He doesn’t choose the wrong color.

IMG_1794I snuggled under a blanket with coffee in hand and a stack of well loved, leather bound books beside me. Any day that includes coffee and reflection is music to my slightly introverted and massively introspective soul. Sometimes, I need to reflect on where I’ve been to know where I’m going.

Though distinguished in pattern and color, certain characteristics unite the beloved tomes. I have a decided tendency to underline key words, pepper the pages with exclamation points, deem paragraphs unnecessary, and draw boxes around the really important stuff. Smudges and tear stains bear traces of emotion, of words flowing from heart to page. My handwriting remains the same, and the pile grows larger with each passing year.

It’s just ordinary ink on paper.

I’ve written in journals for almost 20 years. Over time, themes weave from page to page. God’s sovereignty is a bright blue thread prominently stitched across the design. I couldn’t see it in the moment, but hindsight’s vantage point adds perspective. His faithfulness is gold mingled with pure, silver grace.

His love is saturated red, another color sweeping across the years. Its pigment deepened as my understanding grew. Provision, security, and longing each play their parts in shades of green and yellow. Life felt beautiful in the purples. On other pages worry and fear add splashes of gray. Repentance is a fiery orange. And then there is the black of grief. Some pages have lots of black.

All of these intertwine against the backdrop of brilliant white, a dazzling radiance, enhancing the beauty of every other stitch. Even the black.

A brilliant white–Jesus. The cross. Redemption. Lavish grace upon grace.

“…to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of His will according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ.” Ephesians 1: 6-9

I turned page after page relishing the prayers and memories. In the depths I cried out. To green pastures I was led. In the torrents I clung to the Rock. Beside the still waters I sang with praise.

My journals will probably never be read by the masses. And frankly I’d be appalled if some pages were. Yet if my ramblings last into eternity, let dazzling white be the focal point, the element unifying and completing the design!

It’s just a stack of well-worn leather books. Nothing special. Ah, but perhaps you need really look with eyes to see. A glow of intense, rich color streams from the pages, replacing ordinary ink with embroidered works of art.

I didn’t make it a beautiful thing. But God did.

“Father right now life feels flowery. ‘The sea of life’ is calm. Spring is here literally and figuratively. So much redemption and so much beauty radiates right now. Hope blossoms. The possibilities spread before me like a great feast.. Storms aren’t raging, and the sea billows don’t roll. But in this time of abundance I’ve noticed something. How tempting it is to neglect running to you with the same intensity as when the world felt blackest black. I haven’t always pursued you first. Lord ever draw me closer to you. Be the Captor of my affections even in the springtime greens. Keep me longing for my First Love.”

Keep me longing for my First Love.

Writing helps me process. Reflecting makes me remember. God is the weaver, the master designer. And He never chooses the wrong color.


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Please give them many years.

IMG_1890My friend was radiant, glowing in her white gown, a gorgeous bride. But her physical appearance paled against the backdrop of Christ radiating through her.

She’s one of those rare, costly gems.

We’ve laughed a lot over the last several years. We’ve cried a lot too, processing much grief and grace together. And we’ve dived deep into Jesus.

We’ve also spray painted countless (well 250) wine bottles, and have borne the black, stained hands to prove it. It’s been such a joy to share in the excitement of my friends’ wedding and marriage planning. Such a joy.

The edges of her veil sparkled, the tiny beadwork complemented her dress perfectly. I know the veil well; it has hung in my closet for the last six years. It’s not uncommon that I stop in my tracks and admire the delicate pattern sewn into the tulle, lingering to recall the day it adorned my own hair. Sharing my veil with Bobbi made my heart sing.

Standing behind her, with my hand on her arm, I brushed away tears, while others prayed. It felt like such a privilege to be counted among her closest friends, together bringing her marriage before the throne.

I began to speak, my turn to pray. I thanked God for such dear, beautiful friends, and asked that God be exalted in their marriage, that the gospel of Christ resonate from them. I asked God to grow them in grace and love for one another.

And then I pled  “Lord, please give them many years together.”

A sob caught in my throat. I paused long, willing myself to go on, to push through my own emotions and the collective emotions around me.

My emotion was for her, knowing she has faced the death of both parents, knowing her new husband has leukemia. He has an excellent prognosis, and doctors believe there is no reason he won’t have a long, healthy life. But sill they have faced many unknowns over the last few months.

I don’t want any of my friends to know the reality of a husband dying young. So I pray, “Lord if it be your will, give them many years. Let them grow old and gray together.”

So I suppose my sob was a little bit for me too, There was a moment of grief for the years Jon and I did not have.

But also tied in the tangle of emotions, was another face, a hazel-eyed, six foot two, giant teddy bear who has stolen my heart. I’ve been given another good gift. And I marvel that I am again cherished. So much overwhelming joy!

I have said it before—because of the gospel, joy and sorrow mingle in a beautiful dance. And they danced flawlessly in this poignant moment where time stood still.

I think it’s only when we walk through the deep grief, that we begin to understand how joy and sorrow can complement each other like intricate beadwork against a stunning wedding gown.

So clearly I saw the gospel.

On her wedding day, she was spotless, a dazzling bride, completely ready for her groom. Abundant joy overflowed. But there were still mixed emotions.

She missed her parents.

I missed Jon.

Because we’re caught between the already and the not yet, we miss them. We know we’ll see them again, but still we await eternity. There’s still sorrow because the world is still broken.

But I also saw restoration for my friend and for me. Jesus has given us beauty out of ashes. Ultimately He gives it in Himself, the best gift! He took sorrow, so we have joy. However, in great compassion, He gives beauty in ways that seem more tangible to our finite minds. Our God is that good.

Praise God for abundant, overflowing joy that is deeper, richer, and higher in the face of sorrow. Because of sorrow, joy is richer and peace is deeper. It’s one way He sanctifies.

And one day the mingling will cease. Sorrow will give way to inexplicable joy. And all the tears will be wiped away. He will glorify.

No matter how many earthly years my friends have, eternity awaits! Therefore, I pray confidently, “Give them many years.” Though they’ll no longer be joined in human marriage, they’ll  be a part of the Great Marriage. They’ll have countless years.

And so will I.

As she eagerly anticipated her wedding day, so we long for the Grand Wedding when Christ returns to claim His bride.

It was delightfully happy day. I love weddings.

Though sorrow mingled, it graciously slid to the background, and made room for an explosion of vibrant joy that captivated the fore.

What a foretaste! How we long for the true Groom, with whom the years will be unending!

Come, Lord Jesus. Come


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A Handful of Wilted Flowers

for every momentBright yellow bursts are cropping up all over my yard. Dandelions. Some call them weeds, but I love them. I really do. Reminded of a memory from three years ago….

Happy squeals wafted through the open window. Glancing up, I studied the gleeful, boisterous play. Children climbed on jungle gyms. Some jumped rope. A fierce game of soccer was in full swing, and everywhere there was laughter and innocence. I put my head down on the desk, and contemplated crawling right under it. A tear fell, a wet circle on a stack of papers–“the new normal”.

Sorrow. I let it linger for several heartbeats.

“Pull it together Ami. They need you.”

I lifted my head, soaking up the commotion of recess once more, as if by watching I could trap a tiny part of their joy. How I longed for a return to the carefree.

Day after day I held it together for my Kinders, but melted into sobs on the way home. I’d had to return to work, however. I needed someone to need me.

I suppose I needed them as well.

Often I felt a small, warm hand slip inside mine as we walked down the hallway. Without looking I knew which child it was. He was unusually perceptive for his age, seeming to know just when I struggled the most. Comfort was intuitive.

My littles and I had also gotten to have many conversations about death. And Jesus. And Heaven. And grace. For all that, I was thankful. But some mornings it was a feat just to get out of bed.

Soon I left my quiet sanctuary and stepped into the spring sunshine to gather my gaggle of geese. Faces flushed from play, they fell in line like happy little goslings, fearlessly trusting.

“I picked some flowers for you Mrs. Atkins.”

He beamed, a handful of crushed dandelions stretched out in his chubby little fist. I knelt at his eye level. “They’re so beautiful. Thank you buddy! I love them.”

He threw the weight of himself at me in a the biggest hug a five year old could muster.

They were merely wilted weeds, a bunch of crushed dandelions. But they were more lovely than dozens of roses. Given of a pure heart, out of delight, he just wanted his teacher to smile.

And smile I did.

Thank you Lord for the small graces. Thank you for the rays of sunshine amid the clouds. 

I imagine it’s something like giving to God. The treasures I present are little more than wilted flowers. He’s the God who owns everything. He doesn’t need my dandelions.

I bring my weaknesses, my tainted motives, my sin. I bring no merit of my own.

He brings His righteousness.

So He grins with delight at my feeble, childish offerings. To Him they’re supremely lovely because they are clothed in the righteousness of Jesus. He delights because He looks at me and sees His Son.

When I remember that, I can’t help but want to bring Him all the flowers I can gather. I delight in Him. And as a result. obedience and love flow from the abundance I’ve received– identity, reconciliation, adoption, salvation, inheritance, restoration. And most importantly, I’ve been given Him.

And here’s the thing. I would have smiled at my little Kinder, even he had never brought me a thing. My love for him was not a result of his behavior.

How beautifully freeing.

My Father delights in me.

Placing the flowers in a prominent place on my desk, I smiled again. My Father delights in me. He gives grace for every moment. And sometimes grace is a bundle of wilted dandelions.


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This post appeared first at anewseason.net

It Changes Everything.

hello.-2I’ve never been a part of a 12 step program, but we all know the classic “Let’s introduce ourselves” moment.

“My name is Ami. I’m 33. And I’m a widow.”

Hi, Ami.

I’ve now boiled down the sum of my existence into ten words that “define” me, and everyone turns to the next poor sap. It seems like such a sad reality.

Is this all that I am?

And of course, we’ve all been in similar situations any time a new person is added to a group.

Say your name, where you’re from, what you do, and one interesting fact about yourself. Or if we’re really getting creative, “What super power would you have?”

What do I say about myself?

  • My name is Ami.
  • I’m 33.
  • I’m originally from Virginia.
  • I’m a teacher, a developmental therapist, and a wannabe writer.
  • I walked down the runway at the Miss America Pageant when I was a kid (a story for another day).
  • I am a widow.

I don’t usually say the last one. But it’s often on my mind. And I never know what superpower I would choose. Maybe I’d have the power of instantaneous housework. Snap my fingers and it’s done. I digress.

It’s a little more defined picture, but still so limited. I’d much rather get down to the business of really knowing and being known.

WAIT A SEC. SOMETHING’S WRONG HERE.

The crevice widens, creating a gaping schism. The tectonic plates below the surface shift, altering the landscape until it’s something new entirely. As an earthquake creates a radical shift in topography, so do I sense a profound shift in my thinking.

The lame introductions are arrows landing far short of the target. None of those things define me. They’re all part of me, but are they really what make me me?

I’m not who I think I am. My thinking is fundamentally flawed.

What if I were to introduce myself this way?

“My name is Ami. I am a new creation in Christ. I’m adopted, redeemed, reconciled, and justified. I am being sanctified. And I happen also to be a widow, a teacher, a developmental therapist, and a writer. Someday I’ll also happen to be wife again and perhaps a mom, but those are all tangential. I am a new creation.”

Well, the average person sitting around the circle might look at me like I’m crazy, but I just flipped my identity on its head.

If I’m defined by my circumstances, profession, age or anything but Christ, I place my precious hopes and dreams in something fleeting, ever changing.

But in Christ, identity is constant, sure, and real.

If I define myself as wife, mom, teacher, or a myriad of other callings, what happens to my identity when they’re stripped away? What do I hang my hat on then?

I’ve walked that road. And it’s not pretty.

BUT IDENTIFYING MYSELF AS A NEW CREATION CHANGES EVERYTHING.

Identity in the cross of Christ supersedes whatever struggle I am going through. It frees me from fearing future suffering. For even if I were to walk through the death of a second husband, I would still be chosen, redeemed, beloved, cherished, biggest need already met, and lavished with grace. I would still be complete in Christ. I would still know that He is good. And I would still be me.

It reminds me that the power of sin has been broken. I am new.

I am bought with a price, and my life is not my own.

It transforms my responses to the paper cuts and the gaping wounds.

I’ve been given a new name and a new identity.

“The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. 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.” Isaiah 62:2-4

This is way God speaks of His own. What an incredible earthquake sized reality!

I am a new creation in Christ.

WHAT IF WE ALL THOUGHT THIS WAY? DANG. THAT’S LIFE CHANGING.


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This post appeared first at intentionalbygrace.com

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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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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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

 

But God.

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

Guest post by Meg McAusland


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But God… 

There are no sweeter words to my ears.

 But he (God) said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.- 2 Cor. 12:9-10

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

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

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


He weaves the stories together:

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Adoption and the County Fair

I won’t shut them out

Just a Recipe

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!”


What has gone before:

An oak of righteousness? Two Years After Death

Precious Thoughts on a Day Long Dreaded

And They Shall be Radiant

He is abundant. Reflecting on a year after death.

 

 

He Triumphs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He triumphs.

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