Yes Lord. Refine Me Again.

slaveryWhen I found myself sobbing on Mother’s Day, it shouldn’t have been a surprise. Happy tears. Sad tears. Angry tears. An external processor to the core, it gets embarrassing sometimes.

But I laugh a lot too. So I suppose they balance out. A friend put it this way, “Ami, you just feel a lot on the outside.” Ok, I’ll take that.

Therefore, I should not have been blindsided. But I was.

A sucker punch straight to the gut, an imaginary referee counted down. These weren’t a few tears at the corners of my eyes, but shuddering waves, a flood impossible to stem.

I’ve been there before. Sure, I anticipate struggle on the major days, Christmas, anniversaries, birthdays, but Mother’s Day falls off the radar.

When I realize a “grief day” is coming, I actively prepare. I have learned to expect grace, to look for tangible manifestations of God’s compassionate care. And He faithfully turns dreaded days into peace, joy, and laughter.

The most difficult days, though, are the ones unexpected.

But the cause is not what you think. The sorrow wasn’t about motherhood and unmet dreams. Instead it had everything to do with a passage of Scripture.

Have you ever been deeply pierced by the Word?

For you, O God, have tried us as silver is tried, You brought us into the net; you laid a crushing burden on our backs, you let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water; yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance.” Psalm 66:10-12

The words leapt from the page, forever connected to a memory blazoned in startling clarity.

Only a week before he died, God and I talked about those words. I didn’t know death was at my door, but I sensed a season of suffering.

“Ok, we can face the wind and the rain together.”

Peace dispelled the fear that day. God would walk with us through the fire and water. We were precious in His sight. (Isaiah 43) I expected us to come through the fiery trial together. I thought abundance meant a return to the delightful circumstances of my choosing.

But I had to change my definition of abundant.

A 27 month journey to date, from one side of the valley of death to the other, now I call abundant something different.

Abundant is being rescued from the wrath of God by the blood of the Son of God. Abundant is a slave turned radiant bride.

Abundant is not determined by my physical circumstances.

“How wealthy is the place of every believer, and how doubly does he feel it to be so in contrast with his former slavery; what songs shall suffice to set forth our joy and gratitude for such a glorious deliverance and such a bountiful heritage. More awaits us. The depth of our grief bears no proportion to the height of our bliss.” – Charles Spurgeon.

So, confronted anew with Psalm 66, it compelled me once more to wrestle its heavy truth.

“…tried us as silver is tried…” Must I continued to be tried?

Though my flesh shouts, “No more refining,” my souls whispers, “Yes, Lord. Refine me, and refine me again. For you are worthy of pure worship.

A whisper, a wisp of flame, kindles again a blazing flame. “Yes Lord!”

“You have brought us out to a place of abundance.”

Do I still believe this?

Yes, Lord.

Jesus is the abundant place.

Crushed dreams, a broken house. But let the house be rebuilt on the solid rock whose name is Jesus! I hold dreams loosely. God is the designer of my expectations.

Often I’ve asked “Isn’t it enough God? Must I be refined further still?”

But I am not called to be “just enough” sanctified. God deserves the most precious, costly silver, the rarest vintage of wine, the most brilliant diamond.

yes Lord

Refine me, and refine me again.

Sobbing turned to praise, as entirety of the Psalm slid into view.

Shout for joy to God!

Sing the glory of His name!

Give to Him glorious praise!

Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds!’

So great is your power that your enemies come cringing to you.

All the earth worships you!

And sings praises to you; they sing praises to your name.
Come and see what God has done….

Bless our God, O peoples; let the sound of His praise be heard, who has kept our soul among the living! …

Come and hear all you who fear God, and I will tell you what he has done for my soul! …

But truly God has listened; He has attended to the voice of my prayer.

Blessed be God because He has not rejected my prayer or removed His steadfast love from me!” – Psalm 66

I don’t want “just enough” of God. I want all of Him. And He wants all of me. And I will shout, “Come and see what God has done for my soul!’

He makes me rest in His abundance. He showers me with good things. He remains steadfast in his love. He refines, and His visage radiates ever clearer from my life.

Even the knockout, sucker punch days are beautiful. Even a grief day can be the catalyst for greater depth. And tears for me are a door to illumined truth.

Then make me what you will, Lord. Refine me, and refine me again.


This post by Ami appeared first at Intentional By Grace

 

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 acute in ferocity. 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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Waiting? An agent of transformation

wait patientlyWait. It is the theme God emphatically presses on my heart these days. I’m at a place of unknowns, obstacles, and blocked paths. There’s nothing I can do. My hands are tied, and I feel like this has been the trend for a long time.

And God says, “Wait.”

Now, I admit that I don’t always wait well. For some folks, taking a step into the unknown is challenging, but for me it’s when I can’t take a step forward that makes me crazy. I’d much rather be able to step boldly into God’s plans, than be stuck on pause. I’d rather be able to take risks, than be stopped in my tracks.

Because I can’t see what God is doing, sometimes fear of the future creeps in. When wait is the theme, sometimes I gravitate to worry and anxiety.

Yet God says, “I’m doing more than you understand.”

Sometimes waiting seems purposeless. I’m not always sure what I’m supposed to learn. I guess I want to distill the lesson to a succinct sentence and move on. But perhaps that’s the point. Sanctification takes time; transformation isn’t always instantaneous.

Wait a sec, let me define our terms. When I believed on Christ for salvation, I was justified. I was declared innocent by His blood. I was saved. Think of it this way, justified means, “God sees me just as if I’ve never sinned, just as if I’ve always obeyed.”

Sanctification, on the other hand, is the aspect of the gospel in which God is transforming me to be what He already declared. I am being saved. It is lifelong. God initiated it, He’s passionately committed to it, and He will complete it. (Philippians 1:6, I Thessalonians 5:23) Sanctification is also corporate; God is sanctifying His church, creating a people for Himself.

Then there’s glorification. I will be never ending new. One day, I’ll be removed from even the presence of sin, perfected, with Christ forever. I will be saved.

So, for the girl who hates to wait, wouldn’t it be nice to skip over sanctification completely? I mean, let’s get straight to glorification, baby!

However, I know God’s thoughts are so much higher than mine, His ways past understanding. (Isaiah 55:8-9) I know I want to be more like Christ. I want to be set apart for HIm. I want to be the stone with all its rough edges smoothed away by the tumbling of the sea. I want to say with Charles Spurgeon, “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.”

Sanctification, then, is a necessary and beautiful thing. God is committed to my holiness because He’s committed to drawing me closer to Himself. Keeping this perspective teaches me to embrace the waiting, and reminds me that waiting teaches me to trust, to rest, to relinquish control of my faulty plans, and to surrender my desires to Him.

I’ll admit, perspective doesn’t alway make it easier. I often fail. Yet because Jesus fully surrendered to the will of His Father, set aside His own glory for a time, and waited perfectly for it to be restored to Him, I can wait. The gospel of Jesus empowers me to do what He commands me to do.

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him.” Psalm 37:7 ESV

Therefore, when waiting is the pervasive theme, I’m learning to praise God for it. I recall that waiting is one agent of transformation.

“Praise the Lord, I tell myself, and never forget the good things He does for me.” Psalm 103:2 NLT

While I’m waiting, I remember the realities of Psalm 103:3-5

  • He forgives iniquity.
  • He heals all my diseases; Jesus took my spiritual leprosy, saving me from the all consuming nature of sin.
  • He redeemed me from the pit.
  • He removed my blindness and made my ears to hear.
  • He took away my paralysis.
  • He lifted the weight of sin that crushed me.
  • He raised me from death to life.
  • He crowns me with steadfast love and mercy.
  • He satisfies me with good.

If God has done all this, then surely He is working through the waiting.

And God says, “I’m doing much more than you understand.”

kiss the wave

This post appeared first at aNew Season Ministries

A little shot of encouragement.

So I came across these two verses today, and they were too good not to share. So here you go, just a few quick thoughts for the folks who like short chunks. Like a little shot of encouragement right in the arm. I know I’m encouraged. God’s word is kind of amazing.

“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.” I Thessalonians 5:23-24

So I stopped and thought about this for a minute.

God of peace— Because of Jesus (because of the gospel),  God is at peace with me. Praise God He initiated reconciliation with me, making peace!

Himself– This same God. This is the One who makes the the astounding promises ahead. He Himself will do the work in you.

Sanctified completely-I’m reminded that nothing can stop God’s faithfulness. There’s great assurance here that He has promised to keep us, to sanctify us completely. He WILL make us actually, what He has already declared us to be. He IS transforming believers into the image of his Son.

I love the language here- “kept blameless.” He promises to keep us blameless, which hearkens back to the way He already views us now. Perfect. Spotless. Above reproach. Crazy! What a beautiful thought that He is completing and will complete the work He began in us. Though I can’t often see sanctification in myself, it is happening. What an awesome reminder.

He will surely do it- So none of this is just conjecture or wishful thinking! It’s gonna happen. God is staking His promise on Himself. “He who calls you is faithful.”  That’s pretty incredible when you stop to think about it.

The only logical response is trust. God has put His very nature on the line. Would He possibly fail to do what He’s said? Therefore, because Christ did and is doing what I cannot do– counting me blameless–I can trust Him.

Yeah, I am kind of shocked at myself for actually keeping it short. Anyway, thanks for letting me ramble for a minute…