Impostor? Not anymore.

Impostor?

Yes, sometimes I think I have a gigantic sign hanging around my neck labeled “impostor.” I desperately try to cover it up with scarves, sweaters, pretty smiles, you name it. But still I see it there, peeking out threatening to expose the true me.

So, I’ve decided to hang it in plain view for all to see.

Mockingly, it jeers its litany: I struggle to trust God on a daily basis. I often believe I am ineffective for Christ. Why would God want to use someone like me? I have dishes in my sink and clothes on the bedroom floor (at least they’re clean). I don’t live life well without someone to take care of. I am a weak, fragile, sheep who can never get her act together. I’m no longer a normal person with a normal life. I just pretend to be a teacher. I’ve got everyone fooled into thinking I have responded in faith… Impostor.

And so the list goes on. Some of it is true. Some of it is lies.

I’m reminded of a professor in college who always said. “Well you should just go get your white t-shirt, your black sharpie marker, and write on it in big letters. I DON’T READ MY BIBLE.”

He’s right. Although some of those things are true, I no longer lug around my impostor sign. What? You just said you hung it there for all to see!

Well, I did, but Someone took it.

Because here’s the REAL truth. Someone came along with his own sign, and labeled it Beautiful. And all around he wrote the words, redeemed, justified, chosen, adopted, reconciled, new, valuable, precious, beloved…

And so this Someone took his Beautiful sign, removed it from his neck, and put it on me! Then he did the most unbelievable thing. He took my IMPOSTOR sign, hung it on Himself, and displayed it in plain view for all the world to see.

“It is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace.” (Hebrews 13: 9) This is the grace I need to hear. Perhaps you need to hear it too? For surely I am not the only one who tries to take back my sign.

How incomprehensibly lovely it is that I cannot take it back! Someone won’t let me. He tells me constantly, “No, this is who you are now. Beautiful. Because I made you to be so.” (Ephesians 1:3-14, Isaiah 62, Romans 8)

So then my only response left is, “Someone, I adore you.”

Impostor? Not anymore.

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Journal Entries: I’ll let them speak for themselves.

IMG_20130717_112154_853I have kept a journal since I was 14, and I’ve learned that I need to use a leather bound book, lest it fall apart before I’ve adequately filled its pages. These journals are nothing spectacular, just a compilation of written prayers to God, notes on sermons I’ve heard, and reflections from my alone time with God. When I look back though, I weep at all God has done in me.

I see the foolish little girl with her extremely specific list- “Characteristics of My Future Husband,” whose consuming desire was to marry immediately upon finishing college.  I can look back on new-believer zeal, yet lacking wisdom and grace. But I also see the faith that knew nothing was impossible for God. I could look upon the college girl, questioning and seeking to develop her own convictions. There are the single years of longing and learning contentment in Christ. I could find the book that marks a fundamental shift in belief, that is, when grace really started to make sense.

There are pages for financial pressures, family crises, and pages pleading on behalf of loved ones. There are pages of struggle, fear, and doubt, and pages full of joy and thanksgiving. And there are many, many pages filled with Jon.

I started a new journal after Jon died. For how could I possibly write about such agony on the last pages of an almost spent journal? Something as big as death required a new volume. This morning, however, as I searched in a brown, leather book for some notes I’d written on Isaiah 40, I was quickly drawn back to 2012 and the beginning of 2013. To the year leading up to Jon’s death. That was not so long ago, of course. It’s not even been nine months since I last got to kiss him and tell him I loved him.

So, let me step back to the time before life was radically altered.  I’m calling this post “Journal Entries.” I’ll try to let them speak for themselves. I’m not exactly sure why I even want to share some glimpses of them with you. But just so you know, I open this window into my private world with a little trepidation.

3-3-12  “Jesus has abolished death for me, and that truth is a consuming fire. You are the God who is guarding me. If I can completely entrust my soul to you, I can entrust the rest of life to you as well. Lord help me not to run from trials or try to short change the work you’re doing in me. Thank you for financial difficulties. Thank you for the possibility of endometriosis. I trust you will provide for the surgery. Thank you that we have not been able to get pregnant. Teach me what you want me to see.”

3-23-12 “God you are sovereign in all things, Lord even in the results of surgery. It is odd because when a doctor says you have a healthy reproductive system it should be cause for praise and rejoicing! But I admit I’m frustrated because it seems like the surgery was a waste and for nothing. I still have pain, and we don’t know why. Lord speak to my heart. Jon prayed right before surgery, “And we will praise you regardless of the results.”  How ludicrous it is that I’m having a hard time praising you for ‘healthy’. I suppose it is that it gives no answer to ‘why no children?’ Help me to praise you God.

O God! My eyes just landed on the verse I wrote down a couple days ago– Your thoughts are precious toward me. You think tender, loving thoughts. You are a good Father who always does right.”

4-11-12 “Lord you are beautiful. You are holy. You always do good. Transform me by your grace. I know you don’t need me, and that I don’t deserved to be used by you. But thank you for letting me ‘play in the sand.’ I want to be where you are. I want to be a part of what you’re doing. ‘Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord; His going out is as sure as the dawn; He will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains water the earth.’ (Hosea 6:3) God you desire ‘steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6) God you want me to be near you. You desire that I delight in you as much as you delight in me!”

6-4-12 “Redemption is not about me God, but about you! ‘Behold your God!’ I want to gaze on you and adore you. You are mighty and powerful. Yet you are also a shepherd. ‘He will tend his flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in his arms; and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that area with young.’ This incredible description of you in Isaiah 40 is too big to comprehend. ‘The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.’ I rejoice in who you are! Surely, you who have chosen me will also protect me and uphold me. When I think on who you are, there is no room for fear. You uphold me with your righteous right hand, the hand of blessing! You reminded me that you delight to give. Forgive me for slipping back into my faulty perspectives, for thinking you are a ‘begrudging’ Father.

Yesterday you gave an abundant gift to my husband that was not a need or anything important. It was just a beautiful, tangible reminder of your overflowing joy, generosity, and delight to give good to your people! Thank you for the Rockford Air Show tickets! And not just any tickets- VIP chalet tickets, front row seat! This is incredible. God you are marvelous. We hadn’t even prayed for them, yet you delighted to give something that gave Jon immense joy. It was so awesome to see his face light up like a kid…

Thank you for teaching me experientially! You are always good in blessing, joy, and in sorrow. And you will do what brings you the most glory. There is great confidence in knowing I can pour my heart out to you with boldness. I know that all the ‘plans’ I’ve conceived in the past were nothing compared to what you had in store. When things don’t happen the way I think they should, your way is better. Yet you delight in the asking, in the total dependency on you.”

6-8-12 “Lord I am radically dependent on you today. Already this morning I have failed and relied on my own understanding. Thank you for the transforming power of the gospel. Thank you that the blood and righteousness of Christ covers me. It’s amazing that you can look on me as perfect when I still sin every day. Thank you for the freedom to fail because I can rest in Christ’s perfections. God I’m struggling again with intense desire for children. How do I know if it has become an idol? Lord I think it comes back to an accurate perception of you. Everything you do is good. So if it is good for us to conceive, you will not withhold it. If it is good for us to NOT conceive, you will not withhold it. Lord, above all I desire for you to be magnified! The desire to feel life inside me and to be a mom is a good thing. It’s a desire put there by you! But that desire must not be my chief end or consuming passion. I know honestly, though, that sometimes it is. I need the power of Christ to want YOU the most! Thank you God for not withholding yourself from me. The request to know you more deeply is always answered affirmatively. Lord you have abundantly blessed me far more than I can ask or think. I praise you!”

8-1-12 “I’m sorry for my stubbornness. I have so much more selfishness than I own up to. Lord my husband works so hard, and I so often take him for granted. I remind myself of all that I adore, his tender heart before you, his consuming passion for the gospel, his quick forgiveness, how he makes me laugh, how he leads me. You have blessed me with an incredible gift in Jon. Thank you that marriage is based on promises not performance.”

10-3-12 “Father I admit that I have been deeply struggling the last couple days. I thought with great hope that this would be the month for children. Lord when it was not, it knocked me down much harder than I anticipated. Lord I couldn’t understand why it seemed you were answering every prayer except the one most near and dear to my heart. I know my emotions led me to a deep pit, and I wasn’t sure how to get out. Forgive me for falling into the trap so often labeled “If I respond right this month, God will bless.” I know I can’t earn favor, and that I don’t need to. Lord I settle my soul on the Rock of the Gospel. I am chosen, reconciled, cleansed, forgiven, adopted, and purchased. This is who I am in Christ.”

10-20-12 “Thank you that I am already beloved. It is not about me doing anything to gain more love. Because of Christ and the cross, I am free from a performance driven life.”

12-20-12 “Do I still know that you have dealt bountifully with me if another month the answer is no? God I want to. I want to exalt you and praise you. I know you always deal bountifully with me. You gave your Son. But do I believe you are more than enough, that you satisfy? Will you be enough if my arms remain empty? My head knows truth, but my heart asks questions. Lord I don’t claim to understand our continued childlessness. You are beyond my understanding, but you are faithful. You are my inheritance. The joys of this world are temporal, fleeting, but you are eternal. My soul praises you even in my questions. I willingly turn them into worship. The place of highest joy is with you. This I know.”

12-27-12 The gospel reminds me that what I legitimately deserve is a cup full of God’s wrath. This would be mine to drink if I was given what I deserve each day. So to be handed even a completely empty cup, is cause for gratitude! The tiniest drop of blessing should blow me away by the unbelievable kindness of God. My cup overflows. Because I deserve every ounce of God’s wrath, therefore any drop of blessing makes my cup full and overflowing. Rather, the reality is that Christ has already given me every spiritual blessing.”

12-31-12 “Father you have brought us so far this year… to a new church where we are so blessed by the gospel emphasis, by a pastor who loves and cares for us, by new and deep friendships, by abundant ministry opportunities. God you have not only given Jon a new job, but a much better job. And you have brought us to a new city! 2012 stands out as a year of blessing… Lord you don’t need us, but I pray you would use us. Father expand the work you want to accomplish in us and through us…”

1-1-13 “God here we are on the brink of a new year. But you already know what this year will bring! I praise you for the “good” and the “bad,” the trials and the blessings because truly everything is good with you. ‘Teach me your way O Lord’  My prayer is to grow in passion and intimacy with you.”

2-9-13 “Lord how do I even begin to put into words where my heart is? How do I write about the death of my love? How do I describe the depth of emotion? How do I write that I am living my worst fear? I didn’t know I would kiss his face, his hands, his hair and weep in indescribable pain. I don’t understand, but I know this: you are good. And you are doing good…Though my flesh doesn’t want your will, I still know you are faithful. You are still abundant grace and mercy. You are still peace. You are still my God. Jesus I cling to you.”

I see no need for extended commentary. I’ve already tried to cram an entire year into 3 pages! But I’ll say this. It is God’s grace that Jon and I remained childless. I’m well aware that had we conceived before Jon died, I would soon be having a child. Though I longed for a little person who looked like Jon, a piece of him, it was God’s grace that said no.

I can see God using tragedy to utterly transform me, and i can see how He is answering countless prayers through these unfulfilled dreams. “Lord be exalted. Be magnified. Let your gospel shine through Jon and through me.” He’s not answering the way I thought, but  He’s answering nonetheless. He’s replaced my fear with peace. Of course, I still struggle. but He’s transformed my thinking. God delights in me. Nothing changes that. I’m astonished at the zeal of God’s transforming grace. It’s uncomfortable grace, but surely my cup overflows.

Some days I just feel crazy.

I haven’t had one of those “I am legitimately losing my mind” kind of days in a while. But today it’s here in full-force. I woke up just sad. I hate days I wake up sad. Because then the whole day feels like a struggle for joy. I suppose it is grace that I’m not waking up sad every day anymore. But when they come, they hit hard. I really did just want to stay in bed all day. And I can’t seem to stop crying. It’s days like today where I feel like I can relate a little to Charlie in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It’s the feeling of everything swirling around, the feeling of being trapped inside your own head and not being able to get out.

There was constant confusion the first few months. And now it’s seldom. But it still throws me every time an “I’m going crazy” day hits. So I guess it’s more than just a sad day.

I’ve been trying to quantify the struggle. Because that’s what I do. I analyze. And I ask God to help me boil it down to the truths He wants me to see. I hardly ever do this, but I’m typing before I’ve fully processed. Usually I write things in a journal first, and then later they get transferred to the blog.

But I don’t know. Today it just seems like I need the act of typing and the clacking of keys to make me feel like I’m accomplishing something.

These deep days are never about one thing. Usually it’s a combination of things that have been building for a while. I’m struggling with being alone. I’m struggling with my new life. I’m struggling with feeling of value to anyone. Then there are some aspects of struggle I just can’t write here. And another thing, I’ve been getting to spend lots of time with people recently. But why do I still feel so lonely? And why is it so hard to preach the gospel to myself today? And all of this makes me feel a little crazy.

There’s been a lot about introversion on Facebook lately, and maybe it’s a bad thing for me. Because now I’m analyzing all these character traits! Which in turn makes me realize I have more introversion in me than I thought. And I think it makes me nervous. It makes me wonder if a result of grief is a fundamental shift in personality. Or if I’ve just never realized there was a label for the desire to have solitude! I think under normal circumstances, I’m somewhere in the middle. It’s like a mean game though… 23 Signs You’re Secretly an Introvert. I’m convinced it was written by someone out there bent on making me even more tied up in my own head. Why the hype all of a sudden? I’ve been content to know that I was introspective, but I think I’ve headed down this nasty spiral today: “Have I always had introverted tendencies? If so, why does this label “introvert” bother me so much? Or are these tendencies just heightened as a result of loss? And if I do have them, I must not be totally introverted because I think I’m going nuts from so much time by myself!” I don’t know the answers. And I know I may not be making much sense.

For example, take crowds. I don’t remember if I used to feel alone in a crowd before losing Jon. I don’t remember it ever being a problem.

I don’t remember if I would have wanted to sit in the corner and observe rather than participate. But I do know that when I had Jon, I could be in a large crowd and be totally ok. Even if I was not by his side, I knew he was there. Like a safe haven. The place where I knew it was ok to be totally me, not wondering how I was perceived.

But now I sometimes feel like I’m going to hyperventilate. Is this introversion or is this just grief? And does it really matter which one it is? Probably not.

Another thing I’ve been thinking about is that Jon was really good at getting me to not take life so seriously. He drew the silliness out in me. And I think it makes me sad that I’m not that way anymore. And it makes me miss his goofiness that much more.

I miss that every trip to a grocery store or Walmart was an adventure. I miss him riding down a hill on the shopping cart shouting “I’m the king of the world.”  I miss him dancing in the middle of the aisle every time that stupid Bieber song, “Baby Baby” came on…every time, without fail. I miss him 80s power walking like Richard Simmons so he could be the first one to spot people in their pajamas. I always won that game though, despite his best efforts.

I miss how we would play silly games and people would look at us funny (or sweetly). One day, we were waiting in the self-checkout line and every time I said an adjective Jon exuberantly acted it out– silly, happy…. So then I just started trying to get him to act out ridiculous ones… charming, dashing, terrified, pensive, manly, heroic, shy… I just laughed and laughed. It was our own little game of reverse charades. We noticed the clerk looking at us as if we were nuts. But I just smiled at her and thought, “Let her think we’re nuts. This is what happiness looks like.” He made me not care.

My sister-in-law once said- “Does he do these things all the time?”  And my playful answer was, “Yes. And I just go with it. Life is definitely never boring.”

So all this talk about introversion just makes me wonder if I’ll ever have those times of silliness again.

Maybe this is my skewed, biased view, but Jon had this rare quality about him. I can’t think of one word to describe it, but it seemed like a sense of utter delight with life. Excitement, joy, passion, charisma… He told me once that it was his personal mission to get people with monotonous jobs to smile. You know, checkout clerks, subway attendants, toll collectors…  “Somebody’s got to make their day better.”

I think other aspects of my struggle today comes down to an identity crisis. For one thing, I didn’t realize that no longer teaching Kindergarten would bother me. Even though it was my own choice to not go back. But now everyone’s headed back to school and it does. Perhaps teaching has become an idol. “I am a teacher.” It gave me a definitive identity when God took the rest– wife, encourager, cheerleader, lover, wannabe mother, wannabe pastor’s wife. But even this last week, God reminded me that He wants teacher too. “God can’t I keep just this one? I’m a good teacher. Can’t I keep that? You’ve taken everything else.”  But again God said, “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” He wants even my identity as teacher. He wants my identity to be in Christ. So if He wants these education skills to go dormant, that’s ok. It’s His life. This is the cost of true discipleship. But today the cost weighs heavy.

On the other hand, I’m so thankful for what I get to do now. I’m thankful that I get the privilege of being totally devoted to ministry. And I know I’m following God’s plan. I love getting to talk with people, encourage, and counsel. I love that He is perhaps developing other gifts.

Most days I have such great joy in that. Just not today. Today I feel like shouting and throwing things. Or maybe just doing nothing but lying on the couch. Today I’m wrestling with questions like, “Have I reached that place where I’m expected to be ok? After all, it has been almost 7 months.” and “Is it still ok for me to tell people that I’m struggling? Is it still ok for me to feel crazy?”

As I alluded to earlier, I’ve really enjoyed getting to invest so much time in people. But I feel so drained. Yet I don’t want to be alone. It’s this weird paradox.

Epilogue

So I left my ramblings mid thought, and got to spend the evening with some lovely friends. And it was a good thing too. For I was headed down deep, and I knew it. I’m thankful God gave me grace to know I had to reach out. I can’t expect people to be mind readers. “Do y’all have plans tonight?” This was His love for me when I just couldn’t get enough truth in my heart to stop crying and to distill the crazy thoughts.  And this is why I can’t understand how it’s possible to handle grief without Christ. For I would have drifted more into isolation, and who knows what else today.

I loved just being with them, and seeing the silliness in their own interactions together. I loved seeing their affection for one another. I loved hearing them pray for one another and for me. It was good. And it was really good to share my “pit of introspection” with another human and not just my computer. It was not through words, but my friends reminded me why Christ made believers a body. We need each other. I’m thinking of Galatians 6 that says “Bear one another’s burdens.” That verse is referring to a crushing load that’s too heavy for one person. Sometimes the best way to preach the gospel is just to do life together. Today I needed someone to bear my crushing load with me. We had some spiritual conversation tonight, but more than that I got to see the corporate quality of the gospel played out. This is the church. Jesus purchased for Himself a people; peculiar, holy, blameless. This is the kingdom of God. To be a burden bearer is to imitate Jesus, who went so far as to bear the full burden of sin.

I thought about going back and editing what I wrote earlier today. But then I thought better of it. I can be honest here. I have to be. Or I will help perpetuate the myth that Christians are shiny people with all their stuff together. Because it really is ok for me still to struggle even if Christian culture sometimes, sadly portrays otherwise.

When a sheep is broken, the shepherd doesn’t just say, “Just get up and walk sheep.” Rather, He carries it. I’m thankful to be in a local church that carries broken sheep. Even this one.

And I still say

“I come, God, I come
I return to the Lord
The one who’s broken
The one who’s torn me apart
You struck down to bind me up
You say You do it all in love
That I might know You in Your suffering

Though You slay me
Yet I will praise You
Though You take from me
I will bless Your name
Though You ruin me
Still I will worship
Sing a song to the one who’s all I need

My heart and flesh may fail
The earth below give way
But with my eyes, with my eyes I’ll see the Lord
Lifted high on that day
Behold, the Lamb that was slain
And I’ll know every tear was worth it all

Though You slay me
Yet I will praise You
Though You take from me
I will bless Your name
Though You ruin me
Still I will worship
Sing a song to the one who’s all I need

You’re enough for me.”

Though You Slay Me (Shane & Shane, With John Piper)

Jesus’ Stunning Grief

So yesterday I recounted the story of Lazarus and of how Jesus grieved. Go back and read that one if you haven’t already. It’s called “a shocking story, but with fresh eyes”  Today follows closely on its heels and ties it all together.

And I said I would explain how Jesus’ grief relates to the “next” for me. And so I will.

Several months ago, I had the thought, “I wonder what it was like for Jon to see Jesus’ face. How beyond my comprehension that must have been!” But then that thought was followed by a selfish one, “But what about me?”  I have no biblical proof for this, but in my imagination I see Jesus coming to get Jon, rather than Jon just waking in the presence of Christ. Does that make sense? Must be too much influence of that silly show Touched by an Angel as a kid. So my thought spiraled down this way… “But what about me? Did he look back? Did he ask Jesus if I was going to be ok? Or was there no more thought of me?” And of course, if all thoughts of me were utterly erased at the sight of His Savior, then that would be perfectly right. For it’s true, I think that “the things of earth grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”  But my internal battle continued…”And God, if you were there with exuberant delight welcoming Jon home, how were you also there weeping with me?”

Of course I knew the answer to that question. I know God is omnipresent. And I know that all believers are indwelled by the Holy Spirit. But all previous assent to these truths seemed irrelevant. So I battled for days, “God did you leave me all alone? How could you have been there? Did you weep with me?”

Here’s where Lazarus’ story comes in, and how the truths from it have become stunning to me. In the midst of my deep struggle with basic truths such as God’s sovereignty, His omnipresence, His compassion, HIs love for me, His promises to never leave me, God brought my friend Elizabeth.

She shared her own story of the death of her fiance just months before her wedding, how God carried her through the depths, and how He eventually brought her husband Rob across her path. She could share with me what loving two men looks like, and how God equipped Rob to “handle a woman with grief.” She could tell me what grief looks like several years down the road. She answered my questions before I ever asked them. We sat at my house talking for hours crying and laughing together. And it was Elizabeth who reminded me of Lazarus in John 11.

So I went back and started studying it with fresh eyes. I began to see the radiance of this story for the first time. God’s truth resounded emphatically when I saw Jesus weeping with His friends, angry at sin and death, and in awe of the power that was about to course through Him–all in one moment! And I realized finally, “Yes, Lord you were there delightedly receiving Jon, and you were there broken by grief, weeping with me.” I think I have in the past taken the totally personal nature of God for granted. Yes, there have been other times when I’ve been acutely aware of God’s presence, but in general it’s easy to forget just how invested in me He is. Another truth so shocking was that He was also there with every other believer for whatever they were facing at the exact moment! All the beauty of the promise, “I will never leave you or forsake you” rushed upon me. And the truth of God’s intimate presence was startlingly real. Perhaps I’m learning these basis truths experientially. You may be thinking, big deal. Of course these things are true.  But I encourage you to view them as magnificently as they really are… not just as Sunday school lessons you’ve heard all your life.

The God who created everything knows me and loves me. He is more intimately aware and concerned with my life than I am.

Since then, God keeps using this passage to teach me. He reminded me that love doesn’t always look the way I think it should, but in His love He sometimes does things I don’t understand. As with Lazarus, He’s doing more than I think. Also, though God didn’t raise Jon after four days, he will be bodily raised one day! And I’ll get to see him. And laugh with him. And hug him. And most importantly, worship God for all eternity, alive together!  But even before that, when Jon died he was absent from flesh and present with Christ. For the death of a believer is really him stepping into new life. As Jesus said of Lazarus, “His illness doesn’t lead to death.”  So, for Jon his illness also led through death! In the immediate days of sorrow, it was NOT comforting hear folks say, “But we can rejoice, for Jon is with heaven with Christ!” I didn’t care. I wanted him back. Thoughts of eternity didn’t help assuage the grief. But I think now I’m starting to see the beauty of the words, “O death where is your sting? O grave where is your victory?” For those chosen by God, saved by grace alone, through faith in Christ alone, death is death only for those left behind!

Likewise, the depth of Jesus’ grief has thoroughly comforted me. How marvelous is Hebrews 2:17 ‘Therefore, He had to be made like His brothers in every respect, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because He Himself has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.”  He had to be made like his brothers in every respect. Therefore, he also had to know grief like his brothers. Jesus fully satisfied God’s wrath for me, and He did it as one who knew all the weaknesses of human flesh, yet without sin.

And we don’t just see Jesus’ grief for Lazarus, but also his much more profound grief in Gethsemane. I was reading Knowing God by J.I. Packer and came across these words about the garden. I certainly don’t think I can improve upon them so I’ll just give you the quote.

In discussing how you would see Jesus presented in the gospel of Mark, Packer says, “Your final impression will be of One for whom this experience of death was the most fearful ordeal. In Gethsemane, ‘horror and dismay came over him, and he said…’My heart is ready to break with grief’ (Mark 14:34 NEB). The earnestness of his prayer (for which ‘he threw himself on the ground,’ rather than kneel or stand) was an index of the inward revulsion and desolation that he felt as he contemplated what was to come. How strong was his temptation to say ‘amen’ after ‘take away this cup from me,’ rather than go on to ‘nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt’ (Mark 14:36 KJV), we shall never know. Then, on the cross, Jesus bore witness to inward darkness matching outward darkness with his cry of dereliction, ‘My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?”

My first thought after reading this paragraph was that Jesus even grieved perfectly. Though there was tremendous grace in the ER to say- “God you’re good. He’s yours,” how many times since then have I doubted or railed against God? I have not always grieved well. And I have not always said, “not my will but yours.”  But O how beautiful it is that Jesus already grieved perfectly! And His death and resurrection are sufficient for my failure to grieve perfectly. He’s sufficient to remind me of Himself when I doubt.

I wonder how much greater was Jesus’ grief because He had never been separated from HIs Father. Never was there a fractured relationship due to sin. Never was there less than a perfect union. I can’t say that I’ve ever sweat blood.

I’m humbled by these instances of Jesus’ grief. But this is the humanity of the One who is also God. Words to an old hymn just sprang to mind as I type, “No one ever cared for me like Jesus… O how much He cares for me.”

So how does Jesus’ grief relate to pressing in to God’s “next”? Well, Jesus’ own grief was temporary. And so shall mine be. It will not last for eternity. For after the cross and death Jesus was raised, exalted and seated at the right hand of the Father. And now I’m called an heir with Christ, one day to be glorified with Him. One day to never see sin and death again. For as Paul said “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us.” (Romans 8)

It is because He grieved that I can have a “next.” It is because He said “not my will by yours,” then suffered unto death that I know life, and freedom, and joy and peace. So I return to the passage I began with yesterday–  “If God be 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?”  God is for me. There is such power in those simple words. Moreover, these verses have “to do with knowing and enjoying God, and not with anything else. The meaning of ‘he will give us all things; can be put thus: one day we shall see that nothing–literally nothing– which could have increased our eternal happiness has been denied us, and that nothing–literally nothing– that could have reduced that happiness has been left with us. What higher assurance do we have than that?” (Packer)

How then could there not be “next”? Not just in eternity, but in this life also. This is hope. This is confident expectation.

Tangible Grace: God Carries Me

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Tangible Grace:

Like a scarlet thread through a black garment is the theme of grace. It stands out in stark contrast, hope amidst sorrow. In these darkest times still God’s grace has been real, vivid, and abundant. Actually, it’s been deeper than I could have imagined. It’s true that God gives grace for the moment. He doesn’t give grace for deep suffering until it’s needed. But when it’s needed, oh how marvelously God acts! And through the grief, sorrow, anger and confusion, the words “tangible grace” have been imprinted on my heart. To me it is grace that I can touch. Real people, real events, real prayer, real compassion, real action, real Holy Spirit — This is the grace I’ve experienced. Grace, of course is, God’s unmerited favor, or receiving that which I don’t deserve. Or another way… the acronym God’s riches at Christ’s expense.

You see, I don’t deserve anything. And everything I receive apart from hell is God’s grace. But sometimes we take grace for granted. Or sometimes we try to live independently of grace. I do. We’d rather think we’ve got it figured out, that we are strong. You know that philosophy that says, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” But having my hopes and dreams stripped away caused me to see grace in a totally new way. It was His grace that purchased my salvation and bought me with HIs blood. It was His grace that said it is best for Jon to go Home. I don’t totally get it, but it’s true. It’s grace that reminds me that I can do nothing. Did you hear that, nothing? It’s grace that gets me out of bed every morning. And so I just want to talk for a while about God’s marvelous tangible grace.

I’ve kept a running list, and it’s been incredible to experience God’s carrying hand over the last three and a half months. So here’s some of the “stones of remembrance” God has set up in my heart. Even on the night Jon died it was only grace that enabled me to pray out loud over my love, “God please save him! I know you can. Please. But if you choose not to, you are still good,” and then to say quietly in my heart a few minutes later, “Lord, he’s yours. I open my hands. I give him back to you.” Those words could not have come from me alone. Because my emotions were screaming quite the opposite! Because they were the last words I wanted to say. I know of course, that God had already chosen His plan. He was taking Jon home, whether I surrendered or not. But praise God for surrender.

These words make me think of a conversation God and I had had several weeks earlier. And maybe I’ve already written about it here, but I don’t recall, so forgive me…parts of my brain are still on vacation, so it seems. Anyway, I was in the car and God was bringing to mind questions about idolatry based on that Sunday’s sermon. “Ami do you give me your desire for children?,” He seemed to say. “What about if you and Jon never get pregnant? What if you don’t even get to adopt? What about financial security? Ami do you give me the desire to stay home?” And on and on he put my idols before me and said, “I want them.”  In grace God helped me to pray back in sincerity as best I could, “Yes God, my hands are open. I give you back this thing that is already yours. I know you God, and I can trust you.” And then came Jon’s face flooding my mind. “Ami do you give me Jon?”  And as the tears flowed I said, “God I want to say yes that I surrender Him to you. But I don’t know if I can. Actually I know I can’t. Lord you know that is my biggest fear, but if something ever happens to Him, I know you would give me grace to give Him back. You would give strength in that moment.” I had no idea, that the true test was coming, and that the very thing I feared was part of God’s sovereign plan. But, again how marvelous is God! That He really did give strength to pray those words back to Him that night, and also to continue to pray them as He’s stripped me down to only Him over these months. Again, something I cannot do- I have not responded well always. However, there is tangible grace.

It was grace that heard and answered my cry when I was alone with my lifeless husband that night. “Oh God, you help me not to hate you!” Because even though I had held my hands open, my flesh was weak. But He remembered my frame, and knew I was dust. And all through this He has kept me. That’s the beauty of the gospel. He chose me. How could He then let me go?  It was grace that enabled me to talk to the coroner, and not remember a word of the conversation. It was grace that carried me through those first days that vacillated between shock and crippling pain. God gave grace to speak to my church family two days after Jon died, and again at his memorial service.

That first Sunday I knew I had to go to church. I knew it would be that much more difficult to go the following week if I didn’t go then. When I got there folks hugged me, and in love didn’t force me to speak. I walked into the auditorium and “Be Still My Soul” was playing in the background. I turned to my sister-in-law Tiffany, and said, “I can’t do this.” And I went to the bathroom and collapsed in a heap on the floor. After a few moments Tiff and my dear friend Lexi came in and just sat there with me. Neither felt the need to say anything. And finally I said, “Please pray. I need to be here.”  So they prayed, and God answered with abundant grace. I will never forget how real God’s presence was that day. He was there, and He met with us. During one song, I closed my eyes, weeping. And there in my mind was Jon worshiping with exuberant face, words rushing out, and hands held high to God. I gasped thinking, he’s worshiping too. It was like my precious Savior gave me a glimpse of that very moment in heaven.  As I wept and sang, I was overwhelmed with the thought that I should say something to my “family” there.  And God let me speak. At the end of the service, no one wanted to leave. Everyone stayed and talked in small, quiet groups. And I think I hugged every person. It was incredible. And I knew I was incredibly loved.  One young guy sobbing said, “I’ve never cried for anyone I didn’t know before. I needed this today. God was here.”

God gave grace to make funeral decisions. Let me just say, it’s not something you think you’d ever have to do at 30. Praise God for my pastor and his wife and for dear friends who were with me. God gave grace to greet hundreds of folks at the visitation. Hugging each person was a new wave of grief as that touch communicated their emotions, their hurt, their compassion, their love. Yet, it was God who enabled me to stand there. I was overwhelmed by people who knew Jon since Kindergarten, and hadn’t seen him since high school who came to honor him. I was stunned by friends who traveled hours to be there, overwhelmed to see how many lives he’d touched.  I was in awe of how many unsaved folks were there who heard the gospel. I just kept turning to my pastor and saying, “There’s so many here who have not yet believed. And they need to hear.” God gave grace to plead with a young man that Jon loved dearly, “to stop running. You don’t have to have it all figured out. Just believe that Jesus is who He said He is, and that He can save you.” His heart was so broken. And I know God was working! If you know me at all, you know this is not me. I’m not an evangelist. I’m not a bringer. That was Jon. But so clearly in my heart was the Holy Spirit. “Ami you have to talk to him.” Again God’s presence was so real that evening! We planned a worship service…not a funeral. I wanted to sing and sing and just pour my heart out to God. I wanted to sing “Behold our God” and “All I have is Christ” — Jon’s most recent favorites. I wanted to hold my hands open to God, and say “Here it is. All of it. Jon. Every hope, every dream. Every bit of my life.” And grace was abundant. 

And then there was Facebook. As I read through the hundreds of posts on my wall and Jon’s wall, I wept in awe of God. Again, I could not believe how far reaching my husband’s life was! I was so blessed by each message and comment. Thank you! I think it’s reasonable and not an exaggeration to say that thousands were praying for me in those first days.

And there were dear friends, family and church family. There were people cleaning my house, making phone calls, bringing groceries, telling me to eat, picking people up from the airport…  I have realized that in deep grief the ones that “rise to the top” are those folks truly with the gift of mercy, or those who’ve felt deep suffering themselves. Some of the most valuable blessings were people who would just let me talk… or not talk! Or the people who just took initiative to meet a need. Or the boxes of Kleenex that showed up. Every time I look at a pile of tissues on the floor, I’m thankful someone met perhaps the most practical need. Another  treasure was a new leather journal–perhaps it was the most valuable gift. For, or course I have used it to pour my heart out to God.

My church family absolutely blew me away! I got to experience what the body of Christ really should be. And we’re a young church… young in age, and mostly young in faith. This was the first death our church had experienced as a church. But our 120 or so surrounded me in the most beautiful way. There were folks making sure guests for the service had plenty to eat, folks who made gorgeous arrangements of all of our pictures, folks who cleaned our new building, folks who made programs, folks who greeted visitors, folks who guided me through financial decisions, folks who provided monetarily. There were even guys standing out in the snow for hours parking cars at the service! And all of this happened around me and without me directing any of it.

In those raw first days, I totally grasped why people do crazy things. Were it not for the gospel, I could have easily harmed myself or others. Don’t act shocked. This is the sin in you too. I understand why death sends folks spiraling into depression. Unbelievers have no lens, nothing to filter the extreme emotions.  Even through the lens of the gospel, I still felt lost, crazy sometimes, like half of me was gone. (I still feel that way.) The intensity of emotions was nothing like what I had experienced before. Praise God though for grace. Praise God that He kept me. That He clung to me. Praise God that over and over He reminded my of my confident expectation in Jesus, who He is, and all He’s done.

And I haven’t even begun to talk about God’s financial provision. Someone paid off our car. Someone paid for all the funeral expenses. Verizon honored all of Jon’s benefits though he had been with them less than 90 days!  Between hundreds of cards and “offerings” from the church I grew up in and our current church, an overwhelming amount flooded in.

But wait there’s more… I found 14 audio sermons of Jon preaching! What an amazing to treasure to have Jon speaking truth to me. At Jon’s memorial service my principal said, “Take as much time as you need.”  And then later I found out that my school was going to pay me for all the personal days missed, as well as, replenish seven more. That’s amazing! I hadn’t washed all of Jon’s dress shirts so they still smell like him. There’s a tiny piece of his soap left in the soap box. I was able to have a beautiful necklace made from his fingerprint and handwriting. I found probably every email we’ve ever sent each other. Bless my silly ocd husband! I have so many wonderful pictures of us. I have a beautiful wedding video.

One day it was really snowy, and two friends texted me a the same time and said, “Don’t go home from school. Stay in Rockford.”– That’s significant because I live 45 minutes away from work, and hate driving in snow! I was so thankful they made the decision for me.  In another overwhelming act of grace some dear friends asked if they could name their baby Jonathan if it was a boy…. and he is! I still receive cards, text messages, and Facebook messages at the right time. It seems like God is always putting me on someone’s heart right when I need it.

As the weeks began to turn to months, still God’s grace has been abundant. I think I could fill many more pages with just how good He is. He has walked me through the questions, the doubts, the anger, the fear. Yes, they’re still there sometimes. He has met with me in His word. He’s shown me how deeply I need Him. He’s shown me that it is ok to be weak, beautiful even. And it is weakness that makes the gospel magnified. It is my weakness that exalts Jesus’ strength. It is still very much a roller coaster. But it’s ok. God is letting me grieve. He’s letting me be weak. Because He is more than I can comprehend. Because Jesus took all my sin, all my weakness on Himself, I can be needy. What an antithesis this is to the world and culture around us! Praise God though that this is grace-able to do nothing to earn God’s love and favor, but freely receiving it.

So, I write all this make the name of Jesus famous. Not mine. Not Jon’s. Because I think it’s definitely clear that I would be utterly hopeless without Him. There are so many more evidences of grace I could give you! But I’ll stop for now. Are you overwhelmed with me yet? Are you in awe of Jesus Christ, God who became man, who died for sins, and rose again to give eternal life? Because I am. I think I’ve only seen a minuscule glimpse of what God’s doing. My small little life is just a tiny part of His much larger story. But oh how much He cares for me!

And one last thing, thank you all my dear friends- those I see in person, and those who are far away. God has used so many to show me His tangible grace. I have not taken any note, message, gift, or card for granted. You all have been such a valuable tool for God to work in my life. You’ve functioned truly as Christ’s church. And you’ve shown Jesus to me. Oh and just one quick rabbit trail (I know I said I was done, but this is important). I need to say that I know many are going through deep waters as well. You have your own trials. And your suffering is just as valid as mine. No need to minimize it. No one needs to think “My hurt pales in comparison to Ami’s” because suffering is suffering. And we all experience it. Oh that you would also know God’s tangible grace in a very real way! So again, thank you to many who have blessed me even in the midst of your own fiery trials.

And those closest to me and Jon need to know that it’s ok for you to grieve too. Death hurts.  And it’s not “normal” for a young guy to die. It’s ok to mourn the loss of a dear friend. You all have protected me, and that is good. But let me also bear your hurt as you have born mine with me. I want to be an instrument of grace to you as well.

Tangible Grace. As I contemplate all God has done since Jon died, of course I’m reminded that the biggest grace is what Jesus accomplished on the cross. It’s because He justified me, that I can know all these other evidences of grace. Praise God for His Ultimate Grace! Salvation freely given. Never earned. Tangible.

A neat little summary, but not really

???????????????????????????????Each Friday marks a new week. I don’t know why I count weeks instead of the calendar date, but I guess Fridays stand out as the day my life changed forever.  So even though the calendar says 3 months isn’t until the 25th, Friday marked 12 weeks–3 months. Maybe I just have an elementary understanding of what a month is.  Nevertheless, on Fridays my mind goes to variations of, “Three months ago at this time Jon was still alive.  Three months ago I was still married. Three months ago I had a normal day at school. Three months ago I stopped for Jon’s prescription and orange juice…Three months ago I begged God to save my husband, but He was silent. Three months ago I left him at the hospital and faced that first blinding sleepless night.”  Every Friday I have these thoughts.  The only thing that changes is the number of weeks. Perhaps someday it will just be the month anniversaries, and then the year anniversaries… But that seems far away.

So of course, analytic and introspective as I am, each Friday comes with, “What truth is God nailing down this week?” Overall, that’s been a good question to ask, except when there isn’t always an answer.  For some reason, however, I’ve viewed the three month mark as a place where I should be able to easily summarize what I’ve learned.  Sounds like I’m a teacher huh?  And as any good teacher would do, I’ve been trying to distill the lessons into a neat little summary with topic sentence, main ideas, and concluding sentence.  But I’m starting to realize that I can’t yet. Perhaps there won’t ever be one short summary!  I can pinpoint some of the very real things God is doing in my heart, but I think I’m still right in the thick of it. I think there are also facets of God’s lessons that I have yet to see. I know there are some things that never will have explanation and that I never will understand. I can see some things God is doing very clearly, but other truths are still darkened.

Some weeks God penetrates my heart with “crossroads” truth—You know, that kind of truth that seems like it is going to shape your very being. For example, the week God dealt with me regarding my “resounding no” was one of those weeks. I look back and think, that was the lowest point so far, but God met me in an abundant way.  As a result, I believe I can say with confidence that I’ll always know that Christ is hope not only for eternity, but for this life also. But other weeks, in true spaghetti brain fashion, a million thoughts whiz around in my brain and stay there at a seeming academic level.  Sometimes I think I get stuck inside my own head. This was one of those weeks.  And I felt frustrated. My prayers were, “But God I want to see you. I want to hear from you. What truth do you want me to take this week? Is there something I’m missing?”

But I suppose God is reminding me that knowing Him doesn’t always come with a beautifully succinct, well-written paragraph.  But whoever said I was succinct anyway—ha! But I digress. He is too big for me to comprehend. His ways are infinitely higher than my ways. I will never have Him figured out! And praise God I won’t!  Sometimes I may not be able to boil His truth into bullet points, but He is teaching me to know HIM and to know His gospel. And with that comes complexities and intricacies that I cannot imagine. I think it was Tim Keller who said that the gospel is shallow enough for a child to wade in, but deep enough for an elephant to swim in.

But here I am trying to make sense of my world and of my God. How very human of me. And of course, we humans naturally try to make sense of the things around us. It’s a good thing. God put it in us. It’s the capability to know Him and understand truth about Him. However, some things cannot be understood. I know Christ in a personal, real way, but He doesn’t fit in my nicely labeled box.  I can know Him more and more, but I will not ever fully comprehend an incomprehensible God. It’s a great paradox. And so He asks me just to trust.

I’m finding that my schemas (Like my fancy education word? It means frame of understanding) labeled “gospel,” “Christ,” and “God” are ever expanding. Nor should they stop expanding! At the three month mark I’m standing before the vastness of God. I’m catching glimpses of how small I am and how immeasurable He is. And He is reminding me that this is a beautiful thing. I want to learn to know God experientially for the rest of my life, and if I do I still will not have begun to scratch the surface.  So do you see where I’m going?  Even on those weeks when I cannot quantify one main truth or lesson, God is still teaching me Himself. He is teaching me to say with Paul, “That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and share in His sufferings becoming like Him in His death” (Philippians 3:10). He is teaching me to know Him not through academic knowledge, but through experience and relationship.  Suffering for example, is teaching me to know in just a minuscule way how Jesus suffered for me. Emptiness reminds of His emptiness on the cross.  So often we want to know Him in the “power,” the mountain tops, the victories. But the verse says “AND share in His sufferings.” Knowing Christ is both. And I think it’s true that believers know Him far better in the valley than on the mountain.  There’s a beautiful song called “In the Valley”, and a line from it reminds me that the valley’s “where your glory shines so bright.” It’s true. When things are going well, it is so easy to say, “Yeah! I want Jesus more than anything!” But when the bottom falls out, there’s the true test- Am I really a disciple? A dead-to-self follower who knows Jesus is sufficient?

Also, He is still keeping His promises toward me. “And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6) Because I am redeemed, He IS transforming me. And He WILL continue to transform me. And He WILL bring me to perfection when I see Him face to face. These are gospel words folks! Here I go again! But I’ll gladly stand here. He justified me-God looks at me as if I’ve never sinned, and as if I’ve always obeyed.  He is sanctifying me- He is changing me to be what He has already declared me to be.  I may feel like I’m lost, but I know who I am in Christ. But you might be saying, how do you know? What do you mean? Go check out Ephesians 1!   (And then go over to Ephesians 2. That’s a good idea too.) Losing my own sense of identity reminds me that my true identity is IN Him! He will glorify me- One day I will be made never-ending new. I will actually be what He has declared me to be—perfect, spotless.  And this is good truth. This is gospel.

So when God is silent, when things don’t make sense, when I don’t understand, I can rest in what I know is truth. I have some anchors in my understanding. God is good. God is doing all things for His glory and my good. God loves me more than I can understand. God will always keep His promises concerning me. He will complete the work He began in me. Jesus purchased my salvation. No one can pluck me from His hand—even myself. (John 10:28)  Because I am His, He’ll give grace for me to understand His lessons when I’m ready to see them (2 Corinthians 3:18). And that’s the crazy mystery: God is incomprehensible, high and lofty, yet he chooses to be known. He chooses to be personal. He dwells with those of a humble and contrite heart. (Isaiah 57:15). Not only does he dwell with the humble, He exemplified ultimate humility. (Philippians 2)

At the three month mark, I can’t really offer you a neat little summary. But I can say that there really are so many things God is teaching me—who I am in Christ, His carrying grace, His deep compassion and grieving with me…There’s at least one more thing, and I think it’s the theme of my ramblings today. Learning to trust in the silence. So as I struggled with God’s silence on Saturday, here were the prayers of my heart.

“Lord much truth is rattling around my head this morning. Many thoughts on the last couple pages. Help me to see you Lord. Help me to grasp the facets of truth you have for me today. Open my eyes. Open my heart.  ‘Events are a visible sign of an invisible reality.’ What are the invisible realities of Jon’s death?  The visible ‘crosses’ of suffering provide the place that I learn to love and trust. ‘That I may know him in the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his suffering being made conformable unto his death’ So often I have prayed sincerely to know you, to surrender my life to you. I have desired to give you all. ‘O Father use my ransomed life.’  But when the suffering comes it shows the weakness of my heart! Though I am sincere, I cannot make these promises of surrender without you. This is the deepest test of faith I’ve ever experienced. And in it I’m thankful that the presence of struggle is not wrong. Rather, the struggle reveals  my desperate weakness and need. Yet there is also your abundant grace that strengthens me to lay everything at your feet. Taking up a cross can only be through you. The ability to say YES is enabled by the power of the gospel . You already surrendered perfectly. You already said, yes. This is the confidence that gives me grace to surrender, to say ‘Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to Thee.’  True also is that the cost of discipleship is sharing in your sufferings. But so often I want the power and the glory without the cross. But you are teaching me though that the eternal weight of glory truly does far surpass this temporal grief. But the temporal grief is necessary.

Later…

“I’m struggling with a pervading sense of unease and emptiness. And I’m not exactly sure why. Today pictures of happy couples, birthday flowers, babies… are especially hard. But why today? Yesterday was the three month day. I would have thought it would have been then. Lord I desire to write about your tangible grace on the blog, but again I feel uneasy. I feel very much alone today Lord, though I was with people. I had a really wonderful time with you yesterday, but it doesn’t seem firmly rooted in my heart. The lessons still seem academic. Lord meet with me today. Penetrate the depths of my soul with truth. I need you. I find myself longing often for what I cannot have… physical touch, his hand on the small of my back, a tight hug, a lingering kiss, his hand in mine, his arm around me, time together, his voice, his laughter… Why can’t I picture that last look? Why can’t I see his eyes so full of love and adoration? Today the hole in my heart is huge—“Jon sized” emptiness. But I know that not even he could fill it. But you can! And you do! I know you satisfy. Thank you for comforting me. It has been wonderful, but today I feel like there is some great truth that I am missing. I’m thinking of this Elizabeth Elliot quote Lord. ‘This is a necessary part of the journey. Even in its roughest part, it is only a part, and will not last the whole long way. Remember where I’m leading you.‘ Yes, Lord, I know you are leading me to yourself. Even the emptiness of today is part of the journey. And I realize my need for you because other things cannot fill it. You are the God who comforts. You give me yourself.”

In the evening….

“Thank you for reminding me again of the beauty of the gospel.  Thank you for reminding me of Jamie’s questions. What is beautiful about feeling empty today? It reminds me again of my desperate need. It reminds me that it is you who fills. Jesus you emptied yoursef for me. You became sin that I might be made righteous. What is broken about feeling empty? I was never meant to feel it.  And it is a result of the curse of sin. What is redeemed about feeling empty? Jesus you are sufficient for all things and in all situations! This is not merely a mechanical mantra, but questions and answers that stir my soul, and bring my focus back to you. Lord you alone fill the “Jon sized” hole. Thank you for teaching me the ‘fellowship of your sufferings.’ You were alone, so now I never have to be. Even when you are silent you never leave me. And I’m learning to trust your heart when I cannot see your hand. Wonderful, incomprehensible, Lord I surrender to your will. Jon did die. And it is your good gift. This life is yours.”

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Approaching the Firsts

DSCN4389Jon and I loved to spoil each other. We were lavish in our celebration of holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries. Well, I guess we had a tendency toward lavish all the time! We both loved surprises and loved planning meaningful ways to communicate love. And people would look us in amazement. We heard things like, “I have never seen someone so sappy, and in love with her husband…”  “Wait till you’ve been married 20 years…”  “You’ll never be able to keep it up. How can you top it next year if you start this big?”  “If you keep writing mushy posts, I think I’m going to throw up.”—Thank you Pastor Jamie for that last one! You didn’t fool us though. We had your number.

But anyway, I find that I just want to talk and talk and talk about Jon, as if the words will permanently etch the memories on my heart, so that they may not be erased or grow dim in clarity.  And yes, it is a blessing to think of all the cherished times.  I don’t need to get over Jon. The cherished times remind me of just how much God has given… yes, still present tense, has given. They remind me of a love exponentially more lavish than Jon’s! So, here’s a glimpse at our lavish love, a window into some of my precious memories.

Special Days

We had decided we weren’t going to tell each other “I love you,” until we knew we were going to marry.  Believe me, I wanted to sometimes, but I wanted him to be first! One night we were on the phone around midnight, and I’m not sure what came over me, but I said, “I’m going to marry you.”  We still had not said those three important words.  On the other end he exclaimed, “What? Hold on! I’ll be right there!” Then he hung up. Ten minutes later Jon screeched into my driveway, burst out of his car, grabbed me and exclaimed, “I love you! I love you so much I can’t breathe!”  And of course, I told him I loved him too.

On Jon’s first birthday we spent together I told him to take the day off, but I didn’t tell him anything else. I surprised him with a trip to the Georgia Aquarium, Coke Factory, a picnic in Olympic Park, and a Cubs game… all in one day!  We were moving after we got married, so who knew when we’d make it back to Georgia. We had to get our money’s worth, as it were. Day trips continued to be some of our most fun and favorite quality time together. We spent days in cute little towns like Hendersonville, Pumpkintown, and Galena. We did Washington D.C. and Williamsburg when we were visiting my parents. And of course, when we moved to Illinois, Chicago was one of our favorites.  We loved riding the train and Jon thoroughly enjoyed taking me to new parts of the city I hadn’t seen before.  I got to go to Sears Tower (I guess it’s actually the Willis Tower now, but seriously who calls it that?), Navy Pier, Michigan Avenue, Shedd Aquarium, Museum of Science and Industry, where Jon had to take 537 pictures of a model train set (maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but only slightly), Wrigley where I had my first Chicago dog… We enjoyed life together.

In our first year of marriage we were pretty tight financially so we had to get creative. But it’s ok, lavish love doesn’t have to be expensive. For Valentine’s Day we literally scraped up the spare change from the console in our car and bought cake mix and pink frosting.  We also made a deal that we each had to make home-made Valentines. It’s one of my favorite memories. On Jon’s birthday that year I made his favorite meal, pork and sauerkraut with mashed potatoes, set an elegant table, and put a couple hundred sticky notes all around our apartment telling him things I loved about him.  Another birthday I wrapped up “round the clock gifts,” and even made him take them to work so he could continue to open one every hour.

The week before our first anniversary, Jon was in Chicago for job training. Boy did we look forward to our reunion! I “recreated” our honeymoon suite. I even hung a sign on the outside of our door with “Carolinian,” the name of the suite, written in delicate letters. Then I made a little scavenger hunt complete with hidden clues. Our apartment wasn’t very big, so he knew where I was hiding pretty quickly.  But I made him figure out each riddle and follow each clue! And when he figured it out, the prize was, well… Moving on.

And of course, there were so many ways Jon lavished love on me too.  Before our first Christmas Jon searched the internet for weeks to find an original boxed set of the Chronicles of Narnia—not in chronological order, but in publication order, of course, because he knew my silly soapbox that they must be read the way C.S. Lewis wrote them… Yes. I proudly stand on that one. He was so excited to give me that gift. For our 2nd anniversary Jon planned a weekend trip to Lake Geneva, and he even called my principal at school to arrange for me to have “surprise days off.” On my 30th birthday Jon told me to take a half-day off of school. I received an email that morning that said, “Dear Mrs. Atkins. Your driver will be waiting outside promptly at 11:15. He will be holding a sign. Sincerely, J. Atkins Cab Co.” And so the adventure began.

Even in the Mundane

I could keep going, but I would be remiss if I didn’t share with you the lavish love on normal, mundane days. This was the extravagance that took the form of sacrificial giving and service. And  Jon won hands down! He gave and gave and gave to me. On cold mornings he always went out and started my car and scraped away the ice. He usually made me eat the last m&m. Because he knew my love affair with popcorn, he’d always spend the extra money and buy it when we went to see a movie.  We inherited an old vacuum from his parents that needed a lot of “umph” to actually get the floor clean. And every week he would vacuum because he said he didn’t want me to have to get all sweaty gross. It could have also just been his neat freak tendencies, but nonetheless he wanted to do it. Because I’m so NOT a morning person, he was my alarm clock. And even though he never was one to push “snooze,” he graciously gave me “five more minutes” (at least twice..hehe) every day.

I’m notorious for losing bobby pins. They show up everywhere, in the washing machine, in the car, in baskets,  under the couch,  on the end table, lurking in a corner… And at first this used to really bother my slightly ocd husband. I really tried hard to put them where they belong, but it was a losing battle. One day Jon picked up a bobby pin, and said “I suppose lovee that I’ve come to adore seeing your bobby pins. I think it would make me really sad if I stopped finding them everywhere.”

Jon was an end of the toothpaste squeezer married to a middle squeezer.  A potential point of contention, of course, more so for him than me.  But I think he just lovingly reset the toothpaste tube after I used it.  These mundane things were extravagant in their own way. This was him loving his wife as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her. (Ephesians 5)

Button pushing was another form of Jon’s lavish love, for each new way he devised to “torture” me was evidence of playfulness and affection.  Remember those little boys who tried to pull ponytails in kindergarten?  Yep. You got it- Jonathan Andrew.  And if he got the desired reaction, he would clap his hands and grin in a silly child-like manner. And I would take his chin in my hand and say, “Andrew, you are such a five year old boy.”  With a smirk, the response was always, “No, I’m at least five and a half.”

His lavish love was also holding me and letting me cry sometimes. It was confronting my sin with truth. It was letting me hug him and not let go until I counted out loud to 30 (a totally arbitrary number). It was driving at night because he knew how much I hated it.  It was stroking my hair as I laid my head in his lap. It was unconditional forgiveness. It was not holding a grudge. It was pointing me to Christ when I doubted or was discouraged. It was reminding me of the gospel frequently.

Without Jon?

Among my precious memories, though is the realization that first holidays without him are quickly approaching,  Easter, Jon’s birthday, and our anniversary.  Small tangent, Valentine’s Day was actually the first holiday since Jon’s death, but the pain was still so blinding and raw at that point that every day was the same. But as these firsts draw near, I’ve already started feeling the depths that may be associated with them.  So here are my thoughts. I suppose folks may have still considered us newlyweds with only 2 1/2 years under our belt.  Perhaps we wouldn’t have stayed so lavish with one another over 50 years, who knows.— Call me a fool, but I’m not sure I really believe that! Life, children, responsibilities, whatever, could have subdued the romance at times in the future, but that is not the sole or always present mark of lavish love.  And I recognize and understand that the enduring foundation of marriage is not romance. It was not our foundation. We loved loving one another, but our bedrock was Christ and the gospel. Marriage is a covenant that is a picture of Christ’s covenant with the church. It’s a covenant based on promises not performance, just like my relationship with God! Though romance would have had its ebbs and flows, I sure hope we would have remained lavish forever!!

Let me explain, our lavishness didn’t have to be expensive, and often it was not. But as I think of the love Christ has for His church, I’m overwhelmed by His extravagance!  If our bedrock was Christ and the gospel, then our marriage was built on the most extravagant display of sacrificial love in all of eternity.

So let me unpack that one message again in a slightly different manner. Christ, fully God and fully man, was never created. He dwelt forever with the Father, and Holy Spirit. Don’t ask me to explain the Trinity! I can’t. But, three in one, God spoke the world into existence. Christ made all things, the stars, the planets, the universe… And before time He was exalted with all majesty, splendor and authority, and power.  Yet He was personal. He walked in the garden in perfect fellowship with His creation. But man in the greatest betrayal chose to heed Satan’s lies, casting himself and all creation under the weight of sin.  So marred and fractured by sin, man’s relationship to God was broken. The penalty for sin was costly–death, a fate that God never intended His beloved creation to experience.  So mankind was utterly hopeless. He could not fulfill the perfect demands of God’s righteousness. But God in His mercy clothed Adam and Eve and covered their nakedness with a sacrifice, a substitute.  And even there He foreshadowed that a perfect sacrifice would come. So God became man. Christ exalted and clothed in splendor, God Himself, humbled Himself and took upon the form of a servant (Philippians 2). On the cross, He was the perfect sacrifice. The once and complete atonement.  He paid the high cost–death, so that we might live! He rose again, ever lives, and will come again. This is the true redemption story. And one day, even all creation will be restored.  Creation. Fall. Redemption. Restoration. Does this not stir your heart? Isn’t this lavish? Isn’t this overflowing, abundant love that cannot be comprehended?

Jon and I desired our marriage to reflect Christ, and our lavishness toward another was one manifestation of that reflection.  Our feeble attempts were but a glimpse of our Savior’s love. You see, lavishness doesn’t merely refer to romance. True lavish, extravagant love is sacrificial. It is meeting the needs of the one loved. It is seeking his best.  Christ gave us that example.  The power of the gospel was transforming us to be what He already said we were—like Him.  So I will not feel guilty for lavish love. Our love was lavish because our God is lavish.

So here’s what I’m NOT saying. “Wow, look at us! We had a fantastic marriage! Don’t you wish your husband adored you this way?”  Far from it!! We’re not the example. Don’t view my precious memories as the epitome. We did not have all our stuff together. And of course, we had our junk.  We did not have it all figured out.  We failed a lot.

But here’s the truth.  Like the woman who broke her box of valuable ointment to anoint the feet of Jesus washing them with her hair, I want to love much because I have been loved much. I have been loved far more than I can comprehend.  (Luke 7:36-50)

Chicago at Night
Chicago at Night
Sears Tower
Sears Tower
Round the clock gifts
Round the clock gifts
2nd Anniversary, Mailboat Tour in Lake Geneva
2nd Anniversary, Mailboat Tour in Lake Geneva

Epilogue

I wept a lot on Easter.  But it was the reality of Christ’s conquering sin and death that gripped me in a way I’d never seen before.  Because Jesus lives, so shall I. And so does Jon.  Jesus “trampled death by death.”  Can there be anything more extravagant than that?

I am abundantly blessed to have been loved so by a man. But I am infinitely more blessed to be loved this way by my Savior.

As the holidays approach,  He’ll meet me each time and carry me with grace anew. This is lavish love.

 

“NO God!” But He brought me back.

name written“Behold I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” Isaiah 49:16.  I’m getting a necklace made from Jon’s fingerprint. So of course, last Sunday as this text was preached, God illumined my heart anew and captivated me by the parallels. I was reminded that I am God’s fingerprint, or hand print even. How could He then forget me? 

I was so thankful because I thought, “This is how I’ll use the necklace to remind myself of the gospel.” Just as I could not forget Jon, so God has not forgotten me, nor will he forget me.  He chose me and He calls me His own.  Jon’s fingerprint will forever be a part of me. His life and our love have left an indelible imprint on my heart. I’ll always love Him.

But even better than that, I am an indelible imprint on God’s heart. And it is not because of anything I have done, nor who I am. But it is because of who He is, and what He has done.  Because Jesus paid the penalty for sin, I am rightly restored to God. Because of the gospel, I am His child. Because of the gospel, I am engraved on His hand.  There is great hope. And His name is Jesus.

But how quickly do I forget. I’ll be honest. This past week I’ve been in one of the lowest places I’ve ever been, perhaps the lowest.  The deep places of the last seven weeks are new. I’ve never been here before Jon’s death.  I mean, I’ve had sorrow and suffering before, but I’ve never been brought to these depths. Since I’ve been a Christian I never have been in a place where I questioned the very root of faith, that is, hope in Christ, or more accurately Christ Himself.  But I got there this week. I feel like I relate to the psalmist who says, “Out of the depths O Lord I cry to you,” in that place where the only words I can form to pray are, “God I need you.”

I know it is ok to go to the low places. It is ok to grieve, to mourn, to question, to be raw in honesty before God.  It’s ok to not rush grief. It’s kind of where I’m living right now. But God broke my heart during worship service this morning. He showed me that somehow I was no longer just in the low place, but instead captive by it. Up to this point, though in the low places, there’s been grace to say, “But God…” In the intense emotions and the questions I could still remember who God was. I was able to remember the gospel. But I couldn’t do that this week. I couldn’t preach truth to myself. I forgot to say “Behold the risen Christ” even in the depths.  I chose to forget.  But I suppose, it wasn’t really so much forgetting as it was fighting. 

Let me be really specific. All week long God reminded me of the hope I have in Christ. He reminded me of the verse that so touched my heart. “Behold I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.”  At the beginning of the week, though I struggled, I tried to listen.  I struggled to believe God was carrying me. I struggled to recognize grace. I told God just to take me home to be with Him.

“God I don’t care about being here anymore. Just let me come there.”

Yet still, I struggled. I’m reminded of a song “Hallelujah! We are free to struggle. We’re not struggling to be free!  Your blood bought and makes us children. Children drop your chains and sing!” It’s a blessing to know the struggle is not wrong.

 But by Thursday morning, I was shouting, “No God! This truth is no longer for me!”  Here’s the circumstance. Wednesday night I had my first nightmare since Jon’s death. I awoke to my own voice screaming his name. I have no idea what the nightmare was, but I was in a sheer panic. I’ve had plenty of sleepless nights, but not that. And it scared me. It felt again like God had forgotten me.  As I drove to work Thursday morning wrestling with these thoughts, there was a magnificent sunrise, and God brought to mind what I had written the day before Jon died. “Reminded this morning by a gorgeous sunrise that light comes after dark. Spring comes after winter. What mercy and grace the Father gives!” 

But this time when the words sprang to mind, I refused the comfort. Instead I fought God’s gracious gift. I fought His mercy.

“But God do I still have a right to believe this? Is this even for me?  I mean maybe you intend for it to always be winter in my soul. Is there really going to be light? Is there really going to be spring? Do I still have hope for this life?” 

And for the first time, I answered those questions with a resounding no.

“This truth isn’t for me. It no longer applies.” Just to clarify though, I wasn’t doubting my eternal hope. I still knew my soul was secure because Jesus purchased my salvation. I can’t take back what has been bought.  But the despondency stemmed from thinking, “Yes there is hope for eternity, but this life is hopeless.” It’s kind of a crazy dichotomy, but that’s where I was. I know it doesn’t make sense.  Yet, to say there was no hope, was to doubt Christ Himself.

“But God rich in mercy…” (Ephesians 2:4)  But my Savior is merciful, lavish, and unfathomably loving. I have a Savior who knows grief.  He understands sorrow. And as I continued to battle these thoughts over the next couple days, God did not answer me with strong rebukes, though I daresay they were deserved.  He didn’t say “You foolish blind sheep! Why can’t you see? You wretch, get up and obey.”  Rather, His tender voice continued seemed to gently say, “Oh my darling child. I remember your frame. I know you are dust. I know you can’t do this.”

And He met me with grace upon grace… a note full of truth on facebook, a text from a friend at the right moment, a card, a listening ear who felt no need to respond, a principal who knows I need to step out of the room sometimes, a gift from a student’s parent, a conversation with my sister, a package full of fun girly things…

Yet I still argued. Driving home on Friday, this was my rant, “God you’ve got the wrong person. There is some saint out there way better equipped for this than me. Whatever this task is, I am not the one for it!” However, on the heels of my rant followed these words. “Lord I do want to believe. I want to know that you are enough. I desperately want to be like you. I desperately need you.”

And so I came to worship this morning begging God to meet with me. To make clear in my heart the truths He wanted me to see.  So here it is. As Isaiah leads to his climax in Isaiah 53 where he prophesies Jesus’ death, the theme is “Listen! Awake!” It could be paraphrased this way; God’s saying “Your oppressors are walking all over you, but rise up. I am setting you free.” As my pastor unpacked the beautiful truths from Isaiah 50-51, these are the verses God made leap from the page.

“For the Lord comforts Zion; He comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.” (51:3)

“And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (51:11)

And he asked this question, “What has you locked down? What is holding you back from seeing God’s promises in Christ?’ Immediately in my heart was the word, grief.  And it hit me like a ton of bricks. The low places had taken me captive. I was a slave once again. I couldn’t see Christ anymore.

But here’s reality. I do have great hope. His name is Jesus. He is hope not only for eternity, but for this life also. Sorrow and sighing shall flee away because Jesus conquered sin and death! My waste places will be like Eden because Jesus is the true Sacrifice! The comfort God brings to Zion is His own Son! Joy, gladness, thanksgiving, song; all are possible because of Christ rose from the dead!  

In chapter 52 Isaiah exhorts me to behold the glory of my Savior. Behold the risen Christ—This is why light comes after dark. This is why spring comes after winter. This is why joy comes after mourning. The hope is found in resting, looking, gazing, and beholding the beauty of my Savior. When Jon was preaching weekly he would say, “I have only one message to unpack 100 different ways.”  I think I have only one message too– Life and hope and all things are found in Jesus.  Likewise, the only thing in Scripture called the “Power of God” is gospel. This is the power available to me. Because He died and rose again, Jesus is my Great High Priest. He ever lives and pleads for me. Praise God, that when I forget, He brings me back.

So here I am full circle. “Behold I have engraved you upon the palms of my hands.” I’m there because of the wounds He bears. I’m there because He died for me. I’m there because He rose again. And I’m there because He calls me His own. What mercy and grace the Father gives! Oh that I would not forget!


I know I always give you songs, but music is a powerful communicator of God’s truth to me. This is “O My Soul Arise.”  Go listen to it! Seriously. The title is a link. I love the Sovereign Grace arrangement that makes me “aware that the battle to remember the scriptural truths contained in these verses is a battle! But how sweet it is to contend with our souls knowing that the object of our trust is Jesus Christ. He is our unique and perfectly qualified Great High Priest, and our assurance that we do not fight alone.” (Eric McAllister)

O My Soul Arise
Arise, my soul, arise
Shake off your guilty fears
The bleeding sacrifice
On my behalf appears
Before the throne my surety stands
Before the throne my surety stands
My name is written on His hands. He ever lives above
For me to intercede
His all redeeming love
His precious blood to plead
His blood atoned for every race
His blood atoned for every race
And sprinkles now the throne of grace. O my soul, arise
Behold the risen Christ
Your Great High Priest
Your spotless sacrifice
O my soul, arise
God owns you as His child
Shake off your guilty fears
My soul, arise. Five bleeding wounds He bears
Received on Calvary
They pour effectual prayers
They strongly plead for me:
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry
“Don’t let that ransomed sinner die!” My God is reconciled
His pard’ning voice I hear
He owns me as His child
I can no longer fear
With confidence I now draw nigh
With confidence I now draw nigh
And “Father, Abba, Father,” cry
DSCN2915 jon & ami-10 jon & ami-25

Credits:  Verses by Charles Wesley (1742), music and additional words by Eric McAllister  © 2012 Sovereign Grace Worship (ASCAP)

Love Stories and Weddings

atkins-109 My mind is filled with weddings and love stories this morning, prompted by the upcoming wedding of some great friends. I’ll be honest, over the last couple days I’ve thought, “Maybe I won’t go. I just don’t know if I can do it. I don’t know if I can do this without Jon.” But God’s gracious gift to me today was reminding me of our love story, and then of the greatest love story…

Love Stories

Our story is the stuff that movies are made of. I’ll never forget the first time I actually met Jon. We were with our church singles group at a blue grass “ho-down” in Pumpkintown, South Carolina. Yeah, pretty awesome, huh. Jon was wearing the most hideous, peachy-orange Hawaiian shirt possible.  I was dating someone else at the time. Jon walked up to me, and said “So, are you with him?” When, I said yes, he shook his head in dismay and walked away without another word! As I watched him interact with others that night, I remember thinking how obnoxious he seemed.

So fast forward through many details- I got engaged to that other guy. That other guy broke my heart.  (I’m so thankful he did!!). Jon also understood a broken engagement, so our friendship was cemented. But then he asked me out merely two months after the break up! My heart was still healing. Of course, I see pain a lot differently now. At the time, the loss was deep, but it really is nothing compared to death of my husband!  By the way, here’s a little tangent, this loss is different. People keep saying I will heal. But I don’t get that. My heart is not broken! I’ve been there, done that, and this loss is different. My Jonathan loved me and would have done anything to stay with me. It is not the same as a broken heart. I can’t quantify it, but losing your husband is a depth of sorrow I didn’t even realize existed.  So I know that God is carrying me, and will continue to carry me, but I don’t know if “healing” is the right word. Perhaps it’s not healing, but happiness. Perhaps God will someday restore happiness and delight. I have joy now, but maybe life will be a delight again some time. I mean, I think someday He’ll take me again out of the valley. But I’m ok being here as long as He wants me to be.

But of course, I digress.  Anyway, I told him I would go.  And at the end of our first date, Jon said, “So, where do you see this headed?”  And as kindly as I could, I told him nowhere! “No, Jon, I just need you to be my friend. We’re not going to date.”

I could fill chapters will all the details of following months. And they’re beautiful details that I’ll always treasure and love to talk about!  But the gist is that God slowly began to change my heart. At first I didn’t even realize it. And Jon did not give up pursuing me. When my eyes finally opened to the wonderful man before me, it was his pursuit that won me. He came after me, and wasn’t going to quit till he got me. And then when he got me, he still didn’t quit.  It reminds me of an even greater Pursuer.

About four months after our first date I went to a wedding in Arizona with my best friend. I had still given Jon no indication that there would ever be a future for the two of us. Jon had volunteered to take us to the airport two hours away, at 3:00am, however. And his ulterior motive was obvious. He and I had tremendous conversation all the way there while Yesenia was asleep in the back seat (well pretending to be- Ahem.) When we arrived at the airport, Jon parked and carried in our bags. As I watched him walk away, I had the strongest compulsion to hug him. “What!” I thought, startled, “Where did that come from? No way, I don’t want it!”  But whether I wanted it or not, he was on my mind, and I couldn’t shake it. And finally, as dense as I was, I realized I had more than just friendship thoughts toward him.

I spent so much time on that trip in prayer evaluating my heart and motives. Was it just infatuation? Was it just the desire to have someone because Yesenia did?  I told her, “I know all I would have to do is say the word.” But I was still nervous, so I kept praying. The wedding was on the day that would have been my wedding day to that other guy. But he was not on my mind at all! Jon was. There was no sorrow. Only joy. It was never the day the Lord intended for me. As I watched the bride walk down the aisle there was a series of extremely vivid images in my mind… me walking down the aisle to Jon, us serving in ministry… And they caught me so off guard that I gasped. So I prayed, “God I desperately need your wisdom.” The more I prayed the more God just seemed to say, “Ami I just want you to be willing.” So, by the time I got home from that week in Arizona I was willing.

Jon picked us up from the airport, and for some reason, we dropped Yesenia off, but not me (she and I were roommates). So here we are conveniently alone in the car. Of course, Jon asked about the trip and specifically about the wedding, for he had known that it had the potential to be a difficult day. I was so excited to say that God had officially closed that last chapter. I told him that I spent a lot of time in prayer. And as soon as I said it, I knew he was going to ask, “About what?” And he did. And here I faced a dilemma. “Do I tell him? Or do I figure out a way to weasel out of it?’  But what came rushing out of my mouth was, “You.”  And then his jaw just about dropped to the ground! “What? You can’t be serious!”  So I went on to tell him all that God had been doing, and that I was willing to see what where God “would take this.” We hashed out a lot that night, but there was one question I really had to ask. “Jon there’s one more thing I need to know. Why do you want this? Why are you interested in me?”

And the hugest grin spread across his face. “Where do I even begin? First of all, you are absolutely beautiful!” Then he launched into a specific, obviously well thought out paragraph about my character. “Ami I see your compassion for others, your servant’s heart, your desire to live the gospel, you have a heart for ministry, your life radiates Christ. The more I know you, the more I think ‘she’s godly’ and I want that…”

I was floored. He had been watching me for months. And he thought that highly of me? He knew why he pursued me, and was able and willing to tell me so. I was stunned. And so as they say, the rest is history.  Sometime I’ll tell you our engagement story. Now that’s the stuff forthe  romantics!

When we first started dating, there were folks who thought Jon wasn’t good enough for me. There were folks who slandered him and brought up elements of his past to others, and told me I was a fool. They were flat out wrong. I was the one who didn’t deserve him.  Jesus was transforming him, and already had transformed him. Most people however, could see what we saw, God’s hand orchestrating and guiding events to bring us together.

So as I sat here this morning reflecting on the almost 5 years we’ve known each other, 4 years together, 3 years since engagement, and 2 ½ years married, God reminded me that they were the most delightful and joy filled years of my life. I would rather have had 5 beautiful years with Jon, than to not have had him at all! I’d rather be going through the deepest valley of loss than to never have experienced what it is to love and be loved so thoroughly by another. Our story was masterfully designed and woven by God.  It was His goodness and grace that brought us together and formed two into one.  But our story reminds me that Jon and his love for me pales in comparison to God’s unfathomable love.  And now it is His grace that says it is good to take Jon away. That it is good for me to be a widow. It is part of that masterful design. He has not forsaken me. He has engraved me on the palm of His hands. He has not forgotten me. (Isaiah 49:15-16)

Weddings

Jon loved weddings. I mean, you don’t understand. He absolutely adored weddings! He loved going to them. He loved dancing at them. He loved rejoicing with the new couple. He loved everything about the most “special of days.” In fact, I’ve never seen a man who was more genuinely excited about going to weddings than Jon. One of our dear friends commented that she thought Jon was more excited about her wedding than she was! I think it’s true. And with our own wedding, Jon was intricately involved in every facet of planning. He wanted to help pick out the colors, the cake, the venue… He and I spent hours meticulously planning the program and music in order that our wedding would overflow with the gospel and Jesus. We sat on the floor tying hundreds of tags on party favors that said “I love you 1,000 red m&ms” or “I love you 1,000 blue m&ms”— You guessed it. The favor was red and blue m&ms. I know, all of this may seem really weird… So, before you start thinking my husband was a pansy, he also loved trains and airplanes. And the Bears, Cubs, Bulls, and Blackhawks. Let me explain.  I think the reason Jon loved weddings so much is that he really got the symbol. He recognized that for believers, earthly weddings are a miniscule foreshadowing of the Great wedding between Christ and His bride, the church.  He recognized that one day Christ will come for His bride wrapped in splendor and majesty. And that this destitute, dumb, lame, filthy, enslaved, scoundrel of a bride will be gloriously remade into what He has already declared her to be: spotless, clean, purified, redeemed, chosen, beautiful…  (Ephesians 5)

It was more than just weddings. Jon loved marriage. One of his primary passions was teaching men to love their wives and sacrifice for them. He desperately wanted our own marriage to reflect Christ. But, just to clarify, he didn’t worship marriage. He very clearly saw that marriage is but a picture of the gospel. It is not the end all in itself. But rather, Christ, the Heir, the One who is God, made Himself low.  He pursued a bride who hated Him. With His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead, He gave his life for her, purchased her, ransomed her, lavished His love on her…And this is the greatest of love stories!  And I get to be a part of it. Of course, we know that God does all things first and foremost for His own glory! His primary reason for sending His Son was not His love for me, yet His righteous desire for His own glory.  Yet, there was unfathomable love there as well. So as I contemplate the abundant gift God gave me in Jon, I stand in awe at the even greater gift he gave me in Jesus.

Epilogue

So I went to the wedding. It was beautiful, gospel-filled, and much harder than I thought. As with the wedding that started it all, I had vivid pictures of me walking down the aisle to Jon. Thoughts of our own beautiful day, and beautiful life flooded my mind. Though this time there was immense sorrow, I found it still possible to rejoice with others.  I shed lots of tears, but it’s ok that my church family saw the grief  and the ugliness of loss. I made it through most of the evening. I consider that a victory.

“Lord I realize that It was not wrong for me to love Jon so– to still love him so. It was not wrong to take great pleasure and joy in Him. For he constantly led me back to supreme love for you. He was your gracious gift. Thank you for the most joy- filled delightful years of my life. Through the difficult challenges of being newlyweds, you were faithful. Thank you God for the joy of loving and being loved.  Thank you for the intimacy, the silliness, the tears, the laughter, the arguments, the reconciliation, the sacrificial love… Oh God you dealt with me abundantly! And still you deal with me abundantly.

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You have chosen me to be a part of the greatest story. Of your story. You gave your own Son. You will withhold no good thing from me. This I know. ‘Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand and marked off the heavens with a span… who has measured the Spirit of the Lord or what man shows Him counsel?’ Lord who am I to argue with you? Or to think that I know what is good? You are the One who knows all things. You are the One who gives life and being, and now somehow widowhood is your gracious gift to me. Somehow this is what will teach me to know you and love you more. I stand in awe that you would give me such a gift as Jon in the first place, but the comparison to Christ is overwhelming! That you would give me Jesus!”

There’s a song that sums this up I think….

Behold Our God -Sovereign Grace Music

Cranberries and Cooking Utensils: How Jon taught me Jesus

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It was our second Thanksgiving married, but our first Thanksgiving to cook the big feast! I was so excited about our 20 lb turkey we got for $4.65.  We were cooking only for four, but I suppose we had enough for about 15!  Jon and I had so much fun researching turkey preparation and cooking methods. We even watched a YouTube video.  Of course we were having all the sides. And you can’t forget my mom’s famous pumpkin pies. So here we are, the night before thanksgiving enjoying the time together as we prepared for the next day. Jon and I were a great team in the kitchen, and cooking together was always quality time we both enjoyed. That is, of course, after we decided who was head chef and who was sous chef for a particular meal. I’m pretty sure I was head chef for Thanksgiving.

Cranberries..
Cranberries..
Let's see if we have a masterpiece!
Let’s see if we have a masterpiece!
Success!
Success!

We were having such a great time, but then somehow an argument arose. I have no idea what it was about! But isn’t that the way it is most times? The hurt feelings or the selfishness seems so important at the time, but then later you can’t even remember what caused the rift. I guess that’s the beauty of true reconciliation. I do know however, that I was the fighter. I never realized until I got married how stubborn and selfish I am.  And I think it’s not an exaggeration to say I started the vast majority of our “discussions.”

So on this occasion (and in many others), I was so angry and wanted to continue to fight even when Jon calmly said, “We’re not ready to talk about this right now.” You see, he consistently handled disagreements with a gospel-centered, unselfish perspective. And it made me mad. Because each time he responded rightly, I saw my own guilt and selfishness. So what did I do this time? I grabbed fresh cranberries and lobbed them at his head as hard as I could. Yes I did. With each stinging phrase from my mouth, came a cranberry flying from my hand.  Yeah, I know, ridiculous.  But by this time, I wanted him to sin. I wanted get a reaction to make me feel better about myself.  So I kept pitching cranberries.

Then Jon did something that caught me totally by surprise. Wordlessly, he bent down and starting picking them up. “Stop picking them up! Stop picking them up Come on! Fight me! !” I shouted, outraged.  But he just kept picking them up. I was livid. So I switched to cooking utensils. Now I did have at least some semblance of rational thinking because I consciously avoided the breakable items. 🙂 And I did at least stop chucking things at his head. But one by one, I grabbed a utensil from the flower pot on the counter and slammed it to the floor.  He just kept picking everything up. Finally realizing that my tantrum wasn’t getting anywhere, I ran out of steam, and stomped down the hall slamming the bedroom door.

I know, looking back, this event is pretty stinkin’ comical, and we laughed about it many times later when were were talking with newlywed couples.  But in the moment, I was so angry at his selflessness. His humility starkly contrasted my pride and obstinate fighting. As I lay on our bed fuming, the Holy Spirit started breaking my heart.  I finally realized my sin. God reminded me that Jesus died for that selfishness. He reminded me that Jon could only respond the way he had by the power of Christ in his life.  He reminded me that my sin “threw” much worse than cranberries at Jesus.  I had to remember that because of Jesus’  life, death, burial, and resurrection, I had been chosen and  reconciled. I had been served when I hated Him. Just as Jon knelt, and served when I was being wretched, Jesus showed the ultimate humility on the cross for me. So I repented and with broken heart returned to my husband.

Another occasion I was so angry that I wanted to hurt Jon with my words in any way I could. I wanted to cut him to the core. And I did.  And again, as I lay in our bedroom fuming, the Holy Spirit started pricking my soul. But this time Jon came in and laid on the bed too. I told him I wasn’t ready to talk yet. And he just laid there and let God work. When I rolled over, he immediately sought forgiveness from me before I could say anything. As if my heart wasn’t broken enough! I was the wretch! I was wrong! So as I cried because of my shame, he stroked my hair and said, “I adore you. You are so precious to me.  You are so beautiful, and I love you”.  And in that moment, it was Christ speaking, not Jon. How lavish is the love of Jesus! “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). In my heart I realized, “Ami, Jon is teaching you Christ.”  This is Jesus’ love. I am completely unworthy of it, but He calls me precious. He adopted me, and He calls me His own.

So these are some of Jon’s Gospel Lessons.

They were not lessons he was consciously trying to teach, but nonetheless so powerful because he lived them. I wanted to share these precious memories, so folks would continue to know the man my husband was. This blog is his legacy. He taught me Christ everyday through his sacrificial love. Yes, of course, there were times when Jon failed or when he sinned against me. In most arguments, not just one person is wrong. There is usually selfishness on both sides.  But Jon taught me how to argue to the glory of God. He taught me how to clarify and ask questions. He taught me how to forgive quickly and how to seek forgiveness quickly. And slowly God began to transform my heart. It’s only by His grace that I can look back and see the  fighter changing. In the last year or so, our arguments became much fewer and farther between, and less volatile when they did happen. And when I think of arguments, I also rejoice to think of the some of the sweetest times that followed.

So Gospel Lessons. So some of you might be thinking, “I don’t quite get it. What do you mean?”  By Gospel I mean the truth that Jesus lived a perfect life and never sinned. Jesus died a horrible death on the cross, was buried, and rose again on the third day.  I mean that I deserved God’s righteous wrath, but Jesus took it on Himself and absorbed all of it. God paid the penalty for my sin.  He became sin, who knew no sin that I would become righteous. (II Corinthian 5:21) The gospel is the truth that I was blind, lame, dumb dead, and in desperate need of a Savior.

Jon titled this blog  “When Mercy Found Me: Living Life Through the Lens of the Gospel”  And that’s what he did. That’s what “gospel-centered” means. It means that I need the truth of Gospel to radically influence my daily life.  I need to know its facets and be able to unpack them for myself. All the truth I’ve given above wasn’t just for the moment I first believed. I need it every day. Especially now. It is the truth that Jesus reconciled me to God, that enables me to in turn forgive and seek forgiveness from others. It is the truth that I have been redeemed, bought back, purchased, that reminds me that my my life is not my own! It reminds me even in the midst of my deepest suffering that I belong to God. It  is the truth that if God would give His own Son for me, shall He not do all things for me that are good? This grief is the craziest place I’ve ever been, but consistently God keeps leading me “to the Rock that is higher than I.” He is the One carrying me!

This post is not about me. I’m a mess. I still miss my husband and want him back.  But this is the way I process things. So, I want you to see Jon. But mostly I want you to see Jesus.

This is the wallpaper on our computer. Created by our Pastor. And one of the reasons for this post.
This is the wallpaper on our computer. Created by our Pastor. It’s missing the T in “This” because our computer cut it off. But that’s ok.