“I remember.” The fight for joy.

psalm42-11-iphoneRattling around my brain was a rant, a pointed tirade. Thoughts and emotions were angry, lava on the page, a written tantrum. I’ve been trying to compose it for a couple weeks. Finally, the Holy Spirit intervened, softening my heart before I hit, “publish.”

It was an extremely me-centric post complete with all the all the ways I perceive people to be careless in their words, all the ways I’m still hurting, all the ways people don’t understand, all the ways I want the focus to be about me.

But I deleted the whole thing.

Let me try again. I’ve had a blog hiatus for several weeks, not because I didn’t want to write, but because I couldn’t. It’s been a rough patch. Joy was the carrot dangling from a stick, always ahead but just out of reach. The imagery of a battle is also fitting. It’s been a constant fight to rejoice, and I grew tired of fighting. I grew weary of “talking to myself.” It was much easier to listen instead. Thoughts and emotions spiraled down. The weight of doubt began to crush. I reasoned, “Well, I’m in good company. Even Spurgeon battled this type of spiritual depression. Clearly, David and the other psalmists knew it also.”

I understand when the psalmist says “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night.” (Psalm 42:2-3) I wanted God, but He didn’t seem to be listening.

I think of the verse that says God keeps tears in a bottle, symbolizing that He’s intimately aware of sorrow. I imagine my tears fill an olympic-size swimming pool.

It’s also been a season of doubt. The same old lies snuck in. God does not hear me. God has forgotten me. “Beauty out of ashes? Well that’s just crap.”

You get the point.

I’ve set a familiar scene and delineated the rising tension. Here’s the relief.

“These things I remember…”

“Why are you cast down O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God;  for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.”

“My soul is cast down within me; therefore, I remember you.” (Psalm 42)

I remember. 

My confident expectation is in the God who created me, pursued me, purchased me back, and won me through the blood of His Son. Jesus more than any other knows what it is to be forsaken. He was alone, so I don’t have to be.

I remember the joy and delight of intimacy with God. I “shall again praise Him.” Delight will come again.

I remember that He is the Rock, the stability when waves toss me about.

I change. He changes not.

My Savior provided the very thing I long for, intimacy. I have total access to the presence of God.

I remember who God is. He is good and sovereignly uses all things for my good. He empowers the impossible—“Rejoice always.”  But for grace through the accomplished work of Christ, it is a crushing command. (I Thess 5:16-18)

I don’t rejoice always. I don’t always have an abiding attitude of trust, or take pleasure that all things in my life are according to God’s will.

But Jesus accomplished what I cannot. He rejoiced always. He gave thanks in all things. He prayed without ceasing. His performance is the standard, but it is also my standing. Rather than crush me, in Christ the command allures. It brings me to dependence.

Because I know the good news of Jesus is real, I can rejoice. I can have abiding trust, overflowing thankfulness, and unceasing dependence.

O my soul, hope in God!

I remember.

“Lord I gave in to the lie that you do not hear me, that you aren’t listening. But, I remember. I actively recall and bring to mind your goodness. I remember the days of delight and abundant joy. I remember the “glad shouts and the songs of praise.” I know they will return. Let me say with the psalmist. “Hope in God!” When my emotions scream the opposite, I tell myself what is true. You are salvation. You are steadfast love. You are the Rock. You allure with lasting satisfaction. You remind me that ‘I will never leave you, nor forsake you. Know that I am with you. You will never be alone.’ Yes, Lord Jesus. This is true.”

Epilogue: 

I can’t walk this life alone. God uses His word and the community of faith so beautifully. He brings me back. I’m so thankful for a friend who pointed me to Psalm 42. Even amid his own struggle, he was an instrument of grace to me.  I’m thankful for a sermon that crushed me with the weight of “rejoice always,” but rebuilt me with the beauty that I am able to rejoice because of my standing in Christ. So, I lift my head, I hope in God and I see these marks of lavish grace!

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He is abundant. Reflecting on a year after death.

chicagoHow do I cogently and concisely say these things? How do I sum up all that God has taught me in the year that life was most radically altered? Probably not concisely at all. The task feels a little like trying to catch sand with a sieve. There’s just too much. I’ve let you all view this year up close and personal. I haven’t hidden the depths or the waves. I’ve let you see the reality of grief, but also the reality of grace. So, I didn’t think writing the “anniversary” post would be so difficult. But I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to say, and I guess I just have to dive in.

The day after Jon died I posted the following note on Facebook.

“It’s surreal to be writing this post, but I feel like I must. I know that many of you already know, but my precious Jonathan went to be with Jesus last night. His heart got too big for this world. Thank you all for your thoughts, messages, and prayers. I am not ok, but someday I know I will be. When God gave me Jon, he gave me someone far better than I could have hoped for myself. Jon lavished love on me, and adored me. But more importantly, he adored his God. His life resonated God and the gospel. He was so driven for others to have the true hope found in Jesus Christ. Yes I’m weeping, I’m numb, I feel like throwing up, I can’t breathe, I don’t know what to do or how to respond, and it all feels like a really bad nightmare. But, this I know and my husband knew — God is good. He is doing good. I do not understand, but He has a plan and purpose much bigger than I can see. Jon told me this again and again over the last several days.  And this is my confident expectation–Jesus Christ paid the penalty for my sin. He perfectly fulfilled God’s law. And He is my redeemer. He chose me, He adopted me, His blood canceled the record of sin against me, and He gave me all His righteousness. This he did for Jon too. And so in the midst of the greatest pain I’ve ever felt, there is rejoicing. Jon is worshiping, and his heart is perfect. I believe God used Jon greatly in life, and He will do so in death as well. I don’t know what I need right now. But I know this “Hallelujah All I have is Christ, Hallelujah Jesus is my life.” He is abundant. So, pray with me, and weep with me. I sound a lot braver in writing than I look and feel in person. I know many hard days are ahead. But no matter what comes, “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end, they are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)”

It seems like someone else must have written those words. Surely I didn’t compose them. My mind was too numb, too fuzzy, and too unable to comprehend what had just happened. But I suppose they must have come from me, yet only because of God’s enabling grace. I wonder, did I believe them?

Yes. The answer is yes.

As I think about encapsulating this year, it seems fitting to revisit these words with new clarity and understanding.

“I’m not ok, but someday I will be.”

It took a long time after Jon’s death to feel ok again. And it definitely got much worse and stayed worse before it got better. I didn’t understand then just how hard the “hard days” would be. Though I’ve allowed this year of grief to be public, there’s much more that never made it to Facebook or the blog. There were more sleepless nights, more puddles of tears, more questions, more moments of anger, more irritation with well meaning but thoughtless people, more love and care from others, more deep longing, more fear, and in the midst of it all, more grace.

It’s beautiful to look back and be able to say “I’m ok.” But really I’m a whole lot more than ok! Truly grace is one of the biggest themes. There was exponentially more grace than there was grief. Grace. It’s accompanied by words such as astonishing, overwhelming, marvelous, tangible, beautiful, and lavish. Yet even these cannot quantify the grace of God. Grace, that undeserved, unmerited favor of God lavished daily on His own. And it really is new every morning. It’s staggering to think that through Jesus, God offers endless grace.

In the weeks leading up to the anniversary, I’ve felt the return of many “sorrow triggers.” It’s not wrong to be sad, to weep.. And while it’s been good for me to process through them again and necessary to grieve the last days of Jon’s life, someone reminded me, “Where are all the triggers of God’s grace over this year? Find those.”

I found them. And It would take chapters to recount them all to you.

“But more importantly he adored his God. His life resonated with God and the gospel.”

When I think about themes, another that comes to mind is “relentless pursuit,” It’s how Jon lived, and it’s how God has taught me to live this year. As God relentlessly pursues me, so do I want to relentlessly pursue Him. I had to have all my idols stripped away. I had to go to the wilderness to enjoy deeper intimacy with God.– And just how beautiful it is! So prone to wander is my heart, but He delights to bring me back. I had to learn obedience through suffering. And I had to learn by experience that Jesus really is the only lasting satisfaction in this world. I’m still learning! But more than anything else, I want God to do whatever He wants in and through me. I want my life to resonate God and the gospel.

If you were to look back at 16 years worth of journals, you’d see variations of a common prayer weaving through them.“Lord my life is yours. Take it and do with it what you will. I want to know you. I want to be consumed by you. I want to see your glory.”  And God is answering. But prayers of those sort aren’t usually answered according to my “wisdom.” The way up is down. To see the beauty of stars, there must be darkness. The cross proceeds the crown. God seems nearer in the valley than on the mountain.

Most of us don’t wish for sorrow. Rather we want life to come wrapped neatly in a package with a shiny bow on top. We want the dream plan, so thoroughly imagined, that surely it will be reality. But sometimes God shatters the dream plan. Yet His shattering is never arbitrary. Loss and brokenness. They are words that fill with dread and fear, but they are also words that have potential to represent life, love, beauty, repentance, and vision.

He is teaching me to say with Paul…

“Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and may share in His sufferings becoming like Him in His death…” (Phil. 3:8-10)

The benefit so vastly outweighs whatever cost we perceive, that there really is no cost at all! As deeply as I love and miss Jon, the cost seems nothing when compared to the benefit. Losing Jon. Gaining Jesus. Far surpassing worth.

“It all feels like a really bad nightmare.” 

How marvelous it is that even a nightmare was part of God’s sovereign plan before the beginning of time. I see the beauty rising from the ashes. And I realize, that though I never would have chosen for Jon to die, I wouldn’t trade it. That’s a heavy thing to say. It’s one that doesn’t come easily or flippantly. It’s one I’ve mulled over for a long time. But if I believe that God is good and sovereign, then I know the reality that He did the BEST thing.

“And this is my confident expectation.” 

Jesus Christ, my confident expectation. Amen. Do I even need to elaborate? I mean you could honestly stop reading and just start praising God right now. Jesus Christ, my confident expectation. Just dwell on all those words entail. Marvel with me for a minute. Jesus Christ. Do you know Him? I mean not just about Him, but KNOW Him? Jesus is God. King. Redeemer. Savior. Friend. Master. Lord. And He became man. He lived a perfect life without sin. Take a minute and let that sink in. Without sin. I can’t say that I’ve lived without sin! Neither can you. He met all the standards of God’s righteous requirements, that is perfection. He was tempted as we are, but without sin. And He took on all the weaknesses of human flesh so that He would KNOW and be like those for whom He came to die. He offered His life up as the substitutionary sacrifice for sinners. He took my place, willingly. He took God’s wrath for sinners like you and me who have no possible hope of being “good enough” to get to God. Because how good is good enough? Instead God came to us. Jesus paid an infinite debt we cannot pay. And the best part is that He didn’t stay dead. He rose again and is yet alive. He lives. He is King. And He is coming back. Therefore, “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  (Ro 6:23)

And He is my confident expectation.

If you’ve read any other my other posts, you know this is the one message I can give. It’s the one message Jon could give. But it’s the best news you will ever hear.

“Jon is worshiping. And his heart is perfect.”

Yesterday I came across the phrase, “A believer’s best day is his last day.”  Amen. There have been times through this year that the thought of heaven wasn’t comforting. I just wanted Jon back. But how selfish. He wouldn’t want to come back. He gets to be in the presence of God! Perfectly worshiping without sin! He gets to look on the face of Jesus. Even typing those words spreads longing through my heart. I want to look on the face of Jesus! And I can’t even comprehend how beautiful it will be.

“He is abundant.”

What better way to tie this all up? He is abundant. Jesus is overflowing, spilling over the edge abundant. More than enough. Praise God that though I deserve a cup of wrath, I’ve been given a cup of blessing. I have a generous God who lavishes me with grace and good things.

Yes, even in this year.

2nd first date love this thing

An elaborate proposal. I said yes.

May 22, our anniversary is around the corner, so of course, our engagement, wedding day, and beautiful marriage have been much on my mind. I’ll admit, it’s been a really tough couple weeks. But of course God keeps meeting with me grace.  I’m beginning to see God’s grace in the smallest things.  So, as I “prepare” my heart for Wednesday, today’s grace reminded me that I can be confident God will give astonishing grace on what would have been our 3rd anniversary, specific grace right when it’s needed. Grace moment by moment. That’s what He offers.

So, since I’m thinking these things, I thought I’d share our engagement story with you. I think I promised I would. It’s not polished or finely crafted, but I’ll leave it in its original form written the day after he proposedthe ramblings of a girl on cloud nine. Well, with a few parenthetical notes perhaps.

Here are the details surrounding Jon’s wonderfully planned out, thoroughly romantic proposal. And I promise I won’t be offended if you don’t make it to the end.—Just warning you now, this is the “long version” that the ladies love to hear (and to tell).

Well, Jon knew I love surprises, but also love trying to figure them out. So he started planning his proposal about a month before the actual event. It all started with a series of, shall we say “self-justified falsehoods.” One of his close friends (Chris Lynch, I think) told him that this was the only time in life that it was ok to lie, and I guess he ran with it. First, he told me that he hadn’t talked to my parents yet and wanted to talk to them in person. He furthermore informed me that he wasn’t able to meet with the “ring guy” until February (which, coincidentally was true, but the February appointment was for wedding bands. We got our rings from an independent gemologist who lives in New Hampshire-Doesn’t that sound fancy? And though Jon thoroughly researched his purchase, he never saw the engagement ring in person till it came in the mail. Crazy huh?).

At first, being the over analyst I typically am, I just thought he was being sneaky. However, as he maintained his ruse, he finally had me convinced that the ring wasn’t coming until February at the earliest. At one point I asked my mom if Jon had called recently. When she said no, I officially believed that Jon was just being compassionate and helping me not to get my hopes up. She didn’t sound sneaky at all.

Also, he actually said “Babe, I just don’t want you to get your hopes up that you’ll have a ring to show off when you go home to Virginia at the end of the month. I really wish it was possible, but it just isn’t.” I admit that I was worried because we had already set our May 22nd wedding date. I was nervous that we’d be giving folks such short notice. Actually, I had to spend much time in prayer asking God to help me be content and patient. Jon had me right where he wanted me.

Fast-forward to January 16th. We both had had busy, stressful weeks, and he told me that we were going to have a stress-free, no talking about work,, date on Saturday night. And we were also going to celebrate him paying off college debt. Hooray!  When Jon picked me up, he gave me three small gifts in the car. The first was a book of “Kiss Me” coupons (to be redeemed after 5-22-10 written on the front). I just laughed. Next, was a children’s book called Guess How Much I Love You, which is quite possibly my absolute favorite picture book. A high honor, of course. (My current students would tell you, ‘She says they’re all her favorites’) Anyone who knows me well also knows that I’m kind of a children’s literature fanatic).

But there’s another significant aspect about this book. When Jon and I first started dating we were in Barnes and Noble in my favorite section. When I saw Guess How Much I Love You, I made him sit in the little chairs while I read it to him. I know, super silly, but it was sort of a test at the time. By the way, he wasn’t embarrassed at all to be sitting in the tiny chairs reading a picture book with me. He passed the test. (This would become one of our favorite things, and a necessity every time we went in B&N)  Anyway, I digress. Back to the gifts. The third gift was a coffee mug with scenes from Guess How Much I Love You. I adore it! In the mug were red and blue m&ms. “Why?” you ask. Because I always tell him “I love you 1000 red m&ms” and he’ll tell me “I love you 1000 blue m&ms. (Ok all the men can stop gagging now) Sappy, I know. But very special to us. At this point I still didn’t suspect he was up to something because he had given me little gifts before for no reason.

jon & ami-26

On the way to the restaurant, we stopped at Walmart to buy an umbrella because it was raining and, of course, neither of us owned one. As we walked in he told me that he must have eaten something bad because his stomach was bothering him. He immediately went to the restroom while I was looking at umbrellas. Later, I found out that the bathroom ploy was all part of the ruse. Yep, I’m sure he’s losing some romance points right about now, but don’t worry. So, I got the umbrella and waited for his “stomach issues” to subside.

Once we were back in the car he told me we were going to play a little game. “It’s the guess how much I love you game,” he said. “Guess how much I love you?” “How much?” was my coy response. “I love you like a 355 lb man loves a chili cheese dog.” And after I stopped laughing, he said “I’ve been thinking about these all day.” And he proceeded to entertain me with other silly statements of his extravagant love for me (which by the way is truly extravagant). So, here I was thoroughly relaxed and enjoying myself, with no thought of engagement. Again, right where he wanted me.

Finally, we made it to the restaurant. As we pulled into the lot, I exclaimed totally shocked, “We’re going here!! I’m so excited!” And if you’d like to know, the restaurant was Devereaux’s a very very very (did I say very) nice fine-dining restaurant in downtown Greenville. Naturally, it’s a place I’ve always wanted to go, but don’t think I ever mentioned. I was also kind of giddy that we received complimentary valet parking. I had never experienced valet parking before! Right about now I was feeling a little like a “tourist.” Anyway, Devereaux’s is in a historic building, and the atmosphere is incredible. I was so enamored.

After telling the hostess that we had reservations, he immediately asked for the restroom. “Poor guy, his stomach really is bothering him.” The hostess seated me, however, and as we walked toward the table, I noticed that the centerpiece was a dozen red roses. My honest first thought was “Wow, this IS a really nice restaurant to put a dozen red roses on everyone’s table.” Then I sat down. As I looked out across the building, I realized that no one else had roses! They were mine! Ok, I’ll admit that I was getting suspicious at this point, but I determined just to enjoy the evening.

When Jon came back, my first comment was “Are those for me?” And he went on to tell me that he had just wanted to be creative in how he gave me flowers this time. We had a wonderful dinner. The food was so pretty that I wanted to take pictures of it! I didn’t, but I wanted to be such a tourist. (Funny to note is that we later took pictures of our food on our honeymoon, special dates, birthdays, anniversaries… very quirky I think) It was all so wonderfully elegant, and the wait staff attentive.  After dessert was served Jon went again to the restroom. “My poor man.”

jon & ami-19edit

 

While I waited for him, I just sat there enjoying my roses thinking “Ok, I think he’ll propose tonight, but it’s definitely not going to be in the restaurant. He wouldn’t do that to me. Hmm…. I wonder if there really are 12 roses in that vase…” So I started counting them. And right about then I heard Jon say my name. When I turned to the side, there he was with another single red rose, and nervous was written all over his face. Then with a rush of emotions, I realized that this was it! I was in shock. In a happy way. He knelt down and said “There are actually only 11 roses in the vase, and you need the 12th one to make it complete. Ami, guess how much I love you?” “How much?” “I love you forever and want you to always be mine.” Everything at this point went hazy, and he had to tell me again later what he said. He also told me later that he had had a big speech prepared, but couldn’t get it out in the moment

And just like that he was down on one knee, opening a box, taking out a ring (which I didn’t even see because I just kept looking at him) “Ami Beth Walker, will you marry me?” And holding back the tears, I responded with a quiet “yes,” and then an overwhelmed, excited YES!” He put the ring on, and then stood up to kiss me. Then, immediately he announced in a loud voice “Attention everyone, I just wanted to tell you that I just asked this beautiful girl to marry me and she said yes! And I wanted you to share in our excitement.” The entire restaurant broke into applause and cheering!

Right on cue, the hostess brought over two fruity drinks. Everything was just perfect. If you would have asked me if I wanted an entire restaurant to watch us get engaged I would have said a big fat no, but in the end it was so delightful to know that my man was willing to “shout from the roof top” how much he loves me.  I was conscious that “I’m in a nice restaurant. I can’t scream” so I did these little silent screams. But when we got outside, it all came out. And Jon said, “Now that was the reaction I was expecting!”

Jon told me later that when he went back to the restroom another man came in and said “Dude you got to lay off the roses. My wife is getting jealous.” Too funny. When Jon told him that he was going to propose, the man gave Jon a $25 gift card in congratulations! He also told me that announcing to the entire restaurant was spontaneous. Also, the surprises didn’t end in the restaurant. After we got outside, he couldn’t stop hugging me and looking at my hand. And neither of us could stop smiling. We started calling our families, and I said earlier, it was raining, so Jon suggested that we just go back to his house and make calls there. Well, you might have guessed it.– There was a surprise party of about 20 of our friends waiting to congratulate us! Every detail of the evening was planned, down to having our friends park in a different location so I wouldn’t see their cars. He knew that I love trying to figure out surprises, and that I love it even more when I can’t.

So that’s our romantic engagement story. I praise God for all that He has done to bring Jon and I together. We are recipients of His extravagant love and grace. He is amazing. I am so thankful to have been given the best. We desire that our future marriage bring Him honor and glory, and that it would be a reflection of Christ and His bride. Thank you all so much for sharing our joy with us!! Our wedding date is 5.22.10.

And even now as I recall that beautiful night, I know I am still blessed, in the true sense of the word.. And these memories make me smile. I know I was given a man far better than I could have hoped. I know I am still a recipient of God’s extravagant love and grace. And the gospel in this story? Well, that’s easy! Jon pursued me and didn’t quit. Jesus pursued me and still doesn’t quit. Jon sacrificed and gave me a gorgeous ring as the symbol of his love, and another ring later as a symbol of his marriage covenant with me. Jesus gave me His life.

It’s a crazy thing to think about celebrating an anniversary with your husband in Heaven. But God is faithful. And He keeps bringing to mind this verse “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases…” (Lamentations 3)

jon & ami-21edit jon & ami-28

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.