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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When Shampoo Makes You Sob

 

shampoo 1My husband’s shampoo is still in the shower

I haven’t really thought about removing it.

I used to smell it often, letting memories run over me like water. If I closed my eyes long enough, it’s almost like I could feel him in the shower with me. Almost.

This may sound funny, but Jon always smelled good. I loved the combined aroma of his deodorant and cologne, and I loved the smell of his hair, and the scent of his skin after a shower.

Sometimes I lay curled behind him while he slept, just enjoying the closeness and memorizing the way he smelled.

I guess smells are powerful things for me.

For months after he died I would bury my face in his dress shirts. I wept the day they no longer smelled like him, staining the sleeves with tears and mascara.

It’s been a long time since I opened his shampoo. But today I ran out of my own. So I opened the cap and let the royal blue liquid fall to my palm. The reaction was visceral, a return to the type of ache known only by those who have experienced death.

I let the memories come. As I lathered my hair, the tears came too. I leaned hard against the shower wall, sobbing.

Grief no longer has a stranglehold on me, and it’s been a season of peace and rest. Yet, my friends who’ve walked this path before me are wise in their counsel.

They’ve said that it doesn’t truly end. We can often put it away like winter coats  when spring comes. We enjoy the delights of warmth and bask in the sunny weather.

But sometimes we take those coats out and put them on in the middle of summer. Sometimes we need to ache and sob again.

It’s not a bad thing, as some would have us think. Rather, It’s another occasion to be deeply aware of the Comforter, to know that mingled with my sobs He pleads with sobs of His own, with groanings to deep for words.

It’s an occasion to remember my Father is perfect. He loves, provides, cherishes, and gives His children only good gifts. It’s another occasion to acknowledge our neediness before a God who knows our frames and remembers we are dust.

My Savior says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

It’s a time to boast in our weakness as the apostle Paul did.

“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Strength is not refusing to be weak. Strength is resting in the power of Christ when weakness threatens to undo us.

So let the memories come. Your God is big enough for weakness.

He’s big enough when shampoo makes you sob.

Holy Spirit you are my Comforter. How incomprehensible is your tender care. How overwhelming to think about how you pray for me. I’m utterly dependent on you. I’m weak. But you are big enough. Your grace is sufficient. 


 

This post by Ami, appeared first at aNew Season Ministries

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vivid memories.

dJsnFx“You kissed my nose,” she flirted, playfully.

The plane cruised, but the fasten seatbelt sign remained lit. There was nowhere for me to go.

Laughing, the girl behind me couldn’t possibly know how the words pierced, the pain so acute it was physical. I laid my head on the seat, still in its upright and locked position, closed my eyes, and let a book fall to my lap. The memory was vivid, as real as the tears beneath my lidded eyes.

Are you going to marry me today?”

He turned, face brimming with delight. Handsome. So handsome in the pinstriped tuxedo. Shyly I met his eyes. Happiness. I spun around, throwing my arms to the sides so he could admire a dress worn only for him.

You are incredibly beautiful!”  He pulled me in and bent down to kiss me. But in his sheer joy, he missed.

You kissed my nose!” I flirted playfully. Rapture. In that moment delight could not be robbed.

I, Ami, take you Jonathan to be my wedded husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for richer or poorer, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.”

On your wedding day, the last phrase rolls glibly from your tongue because death will never “do us part.”At least, that is, until both are old and go sweetly into the night, holding hands.

Yet death showed up, and ripped delight from me. Too short. Not enough time to live through better and worse and richer and poorer. In its wake it left a life radically altered.

I’ll be honest. Sometimes my heart cries out, “Prove it! Prove it God that this is good!”And I can’t say I always feel “radiant over the goodness of the Lord.”Alone. People don’t understand a woman so deeply grieving. They think my life will return to normal. But there is no normal.

When flying on an airplane seems monumental, when couples laugh and touch, when a mindless comment stirs vivid memories, still my heart clings to a figment of grace that flickers in the corner of my mind. God you are good. You are doing good. I will bless Your name.

As the flight continued, I opened my journal and penned all the words you just read, writing them as a widow of seven months. I’ve given a glimpse of life at that time.

Now I’m almost to the year and a half mark. I’m thirty-one. I’m childless. I am alone. Yet, truly I am not alone for God has carried me with tangible grace.

I love the phrase “tangible grace”. For it reminds me that grace is real and identifiable. I could recount innumerable ways God has met me with grace in the depths. He’s taught me to live again, to rejoice in the new normal, to be radiant over His goodness.

Recalling these words from months ago, the grace that leaps to the forefront is this: God already proved it.

He proved He’s good by his Son’s death on a cross. He turned his back on the Beloved, so that I could be beloved.

Romans 8:32 gives words of life and peace. “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?”Think about it. If God has already done the ultimate good through Jesus’sacrificial atonement, will He spare any omnipotent effort to do good to me?

“All things”in this verse doesn’t mean the picket fence, the big house, or the fantastic kids. It doesn’t even mean that I’m guaranteed another husband someday. But it does mean that God will sovereignly use all things for His purposes–redemption and reversal.

If it had been good for God to rescue my husband, He would have. Therefore, somehow grief is good.

He’s already proven it.

 

 

 

 

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)

Jon was supposed to die: A crossroads day

???????????????????????????????Jon was supposed to die. I know that’s a provocative statement and probably somewhat controversial. Some with differing views of God, may disagree, but this blog still remains just reflections through my personal walk with grief. It’s still about setting up signposts for myself, so that when I’m through the valley, I won’t forget how closely Christ walked beside me in it. Rather how He carried me through it. But, I do want to encourage you too. My intention isn’t to be controversial, but at the very least I know what I’m about to write will be thought provoking.

Last week I met with Jon’s cardiologist. I wrestled for awhile with setting up this meeting, but eventually realized I had to. My heart in meeting with the doctor wasn’t retributive in any way. I prayed a lot about my motives before I went. I just wanted to express to him my understanding of God’s sovereignty over Jon’s death, and see if he could shed any additional light on what medically caused Jon to die.

I’ve struggled with guilt since Jon died. Perhaps this is a a battle for anyone deeply grieving. But, for me I think the rapid events that led to Jon’s death have made the temptation toward guilt stronger than had he died, for example, from cancer. Does that make sense? With cancer we would have known he was dying. But the night Jon died, it didn’t register what was happening even when the doctor in the emergency room said, “It’s been over an hour. You have to tell us we can stop.” He meant giving the permission to stop CPR. How vividly I remember my near hysterical response, “Are you telling me my husband is going to die? How can this be possible? How can you ask me to make that decision?” I think I just kept saying, “How is this possible?” over and over. As I’ve mentioned before, God did give grace to finally say, “He’s yours.”  But the temptation toward guilt sometimes seemed unbearable. But maybe someone who’s walked through cancer with a loved one can tell me if there is also a battle with guilt.

“I should have taken him to the ER sooner. I should have pressed the cardiologist harder when we were there on Wednesday. Why was Jon so stubborn? I should have taken him straight to Rockford and not Kishwaukee. When he was in the hospital in December, why didn’t they do more tests then?” I should have. I should have. I should have. And why, why, why. Satan and my mind knew how best to buffet me.

But anyway, after I left the cardiologist last week I was astounded by how much God’s sovereignty at last “sunk in.” Like at the experiential, heart level. I’ve known and maintained God’s sovereignty throughout, but now it seems I really know it. One new piece of information the cardiologist had to offer was just how drastically Jon’s valve had changed in less than a month. Of course I never knew the results of the 2nd echocardiogram because Jon died two days after he had it. The doctor told me that he had reviewed the echo on Friday (the day Jon died), and had dispatched a note to his nurse saying that she needed expedite Jon’s angiogram and get it done first thing the following week. Let me rephrase that. He was shocked at how much more deterioration he saw, and knew Jon’s more invasive tests needed to be sped up. But, he wrote that note after 5:00pm on Friday, so no one ever saw it. Jon died that night. It was too late.

After I heard these things, I realized that Jon’s valve had deteriorated much more quickly than the cardiologist was used to seeing. Jon  went from “His valve looks ok. You can definitely wait till summer for surgery” to his body shutting down. And no one could see it. There was more stress on his heart than anyone understood. So here’s my new understanding of God’s sovereignty; Jon was supposed to die.

I may have believed God’s sovereignty this whole time, but last week was the first time I could say those specific words. God could have changed any number of factors leading up to Jon’s death, but He chose not to. He could have had the doctor review the echo the day we were there or on Thursday even.  He could have enabled us to see the cardiologist sooner. Believe me, we were on the phone with the office a lot! We also saw a nurse practitioner at the cardiology office the week before Jon died.

He could have stopped Jon from getting pneumonia or the flu on top of his valve problem. For it is very likely, that one of these was the case.

But He didn’t. And He didn’t allow anyone to fully see the severity of the situation.

And yes, there could have been mistakes made. But that doesn’t matter. Mistakes don’t change the fact that God is sovereign. God even uses human mistakes to accomplish His purposes. So there really is no one to blame.

So I recognize the controversy here. There are those of you whose minds are reeling. “So you’re saying God ordained Jon’s death?” Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Though we have live in an age of stunning medical technology, doctors still cannot see everything. They are not God.

Because here’s the truth. No person held Jon’s life in his hands, except Jesus Christ. The day and time of Jon’s death was ordained before he was ever born. Just as the day of your death and my death is already known by God.

And some might be thinking, “So how in the world is this comforting?” Well, because I also know that God is good. And because I know God’s character, I can trust His sovereign plan to be good.

So, I sat on my couch the day after meeting with the cardiologist writing and mulling over these things. And I penned the words “Nothing any human does can thwart your plans God. The ‘what ifs’ wouldn’t have changed anything. And God you do use horrible things for good. This is redemption. This is gospel.”

I sat there just talking with God and thought. “Lord I feel as I’m on the brink of seeing some truth in a magnificent way. I think I’m standing right on the precipice of something big in my heart. So you work God. Make your truth clear. And I’ll stay here with you till we hammer this out.”

With a rushing “holy stars and stripes batman” type of clarity, God flooded my mind with truth from Scripture. I don’t think I can really communicate the intensity of that moment with Him. Have you ever been there?  That place where you know you are at a cross-roads of belief where truth penetrates so deeply that it’s life changing? That place where it feels like you can identify with Moses when he took his shoes off because he was treading on holy ground?

How can one communicate these things? Feebly I think.

“I know you are working a reversal. In my eyes, Jon’s death was the worst thing that could have happened to me, but God you are changing it to something infinitely good!  Something I’ll look back on and say ‘That was good. God meant it for good. I wouldn’t change it.’ And I’ll say ‘God your plan is so much better!’ Death bringing forth life. Perhaps Jon’s death is bringing forth a life in me that I never imagined. You are using it to accomplish something great in me. And Jon would want that. Because he loved you far more than he loved me.

The theme of reversal is all over the Bible! Think of Job, Joseph, Daniel, Rahab, Ruth, Esther, the Samaritan woman, the prodigal son, and Paul just to name a few. They all experienced real, tangible reversal in their lives. Joseph was thrown in prison, but then exalted as 2nd only to Pharoah! Daniel was throw into a pit filled with lions, but his accusers were the ones that got eaten for dinner! Ruth was a barren widow, but she was redeemed and included in the line of Christ! The Prodigal squandered all of his inheritance, slept with prostitutes, and got so hungry he wished he could eat pig slop. But O how his Father looked for Him! And then exalted him and lavished grace on him when he returned. “Bring the robe. Bring the ring. Kill the calf. We’re having a party! My boy’s come home!”  And then there’s Paul. Shipwrecked, beaten, jailed, you name it, but the gospel went to Rome and then to all of Western civilization! Countless have believed as a result. Reversal.

Then there’s the imagery The potter smashes the clay and reworks it into something more beautiful. “Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles?’’ (Isaiah 45) Or “can I not do with you as this potter has done?’ declares the Lord. ‘Behold like the clay in the potter’s hand so are you in my hand?’’

There’s a beautiful sentence in Isaiah 29. “You turn things upside down.” And that’s just what God does.

And what about the vineyard? The vinedresser prunes every branch that it bear more fruit. Sometimes he must strip it down till it looks barren. Till it seems that there will be no more fruit. But the branch is still very much alive on the inside because it is connected to the vine. (John 15) I learned this astonishing thing about wine grapes the other day. The vines that struggle the most, produce the best, most high-quality grapes, and therefore, the best wine. The most intense, lovely flavors come from the vines that have had to push their roots deep to get to the water and the nutrients, in essence to struggle for their very existence. So winemakers will intentionally create “distress.” It’s true. Do a google search. So on the heels of that thought, my brain took it a little further. Wine grapes are a lot smaller, more compact, and bundled more closely together than table grapes. Therefore, the flavor is also more saturated. So here is this lovely thing in of itself. But how does it become a much more valuable product? You’ve got to crush the grapes first.

And I think about Jon. God already did the most spectacular reversal in his life… death immediately turned to life. No more faulty heart valve. No more weakness. And no more struggle with sin.

And all these people, and all the imagery points to the ultimate reversal!  On the cross Jesus reversed the curse of sin and death. He reversed the ledger of debt taking all of it on Himself, and canceling out the record of debt against me. He made himself to be sin for me, so that I might be made righteous. It looked like He was defeated. Yet He rose again! So in His is death and resurrection He triumphed openly over His enemies making Satan truly a naked dog on a leash. The serpent doesn’t believe it yet, but Jesus has already crushed his head. The reversal has been made. The victory is accomplished. He will one day reverse even the curse on creation. And there will be no more death.

Can you see me just about leaping as I type this? Don’t you just want to shout with me? “Hallelujah! What a Savior!”

So God really did hammer it all out in my heart that day.

“O Lord there have been several crossroads days on this journey with grief, and I think this is one of them. You literally, truly are making a reversal out of the “worst.” And the greater the “worst,” the greater the reversal of good! You give back more than you take. The good is always in ridiculously larger proportion than the bad. Jesus was made the lowest, and now He is exalted, supreme, in His rightful place. O God if you love me enough to reverse the very curse of sin, then surely you are reversing the ‘badness’ of Jon’s death!

I can expect something beautiful. God is working a reversal–A real, physical, tangible transfer of bad to good, not just a nebulous concept. Some things I’ll not see till eternity, but I can also expect God to do immensely good in this life.

I don’t know how God’s working, but I can anticipate that He is.

So when guilt stealthily creeps in, I can look back and say, “God you illumined my heart to these things in a radical way. I know your lessons are true.” Satan tries to sift me, but I don’t have to be sifted.

And when I think of my Jon, though he would have wanted to stay, he would have wanted Christ more. And now he would not want to come back. He’s more alive than any of us. Perhaps there was a time of surrender where he said, “God do what you want with me. Do what you want with Ami. Do what you want to make us more like you.” In fact, I know there was.

“O my soul praise you! Lord I just humbly bow and worship. That seems to be the only response I can give.”

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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.

a shocking story, with fresh eyes

Rainy day reflections...
Rainy day reflections…

I’ve been thinking a lot about Jesus and grief. Well, duh. That seems like an unnecessary sentence. Of course these are the two biggest themes in life for me right now. My confident expectation is that the first will always be the biggest theme. But I’m coming to realize that the second will over time make way for other themes. Just recently a friend encouraged me to press in to the reality that God has more in life for me.  It’s not deserved or earned, but God does have a “next” in store for me. That was hard to believe for awhile. It is still is hard to believe sometimes. For a long time it felt like my “next” had died with Jon.

But grief is not the only theme by which God intends to characterize my life. My wise friend is right. It’s time to live with expectancy that God is doing more in me and through me than I understand. Of course He is. Through no merit of my own, He’s weaving my story into His story. A tiny part in the grand plan of redemption. So then, it is not really my story at all, but His. And as He ties my life to His story, what beautiful assurance there is in the generosity of my God! For “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?” That doesn’t mean that God is promising the house, the family, the health, the wealth, and the prosperity. But what He is promising is Himself. He already gave the most costly thing He has. So therefore, no good thing will finally be withheld from me. I know who He is. And I know He is doing good. (Romans 8)

So It’s not my grief that I’ve been reflecting on most recently. What I should have said is, I’ve been thinking a lot about Jesus’ grief. And herein lies a vast storehouse of comfort.

I said there’d be a “Part 2” to my previous post, and so there will be in due course. I think my dearest friends already know what it looks like, for they bear it with me. There’s more to say, but perhaps Part 2 will come after some months as time changes the shape of grief for me. But for now, it’s the riches of my Savior’s humanity that have captured my attention. He is bringing me to more fully understand the words of Isaiah 53- “surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” And it is in viewing Jesus’ grief, that He so clearly reminds me of the “next.” Let me explain, but first let me tell you a story.

In my desperate place God keeps meeting with me in distinct ways through His Scripture. He continues to shore up these lessons and illumine my heart. He’s made several instances in Jesus’ life to be shockingly beautiful to me. Specifically, I’m talking about Jesus’ grief for His friend Lazarus, and His grief in the garden of Gethsemane.

So let’s talk about Lazarus. Pretend you’ve never read this story before. Read it with fresh eyes. Did you know that John is the only gospel writer to include the story of Lazarus? I suppose it’s because John was writing to present Jesus as God. And he certainly does. But in John 11 we see the cohesive unity of Jesus’ deity and His humanity. Here’s the scene. Lazarus, Martha, and Mary are close friends of Jesus. We don’t know how they came to know Jesus, or how their friendship blossomed, but it’s evident that He loved them. Knowing how Scripture plays out, it’s safe to say that His love for them was stronger than even “family love.”

So Jesus received word that Lazarus was close to death, and everyone expected that He would go. They expected that He would rush in and save the day. After all, they’d seen Him do it before. He had turned water to wine, fed a multitude, gave sight to the blind, calmed a raging sea… Therefore, they believed He could heal His friend. And they were right. He could have done that. But what Jesus actually did was incomprehensible and seemingly callous. He stayed where He was for two more days! Let that sink in for a minute. He stayed. What would you have done for someone like family? You would have hopped on the next plane to Jerusalem! You wouldn’t be able to heal your friend, but out of love you would have wanted to be there.

John 11 tells us however, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when He heard that Lazarus was ill, He stayed two days longer in the place where He was.” Did you catch that?  Let me paraphrase. Because He loved them, He stayed. Now since you’re reading this story for the first time, doesn’t that sound ludicrous? If He loved them, how could He stay away?  Yet He did. If He really had the ability to heal His friend, wasn’t it just cruel not to go?

Let me blatantly foreshadow for a second. He is going to show them something they certainly didn’t anticipate… that His love for them was bigger than what they knew. And that sometimes love doesn’t look at all the way it is expected to look.

So Jesus tells His disciples that the illness does not lead to death. Whew! The sigh of relief penetrated their hearts and a glimmer of hope sprang to every face. Lazarus was going to be all right. A quick aside- I knew that glimmer of hope for a moment. “Ok we’ve got him back, but it’s still touch and go.” My husband was going to be all right.

Back to my story.

But a few sentences later, Jesus plainly tells them that Lazarus has died. How then could His words be true- “His illness does not lead to death”? Did He lie? For Lazarus really was dead.  As a first time reader, my confidence in this Jesus certainly is starting to wane. He’s either delusional or merely a charlatan. But yet I can’t put the book down and I cling to a frail hope that “maybe he knows what he’s doing?”

Finally Jesus comes to Bethany only to encounter loud mourning and lamenting. Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Had He made a mistake? How could He not have cared? Why hadn’t He come earlier? And Martha and Mary both cried out, “But Lord if only if you had been here…”  Even in their deep grief they were confident that Jesus could have saved their brother. No doubt though, there must have been the questions stirring inside, “But why didn’t you?” I think I’ve played that question 1000 times.

Beautifully, the scene shifts to some of the most tender words in Scripture. “When Jesus saw her weeping… He was deeply moved in His spirit and greatly troubled.” Don’t let the language trip you up– This is Jesus grieving! It’s Jesus full of sorrow over His friend’s death. It’s also His great compassion for His other friends. This is Jesus carrying their sorrows and bearing their griefs! It’s also Jesus indignant over the curse of sin and death. But then the words get even sweeter, “Jesus wept.” Have you wept over the death of a loved one? Then you know the crushing emotions He felt.  If Isaiah 53 is true, then Jesus, manifesting His full humanity, experienced the full weight of grief. Isn’t that kind of amazing?

But wait there’s more! Jesus commands that the stone be rolled away. What!?  Are you kidding me? You would have said just what Martha did…”But Lord, he’ll stink!” They still couldn’t see it. So often neither can we. Yet Jesus responds, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So the story reaches it’s dramatic climax.

“Lazarus COME OUT!” Can you imagine it?  Can you imagine Jesus’ authority as the words rumbled out, His deity on full display? I wonder if Jesus hadn’t specified, “Lazarus,” if ALL those who had gone on before would have also been raised by the sheer power of His voice?

Out stumbled a figure still bound tightly in all his grave clothes. Hold on a minute, the Bible has mummies? Yep. But this was no wraith or zombie. (Good, because I’m not a huge fan of zombies).

It was a perfectly well, living, breathing, raised from the dead, Lazarus.

Now the Bible doesn’t say this but I can imagine the celebration that night was unparalleled! In my head I see Lazarus, having been cut loose from his wrappings, run to Jesus and embrace Him in an unashamed bear hug. And in my imagination I see more weeping, but weeping mingled with laughter.

So how does this relate to the “next” for me? What are all the conclusions and implications from this story? Well I fear this post has already gotten lengthy, so you’ll just have to come back tomorrow for the rest.

Well, I’ll at least give a quick teaser…. Because Jesus loved Jon and me, He stayed. He stayed His rescuing hand, and with exuberant delight welcomed Jon home. Like Lazarus, Jon’s illness did not lead to death, but through it.

But what about me? Was He there weeping with me too? The truths God keeps cementing in my mind very clearly lead me to say, yes.

So this is grief

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I want to talk about my grief for a few minutes. I suppose I’ve learned some things about it over the last several months. By the way, I know the picture above doesn’t really go, but it makes me smile before dealing with such a heavy topic. I don’t know what grief will look like a year or five years down the road, but this is what it looks like now. This is part one. There’s too much for one post.

I recently finished reading A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis and I was comforted by how closely his thoughts mirror my own. He writes of the sense of utter confusion and shock that overtake you in the beginning. He writes of the fear that memories of his beloved would fade. That’s a big one for me! I can also understand the wrestle for joy, the temptation to feel guilt, the hard questions, and the desperate cries for help. It was good to see someone who was undoubtedly one of the great Christian authors struggle the same way I am. I get it when he says, “The act of living is different all through. [His] absence is like the sky, spread over everything.”

Grief doesn’t look the way I thought it did. Though I had experienced some grief before Jon’s death, they were much different circumstances. I had not experienced losing my other half. So here are my thoughts. Deep grief is messy. It’s not linear, and emotions and questions you think you’ve resolved, rear their ugly heads without any warning or explanation. It’s a weight that threatens to crush. It’s the feeling of an unending battle. Or a wilderness that stretches unbroken.

There’s a lot of loneliness that comes with the death of a spouse. A lot of loneliness. I’ve gone from having evenings of quality time with the one I love to evenings, and now days by myself. And even when I’m with people, I’m still lonely sometimes. It’s really easy and tempting to take the loneliness and run to other things besides God–exercise, shopping, ice cream, people, Duck Dynasty (ha!)… But I’m learning to run TO Christ in the loneliness, to meet Him as my true companion, and to know the comfort of His presence. I’ve filled many pages in my journal, but I admit I haven’t fully figured out this loneliness thing.

Likewise, the “Why me?” syndrome is a seductive trap. How quickly my thoughts spiral to destructive places when I start comparing my lot with others. The constant emotional roller coaster is teaching me how desperately I need God. And how I must cling to truth of the Gospel to combat my emotions. “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. Indeed I have a beautiful inheritance.” (Psalm 16:5-6). And this verse is true because of Christ. He holds my lot because He died for me. He is the pleasant place. He is my inheritance.

There’s also the temptation to put guilt for Jon’s death on myself. And that’s something that’s just a lie. God knew the number of Jon’s days before He ever created him. God is sovereignly working all things for His glory, and my good. God’s plan of redemption is so much bigger than Jon and me.

Speaking of lies, many of those pop up too.– “Ami, you know that look that passed between you and Jon, well it wasn’t real. You just imagined it.” And another popular one, “God is punishing me for loving Jon too much.” Again I look to my arsenal of truth.

  • “You are precious in my eyes, and honored and I love you.” (Isaiah 43:4)
  • “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)
  • “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15)

Another thing that’s been a big deal for me, are the conflicting thoughts of remarriage. Now I’m really letting myself be vulnerable before you. So please handle my words with care. I only bring up this facet of grief because I’m trying to paint a picture of how it looks for me. I was shocked at how quickly the idea of remarriage surfaced, which of course led to more guilt. “Do I not love Jon as deeply as I thought? How can I even have these thoughts! It’s only been months!” I didn’t anticipate dealing with this topic for a long time. But it’s actually one of the biggest conflicts of grief for me; I desire to love and be loved again. Yet I long for Jon. And I worry about the criticism of others. Yep I struggle with that. It’s called fear of man. The topic of remarriage spirals me to questions I can’t answer like, “How will I love someone else like I love Jon? How could I handle another man kissing me? What happens to all my pictures? And my wedding rings?” And so on and so on.

But thankfully, some wise people reel me back in, and remind me that God is big, and that guilt is not grace. I don’t have to answer these questions now. They remind me that if God does ever bring someone into my life, He will meet me with abundant grace, just like He does now. And he would meet that guy with grace to handle a girl who is a widow. And they remind me that enough love for two people is not a hard task for the One is in control of everything. So, I think you get the picture. Grief is a place of conflicting emotions and thoughts you don’t anticipate.

And then there’s just the plain old “missing him.” I miss everything about him. His quirks. His goofiness. His hideous green sport coat (that came out only for costumes these days) His passion for the Gospel. I miss his touch. His smile. This is a place I could park at for awhile, but I’ll keep going.

Yet among the loneliness, fear, lies, and conflict, God tells me that He is the one that truly satisfies. This is true. ”How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.” (Psalm 84:1-2) I want to stay in this place as long as He wants me to. And whatever state I find myself I want to serve with undivided devotion.

So this is some of what grief looks like for me. I’ll stop here for now. Just two more things. I was reflecting on the imagery of the wilderness yesterday, and not coincidentally, God brought Isaiah 43 to mind. “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people the people whom I’ve formed for myself that they might declare my praise.” (43:19-21). So I thought, “God are you making a way for me? Is there a river in my desert?” Then the most beautiful thought flooded my mind. God already has made a way in the wilderness. He has already done a new thing. He made a way at the cost of His own Son. And in my desert, Jesus is the Living Water.

Finally, Christ knows grief. Perhaps some of the agony of Gethsemane was that of grief? “Surely He has born my grief and carried my sorrows.” (Isaiah 53) Yeah, He really did. He really does. Talk about Hope!

Hey, so maybe your husband hasn’t died, but I bet you have suffered in some way. I bet you can relate to the wilderness feeling. And I bet you can relate to lies and temptations. It would be ridiculous of me to think that the death of a spouse is the deepest form of human suffering.  Everyone suffers. But if you’re in Christ, He gives you drink in the wilderness too. And we will declare His praise! This is awesome.

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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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