Red Nails

Perfectly manicured nails, red, wrapped around a warm mug its contents the color of caramel. Books and journals lay piled about. I took a picture, but didn’t post it. Was it really necessary to perfectly crop and Instagram it, after all?

It’s funny how memories work. Red, lovely nails came to mind this morning as I snatched a few minutes, Bible open before kids clamored down the hall.

Widowed, I had hours of quiet— reflecting, reading, writing. I became close friends with solitude. It was a beautiful, needed, and gracious gift of God as I worked through the depths, leaning into the pain. Somehow the only way out was through. I think I’m much better for it as a result.

Some days I look back on those quiet times wistfully. But if I take off the rose colored glasses, loneliness was profound. 

The quiet was rich and sweet, a time of knowing Christ more intimately than I’d ever thought possible. But it was also a battle. I was surrounded by the best friends a girl could ask for in such a dark time. But loneliness clung like a heavy blanket. I had been part of two and now I was one. 

My days are no longer quiet. My nails no longer manicured or my hair beautifully colored. I don’t often get hours to sit and be quiet. Coffee cools down and then it lies forgotten in the microwave, cooling again.

But I am not lonely. 

Though days are exhausting and sometimes exasperating, they are rich. I prayed for these days for a long time. And they’re here. What lavish grace!

When sleep gets interrupted, when the day is a mundane slog of chores, or I deal with the hundredth sibling squabble, I tell myself “slow down.” See them. Remember, they are answers to prayer.

Sometimes the season feels long. “Even youths grow tired and weary,” (though one might argue I no longer get to claim youth). But don’t feel sorry for me. I adore these little ones close in age. 

I love seeing them reach new milestones, hearing the funny things they say, and watching their imaginations take full flight. I love being the one they run to when they are scared or hurt. There is joy in seeing them learn to clean up after themselves or put clothes in the hamper. I like teaching them life skills and watching them start to spread their wings. 

“Yes, you may pour your own milk.” 

Snuggling them on my lap book in hand; it’s one of our favorite places to be. I also love rocking my babies and even cuddling my 60 lb, gangly leg, tall 4 year old who stretches long across my body.

And I actually do like being home with my children. They’re pretty great people.

I taught kindergarten for awhile and later was a developmental therapist. Both were career paths I enjoyed, but I never saw myself doing them long term or continuing to climb the ranks.

But I always wanted to be mom. And it’s so good to remind myself. 

What a tremendous privilege to be entrusted with the shepherding of their souls, with the task of cultivating the soil of their hearts. 

And I am learning the joy of abiding, snatching time as it comes. Audio Bible in the shower, scripture songs in the car. I take advantage of nap times for reading. Index cards with truth line cabinet doors. Even the resources we use with our children stir my heart. Abiding doesn’t have to be hours of quiet with a leather bound journal in hand.

I do love to fill a good leather journal. But it’s not always what this season looks like. 

I don’t always abide well. Romans 7 barges in. But I press to know, press on to grow. I lean into Jesus. I run to find help from others when I can’t get truth into my own heart. I ask the Holy Spirit to guide my actions and words, filling me with “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.” (Galatians 5:22)

I painted Charlotte’s nails the other day; little finger nails seem much easier to paint than my own. I place the new memory beside the old. My hands alone. My hands holding hers. 

Red manicured nails and hours of quiet. It was good for a season. 

Pink nails on tiny hands. Snatches of quiet savored when I get it. Beauty in this season.

“For every thing there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven.” Eccl 3:1


That’s going to come out of me?

He was an irresistible week-old newborn, and it was his first Sunday at church. When his mom held him to her shoulder he bore the trademark “I’m just gonna mold completely to your body” newborn snuggle. Talk about baby fever right there!

And then I thought, “That is going to come out of me? That baby is huge!”

Now, it must be said that this little guy is a perfectly average, healthy baby. He wasn’t a 16 pounder.

Though you’ve likely read between the lines, (and noticed the picture) I should probably bring some of you up to speed. I suppose you can tell that I haven’t written in awhile. I guess there is less need for deep processing in the happy, hustling and bustling seasons. Well, I do write all the time these days, but technical reports for work don’t really seem to count.

Anyway, for those who don’t know me in real life or at least on Facebook, I am 5 1/2 months pregnant with our first child! Hooray!

And he’s a boy! We are so delighted to be having a son. He’s a gift long prayed for. The feeling of little kicks from the inside, hearing his heartbeat, seeing him move on ultrasound; these are among the best things I’ve ever experienced. We already know his name, but I’ll save that story for another day.

But I digress. I met a sweet little newborn at church. He was adorable; thoughts of awe and terror simultaneously flitted across my mind.

“Wow God you are amazing!”

“But someone that big is going to come out of me?”

Being pregnant has produced its own set of fears. Fears about labor and delivery. Fears about parenting. Fear that something would happen to our baby—There I’ve said it out loud. It’s uncharted territory, a completely new avenue in which I am learning trust.

I’ve wanted to be a mom for as long as I can remember. It’s one of those desires that had to be stripped away for me to see what it had become. An idol. It was a dream I had begun to worship, something I thought I had to have to be happy. It was a good desire I had let turn into an ultimate desire.

You may remember that my first husband and I tried to get pregnant for a year and half before he died. God did a lot in my heart over that year and half. But the battle was real and intense. So often I prayed for a child. So often I tried to hold my hands open to the Lord.

And when Jon died, all the hopes and dreams of being a mom shattered also. I remember when I started my period about a week after he died: I crumpled on my bathroom floor and sobbed.

So here I am, turning 35 tomorrow and pregnant! They say I’m of “advanced maternal age.” That makes me smile.

And I am amazed at God’s goodness and grace. In the years of widowhood He taught me much about living with open hands. He was good when my hands were empty. And He is good now.

The day I found out I was pregnant, I again knelt on the floor, tears streaming. Y’all know I have a strong relationship with crying.

“Lord, even from the very beginning this baby is yours. I hold my hands open to you. Do what you want with this little life. I pray you would give us grace to point this baby to Jesus. ”

But sometimes open hands are hard.

We’re five and a half months down this path, and already we’re trying to make decisions for the good of our son.

Am I eating the right foods? Taking the right vitamins? Drinking enough water?

Do I go get a Tetanus shot because I cut my toe on a screw?

The flu. Severe dehydration. “I think we better go to the hospital.”

In all this I’m starting to understand that trusting God with our son is life long. We can try to make the best, most informed decisions but ultimately God is sovereign.

He is weaving this little one together in his mother’s womb. Our son is fearfully, and wonderfully made. How much richer are those words now! God will do what brings himself honor and glory.

We’re going to make mistakes. Sometimes we’re going to have no clue what we’re doing. Maybe a lot of times. I’ll probably freak out. Meltdowns will happen—both from me and the baby.

Sometimes we’ll even sin against him. What?! I’m not going to be a perfect parent?

I see your looks of incredulity, but yes friends it’s true.

Therefore, as I learned to preach the gospel to myself in marriage, widowhood, and marriage again, so must I learn it now.

I’m well aware that my highly sensitive heart and strong need for introspection can lead an internal dialogue of fear. We all have our sin tendencies. So I have to change the dialogue.

  • God is the perfect parent. Therefore I don’t have to be.
  • If God did not spare His own Son, will he spare any omnipotent effort to do good to me? (or to my son?)
  • The cross and resurrection prove that the Lord is trustworthy. He always does what he says he will. Because I have been made alive, new, redeemed I can trust God.
  • My Father has promised to sanctify me. He is committed to transforming into the image of his Son. Therefore, he will give grace to admit when I am wrong. Grace to say, “Mommy is sorry. Please forgive me.”
  • God loves our baby far more than we do.

It still feels surreal sometimes. In a few short months we’ll be responsible to keep a tiny human alive, to meet his needs, to instruct him, to protect, to shepherd him. We pray many things for our baby, but most of all we pray he would know Jesus.  Because who’s the real Shepherd? Who’s the real Provider and Protector? It certainly isn’t me.

That I think, is the sum of what God has called us to do—point him to the marvelous grace found in Christ alone. We are channels, channels only to the one who is the answer to all fears, to the one who fully satisfies.

On dancing. And elections.

It was late. I sat on our bed, eyes glued to my phone, unable to stop tracking the results of the national election. I readily admit I couldn’t vote for either of the top candidates, and trepidation crept in at the thought of either outcome.

He slid into the room like Tom Cruise in Risky Business, striking a goofy pose reserved only for me.

“Dance with me, babe.”

I grinned, scrambled off the bed, and we enthusiastically imitated all our favorite Dancing With the Stars moves. (Not that David enjoys the show or anything— Ahem. Ahem.) We aren’t great dancers, but we both needed the moment of levity, laughing at our rhythmical ineptitude. Such a sweet time. In the words of Andrew Peterson, we went “dancing in the minefields.”

And we lay down in peace and slept. And the sun still rose. And God still reigns.

A song runs through my mind. We danced to it at our wedding reception.

Cause the only way to find your life
Is to lay your own life down
And I believe it’s an easy price
For the life that we have found

And we’re dancing in the minefields
We’re sailing in the storm
This is harder than we dreamed
But I believe that’s what the promise is for

So when I lose my way, find me
When I loose love’s chains, bind me
At the end of all my faith, till the end of all my days
When I forget my name, remind me
‘Cause we bear the light of the Son of Man

So there’s nothing left to fear
So I’ll walk with you in the shadowlands
Till the shadows disappear
‘Cause he promised not to leave us
And his promises are true
So in the face of all this chaos, baby,
I can dance with you

“In the face of this chaos, baby I can dance with you.”  The last few months have been a whirlwind. Now, that’s an understatement, if I’ve ever penned one. We planned a wedding, my Dad died, got married, wept with loved ones facing life-altering devastation, we moved me to where David is, and we began life together. Moving to a new city threw me much further out of my comfort zone than I thought it would. And all the while, the election cycle dragged on.

But there has been incredible sweetness in the whirlwind. There is beauty in the messy. David and I are learning to be one flesh. We have the joy of loving and being loved by the other. What great joy it is! We get to point each other to Jesus. We get serve each other. We get to remind each other who we are in Christ. There is grace in disagreements. He is learning to lead, and I am learning to follow. We get to remember our desperate need for God.

Life is so much better together.

“We bear the light of the Son of Man, so there’s nothing left to fear.” Therefore, this morning my heart links dancing in our bedroom with things like elections.

In the wake of personal whirlwind and national chaos, this I call to mind.

“Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10.

We get to dance with joy. God will be exalted.

He is sovereign over all. I can dance through minefields because my greatest need has already been met at the cross. I have lost my life and found it in Christ. Therefore,

I can be kind to those with whom I disagree.

I can respect authorities and pray for our leaders.

I can believe the best in others.

I can fight for life. All life— the unborn, the refugee, the downtrodden, the outcast.

I can rest in knowing God will accomplish His purposes.

I can love.

I can delight in a husband again, and we can gracefully dance through minefields together.

And I can remember that my highest calling is to bear the light of the Son of Man.


Dancing in the Minefields” by Andrew Peterson

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Christmas, joy or misery?

christmas cardLet’s talk about Christmas for a few minutes. I love Christmas. I mean I really LOVE Christmas. I think many people can relate… lights, traditions, cookies, decorating, songs, ornaments, presents, the whole nine. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right?

Jon and I got to have 4 Christmases. One dating and the rest married. And over those brief seasons, we’d already established some family traditions and plans for Advent. New Christmas pjs. Coffee and cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning. Opening one present on Christmas Eve. Reading Luke 2. Christmas cards to each other–that one was new to me! But one of Jon’s quirks was that he loved giving and receiving cards.

Incidentally, as we drove to our honeymoon cruise ship, I had to read each wedding card aloud to him! I admit, I was more interested in seeing the money or gift cards fall out. But I digress.

When it came to decorating our tree, I adored unwrapping each ornament and reliving the memory associated with it. A clay bride and groom. A little gold airplane from the National Air and Space Museum. Blown glass from Tennessee. A seashell from the Bahamas. A beluga whale from the Georgia Aquarium. A wooden owl from Galena. Our Christmas tree represented the fulness of life together.

Atkins family ornamentEvery year we rode the train into Chicago for Garrett’s popcorn, window displays on Michigan Avenue, lights, and the Cheesecake Factory (one piece to split–for the train home, of course) But my favorite part of our day was Christkindlmarket, a traditional German market set up in the heart of downtown.

First on the agenda, find an ornament. I guess that’s obvious, I suppose. Mission accomplished–hand painted, delicate, snowy scene on a glass teardrop. We loved milling through the booths hand-in-hand, sampling German food and admiring the hand-carved nativity sets, of which we planned to start our own this year. The idea was to buy Mary, Joseph and Jesus this Christmas and to add another figure each year. Another of the simple pleasures was mulled cider or hot chocolate in a boot. There’s something about a steaming beverage inside a ceramic boot that is pure delight.

city lightsAnd in all of our celebrating, we wanted to exalt Jesus. We desired to walk through the Christmas season with expectancy, rejoicing in Christ’s first Advent and joyfully anticipating His second! Jon led me well in enjoying the good things of Christmas, but focusing on the ultimate thing.

But, this year as “The holidays” approach I had some deciding to do. Should I run from them? Should I expect that they will always be hard and that’s just the way it is? Should I live November through January with a sense of miserable dread?

Several things could lead me there. Christmas symbolizes the final normal. It’s the last event in my memories of Jon not marred by illness or death. For his first trip to the ER was December 28th. Christmas seems like it will predicate memories of “the lasts”–the last month of Jon’s earthly life, our last date, the last dinner I cooked for him, the last movies we watched together (Ironically they were Steel Magnolias and P.S. I Love You. When he died shortly thereafter, those movies felt like a sick joke).

I can vividly picture many more lasts. Approaching Christmas also means I’m coming to the “last of the firsts.” You know, my first birthday without him, first Thanksgiving, first Christmas, first New Year’s and then we’ll be to the year anniversary of his death.

So, yeah there’s been a lot to consider.

Well, several weeks ago I heard someone say. “The holidays are always just so difficult for me. I just dread them because of the memories. Because of the loss.” I was moved with sorrow for this person and for myself.

But then I thought, “Ami you have a choice.” I can choose to run from the hard things, or I can choose to face them head-on as I have faced every other facet of grief. Some things will be challenging this Christmas season, but so will grace continue to be magnificent. I’m sure there will be tears, but there will also be overwhelming joy.

So, I choose to live. The tree is going up. Music is being played. Cookies are being baked. My heart is ridiculously excited! I’m in awe of God and all He’s doing. Grace is abundant. Some beautiful things are happening. Not deserved, only grace.

A lovely idea still taking shape is the desire to intertwine old memories with new. Perhaps the Chicago trip will have to include Hannah’s Bretzels. What in the world is a bretzel? I have no idea, but I hear they’re kind of amazing.

So with the choice before me, I remembered that Christmas isn’t really about me or Jon anyway. To be trapped, wallowing in misery during this season is to completely miss the point.

But here’s what is. God became man and dwelt among us. Jesus so thoroughly obeyed the will of the Father that He was willing to take on all the weaknesses and infirmities of human flesh. Still fully God, but also fully man. What a great mystery! Yet He became the very nature of a servant and obeyed even to the point of death.

Expect Jesus. That’s the reality of Christmas. My pastor said that. And one day he might sue me for plagiarism because I’ve probably stolen lots of his ideas. Nonetheless, expect Jesus in life right now. Expect His transforming work of grace. And expect Him to come again. As the Jews so longed for Messiah, so we long for Him to return!

Thinking on Jesus increases joy. My pastor said that too. But really, I think Isaiah said it first.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of darkness, on them has the light shined. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy…” (Isaiah 9)

And as Isaiah thought on the coming Messiah, his joy overflowed.

Jesus was coming.

And he would be the Son of God.

He would be Wonderful.


Mighty God.

Everlasting Father.

Prince of Peace.

He would bring a kingdom that would never end.

And listen to this from Luke 1. “Because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

How then could I live in misery?

Jesus is light. Jesus is peace. Jesus is complete satisfaction.

And Jesus is JOY.

first christmas

she said yesChristmas morning