LORD, the God of all flesh, is anything too hard for me?”

In the midst of the destruction and judgment that God Himself brought (and rightly so, for His people were utterly rebellious), He again reiterates who He is and His unshakeable commitment to redeem and restore. 

Nothing is too hard for Him. This God promises to bring his people back. He promises the way of mercy and grace.

“Behold I will gather them from all the countries to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in indignation. I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness with all my heart and soul. For thus says that Lord: just as I have brought all this great disaster upon this people, so will I bring upon them all the good that I promise them. Fields shall be bought in this land.” (Jeremiah 32:37-43)

I WILL.

Woah. What a string of radical, extravagant, thoroughly overwhelming promises!

  • I will gather them.
  • I will bring them back.
  • I will make them dwell in safety.
  • I will be their God.
  • I will give them one heart.
  • I will make an everlasting covenant.
  • I will NOT turn away from doing them good.
  • I will rejoice in doing them good.
  • I will plant them.

“with all my heart and soul”

I will bring ALL the good that I promise! 

Believer this is for you. This is your God. He puts all the “I wills” on Himself.

He is THIS good.

As Jeremiah was kinsman redeemer, so would the ultimate Kinsman Redeemer come! The right of redemption belongs to Jesus. Praise God, redemption by purchase is His!

In Jesus we’ve been gathered, planted, and grafted in to His everlasting covenant. He makes us dwell in safety. He restores.

Doesn’t this just make your heart sing?

Jeremiah’s deed was sealed in an earthen jar, but now believers are sealed by the blood of Christ. We’re sealed by that which will never disintegrate, by something that lasts far longer than “a long time.”

He bought this “field.”

“I WILL,” says your God.

And He has.

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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But God.

God, the Master Author, sometimes intertwines stories in ways we wouldn’t have foreseen. So humbling that He does.

Guest post by Meg McAusland


“I’m always up for a game of cards.” she said as she moved her hospital tray closer to the bed.

I should have known it would be her answer. Wherever Grandma went, a card game would follow. And so, that night in her hospital room, we played cards—Spite and Malice to be exact.

Our game was long and she kept waiting me out, refusing to play a card just to “get the game moving.” An hour after we started, the flip of one card led to a rapid succession of plays bringing about my unusual win.

Nothing about that night in the hospital room felt final, but it did feel complete. Our visit had been full of all of the normal things—conversation, laughter, tears, well wishes, card-playing, future plans.

A few hours later in another hospital two hours away, a young woman I did not know became a widow. At church on Sunday my husband and I heard the news and were overcome with grief for our friends and their widowed sister-in-law.

As the day wore on I moved on from that grief rather quickly as I found myself so thankful that Grandma was still alive. I was sad for those who had lost, but so very grateful and relieved that we were not facing the same thing.

Monday, January 28, 2013 was a normal day for us. Josh went to work, I stayed home.  I was entering orders for my direct sales business, calling customers, and promoting an online sale. I played with my daughter and made dinner. Josh came home. We ate. We did the dishes.

When the phone rang that night everything “normal” slipped away as waves of sorrow crashed against the shore of my heart. My grandmother had died. 

Tear-stained laughter, reminiscing, and late nights became the new normal. “Suspended reality” is probably the best way to describe the six days between the phone call and the funeral. We woke up that Saturday to bitter cold weather, icy roads and snow that made miserable an already difficult to endure graveside service after the visitation and funeral.

In the days that followed, sorrow hung over me like a damp fog as my mind drifted from loss to loss. Selfish, fearful, empathetic grief played out as I woke one morning to a warm but empty spot where my husband had slept. I ran my hand over his side of the bed and remembered that somewhere not far away a young widow was waking up in a cold bed that would not be warmed by her precious husband again.

I was sobbing when my husband returned to our room after readying for work. I answered the confusion in his eyes with a plea, “Don’t go. What if you don’t come home?” Lying there in bed, the what-ifs had taken over my emotions.

A few weeks into February I read the grace saturated words of the widow as she blogged about her husband, her loss, her grief. Her honesty was encouraging but inevitably the deep waves of sorrow would crash over me again and the guilt would return.

“Why am I so sad? I’m not even a widow.”

Every month was a shared anniversary. The 25th and 28th days of the month. The days blurred together as the year crept by a month at a time. When at last the one year anniversaries came around, grief’s sharp edge had been replaced by a weary sadness.

Five months later my other grandmother died. Wave after wave of heart ache followed that year as another family member almost died in July. In September the suicide of a dear friend’s daughter pushed out all other feelings aside from sorrow.

I struggled to wrap my mind around how depression had infiltrated my life. I went back to my journals and found this entry dated February 7, 2013.

“I sit and watch the snow swirl outside my windows and I can’t help but think about the fact that it was threatening snow that night of my visit with Grandma at the hospital. But now, the reality is that snow is falling on top of a freshly dug and filled grave….It seems impossible. She was so alive that day and now there is only cold white snow on a dark spot of earth.”

12630767_10101292485995193_1380505361_o-2

Silent tears slipped down my cheeks as I got swept into the emotion of that night all over again. I could remember where I was sitting, what the light looked like in the living room, and the weight of the bitterness that crept into the angry words I was spilling across the empty pages. This was the only journal entry I wrote in the days immediately after my grandmother’s death.

What was absent from my journal was more telling than anything else. The empty space was heavy with guilt. I still had my husband and daughter. I thought I had no right to be so sad. I told myself I had nothing to process, no reason to write, and every reason to move on.

Hungry for healing and knowing where I needed to return, I typed in the web address for When Mercy Found Me. With dates corresponding to the absences in my own journal, God used the posts of this precious widow to refresh my paralyzed heart and strip the guilt away from my grief.

Grief, not imaginary and no longer guilt-ridden, propelled me to read late into the night. When morning came, I was stressed out and sorrowful, but God did not abandon me to despair. He met me there, and understanding broke open my hardened heart.

My guilt had been unnecessary. My imaginations a sinful distraction from healthy grief. My emotional barrenness a weakness I could not overcome.

But God… 

There are no sweeter words to my ears.

 But he (God) said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 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 Cor. 12:9-10

God uses weakness for His glory. That precious widow, once unknown to me, is now a dear friend and encourager. Her weakness for His glory.

This week, the three year dual anniversary. The unintentional timing of this post. My weakness for His glory.

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. -Psalm 73:26


He weaves the stories together:

Glimpses into the Eternal

Adoption and the County Fair

I won’t shut them out

Just a Recipe

He Triumphs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He triumphs.

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

Flashback to “A Crossroads Day”

Resurrected an archive. Perhaps someone needs it today…

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

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

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

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

Jon’s Last Day

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

Read more here.

Read the extended “director’s cut” edition here


And many months later:

So why do I? Write, that is.

compelled to“I have always been fascinated by bloggers, but never considered becoming one. Ever. I’ve written for myself for a long time, but not published for others to see…”

These were the opening lines as I ventured into the land of blogging about a year and a half ago. At the time it was the introduction to my raw thoughts and emotions, merely two weeks removed from my husband’s death. I wrote then because I was compelled to. I needed an outlet, a way to make sense of the tsunami around me.

At first writing was just for me. Then it was to confront stereotypes and show the reality of grief. Now it’s morphing into a desire to equip and encourage. Over the months I remembered just how much I LOVE to write. God stirred a passion that had lain dormant till tragedy forced it to awaken.

Today writing takes another step.

A couple weeks ago, my sweet friend Kit Hinkle from aNew Season asked if I’d like to be part of a blog hop.

“A blog hop? What is such a thing?” said I.

“Well, another blogger will hop to me and then I’ll hop to you and two others. It’s a chance for all of us to write about the same topic.” I was intrigued.

I’ll get on to “hopping,” but first let me tell you about Kit. She’s a lady I value as an “older sister”, one further down the path of widowhood. She is the mother of four teenage sons and also leads the team at aNew Season and A Widow’s Might. She and her team write for thousands of ladies about everything from divorce, to an empty nest, to a new baby, to widowhood. They desire to point to women to Jesus in all of life’s seasons.

The first time Kit and I chatted on the phone we talked for over an hour. I was overwhelmed that such a busy lady would take time to encourage me! It’s been priceless to talk to someone who knows. 

So a blog hop with Kit? Yep. Sign me up. Here goes, writing about writing, a little metacognition if you please.

What am I working on?

At the moment I have some thoughts brewing about the word, “blessed.” I think American Christians often buy into the lie that being blessed means life is going well. The new house. The awesome husband. A great job. But I think Jesus had some different things to say on the topic.  I want to reclaim the word we know it’s so much more than #I’mblessed on Facebook…

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

Well in every post, you”ll see the gospel woven throughout. The gospel is a diamond with many facets. It’s not merely a buzz word. It’s for all of life, and is the power to become like Christ. The gospel reminds me of who I am, lost and found in Him. So, you’ll see the struggle to believe, the pain, or the story, but you will always be pointed back to the main thing– the life, death, burial, resurrection, and reign of Jesus. You’ll see redemption, adoption, reconciliation, propitiation…You’ll see gospel application to the messiness of daily life.

Also, I’m writing from within. When I first started seeking resources for grief and suffering, much of what I found was written several years later in reflection. Well, I thought it was time for the perspective of one who’s in it. Blogging is my journey with grief from 2 weeks to where I am now- a year and a half.

Why do I write what I do?

“I surrender my life to you Lord Jesus. Take it and do whatever you want with it.

I was 14 and didn’t know much about what it meant to be a Christ-follower, but I did get that I needed a Savior. I didn’t know that He had chosen me before the foundation of the world, but I knew I wanted to follow Him. I knew He loved me. I knew He died for me.

That prayer of surrender has tumbled from my heart many times. In joy and in sorrow, He’s taught me to say. “Take my life. It’s yours.”

He’s asked me to count the cost often, and still my heart says, “Yes, Lord. Make me a disciple.”

So, I guess that’s why I write. This life is not my own.

“I am crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20. 

I write out of praise and thanksgiving. I write because I’m compelled to. Any talents I have are gifts from God, to be developed and used for His kingdom, His glory. I write from a place of delight in Jesus, in all He is and all He’s accomplished.

I write what I do because I want to make much of Christ.

How does my writing process work?

Most often writing comes from the daily occurrences that stir my soul.- my husband’s shampoo, playing a board game, or going to the fair. I write to process the struggle. A few weeks ago I felt bombarded with a million lies, so I have a post coming soon about fighting them. I also write to nail down the BIG truths and crossroads moments.

I find that when I write something real to me, the thoughts come quickly, taking shape in about a half hour. Writing to instruct takes much longer, though. I wrote and rewrote a post about applying the gospel in sorrow for several weeks before I felt satisfied with it. I often let close friends preview my writing to help edit and refine ideas. I’m still learning how to be a writer, so I’m sure my writing process will continue to develop!

Mostly, I pray. I pray that the Holy Spirit would lead. I pray that He would encourage the ones who need it. And I pray that Christ be magnified, and that I fade into the background.

So why do I write? Because I’m compelled to. That’s the simple answer. 


Well are you ready for some more FUN? Let me introduce you some ladies who are both stellar writers and sweet friends…

246dcfae6b7565db310ea3829d517ddbTrisha White PriebeI first met Trisha in college as part of a student work program. I recall her beautiful smile and vibrant joy. She seemed like one of those people who could light up a room. Trisha and her husband published a book called Trust, Hope, Pray: Encouragement for the Task of Waiting. She is also currently co-writing a novel with Jerry B. Jenkins. It also seems like she has a “dark secret.”— She’s addicted to home management. But I think I’m supposed to keep that on the down low. You’ll just have to hop over to househoncho.com to get the rest of the scoop!

blogprofileRachel B. – Rachel and I go way back, but some of my most beautiful memories of Rachel surround her using her talents sacrificially to help my wedding day come off without a hitch. Jon lovingly called her our “Wedding Nazi.” The day wouldn’t have fallen apart without her! Rachel is a wife, a mother of three, with one on the way, and one in heaven. She writes about the every day joys and challenges of motherhood, and just the beauty of life itself. I love the way Rachel crafts words! My heart is always encouraged by her beautiful simplicity. Even just the blog name Une Bonne Vie intrigues me to read more!

bkaser_1404360317_4Becca Kaser Becca is a new friend to me, but one of my husband’s friends from college. She recently created her blog Daily Joy, but it’s already a refreshing blessing to me!  I love the reminders that daily joy comes from satisfaction in Christ.

In her words…

Hello my name is Rebecca Kaser and I struggle with anxiety. Phew. It feels good to get that out. But, I’m learning I am not the only one. So, instead of letting my anxiety absolutely destroy my joy, I am going to strive to find joy in my daily journey. I am a new stay-at-home momma just trying to figure this whole new role out.

So, this is a blog for women, and not just women who struggle with anxiety, but for women who want to find joy in the mundane – the diapers, the cooking, the cleaning. How can we fight the battle going on in our minds and find daily peace and joy?”

Thanks for hopping with me friends!

So what now God?

In the months since Jon died I’ve wrestled tremendously with God’s plan for my life. With accepting this new life. It’s a gift, God? Taking my husband is a gift? And I am coming to understand that it is. But, among the initial confusion and blinding shock were thoughts of “What now, God? Do I move? Do I stay?”

It’s been a time of stripping away. God has said “I want every dream you’ve ever had for life. I want it all. I want all of you.”  He has brought me to to the place where I know the meaning of  the words “all I have is Christ.” He has brought me again and again to surrender. It’s yours Lord. Take it. Yet He’s carried me. He’s shown me that Christ really is enough. And His grace has been abundant. He has led and comforted in tangible ways. So, as I wrestled with these questions, God reminded me that He had called Jon and I to serve at our church. The church in Dekalb.

He reminded me that He had moved us closer to be more intricately involved in the ministry here. The timing of the move was impeccable. Were I still in Rockford, my church family would be 45 minutes away. And even when so many things still felt fuzzy and confusing, God began to impress on me was that He isn’t done with me in this place. He still wants me here. He still wants us here. Jon’s death did not change God’s leading.

Our church is my family. Truly. I have been so overwhelmed by the response of the body of Christ after Jon died. And I want to give back to it.

Our church is a gospel-centered, Acts 29 church plant. And some may ask, “What do you mean by gospel-centered?” I mean viewing the Bible and all of life through the lens of the gospel. I mean recognizing that I not only needed the gospel for salvation, but also need it daily, hourly, and in minute by minute application to my life. The gospel is the good news about Jesus. He is God, but He humbled Himself and became a man. He was born of a virgin. He lived a perfect life without sin. He paid the penalty for sin on the cross. He died and was buried. But He didn’t stay dead! He rose again, and is one day coming back. He is the hero of every story. He is the great Rescuer. The Bible is a story about God and a narrative of His plan of redemption. The gospel not only entails the plan of salvation, but also encompasses all the facets of God’s redemptive plan–justification, sanctification, glorification, adoption, reconciliation, propitiation, imputation… As a church, the vision is that these truths permeate everything.

We typically average about 120 people on Sunday morning. We’re made up of many new believers. It’s been so refreshing to see adults who were far from God put their trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior, and display their commitment to following Him by baptism. It’s been awesome to be in a vibrant, growing ministry. God knew Jon and I needed it.

As we discussed my future over the course of the last few months, my pastor has asked, “Ami what do you want to do?” And every time I said, “I know what I want to do, but it’s no longer available.”  You see, since I was a teenager my desire has been to serve the Lord in a “ministry” capacity. I have wanted to be a pastor’s wife. I know that sounds absolutely ludicrous to most, but nonetheless, serving with a husband in ministry was my burning passion. It’s a passion much greater than teaching in a classroom, though I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Kindergarten’s own type of ministry!

And it seemed like it was a dream God was finally giving. Jon was going to become one of the pastors of our church this summer.

But with the death of Jon was the death of that dream. Or maybe not. God stripped it away, but is it possible that He might want to give it back? As I again sought counsel from Jamie and his wife Cher a few weeks ago, Pastor Jamie said some marvelous words. “Ami you were a pastor’s wife with Jon. But you still are a pastor’s wife. Not just you with Jon, but you. It’s just who God made you to be. What if you could still serve in that capacity? What if you were to raise support and build a ground up ladies’ ministry here at TcD?”

And my heart immediately said, “No way. You’re filling me with much anxiety. You’ve got the wrong Atkins. I couldn’t do this. Raise support for a ministry that doesn’t even exist? Crazy.”  Jon was the visionary, the entrepreneur, the dreamer. I’m none of those things. I was content to be his cheerleader.

But I thought about Jamie’s words. The next day as I got ready for church I said to God, “I don’t need to know the next step Lord, but I do just need you to meet with me today.”  The sermon was in I Cor 4 and though it may not have truly been the scope of the message here’s what resounded with me. “What would you do for Christ if you knew you could not fail?”  “We’re called to be stewards of this gospel with great amounts of thanksgiving…” “To want more than Christ is to want too much. But God is generous. You have already received everything in Christ. Paul is saying that the gospel is so big that it compels him to give it all up. Christ is everything.”

And so clearly in my mind was the Holy Spirit. “Ami you are a pastor’s wife.” So it became one of those days where I was utterly broken. Weeping uncontrollably, the thoughts were “You mean you could be giving this dream back God? You might want to do more than I can imagine? Who am I? Just a little life. Not equipped. Where would I even start? But if you want it I’ll do it. I give you financial security. My identity is not in my classroom. I give you what’s comfortable. I trust you. If you lead, and you equip, I’ll go.”  Perhaps I cannot fully communicate here the depths of those moments with God.

I was overwhelmed by the thought that even though Jon has died God might still give me the opportunity to do what I’ve longed to do…teach ladies, disciple, write, speak, share the gospel. How marvelous and utterly incomprehensible is His love!

But there was another struggle that I couldn’t put words to for a few days. Stepping out of my comfort zone, beginning a new ministry–feels like the beginning of life without Jon. God was asking me to start life without Jon. And that’s a really hard thing. It’s like a crushing weight. It felt like accepting that though I was Jon’s whole life (after Christ, of course!!), he may be only chapters in mine. Though he will be intricately intertwined in any endeavor, he is nevertheless, not here. Even now putting that on paper makes sorrow and fear well up inside. I’m having a hard time with this. I can’t stop loving him, and I don’t have to “get over” him, but God does want me to live. In the words of a wise friend, “It’s not healing or moving forward. Comfort. Always comfort.”

So here we are finally almost at the conclusion. But there just one more detail. A couple days after the “crossroads” day with God, I was invited to the home of a younger college student in our church so we could get to know each other better. And honestly I didn’t want to go. It had just been one of those hard days. I didn’t feel like giving or being a blessing to anyone. But I asked God for grace. And I went.

As we sat there talking, God did an incredible thing. Her willingness to open up about some struggles and questions she had caused me to say, “God I don’t know how to help. I don’t know how to encourage. You have to do this.” And then it was just phenomenal how much Scripture kept coming to mind. And it was only God who could do it! Not me. It was so beautiful to point her to the gospel application and see it resonate so clearly. It was beautiful to see God work in my weakness and in spite of myself.  God reminded me of the burning passion I’ve had for so long. He reminded me of what I had forgotten. And in my spirit was the willingness to take a risk. “Yes God. I know this is what you’re compelling me to do.” So I’d say that evening was definitely one of mutual encouragement! Perhaps I needed this dear friend much more than she needed me.

So here I am. I no longer teach at Christian Life School. Which I forgot to mention, was a decision that Jon and I had already made together. When we moved to Sycamore, we decided it was my last year teaching. He wanted me to work closer to home so I could be involved with ministry! We also thought that if I had gotten pregnant I would stay home with our child. But God had different plans. Better plans, I know I’ll realize some day. I don’t get to make decisions with Jon anymore. But I can still make this last one with him. That my friends, is yet another evidence of God’s tangible grace.

So what now God? I wait. I rest. I take a crazy step into the unknown. So far my vision for ministry includes one-on-counseling, small group studies, large group teaching, outreach at a women’s center, writing for real… We’ll see how God brings it together! It’s not about me. And I’m not the one who will do it. If He wants this to blossom, He will do it. And He will provide. I was told I need to start composing a support letter… scary.

But here’s the truth.

“You gave such great excitement to open the Word. This what I need to do. O God you are good. And I was struggling so much before going. But you worked in my weakness. Lord it just seemed like you were confirming ‘Yes, this is way I’m taking you beloved.’ It was like that great desire for ministry was burning inside again. Thank you for tremendous grace. Lord you are faithful. You are big. Show me your ways Lord. Teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me. These words in the Psalms indicate that you do teach! You do lead! You do guide! Your paths are based on your faithful covenantal love. And your covenant is based on Christ. Unconditional. I’m reminded of my great need and dependency on you. You don’t need me, and I can’t do this. Your paths are ‘chesed’–steadfast love. This is who you are- ‘emeth’– faithful. And together these prove that you are absolutely dependable to fill your promises. (From Psalm 25) You have already given me everything in Christ. Nothing then is too hard.”DSCN4052

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