A letter I never knew existed

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Fresh words.

I soak in every detail. True to character, tears flow freely. His voice resonates from the page, the writing so very much him. I haven’t heard new words from the heart of my husband in almost three years. But now I gaze at a letter I never knew existed.

How can I describe what fresh words feel like?

It’s like coming home to open arms, a tight embrace, and a gentle kiss. It is sun peeking from behind the clouds. It is wind in a sail. It’s a spark that lights a bonfire.

Fresh words are gifts of tangible grace. They are overwhelmingly beautiful. I know I write about grace a lot; I just can’t help it.

“Oh Lord, I didn’t even know I needed such a gift. Thank you!” 

My God cares uniquely and intimately for me.

I slow down and read the letter again. It isn’t even my letter, but one Jon wrote to his brother. Yet I get to see the man I adore speaking truth to himself and to Ben—

God completely destroyed me, but in a very loving and caring way. I realized that my survival mode and not asking others for help was rooted in a self-sufficiency, which is nothing more than pride. I didn’t want to admit that we were having financial problems because then people would see that I don’t have it all together and that I am not as ‘spiritual’ as I would seem.”

But I don’t have to have all my stuff together. Christ is the One who holds all things together (Colossians 1). This has produced in my heart an incredible freedom to struggle and wrestle. Because of the cross I am free. I am free to struggle. What a liberating thought! “

A proud wife moment. This is the man I married. He loved Jesus more than anything. Even in his struggle, he knew the truth. He didn’t have to hold it all together; Christ held him together. 

Fresh words, a lavish gift from the heart of the Father, given to my weary soul. Jon spoke truth. Almost three years later, I still get to be encouraged by it.

In the long journey, God constantly imprints four words, a lavish, gentle refrain.

My grace is tangible. 

How true! How utterly marvelous! Sometimes grace is a listening ear. Sometimes it’s a vase of flowers. Sometimes it’s a letter I never knew existed.

How extravagant is the love of God for His own! Because of the cross of Christ, I am the recipient of grace– overflowing, abundant, never ending, running over, grace.

God didn’t have to give me fresh words. They weren’t earned or merited.

He just loves me.

Perhaps your gifts of grace aren’t fresh words, but what are they? Have you forgotten? If you have met Christ at the foot of the cross, then He just loves you too. His words are always fresh.

“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23

Father, sometimes the days are long. Thank you for evidences of grace. Help me see and rejoice over the smallest graces. Thank you for the real, tender unique care you give to each of your own. Your words are always fresh. They are better than any human words. Let me never take them for granted. 


More Thoughts on Grace:

Tangible Grace. God Carries Me.

It’s Heaven Because Jesus is There

Good Shepherd May I Sing Your Praise

An Oak of Righteousness? Two Years After Death

This post by Ami appeared first at www.anewseason.net

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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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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