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:

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Not Performance. Not fear of Punishment.

mine

“Live for the Audience of One.”

I remember the injunction clearly, and pondered what it meant for me, a teenager and new believer. I knew salvation was by grace alone, through faith in Christ alone. I understood my need, responded to his relentless pursuit, and experienced his saving power. I saw radical transformation, wildfire growth if you will. And I wanted to follow Christ with all my soul.

“I am no longer who I once was,” my heart rejoiced!

But many facets of this thing called the “Christian Life” were still fuzzy. Audience of One?

“Well that must mean ‘to live for God’s approval alone.’ I suppose God is more pleased with me when I don’t do certain things, but do other things. If he’s the audience then I must perform, right?”

And so, I tumbled into the trap of performance. Do this. Don’t do this.

My failures crushed me. I couldn’t measure up. “Didn’t read my Bible every day this week. Epic fail. God must love me less.”

I may never have said the words aloud, but if I was honest, I thought they were true. I knew I’d been saved by grace, but I lived like I still had to earn it.

I’d love to tell my teenage self some things. I suppose I had to learn them over the passage of time, but if I could, I’d save her years of guilt ridden, faulty belief.

The Audience of One already approves.

Have you forgotten who He is?

As a father grins at his lisping child, stumbling through one line in the Kindergarten play, so does the Audience of One beam. Everyone else sees a gymnasium, but a father sees Carnegie Hall.

The father approves, not for the merit of the performance, but because he looks and says, “Mine.”

I’d say to my teenage self, “Christ justified you. By His blood you are declared innocent. He took your sin, and put it on Himself. Not only that, He gave you His righteousness. You belong.”

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:1

“But God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with Him and seated us in the heavenly places in Christ.” Ephesians 2:4-7

Justified.

Just as if I’ve never sinned.

Just as if I’ve always obeyed.

He approves. On my best days and worst days, God loves me just the same. He looks at me and sees His Son.

“The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by his love; He will exult over you with loud singing.” Zephaniah 3:17

He looks at me and sees a daughter, no longer slave to sin but heir with Christ. I’m in the family. I belong. A proud father, he beams, “That one’s mine.”

Furthermore, He does not punish His own.

One root of a performance driven life is the fear of punishment. “If I don’t do xyz, I will be punished.” However, if I believe the gospel is true, I know that Jesus already took my punishment.

“By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also  are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.” I John 4:17-19

Jesus is very definition of perfect love. And His death and resurrection are the ultimate manifestations of perfect love, therefore crushing the fear of punishment. Because of Christ, believers stand confidently before God.

“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” I John 4:10

Propitiation is one of my favorite words. The consuming fireball of the Father’s wrath should have been hurled at me. Instead it was hurled at Jesus, and on the cross He took it all. He drank the cup of wrath completely.

Propitiation is “a sacrifice that bears God’s wrath and turns it into God’s favor.” (ESV Study Bible)

I will not face wrath. I do not fear punishment. In Christ I am the recipient of lavish, never failing, never ceasing, tangible, incomprehensible grace.

Sure, God disciplines His own, but that’s a vastly different action than punishment. Punishment exists to exact justice and judgment. Discipline is to instruct and to train.

Sure, my actions have consequences, and when I sin and need to repent. BUT my sins are covered by the blood of Christ. There has been atonement.

To live for the Audience of One isn’t fear of punishment. And it isn’t performance.

It is worship, the delight that flows from all Jesus accomplished on my behalf.

“Our obedience is not a fearful striving to please God but a thankful and joyous response to the love with which he has already embraced us and provided for us by the sacrifice of his Son. The gospel is indeed news of great comfort and joy!” (Gospel Transformation Bible)

The Audience rejoices, not on my merit, but because I belong to Him. My lines may be lisped, my song sung with cracking voice, but He looks and says, “Mine!”

Only one was an audience, the Audience of One. The smile of the King’s approval swept through the choir like fire across dry wheat fields. When the song was complete, the Audience of One  stood and raised His great arms, then clapped His scarred hands together in thunderous applause shaking the ground and sky, jarring every corner of the cosmos. His applause went on and on unstopping and unstoppable.”  -Randy Alcorn


I first published this post two years ago under the title “Mine.” I regularly need to be reminded of who Jesus is and who He has made me to be. So I thought it was worth revisiting. As I read through my original thoughts, some necessary additions came to mind. For why do we perform? Fear of punishment. Misplaced identity. Not knowing God’s character. A faulty understanding of grace. I hope this post has strengthened and encouraged you. Believer, I pray it makes you sing with confidence. I pray the truths of justification, adoption,  and propitiation resonate deeply with you today.

Our need for Jesus is exceedingly great. Without him we are doomed to face wrath and judgment for sin. He is the only true Savior, and through Him we know peace. Through Him we are reconciled to God, declared righteous, and no longer face wrath. Justification and propitiation– they aren’t just “theology” words. They are life-transforming realities.

And for the heart that is still struggling-

To Jon: On the Day Another Man Asked Me to Marry Him

Indulge me for a moment, for I must give a short preface. Throughout the journey, I’ve endeavored to write honestly, letting you in to the deep places. I’ve been compelled to let you in, for my hope is that you’d say, “How great is our God! He does beautiful things!” And as I penned a letter to Jon, still my prayer was “Lord, let them see you.”

Now, let me clarify, I am not praying to Jon, nor do I believe he is watching over me. I don’t know that God lets him see. He may have much better things to do, like worshiping the Creator, for example! A letter just seemed like the best way to get thoughts on paper. These are the things I would tell him. A letter seemed like the best way begin chapter two.


PicMonkey CollageLovee,

How do I begin? You told me once, (totally out of the blue) that if anything ever happened to you I needed to marry again. And flippantly I replied, “We’re not talking about that.”

I remember you took my arm, turned me to face you, and earnestly said, “No, listen to me. I would want to you remarry. I would want you to be loved and cherished.”

I don’t know what prompted you to say it, for it was long before God took you home—long before it was ever reality that we would not have a lifetime.

I’ve thought about those words many times.

Well Lovee, today another man has asked me to marry him. Perhaps God let you see it all unfold. He has given a kinsman redeemer!

And I’m so excited! So much has brought me to this place. So much has been processed. The valley was long and deep. But now there is ridiculous joy.

I’m so thankful that David and I get to reflect a facet of the gospel that most never experience. Kinsman Redeemer. How sweet it is! As Boaz redeemed Ruth, so is David redeeming me. How beautiful to point to Jesus in this way; His people were as the barren widow. But He calls her married, bought back, loved, and beautiful.

It’s still a little surreal that I will no longer be a widow, but I have long since realized that “widow” does not define my identity. I’m so thankful that broken things heal, and that burnt trees grow again.

I want you to know some things.

You’d love him. On more than one occasion, I’ve thought, “Jon and David would be such close friends.” He is all that you would want for me in a second husband.

He loves Jesus more than he loves me. He points me back to Christ, and speaks gospel to me when I am struggling. He loves the church, and he’s passionate about ministry. God has some big plans for David.

He is gentle, thoughtful, hard working, and uniquely equipped to walk this journey with me. He possesses immense quiet strength.

He has embraced all that I am and also the path God has taken me through, never making me feel ashamed to be a widow. Rather David has called my story beautiful.

I can’t wait for life with him! I adore this man so much. I can’t wait to spend our lives for the glory of Christ and for the Kingdom. You and I always prayed. “God do with us what you want.” And He has done good things.

He makes me laugh with his goofy silliness. He holds me close when I cry. And he even relishes our good friend Chuck Bartowski.— What more could I ask for?

Also, in much the same way that you lavished me with love, so David makes me feel cherished and treasured. One day David and I watched our wedding video together. It takes a strong man to not be intimidated by that. And I still don’t have adequate words to describe it—watching you, while being held by him. A deep-seated, strong realization washed over me. I love both of you with equal intensity.

Other widows have said, “It’s like God just makes your heart explode. He makes room for two.” It is so true. I’m like The Grinch whose heart grew two sizes too big. It is multiplied love.

Some don’t understand how “room for two” works. In light of the gospel, it makes perfect sense, however. Jesus’ love for the church is deeper than we can ever fathom. And as we know Him more, our love grows deeper and bigger too.

Of course the heart expands. God has made me to love again, and to love just as deeply.

You also need to know that I will never stop loving you. I’ll cherish my memories with you. I hold you close in my heart. But there are some parts of you I have to let go if I am to give myself fully to him

I think you would want me to let them go.

I took your rings off babe. Of course, I had to take a few minutes to grieve them. They’ll be kept safe. He didn’t ask me to take them off. But the time was right.

Jon, you were my first kiss, the first man to take my breath away. Your life is such a big part of the woman God has made me to be. You loved me well. So well.

And now there’s a second man who loves me well and takes my breath away. He’s captured my heart.

David and I will have much to learn as we start life together. I know we’ll fail each other and sin against each other just as you and I did. But we will also grow in holiness and love for Jesus together.

I belonged to you, and you to me. Now I’ll belong to another, and him to me. And if God has let you see, I know you are so happy. And of course, ultimately we all belong to Jesus.

Lovee, I miss you. But I am marvelously well.

I am ready for chapter two.

Still my heart sings our favorite song, “Oh Father use my ransomed life in any way you choose. And let my song forever be my only boast is you! Hallelujah! All I have is Christ! Hallelujah! Jesus is my life!”  He is the Best Redeemer.

I love you a thousand red m&ms,

Me.


“You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight is in Her, and your land Married for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be Married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” Isaiah 62: 4-5 

“So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife….Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may His name be renowned in Israel.” Ruth 4:13-15

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The Diving Board, Part 2.

When your Daughter-in-Law Starts to Date: Reflections of a M.I.L.
by Jill Neff

Jump inIt was not what I expected to hear standing in line, balancing my items and waiting my turn to pay. Absorbed with the myriad of games and candy bars, I didn’t pay much attention to the two women in front of me until these words registered in my distracted brain, “Well you know, a daughter-in-law isn’t really family or blood…”

Wait….WHAT?

I wanted to drop my items, hurry after her, and try to dispel the ridiculous notion I had just heard from her lips. For several hours, those words bounced around in my head, and I tried to imagine what the whole conversation might have been. And what would make a person say those words out loud?

From the first moment they called me “mom,” my two daughters-in-law have been special parts of our family. Two sons and their wives, supporting, encouraging one another, and forging a bond that swept beyond the biological definition of a family. Two sons and two daughters-in-law planning for a lifetime.

And then there were three.

Losing our son suddenly and without warning was a roller coaster of emotions, pain, grief, and, grace. So much grace. We shared the pain and grief with our daughter-in-law, Ami, and we grieved our loss individually as well. And God began to “heal the brokenhearted” (Psalm 147:3) and bind our wounds with cords of unending grace and love. Because if there was ever someone who understands brokenhearted, it’s God.  He gave HIS son in my place, willingly sending Christ to die on the cross for me.  Talk about brokenhearted.  He is intimately acquainted with shattered hearts, and He knew just what we needed to heal, giving His abundant grace and wrapping us in His love.

Now things are changing. Our sweet Ami has met someone special, someone who is willing to know her and understand the journey she has experienced. It’s a day I’ve prayed for and always believed in my heart would come.

And I feel like I’m standing right beside her on that diving board, sharing her anxiety, fearful of another loss. Feeling fragile. But I also hear the soft whisper from God’s word, encouraging me to think on honest, pure, lovely truth because this sweet, special daughter-in-law is completely in God’s hands, and His plans are perfect.

No fear allowed!

But if I’m honest, standing on that diving board holds another fear for me–the fear of a different form of loss. It’s a silly irrational fear, yes!  Because unlike the woman at the store, I believe that daughters-in-law are part of the family. Not born in by blood, but bonded in with love, each one is like a quilt piece woven into the fabric of our lives by a gracious God.

I don’t want to lose her. 

So here we are, poised at the beginning of a new part of this journey. Sitting across from her, I see it in her eyes. I hear it in her voice. She’s ready, brought to this moment by the grace and marvelous workings of a great God. And I realize I won’t lose her, I’ll do this journey with her.

So jump in Ami! The water’s fine. And I’m right behind you!


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Here’s to the diving board.

Perfect Love Casts out FearI’ve never been a “dip a toe in the water” kind of girl. I’d much rather jump right off the diving board and embrace the chilly jolt.

Everyone knows it’s easier to acclimate if you go all in, right?

I tend to face life this way also. Decisions are all or nothing, and apathy isn’t a prominent character trait. I’ve been known to rush in, yet most decisions are actually preceded by intense thought and prayer.

But when I jump, I jump.

My husband and I had dated about a month when I told him I wanted to marry him. Indeed it was a bold statement, but I knew he wanted the same.

I like taking risks. Recently, however, a latent fear rose to the surface; I didn’t realize I was still afraid of future suffering. I thought I’d dealt with that one long ago. Apparently it crept up again.

Sitting in front of a man who wants to date me and has embraced my widowhood with immense grace, I finally confronted the sin lurking in the shadows.

“What if I have to walk through death again? If I let this guy in, I could suffer more.” 

Through tears I admitted the fear. Pulling me close, he spoke life giving truth.

“You know God is good. You know He does all things well. He sovereignly leads and plans the best things for your life. You may be a widow again. But you may not ever be. Because of the gospel we don’t have to fear. There is so much joy.”

He’s right.

And just like that I decided to leap. I don’t know what God plans for this man and me, but it’s time to take a risk and see what could be. I need not fear future suffering or future blessing.

For “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” 1 John 4:18.

God loves me perfectly. Jesus loved perfectly, even to death on the cross. Therefore, I don’t have to fear.

In How People Change, Tripp calls all the pressures of this life “heat.” The trials, blessings, responsibilities, sufferings, joys, and challenges, temptations—all are heat that produce either thorns or fruit.

At the potential of something new, my thorny response was fear. And in this scenario, fear is sin.

It is a result of

  • forgetting who God is.
  • forgetting what He has done.
  • forgetting who He says I am.
  • forgetting that He has provided everything for a God-honoring life.
  • forgetting that He’s committed to making me holy.

Sometimes I cherish things more than I cherish Christ—

My comfort.

My expectations for a well-ordered life.

My temptations to compare a new relationship with the old.

Therefore, I turn from fear. However, to merely change my behavior would be counterfeit and superficial at best. I need radical heart change.

“At the cross God meets us in our sin and struggle with His heart transforming grace.” -Paul Tripp.

So, I ask. “Who is God and what does He say and do in Christ?’

God is good. He is working all things out for my joy and His glory. (Romans 8) Because Jesus had joy in suffering, when suffering comes I can meet it with a settled confidence— with joy, peace, rest, and even cheerfulness.

He gives Himself.

He provides.

As I view the transforming grace of Christ at the cross, thorns become fruit, and I trust my unknown future to a known God.

As for this guy?

Well, I’m a little giddy. I can’t wait to see what God does next.

Here’s to the diving board.


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This post appeared first at anewseason.net

 

Three Years: A song of Praise

Three years after death. An earlier sentiment is still applicable; the passage of time is both an instant and an eternity.

I miss him.

Of course, I miss him still.

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How vividly I remember Jon’s hands raised to the Lord, song tumbling forth passionately and sincerely. Overcome by the weight of the words and the worship radiating from him, I could merely listen to the voices around me, the text the silent prayer of my heart.

“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”

(All I Have is Christ, Sovereign Grace Music)

We often sang it in worship, and Jon cherished this song. He saw himself in the lyrics in every way— the man chasing after sin, running heedlessly toward the grave, but miraculously rescued by the grace of Christ at the cross. His was a life radically transformed.

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

He lived it. Not perfectly, it was the desire of his heart.

At his funeral I raised my hands, not holding back the tears. I cast my sobs onto Jesus, singing with strength completely outside myself. With clarity I imagined Jon singing too, but this time his hands were raised in the presence of Christ.

With more depth than ever before, still the text is the silent prayer of my heart.

“Oh Father, use my ransomed life in any way you choose.”

In this year of thirds, I noticed a radical shift. The sea was calm, the dreaded days peaceful, the marked moments much easier than the previous two. Deep loneliness didn’t greet me or cling like a parasite. Grief no longer seemed a tangled knot. It became a minor player, relinquishing its starring role.

So my story on the third anniversary of Jon’s death is highlighted by triumph. It’s been a year full of great joy, precise provision, and deeper relationships.

I say with the Psalmist,

“I will extol you my God and King and bless  your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever. Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and His greatness is unsearchable.. On the glorious splendor of your majesty and on your wondrous works I will meditate…”

On the glorious splendor of your majesty.”

It is because of God’s mercy and grace that I am on the other side of the valley, and I marvel at just how beautiful life feels.

Were there still difficulties in the third year? Were there still moments of sorrow? You bet. Difficult circumstances will always come, but the Gospel produces great joy amid them.

God’s sovereignty is a bright blue thread prominently stitched across his design. I couldn’t see it in the moment, but hindsight’s vantage point adds perspective.

The triumph is Christ’s. 

“And on your wondrous works I will meditate”

God has done beautiful things through Jon’s death. Sometimes I’m astonished by the way God works. I’m not the same woman I used to be; suffering produced higher joys and deeper peace.

Praise God for

“Light after darkness, gain after loss

Strength after weakness, crown after cross

Sweet after bitter, hope after fears

Home after wandering, praise after tears

Sheaves after sowing, sun after rain

Sight after mystery, peace after pain

Joy after sorrow, calm after blast

Rest after weariness, sweet rest at last

Near after distant, gleam after gloom

Love after loneliness, life after tomb

After the agony, rapture of bliss

Glory awaits beyond the abyss.”

(Light After Darkness, King’s Kaleidoscope)

And all of this points back to Jesus. He is light and gain. He is hope and praise. He is sun and peace.

Do I miss Jon?

Of course.

But God was good to me in the depths. He’s been good to me in the calm. And all I can do is praise him.

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


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And They Shall be Radiant

He is abundant. Reflecting on a year after death.

 

 

Brave Because He is Brave

I've BEEn adopted-2I have an unabashed love affair with children’s books. One of my favorite genres, I adore rich illustrations, flowing language, and whimsy. Words evoke emotions, and stir the imagination. I love when authors paint masterful imagery amid simplicity. A story well told is a fresh spring breeze.

Several nights ago I awoke to a peculiar though instantly recognizable sound. I listened in the stupor of the half-asleep, not sure I hadn’t merely dreamt it. There it was again, and I smiled at the unmistakable call of an owl. No joke. Despite my residential neighborhood, an owl must have been right outside my window! I’m not sure I’ve ever heard an owl in the wild before.

One of my favorite picture books sprang to mind.

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen is the story of a little girl who goes “owling” with her Father. She’s waited her whole life for the privilege, and the night spreads before her quiet and mysterious.

“It was late one winter night, long past my bedtime, when Pa and I went owling. There was no wind, The trees stood still as giant statues. And the moon was so bright the sky seemed to shine. Somewhere behind us a train whistle blew, long and low, like a sad, sad song.” 

And so we’re whisked along through eyes filled with wonder.

“I didn’t ask what kinds of things hide behind black trees in the middle of the night. When you go owling, you have to be brave.” 

How vividly I imagine a little girl clomping through the snow, trusting her strong father to lead the way. Perhaps she is a little nervous, a bit afraid of things that hide in the night.

But “when you go owling, you have to be brave.”

Brave.

Once I asked my kindergarten students, “Why was the little girl brave?”

Without hesitation and with full confidence, a small voice eagerly replied, “Because her Dad was there.”

What a gentle reminder of a bigger Father! As with any great story, Owl Moon points to the biggest story. Why do we love heroes? And redemption? And family? And good versus evil?

We long for the ultimate Hero. We long for the ultimate Father.

The little girl was not afraid because he was brave. She trusted her father. He was enough to face the “kinds of things that hide behind black trees.” He protected. And she was safe to enjoy the beauty of the night rather than fear the unknown.

How clearly the gospel rings from the pages of a simple children’s story!

I have a Redeemer who protects, provides, and is infinitely brave. I’ve been adopted, and I have a Father who loves me and makes me dwell in safety.

He knows the unknowns.

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.” Isaiah 26:3

But I don’t always trust my Father perfectly. Sometimes I fear the things that hide behind black trees. I forget to enjoy His presence. I forget to marvel at the adventure.

But He remains the same. Strong. Trustworthy. Brave.

Jesus trusted, therefore I can trust.

Jesus was brave, therefore I am brave.

“I knew then I could talk, I could even laugh out loud. But I was a shadow as we walked home. When you go owling you don’t need words or warm, or anything but hope.”

The owl continued his song in the night, and I drifted back to sleep–safe, warm, and protected.

Precious Thoughts on a Day Long Dreaded

The rhythmic crashing of waves upon the shore, a landscape dominated by water and sky, and the sun’s penetrating warmth: all are reasons I adore the ocean. The horizon stretches endlessly, intersecting with the very curve of the earth. How naturally worship comes! What a powerful, majestic, God I have! He is grace. He is mercy. These are not unusual thoughts when I dwell on the depth and plenitude of the sea.

Of all the wonders of the beach, I suppose I don’t often gaze at sand, however.

precious thoughts
It was a windy day, the precursor to rain and storms. I lay on the 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.” Two years, eight months, and three days I was married to Jonathan Atkins. Two years, eight months, and three days had he been gone.

As always on significant days, my thoughts swirled with the supposed implications.

I’m facing a day most widows never experience. So many get to be with their husbands for decades.

Does it mean he was just a minor character in the story of my life? Does it mean our marriage is invalid because it was short? Does it mean he no longer influences me and others?

Sometime I have feared fading memories, and shied away from the words “new chapter.”

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

“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)

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 this is the best I can do to rightly imagine the number of God’s thoughts toward his own. I cannot fathom their exhaustive nature. How truly precious!

How could such a great and glorious God care so deeply, so intimately, for little creatures such as we are? This is exactly what astonishes David. God is so great, yet He shows extraordinary care for His own. “ (Commentary, ESV Gospel Transformation Bible)

His thoughts about me are vast. 

He deals with me in more unique and intimate ways than any human ever could. By God I am thoroughly known and thoroughly loved.

“When I awake I am still with you.”

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

I contemplated the true implications. Jon being gone longer than we were married doesn’t change anything. He still has lasting influence. He’s still a major character.

New chapters are good things. For without them, there would be no forward plot, no grand themes, no riveting climax.

Before I was born God established the course of my life, a sub plot 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 thoroughly perfect nature of His plans.

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


This post appeared by Ami first at Intentional By Grace

And they shall be radiant.

My 30th birthday was epic. Yep, I know it’s a totally overused, dumbed down by pop culture kind of word, but I distinctly remember Jon’s enthusiasm.

“Babe your birthday is going to be epic!” 

I think he embraced the words “go big or go home” long before they ever became a catch phrase.

“Mrs. Atkins,

Your full cooperation is needed both today and tomorrow as we celebrate the epic milestone of crossing over into a new ‘decade.’ Your assistance is required. Please DO NOT leave school when you get out at 11:30. There will be a driver arriving to pick you up and transport you to the next stop on the birthday weekend. Your vehicle will be picked up at a later date.

Thank you for your cooperation and have a nice day.
Sincerely,
J. Atkins Cab Co”

And so it began. He had planned an entire weekend of surprises. New boots. Earrings. An afternoon seeing “Wreck it Ralph.” Dinner at The Melting Pot. And the next day, we took a trip to Galena, one of my all-time favorite, quaint towns. He also planned a surprise dinner with friends on another night.

The birthday fun never seemed to end.

Reminiscing about my favorite birthday mingles with a word that tumbles around my mind like clothes in the dryer.

Radiant.

And they shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall be like a watered garden and they shall languish no more. Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow…and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness declares the LORD.” Jeremiah 31:12-14.

Those who look to Him are radiant, and their faces will never be ashamed.” Psalm 34:5

Life felt radiant on my 30th birthday. Glowing smiles and twinkling eyes fill every picture. I was cherished, immensely loved, and I was excited.

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But there came a day when I wondered if I would ever be radiant again.

In the early weeks emotions were lava. “Lord, these words “they shall be radiant” magnify my sorrow and even make me a little angry. How could I ever be again? I want to reflect your goodness, but how will brilliant light reflect from a shattered life?”

I tumble the word over and over. Beautiful, flourishing, stunning, dazzling, and brilliant: connotations vividly spring to mind.

“Ami you seem exceptionally well these days.”

“Thank you. I am well.” 

How marvelous that others notice! My friend’s recent words penetrate my heart with joy.

I am well. 

The tumbling word greets me like a warm blanket. Radiant A healed heart, gladness, joy and dancing: I am well.

From whence does brilliance come? “Those who look to Him are radiant…”

True radiance results from beholding Christ. Because Jesus is light unimaginable, the gospel spoken and believed has the power to make my life shine.

The grain. He is the Bread of Life.

The wine. He is the Vine.

The oil. He is the Oil of Gladness.

The flock. He is the Great Shepherd.

A watered garden.  He is the Living Water.

My life might have felt radiant 3 years ago, but if it was, birthday fun and being spoiled didn’t cause it. If there is ever radiance, it emanates from Christ alone. It’s not found in circumstances, relationships, money, or things.. Rather, radiance resides in all Jesus is, all He has done, is doing, and will do

“My people will be satisfied with my goodness.”

God is good.

“And we all with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the LORD who is the Spirit.”  2 Corinthians 3:18

The more I see Jesus, the more I am transformed. O Lord, that my life would be a stunning reflection of you!

33 today. It may not be an epic day, but better than epic birthdays is to be satisfied with the goodness of the Lord. My heart is glad.

I don’t know if my life radiates Christ. Certainly there are times when it doesn’t! I struggle and sin just like everyone else. But I want it to.  

Lord this is my prayer. Make me more like you. Transform me. May your reflection shine more and more accurately from my life.

Radiant

Breakthrough. How Autism teaches me the Gospel.

open gatesWeek after week the toddler fought me. Our hours together were punctuated with severe meltdowns. Kicking, screaming, biting, and hitting: these were the norms (his, of course). I left each session emotionally and physically drained, weighted by sadness.

This little boy could not comprehend that I wanted good things for him. Sometimes he fought in anger, but sometimes he fought because he couldn’t make sense of his world. There is a fine line between a meltdown and a tantrum; the line is often blurry.

A family member struggled to understand, “Why is he so stubborn? Why doesn’t he just stop?” 

But he can’t stop. He doesn’t know how to help himself.

A developmental disconnect akin to a shorted circuit makes typical situations overwhelming. Slight changes in routine seem monumental and devastating, the result of an extreme preoccupation with rigidity.

Trust is not a part of his natural repertoire.

Week after week I sought him, reinforcing expectations through repetition, implementing calming strategies, returning his anger with patience and compassion. I’m constantly aware of my need for grace.

My work as a developmental therapist puts me in complicated situations every day. I regularly work with children with Autism and a myriad of other developmental issues. A common thread runs through the early sessions.

They fight.

They don’t understand.

They run.

They have meltdowns. And tantrums.

They avoid.

They hit.

They bite.

One day, something marvelous occurred. Music calmed. He let me touch his hands. He signed “more” and “please.” In 60 minutes, there was one meltdown. As we read a book, he leaned his back against me. Trust. The lights turned on. Hallelujah! We celebrated like the angels in heaven must celebrate when one sees Jesus for the first time!

Breakthrough.

I walked to my car, sank down on the seat, and shut the door. A sigh escaped, “Finally.”  And I thought of Martin Luther—

“I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through gates that had been flung open.”

After wrestling with ideas of righteousness and justification for many days, at last Martin Luther received glorious illumination, penning the now famous words—

I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God, and said, “As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the Decalogue, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!”

Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted.

At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.”’ There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. -Luther

Now before I go on, let me make something abundantly clear. I am not saying Autism is sin. But other parallels are unmistakable.

He fought.

He didn’t understand.

He ran.

He had meltdowns. And tantrums.

He was angry. He raged.

As a small child fought me, so do we fight. Without Christ we’re blinded, and our comprehension of glorious truth is short circuited.

We cannot understand that He wants good things for us; God seems like the enemy, the great punisher. When we’re honest, though, we recognize the heavy burden of attaining “righteousness.” And our failures seem to mock us, “It’s impossible. You’ll never measure up.”

We don’t know how to help ourselves. Moreover, we’re thoroughly incapable.

But how wide the gates of paradise fling open!

Righteousness is a gift—“the righteousness of God through faith in Christ for all who believe…and are justified by His grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3)

As I pursued a toddler with patience and compassion, so does Jesus pursue me. And you. As we celebrated the small graces, so does your Savior celebrate!

But how quickly I forget. Once again glorious truth is short circuited. No, I don’t lose the gift of His righteousness, but I forget that He is for me! I fail to trust. Sometimes I throw tantrums. Sometimes I try to run away.

When I look at toddler throwing himself on the floor, kicking, screaming, and eventually succumbing to exhaustion, so clearly I see myself.

But God gathers me up, pursues my heart, and again restores me to glorious comprehension. Breakthrough.

I can rest in truth.  He is for me. 


“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” Romans 8:31-32

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