Holy Work

“It’s holy work,” my heart whispered to my mind as I walked down the hall toward screaming siblings.

“It’s holy work,” the Spirit said as I knelt down to empathize.

Holy work.

Sometimes I get it right. Perhaps my children smell the fragrant aroma of the riches and grace of Christ. Perhaps their subconsciouses catalog the beauty of a redeemed life.

It’s holy work to show them Christ, to be their first and deepest exposure to the gospel, to give them their first constructs of what God is like.

Sometimes I get it wrong. They surely smell the stench of sin.

The trenches of daily life are the litmus test. Does the Jesus we proclaim on Sunday permeate our days on Monday?

We take the call to make disciples seriously. The work of shepherding, a holy calling. Jesus, the gospel-they are not add ons, not once a week “gave my tithe, filled my pew, did my duty.”

Jesus is our life.

In the same way speaking to a hundred women or leading Bible study is holy work, so is wiping another bottom, reading another book, washing another dish.

And loving them when they seem unlovely is an act of grace, a gift of worship.

I push back against mediocre, “Mommy needs a glass of wine” parenthood.

This much unseen, soil cultivating, seed planting work is valuable and important.

The messages they receive at home become a part of who they are. What am I telling them about their identity?

At a recent medical appointment the practitioner spoke about his young son, “I love him, but sometimes he’s a total expletive.”

I switched my next appointment to another doctor.

Because the little ones are image bearers also. They are gifts of grace.

They are sinners in need of Savior. But they were created for good and honorable things.

They were created to know the One who shows them their true selves.

So I do holy work, and pray they will know him.

Let the Children Come

She was a sad puddle of two year old, face down on the floor.

A combined Good Friday service with another church wound down in the background.

“I want more water!”

“Come here sweet girl. The cup is full. We filled it all up.”

The puddle remained. I held a sleeping Henry.

People flooded through the auditorium doors, and I felt the stares at the screaming child, now stomping her foot.

The puddle turned into a tree, rooted on the spot. And I didn’t want want to wake her brother.

“Charlotte I’m going to go get Daddy and come back.”

I looked back, and she poured the water on the floor.

//

I rocked Henry reflecting on stares and looks from people I don’t know. Church can be a hard place for small people (and their parents).

But stares and looks are trivial compared to the cross.

And the cup.

I offered her clean, cold water. It was there, but she couldn’t see it.

I’ve been the two year old.

“But Lord I want more water!!”

“I am the living water.”

The best, thirst quenching water. It’s Him. And he’s always full, overflowing. He gives and gives and gives.

He even gave himself.
And looked into another cup not full of cool, clean water, but overflowing brimming over with wrath.

It was there, and he could see it. But he drank it all.

Wrath satisfied.

He died for those little stomping feet.

//

“Let the children come,” he said.

There is room for puddles on the floor.

Gospel Thoughts on Re-wiring my Brain

I love light bulbs, the “aha” moments when all of a sudden two truths align and things make sense. I’ve been pondering a big one that feels life changing, or at least brain changing.

But first, a little background. Sanctification is becoming what you have already been declared to be. (Through Jesus, and only Jesus, you are justified or declared righteous.) You could call it spiritual growth or growing in Christlikeness. It’s a life long process. The Holy Spirit works in the heart of a believer, and the believer responds.

Here’s the flip of the switch.

What if sanctification isn’t just heart change but also literal brain change? What if “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” is in part re-wiring neural pathways?

What? That’s crazy!

Ok, I see you scratching your head. Don’t write me off just yet.

Have you ever heard the phrase “Neurons that fire together wire together?”

I have in several contexts, but I confess I haven’t really gotten it.

During my brief CrossFit days (I wish I still did it) I heard it in context of weight lifting; the more repetitions you do, the more automatic a movement becomes.

I’ve also heard about firing and wiring from occupational therapists as they provide deep pressure on arms and legs, from head to toe, and across the body. By activating those neurons together, they are teaching a child to regulate his nervous system so he can calm and focus.

Recently I heard it in a “Discipline that Connects” course (from Connected Families) David and I are taking. And this time all the bells and whistles went off in my brain.

Messages sent to the brain create neural pathways, and repeated messages fire faster and travel more easily. The more we use a neural pathway, the more it becomes a super highway.

Therefore, the more I am “large and loud” or angry and frustrated with my children, those responses are more easily triggered.

If I want to change the pattern, I need to change the pattern. My brain needs new messages. And it needs the repeated messages of interacting calmly and connecting with hearts before discipline.

My heart exploded with understanding and praise to God for a few reasons! Over the last four years I’ve been on a mission to seek God’s heart regarding shepherding our children. I have ready many books and studied Scripture as David and I have built our overall philosophy.

I have also been “putting in the work” to understand and process my own childhood trauma.

All of this creates and reinforces neural pathways.

As I have learned strategies to remain calm in high pressure parenting situations, I am literally re-wiring my brain. And the more “reps” I do across different circumstances, the more I’m becoming who I want to be.

When I kneel down and talk to my children instead of shout at them, neurons are doing some important highway construction— in my brain and in theirs.

I am encouraged that something physical is happening. Maybe if someone measured brain activity there would be a difference.

There is growth even if it feels SO slow sometimes. There is growth even if it feels like construction is at a stand still or an excavator dug a hole across the path.

I know my understanding of brain science is simplistic, but maybe, just maybe I’m also dismantling some neural pathways related to my own abuse and neglect.

But there’s better news! For a Christian, it’s even bigger.

If the strategies I am learning are rooted and grounded in the gospel, this is not mere behavior modification.

As I repeatedly remind myself of the truths of the gospel related to parenting (or any other struggle), those truths send neurons firing across my brain. The resplendent reality of the gospel physically changes my brain. What I actually believe about God, myself, and others physically starts to change.

Over many years a highway (among others) called “Identity” has formed. Construction on it will probably never end—an I-90 in my brain—but it’s getting bigger and better.

Perhaps brain change and heart change are connected.

Only God changes the heart, but as thinking changes so does the heart. What a complex mystery. Sanctification is God’s work. But I respond by recalling truth.

When I tell my small people…

“You are made in God’s image. Jesus loves you and died for you. He came to save sinners like you and me.”

Or
“Mommy needs Jesus also. Let’s stop and ask God for help.”

Or
“I know you are having a hard time. But I love you.”

Or
“You are called and capable. You are responsible for your actions.”

Or
“God created you. He can use your big heart, persistence, and determination for his glory.”

Or
“I’m on your team. We can figure this out together.”

…perhaps those repeated messages, will one day lead to heart change. Perhaps they will internalize the truths firing across the super highways in their brains.

That’s really good news.

Maybe all of this is a little too nerdy. But imagining neurons racing across my brain, is immensely encouraging. Some things are rewiring, some past highways demolished. God is a work in me. And I will keep actively repeating messages of truth.


Ephesians 4:20-24

“But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness”

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…

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.”

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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)