A Handful of Wilted Flowers

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

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

Sorrow. I let it linger for several heartbeats.

“Pull it together Ami. They need you.”

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

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

I suppose I needed them as well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And smile I did.

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

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

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

He brings His righteousness.

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

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

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

How beautifully freeing.

My Father delights in me.

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


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This post appeared first at anewseason.net

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For my sister, Builder of Bikes

Daily Quotes

Surrounded by giant cardboard boxes, bike parts, and tools (of which we did not know all the names), I could sum up the situation in a few choice words—overwhelming, infuriating, and daunting. My sister stared at the instructions, tears forming at the corners of her eyes.

But she took a deep breath, gathered her resolve, and set to work. Somewhat reluctantly, I followed suit. Building bikes is not for the faint of heart. We’re smart girls, but certain aspects left us completely bewildered, putting our ingenuity to the test. Some steps seemed to be left out of the directions altogether.

If a woman had written them, they’d be more more detailed. “Use pliers with cable cutting ability, or just use scissors.”

Trial and error. We had to disconnect and reconnect brake cables three times. We didn’t realize the handlebars were backwards. There may have been frustration involved.

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Visions of husbands deftly using wrenches and pliers with cable cutting ability danced across my mind.

We shouldn’t be building bikes.

Not because we weren’t capable in the end, but we shouldn’t have to.

I felt anger rise at the brother-in-law who left her, preferring adultery and divorce. I still want to punch him. She should not be a single mother. I watched her composure crack, tears streaming. Not many see a window into my beautiful sister’s vulnerability. But I saw.

“Sometimes I feel stuck, like I’m caught on a never ending cycle. Like God has held me to the fire far too long”

“Sometimes I feel abandoned.”

“I’ve tried to be a strong testimony of grace, of resting in God’s goodness. But sometimes I’m tired of trying.”

Yet it is with abundant grace she shepherds the hearts of her children, pays the bills, works, home schools, and shoulders all the household tasks. I think it’s easier to see grace from the outside looking in.

I had no eloquent words of wisdom. I just wanted to listen and share the sorrow with her.

Being a widow can be excruciatingly difficult, but I think my sister’s lot is harder. I want her to be cared for as I have been cared for. But sometimes, folks don’t always see those affected by divorce. They think it gets easier.

I want her family restored. I wish she didn’t have to walk this path, and I wish my niece and nephew didn’t know brokenness. I can’t fix the suffering. But I know the One who will.

So to my sister, Builder of Bikes, I want to tell you what I see.

I see the radiance of Christ in you through every soft word and patient conversation you have with your children. You live with consistency before them; God is working through you in more substantial ways than you know. You’ve given me an incredible example of parenting through suffering.

I see the sacrificial way you raise them, constantly pointing their hearts to Jesus.

You bravely face the hard things.

I see Christ reflected as you’ve struggled through deep emotions. By grace you have refused bitterness.

You’ve wept with me also, sharing grief, understanding things others cannot. And we’ve allowed each other to struggle with faith. Invaluable.

I see mercy and compassion for others. I see a daughter of the Most High, clothed in righteousness, being transformed exponentially in Christlikeness.

I believe God is doing good. And I believe He will give you beauty for ashes, not only in eternity, but in this life also. I pray for grace to surround you. I pray the love of God overwhelms you. I pray you will be guarded with peace.

I see your strength. But I want you to know you don’t always have to be strong.

You have a great High Priest who gets it. He knows your weaknesses. He carries, and He has promised never to leave you. I know it doesn’t always feel that way. I struggle sometimes also. So I need truth too.

But we can stand on this—God keeps His promises. 

He will not leave.  He will never be unfaithful.

“He will tend his flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in his arms; He will carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” (Isaiah 40:11)

It seems like you bear the weight of the world, but your Shepherd bears you. You are cherished, and you are loved.

He gently leads. “A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick He will not quench.” (Isaiah 42:3)

How patiently our Father teaches us to “ride our bikes.” When we fail to trust, still He’s there keeping us upright. And when we fall He cleans our scraped up knees.

And on the day we finally see Him face to face, we’ll know it was worth it! We’ll know for certain that He writes astonishing stories, exquisite in detail, lovely beyond comprehension, woven seamlessly into the story of stories. He’ll be resplendent in glory!

And we will also see total restoration. 

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)

Christmas morning two children received their gifts with joy. With exuberance, they couldn’t wait to learn. So my sister, Builder of Bikes, set out to teach them to ride.

 

Just a Recipe

Recipe

Guest post by Jill Neff.

I know every word by heart, but today I look at the card as if I expect it to speak to me. Flowing handwriting, faded with time, passed down from one generation to another. The ingredients sit silently in a line on the counter, like little toy soldiers, waiting for me. And I know if I don’t start soon, this pie will not be finished in time.

I linger, letting my mind wander back in time to a young bride. She walks through the field to the house next door. A gentle woman she now calls mother-in-law waits to teach her the intricate secrets of baking so the bride can indulge her new husband’s sweet tooth.  Her recipe book quickly fills with everything from sugar cookies and date nut cake to chocolate and coconut cream pies!

Reluctantly, I’m drawn back to the present, reminded by my “little toy soldiers” that I need to get moving.  How quickly time goes by.

The new bride is now white-haired, and those hands that so eagerly worked in the kitchen are quiet now.  No more enticing smells rise from the oven and no sweet treats cool on the counter.

I should not dawdle, but today I am compelled to consider this faded old card.  The white-haired, long since bride is my mother, and her recipes are now my recipes.

But time is not my friend. Yesterday we sat together, quietly talking as the world flowed by around us. These days, I gently provide context when she can’t remember, but I do most of the talking. And try to imagine what it will be like when the last ray of recognition leaves her eyes.

I wonder how long my brother and his sweet wife can continue care in their home and how my siblings and I will manage.  I try to be brave, but I am not.  I try to trust, but it’s hard.

And I try to pretend she will not forget me, BUT SHE WILL.

Dementia. It splatters paint with a broad brush with no regard for the subject or the canvas. There are good days. And there are bad days lurking just around the corner in the shadows. Changes and questions without answers abound.

“Will she stop loving me when she no longer recognizes who I am?”

A quote shared by a sweet friend burns deeply in my heart, “Forever remember me loving you!” 

I cling to them like a drowning man to a life preserver.  My biggest fear exposed, yet in five little words, I find my answer.

My mom won’t stop loving me.

She just won’t remember that she loves me.  There’s a big difference.

The Holy Spirit has a deeper lesson for me today.  Walking this path may bring constant changes, but I am walking with the One who is UNCHANGEABLE!   I am walking with the One whose love is everlasting and who will never forget that He loves me, even when my fainting heart thinks otherwise. 

Unchanging promises and never-ending grace. 

There is no other way to do this journey, but with my God. Truth brings peace, and my soul is quiet.

All this. From a faded recipe card.

Lord, when the journey seems unbearable, help me to walk closer and cling harder to you. When the path is rough, give me grace and strength for what comes next.  And I will trust in your everlasting love and rest in your comforting presence!

~Jill


Check out another post by my awesome mother-in-law:

Love the Unlovely?

And for my own thoughts on in-laws:

I won’t shut them out.

Adoption and the County Fair

 

I won’t shut them out.

Okay, let me be real with you. I am well. Life and ministry thrive. God has provided a sustainable, flexible career. I get to disciple others, be involved in Kingdom work, and I have deep friendships. My daily needs are met, and my emotions feel stable. I laugh often.

There is much beauty.

But there are moments when still his “absence is like the sky spread over everything,” and missing him is a little more poignant. Certain occasions still create the now familiar heaviness. It’s not debilitating pain of the early days, but rather a slow, dull ache. It’s an undercurrent of longing that shifts the tide and returns my heart to a place of introspection.

absence

Let me set the scene.

“The past tense of three!”

Laughter erupts at the ridiculous clue. Past tense of three? A shouted answer, a round disc passed, voices intense, and an intermittent beeping creates a fever pitch as it hurtles toward the timer’s end. Groans mix with whoops, and the guys leap from their seats. High fives all around, one would think they won the Super Bowl rather than a round of Catch Phrase.

Laughter comes in rolling wave upon wave. It’s a perfect moment frozen in time. But Jon’s not there, and it feels like he should be.

I’m one of the “lucky ones” (though luck is truly a myth) who has always adored her in-laws. I fell in love with Jon’s family immediately. And in death they have still counted me their own. I am so very thankful.

But this time it was hard to be with them. To me his absence was a startling contrast to the laughing family around me. Lies crept in.

They’re done missing him.” 

I guess we’ve exhausted the storehouse of shared memories.”

He’s being replaced.”

Without realizing it, I retreated to the safety of my thoughts.

“Ames, are you okay? It seems like this trip has been especially difficult. Sometimes it seems like you hurt more when you’re with us.”

“I do hurt more.”

And given the opportunity to process aloud, my words came in a flood. “It feels like he should be here. When I look at Ben with Holden, I see what Jon would have been like with a son.”

“I’m so excited for another brother to come into the family. (My youngest sister-in-law is headed toward marrying a fantastic guy) “But sometimes I think–‘a new adopted son to replace the old.‘”

“We’re not done missing him. You know there are lies among those thoughts, right?

“Yes.”

“We’re your family. You don’t have to put the walls up.” And then I understood she was right. I had begun to shut them out.

But I need them. And I have a sneaky suspicion that they need me too.

The heaviness lifted. I don’t have deep theological truth to share this time, just simple thoughts. An emotional wall is the opposite of grace.

  • Grace gives permission to handle things differently.
  • Grace remembers the dull aches of others.
  • Grace does not steel itself against hurt.
  • Grace loves and cherishes.
  • Grace does not believe lies.
  • Grace laughs.
  • And grace arrives with open arms.

So as long as they’ll have me, I’ll have them. I’ll keep my heart open. When the missing is more poignant, I won’t shoulder it alone. For grace recalls its family.

“I hold you in my heart.”thank


“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 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. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace”

Philippians 1:3-7a 

For more about adoption, in laws, and grace check out these posts:

Mine.

Live for the Audience of One.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Audience of One already approves.

Have you forgotten who He is?

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

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

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

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

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

Justified.

Just as if I’ve never sinned.

Just as if I’ve always obeyed.

Negative infinity to zero.

Zero to positive infinity.

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

Therefore, to live for the Audience of One, isn’t performance. 

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

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

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

 

I don’t want to write about grief.

A post for widows, but perhaps truth for many…

comfort

I don’t want to write about grief.

I sat brainstorming for my upcoming post for A Widow’s Might. “How can I encourage other widows today? What do these hurting sisters need to hear?”

A revelation lodged itself firmly in my heart. Though I’m responsible for a post about grief, I don’t want to write about it.

How utterly marvelous and liberating!

“Why? What do you mean?”

Let me back up a moment. Two weeks after my husband died, I was compelled to chronicle the aftermath publicly, to let others see the crushing pain, to not shy away from places some fear to tread.

I’m not one to run away, so I attacked grief, aggressively processing facet after facet. I allowed myself to be in the deep places. And it was not wrong for me to be there.

I’ve unpacked layer upon layer of sorrow, filling 100s of journal pages and constructing nearly 60 blog posts. Writing is an outlet where confusion turns to clarity, where tears funnel into something productive.

More importantly, writing is the place where I preach truth to myself. I had to be raw and honest, but I also had to show the radical hope found in Jesus Christ. Writing about my grief cemented the truths God made clear in the valley:

It’s been an immensely necessary and beautiful part of the journey. I think it may yet have its place, but today my heart says, “It’s time to write about other things.”

Perhaps then, the most liberating and radical truth I can share is this: we don’t have to stay in the stranglehold. Through Jesus, grief cannot utterly destroy. Rather, He crushed death to death, and He turns mourning into dancing. He teaches us to write about other things.

Grief does not define me, nor is it my identity.

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who love me and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20 

Christ lives in me, and He defines me. Redeemed. Chosen. Adopted. Beloved. Complete. Whole.

Now don’t miss this, I’m still madly in love with my husband and miss him daily. I’m sure tears will still come at needed moments. Yet by grace, I walk forward.

And today, I don’t want to write about grief.

Father, through Jesus there is immense hope, confident expectation. Jesus took my spiritual death, and one day even physical death will be no more. Eternity awaits, forever with You. And these things fill my heart with joy! You will turn mourning into dancing and sorrow into gladness. God You were with me in the valley of death. You wept beside me there for many weeks. But now, I’m thankful You have led me from it. 

“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” Psalm 30:11-12


This post by Ami appeared first at anewseason.net

Love the Unlovely?

I’m just so stinkin’ excited to share this post by my mother-in-law! It’s easy to love the lovely, but what about the unlovely?

I’m so glad she did.


 

unlovelyBy guest blogger, Jill Neff

Love, the word rolls smoothly off our tongue. We love God, our families, coffee, and chocolate chip cookies. But how does my heart respond when God asks me to love someone unlovely? Our “pretty package” was named Jonathan, a rebellious teen from the youth group at the church my husband pastored. Motherless at fourteen, cancer would soon make him fatherless at eighteen. And God was about to reveal a plan that was a far cry from what we ever imagined. Jim said, “He’s my only child, will you take care of him, give him a home, and see him through college?”

Well that doesn’t seem too hard – food, a warm bed, and some occasional laundry.  But God said, “Will you love him, this unlovely one? And point him to me?” Now that journey was not for the squeamish or faint of heart.

Jonathan embraced his new family with gusto; he called us dad and mom, was over the moon about his new siblings, and had more energy than any 5-year-old I knew.  But he charged through life with intellectual knowledge of Christ, and no real relationship with Him, so we butted heads often.  There were tears, disappointments, hurts, and anger, and many prayers!

How he drove me to my knees over and over, seeking wisdom and strength for this journey.  I didn’t completely understand God’s plan, but I did understand what God wanted me to do, love this boy who had lost his real family, love him when he lied, love him when he disappointed, love him when he hurt me.  So love him I did, with every fiber of my being, like a mother would love him!

Baby steps forward, big steps back; it seemed at times like this “pretty package” was just too big a challenge!  Finally there was the most important victory. Jonathan yielded his life and put his faith and trust in Christ.  Oh things didn’t change overnight, but gradually the steps forward got bigger, and the steps backward got smaller as God’s word penetrated his heart.

We saw him grow in Christ, be called to preach, and marry, Ami, the love of his life. And my mother’s heart rejoiced.  On January 25, 2013, God called him home, ahead of the planned surgery to replace the faulty valve in his heart.

And my mother’s heart shattered into a million tiny pieces. “Wait, God, this wasn’t the plan!  This is not what I expected!”  My heart mourned, and God held me close and simply whispered, “You let me love him through you, and that was my plan all along!”

People ask me if I would do this again, knowing the struggles, disappointments, and hurts.  My honest human answer is maybe not!  Here’s the interesting part, however. God didn’t just change Jonathan, He changed me. The love of God is unconditional, full of grace and flowing from His heart “even while we were yet sinners.” (Romans 5:8).  He is looking for a surrendered and obedient heart that He can work through. Because that’s His plan, to use His children to love those around us, those who need to know the love of God as more than just a fuzzy idea they once heard somewhere, to love those who need to know the love of God in salvation!

Perhaps there is someone that God has placed in your path, someone in your sphere of influence, someone who is not very lovely, but someone who needs God to love them through you.  My journey with Jonathan is complete, but maybe your journey is just beginning. Who does God want to love through you? “One more child, He said, for this family of three. One more child, He said, point him to me.”  Would I do this again….in a heartbeat!

Father, help my heart to be in tune with your heart. I surrender my heart and ask you to love the unlovely through me.  Bring those across my path that need to know you and help me share God’s love and the glorious message of the gospel. 


This post appeared first at anewseason.net

And you will find rest for your souls.

hustleMy fingers and toes were ice, but my face was flushed and hot. Wrapped in a blanket, wearing several layers, including socks and slippers, I could not get warm. The tell tale signs were like stealth fighters. spies on a covert mission. Try as I might to thwart them, I merely slowed their progress. The tactic changed. It was a full-on frontal assault, a barrage of symptoms wreaking havoc with my immune system.

Chills. Aches. Fever. Runny nose. Sneezing. Headache. Maybe the flu. Sick. Bleh.

I hate being sick. I especially hate it now that I’m a widow. Going to the store to get my own OJ and chicken noodle is no fun when my head feels twice its normal size. Being sick feels worse alone.

My first reaction is typically denial. “I’m not getting sick. I’m just tired. I have too much to do. Can’t get sick. I don’t feel well just because I think I don’t feel well. It’s all psychological.

Finally I give in and accept reality. “Ugh. I feel awful.”

To the couch I go, knowing rest is a primary need. I admit, initially it’s wonderful to alternate sleep with a movie marathon. Sometimes slowing down is a beautiful thing

Read the rest of the story here at Intentional By Grace.

do better

An oak of righteousness? Two years after death.

???????????????????????????????Two years. Such small, seemingly insignificant words, yet they carry enormous weight.

Be warned, however, this may not be a tightly woven, finely crafted, highly polished train of thought. It’s one of those times I just need to let the words take themselves where they want to go.

Has it really been two years since Jon last kissed me, last made me laugh, last told me he loved me? The passage of time is both an instant and an eternity.

I didn’t believe the friend who told me the “seconds” can be more difficult than the firsts. But she was right. In year two reality set in. “This is my new life.”

I miss him daily, sometimes badly. Someone once asked me if there are days that go by that I don’t think about him. The answer to that is no. And it will always be no.

In the second year, careless words still hurt, pregnancy announcements still caused a twinge of sorrow followed by genuine rejoicing, and loneliness proved a powerful battle. Though grief’s crashing waves were less frequent, it’s reality that, at times, they were still ferocious. This year it was harder to tell people when I was deeply struggling. I wondered if it was still ok.  I’m thankful for close friends who remind me it’s safe to share the struggle.

I admit there were some unmet expectations. I thought surely, by now, I’d be headed to remarriage, toward someone taking care of me, toward not living alone.

There were fears, such as knowing a day is coming when Jon will have been gone longer than we were married. Not sure I’m ready to tackle that one.

Indeed, It took its own shape, this second year. I can think of several themes that encapsulate it: waiting, binding up, defeating lies, learning deeper trust, relinquishing expectations. In a word, sanctification.

“But God, wasn’t death enough? I’m really ok with mediocre. Can’t we take a break from transformation?”

He said no.

Praise God, He’s far more committed to my sanctification than I am! And I’ve started to realize that’s an incredible thing. Let me illustrate.

A couple weeks after Jon died, my pastor and his daughter stood at my door. With puffy eyes, unwashed hair, and clothed in sackcloth and ashes, I heard him say, “We picked this journal intentionally. The tree symbolizes the far reaching influence of Jon’s death. A seed falls down to the ground and dies, but from death there’s abundant life. I think God will grow a tree ridiculously more beautiful than we know. Jon’s life and death. Your life. The gospel will explode, and there will be abundant fruit. Ami, God’s going to use this. And He’ll use you.” 

I had no words to thank him for such a touching gift, but I doubt I believed him then. I didn’t know if there was truly life beneath the ashes.

A tree can be reduced to cinders in minutes, a mere glimmer of time. Fire sweeps through, destroying something strong and lovely. From all appearances the tree is dead, or at least so severely debilitated it may never produce foliage again.

That was me, ashes in an instant.

Ashes in an instant, but it takes many years to grow a mature tree. It took me awhile to embrace that idea. The new sprout must be tenderly cared for, lest it be trampled under foot and die. Likewise, growing means weathering harsh winters, droughts, and fierce storms. Did you know it takes at least 20 years (and sometimes up to 50) for an oak tree to produce acorns? That’s a long time to wait for fruit.

But I want “instant tree.” I want to know what God is doing. I want to see the result.  Yet, just as it takes time to grow a tree, apparently it takes time to grow me.

However, there is beauty even in the growth. Each year brings new blossoms and fresh green leaves. The colors of fall are magnificent.

“That they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.” Isaiah 61:3

Why oak? I mean, why didn’t God say willow tree? Well, oaks are symbols of strength and endurance.They grow to massive height, up to 100 feet tall, and spread 150 feet across. And as any one who’s ever desired quality furniture knows, oaks have some of the hardest wood on earth.

Also, I learned that a sprout growing from a stump of a burned (or cut down tree) grows significantly faster than its counterpart budding from an acorn.

This is what God is committed to, not just shaping and growing me, but a people. He’s committed to His church. He makes it fit to be with him. He spreads its influence through the nations. And He is passionate about His own glory.  He makes oaks of righteousness for His renown.

Therefore, I’m learning to embrace sanctification in all its forms, for God will complete the work He began.  He made me a citizen of the kingdom, a part of a people, totally set apart for Himself.

He’s making me evergreen, with leaves that do not wither, and in due season will produce much fruit (Psalm 1). It’s transformation empowered only by Jesus, and it’s possible only because he was cut down. One day I’ll be never ending new. And all of this because He’s deemed it so. And all this because He says it brings Him praise.

What an incomprehensible thing to think that the God who is already exalted, who already has all honor, would cause my faltering, weak, easily damaged sprout to magnify Him. What a incomprehensible thing to be so loved by God.

Finally, beneath the theme of sanctification ran a flowing current of grace. He empowers. As in year one, grace was tangible, God was abundant.

Grace was strength to sort through Jon’s clothes, give some away, and put some in a yard sale. It was watching a sweet old man walk away with Jon’s slippers. It was nine women invading my home, packing boxes and cleaning my bathrooms. Grace was stepping into a new house without Jon. Grace was pursuing and accomplishing new career goals.

It was bearing sorrow with others and walking alongside dear friends newly embarking on grief’s messy path; shared mourning creates a rich, unique bond that many may never experience.

Ministry blossomed and flourished, writing opportunities expanded. Grace looked like writing post, upon post, upon post, which stretched me and kept me utterly dependent. Grace was excitement, laughter, and a reunion with the Ami who existed before death.

Grace is God answering the constant cry of our marriage. “Father use us. Please let the gospel flow from us. Let us be a part of your kingdom work. Be glorified above all.”

How then, can I not rejoice in this second year?

“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shalt exult in my God, for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with robes of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations.”

Isaiah 61:10-11

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On how to love your grieving friend.

HelpfulSeveral months ago I endeavored to write all the beautiful, practical ways people have ministered to me in grief.

I could fill chapters with the “Helpful,” for I’ve been cared for abundantly. I’m overwhelmed by friends who know my flaws, yet love me deeply.

I do not take you for granted. You are all extremely Helpful.

But, I also knew I should include the “Not Helpfuls.” Grief can be an awkward thing, and we don’t all have the gift of mercy. And that’s ok. I’ve learned to give grace. I know there are plenty of times people give me grace also!

This list did not flow easily from my heart to the keyboard. I agonized over it, and wrote and rewrote for weeks, constantly praying that I would communicate hard things in the right manner.

The goal is not to point fingers or call anyone out. Rather, my hope is that the “Not Helpfuls” would really be tools to equip folks to better understand and care for their grieving friends.

You can find the full article over at Intentional By Grace.