He Takes Good Care of Us

His hands were sticky and peanut butter smeared his cheeks. Strawberry jam coated the corners of his mouth. As I had done a thousand times before, I washed chubby hands and a bright-eyed little face.

“Mama, why you wash me hands and me face?” 

“Well buddy, I want to take good care of you.”

“Why you take good care?”

“Because God takes good care of us.”

“Why God take good care?”

“Because He loves us.” 

A short exchange, but my words penetrated my own heart. God takes good care of us. 

Pinpointed Care

It’s who He is: a God whose care is not only lavish but precise. Jesus fed thousands from a little bit of lunch, but He also embraced individuals who longed to be touched. He healed sickness, but waited to come until Lazarus was dead so He could display deeper, more extravagant care (John 11). He comforted some and admonished others. 

Jesus was not a far away philanthropist, tossing mass-produced, look-alike blessings from the sky. He taught with words His audience could understand, perfectly pinpointing the need of each heart.

His care in our lives is also precise. Shifting scenes come into focus, evidence of His precision: Specific Scripture passages spring to mind as I pray for comfort. A financial need is met at just the right time. A spectacular sunset radiates across the sky. A surgeon skillfully removes a tumor. A woman praises God at her husband’s funeral. A baby sleeps through the night. And on other nights the weary mama has grace to rise yet again, praising God for quiet, stillness, and soft baby skin nestled against hers. 

All are gifts of precise, tangible grace, flowing abundantly for the day when they’re needed.

Inexhaustible Compassion

How marvelous it is that God never has to prioritize whose need is bigger or more important? He has the power and compassion to meet billions, trillions, quadrillions—an infinite number of needs at once. 

My children are close in age, so I’m constantly evaluating whose need is more urgent—one calls for help in the bathroom, the toddler has bumped her head, and the distraught baby needs to eat. Sometimes I’m not exactly sure of the best response. I’m talking about total meltdowns when a two-year-old’s dinosaur sheets are in the washing machine or how to handle it when shouts of “It’s mine!” “No it’s mine! I had it first!” reverberate down the hall. It’s exhausting. And exasperating at times.

Praise God, He’s never exhausted or exasperated by the constant care his children need! He already met mankind’s biggest need, through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. So rest assured, your needs are not too great. Or too small.

God is also a Father characterized by perfect compassion toward his children. “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14 esv). He understands our weaknesses and gets down low to meet us there (Isa. 57:15). He is a shepherd who tends his flock with gentleness—especially the young (Isa. 40:11).

His care is precise, powerful, and perfectly compassionate—all because He loves us. Because Jesus took care of His own even to the cross, we know kindness when we deserve wrath, grace when we deserve judgment, and gentleness when we deserve rebuke. As a result, our care can reflect his care. We take good care of our own.

By this we know love, that he lay down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. (I John 3:16 esv)

Caring for the Needy

By sacrificially meeting our children’s needs, we get to show a fraction of God’s lavish love. God doesn’t leave His own in their filth, so even the physical act of cleaning our children is a kind of mercy. Of course, small children need a parent to do these things because they can’t do them on their own. How quickly they would succumb to their own excrement. How pervasive is our filthiness if not for Christ!

Sadly, not all children are well cared for by their parents. In a broken world, even the natural desire to provide and care for our most vulnerable is marred. Most folks in our culture are rightly appalled by horrific stories of abuse, but many still promote a “children are jerks” culture. 

A medical professional sat across from me talking about his young son, “I love him, but sometimes he’s a total *expletive*.” 

I made my next appointment with another doctor. Children are image bearers and loved by God. They are our little neighbors too.

May our parenting flow from a life overflowing with the fruit of the gospel—that is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22–23). We can be counter-cultural by not berating, shouting at, shaming, or demeaning our children.

Furthermore, remembering God’s care produces so much joy in the mundane. Instead of merely washing hands and faces for the seemingly millionth time, we get to touch a hand loved by God and cleanse little faces made in God’s image. What an attitude changer on a hard day! 

Do we begrudge them their neediness, become frustrated because they inconvenience us and demolish our “plans,” or do we realize the potential to show them the heart of Jesus? 

We cannot meet their spiritual needs, but by tenderly, generously, compassionately, and kindly meeting their physical needs we reflect the One who can meet all their needs.

Unseen moments, then, become acts of worship and reflect the heart of God.

A parent’s days are filled with unseen moments, but they’re holy moments, nonetheless. Holding a hand in a parking lot, rocking a sick baby in the night, giving a toddler clean clothes after a potty accident, changing a blowout diaper, loading a dishwasher—all reveal something about God to the people around us. Whether we like it or not, the way we parent contributes to our children’s perceptions of themselves and of God. Unseen moments, then, become acts of worship and reflect the heart of God.

Is He a God who is rough and gruff? Is He fickle, some days speaking calmly and others flying off the handle? Does He grudgingly get up to answer our cries? 

Sometimes I’m fickle, selfish, and moody, but “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8). Amen.

Commenting on Romans 2:4, Jared C. Wilson writes, “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance. Not his law, not his berating, not his exasperation or his cajoling. His kindness.”1

I wish I could say I’ve never been guilty of berating, cajoling, or exasperation. But because the Holy Spirit indwells believers and the gospel empowers us, we can respond to our children with kindness and gentleness. We can respond rather than react. 

But what about when we sin against them? What about when we don’t meet needs tenderly or do give in to anger boiling inside?

Well, God’s kindness leads us to repentance also. He is notoriously patient and long-suffering, and his compassions fail not. Over and over his mercies are new (Lam. 3:22–23). He is near the contrite and lowly because Jesus already paid the penalty for selfishness, angry outbursts, frustration, desire for convenience, and all the other parenting temptations that come our way. 

When we sin we are encouraged to bring our mess to Jesus because he will know just how to receive us. He doesn’t handle us roughly. He doesn’t scowl and scold. He doesn’t lash out, the way many of our parents did. And all this restraint on his part is not because he has a diluted view of our sinfulness. . . . His restraint simply flows from his tender heart for his people . . . rather than dispensing grace to us from on high, he gets down with us, he puts his arm around us, he deals with us in the way that is just what we need. He deals gently with us. —Dane Ortlund, in Gentle and Lowly2

On our best days and on our worst, He is our intercessor and advocate who constantly brings us before the throne, His own righteousness covering us (1 John 2:1–3Heb. 4:14–16). He silences the accuser, and we recall who we are—called, capable, new creations, redeemed. 

He has cleansed us from our own filth. More than that, He moves toward us and embraces us, and is committed to the work He began. He will sanctify his own (Phil. 1:6). Therefore, we walk forward without shame.

So take heart friends, He takes good care of us.

Jared C. Wilson, The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2017).

Dane C. Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021).

This post was previously published at Revive Our Hearts

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Countless Thoughts

Giggles pealed through the air contrasting the rhythmic break of waves against shore. Children ran, full of joy, letting water crash against their ankles. Shovels plunged into sand. Fingers and toes curled, greedily exploring the texture as if they were made for sand and sea. 

“Look at this beautiful shell Mommy!” They showered me with shells indiscriminately, gifts of grace from precious hearts. 

“Mommy look at those huge birds!”  Pelicans glided across the water in single file, gracefully swooping down. They were proud, showy, confident of their place in the world. 

“There’s a man on a skate board, and he’s using a parachute in the water!” My nearly three year old who is blessed with the gift of many words, gazed in wonder at a kitesurfer. I marveled at her apt description of a concept she’d never seen before. Every minute was fresh with discovery. Every new site met with delight. 

I drank in the scene admiring the horizon stretching endlessly, intersecting with the very curve of the earth. Ocean, sand, sky— together resplendent—they couldn’t help but praise the one who made them. How naturally worship flooded my heart! What a powerful, majestic, God I have! Even the beauty of creation is a gift of grace.

I had waited for this day. Illinois has some lake beaches, but they’re kiddie pools (or cat pools as my little ones say. See the sweet misunderstanding there?) compared to the ocean. I longed to take my children to the ocean, and their first experience with it was every bit as lovely as I imagined it would be.

Playing in the water, building sand castles, eating sandy snacks—there was no quiet contemplation, or nose buried in a book. But the beach with kids was delightful.

Gears of time turned, and in my mind I contrasted another, earlier day.

It was windy, the precursor to rain and storms. I lay on a beach towel, soaking in the rays, yet aware of the more than average wind. Sighing, I closed my book, and propped my chin on folded arms. From my vantage point, I had an up close and personal, lavish view of nothing more than sand.

Alone with my thoughts, I contemplated “the long dreaded day”- the day he would be gone longer than we had been married. Two years, eight months, and three days I was married to Jonathan Atkins. Two years, eight months, and three days he had been gone.

My mind swirled with implications. “I’m facing a day most widows never experience. So many get to be with their husbands for decades.”

Sand whirled, reacting to the force of the wind. My face inches above the beach, I searched for an indiscernible pattern, noticing individual grains whisked along by something outside themselves

“How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you.” (Psalm 139:17)

If I tried to count the grains of sand in the square foot in front of me, it wouldn’t take long to realize the futility of my endeavor. How ridiculously more impossible to number all the grains of sand on every beach and under every ocean!

But a string of zeros marching across my imagination is the best I can do to comprehend the number of God’s thoughts toward me. Now multiply that by seven billion people on the earth. It’s unfathomable. God has countless thoughts about me? About each image bearer? 

All I can do is marvel. 

Writing Psalm 139, David overflows with astonished wonder. How can it be that the God who is glorious and transcendent is also personal and intricately involved in his small life?

“The intimacy of David’s relationship with God is put on beautiful display through this Psalm. David knows that God’s care for him is so deep and thorough that every step he takes, every word he speaks, is known fully by the Lord who has numbered all of his days before they began. Indeed his days began as God formed him while yet in his mother’s womb. His very inward parts and every aspect of his life have been designed by God himself. No matter where David may travel, far or wide, he knows that God’s Spirit is always with him, that God always knows the situations he is in. To imagine the detailed and exhaustive nature of God’s thoughts toward his own children, as David here exemplifies truly is precious.” (1)

His thoughts about us are vast, and he deals with us in more unique and intimate ways than any human ever could. By God we are thoroughly known and and still thoroughly loved (2)

“In your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” (Psalm 139:16)

Before I was born God established the course of my life, a tiny though meticulously planned subplot in His epic redemptive tale. He was sovereign over the length of days I had with Jon. He orchestrated our meeting, and His timing was perfect. To wish for more time, is at its root to doubt God’s character. It is to doubt the vast, detailed, and utterly perfect nature of His plans.

There were times I did doubt. But God always brought me back.

Even if I stopped being known as “Mrs. Atkins,” or slowly became surrounded with friends who didn’t know Jon or the me I had been with him, I was still known

It had taken me a while to figure out who I was after death ripped me in half.  But as I walked farther down the path away from the valley of death, I started to look forward. It was ok to be me without Jon. 

For truly my life is hid with Christ on high (Galatians 2:20). As I gaze on him, I know who I am. 

I closed my eyes, breathed in the salty air, and rested in the beauty of being fully loved and fully known. On a day I long dreaded, I realized I had nothing to fear.

Fast forward, back to children playing in the sand. Sorrow mingles sometimes, but on this day there was nothing but joy and laughter. I watched my husband, David, playing just as gleefully as the kids were, scooping them up then dipping them in the waves. 

I was given two years, eight months, and three days with Jon. To date I have had five years, 10 months and 17 days with David. We’re closing in on six years quickly. 

How much more striking is the narrative of my life written by a perfect, sovereign hand than what I could ever think to pen. I wouldn’t have chosen death. But without it I would never have this man, these children. 

This is a story of two contrasting days drawn together by a common theme. One day lonely, quiet, wondering what was next, fearing the piling on of days and Jon becoming a background character. And a second day, full of laughter, contentment, and the boisterous play of three under five. 

But both days drew my heart to worship. Both reminded me of an unfathomable God who also knows me precisely. The same God who created vast oceans and innumerable grains of sand knows me.

I tend to share my struggles openly and deeply. I want to be as known as people will let me be. However, though our culture loves the words “real” and “authentic,” we only want them to a certain extent. Somewhere there is an invisible line we dare not cross. 

Sometimes we want just enough of others’ messiness to feel better about ourselves. Other times we truly do care, we just have no idea how to respond. Too much confession, too much grief, too much depravity makes others uncomfortable. And besides who wants to always be the “broken” friend? So sometimes I do what we all do— put on my respectable face. Don’t overshare. Don’t weigh everyone down. Don’t be “too much.” 

But it is not so with God. Even if I tried to put on my respectable face, he knows all of my ugliest parts; he is not afraid of them. And he loves me anyway. I have learned I can always run to God with my sin and struggles. I need not hide because the transcendent God, bowed low enough to be born a helpless newborn and bowed even lower still to die on the cross. He always meets me with mercy and grace. 

Although he knows everything about me, he still dwells with me. Though he has countless thoughts about me, he remembers my sin no more (Isaiah 57:15, Hebrews 8:12).

All I can do is marvel and respond with lifted hands. 

“What is our hope in life and death?

Christ alone, Christ alone

What is our only confidence?

That our souls to him belong

Who holds our days within his hand?

What comes, apart from his command?

And what will keep us to the end?

The love of Christ, in which we stand.”  (3)

Lying crumpled in the valley of death, Christ is the hope. Rising, limping, staggering up the slope, Christ is the hope. Looking forward as the path winds around the bend, Christ is the hope. And even on bubbling with joy, resplendent, playing by the sea days, Christ is the hope. 

And this hope is not nebulous or wishy washy. It’s not the way our vernacular uses hope. “I hope it doesn’t rain” or “I hope I can get that stain out your clothes.” We think hope is a “maybe.” Perhaps something good will happen, but it isn’t guaranteed.

However, true hope in Christ is confident expectation. It is something steadfast, sure, guaranteed. He is exactly who he says he is and will do exactly what he has said he will. 

My confidence may be shaken. It may even start to crumble. But hope is built not on my ability to believe, but on the one who holds me, you, every blade of grass, every galaxy, and every atom together. This God who is hope knows every fear, worry, and every wretched thought I have. He knows the beautiful ones too. Fully known, yet fully loved. This God purchased hope with his blood, and he lavishes it on my soul like innumerable grains of sand poured on every shore and under every ocean. 

To be known. To be thought of countless times. To be met each day with precise hope.

All I can do is marvel.

Commentary on Psalm 139, ESV Gospel Transformation Study Bible: Christ in All of Scripture, Grace for All of Life: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018).

 Timothy Keller and Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2016).

3 Keith Getty et al., “Christ Our Hope in Life and Death,” Getty Music, accessed August 23, 2022, https://www.gettymusic.com/christ-our-hope.

An edited version of this article first appeared at Revive Our Hearts

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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