He is abundant. Reflecting on a year after death.

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

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

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

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

Yes. The answer is yes.

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

“I’m not ok, but someday I will be.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He is teaching me to say with Paul…

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

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

“It all feels like a really bad nightmare.” 

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

“And this is my confident expectation.” 

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

And He is my confident expectation.

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

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

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

“He is abundant.”

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

Yes, even in this year.

2nd first date love this thing

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Love Stories and Weddings

atkins-109 My mind is filled with weddings and love stories this morning, prompted by the upcoming wedding of some great friends. I’ll be honest, over the last couple days I’ve thought, “Maybe I won’t go. I just don’t know if I can do it. I don’t know if I can do this without Jon.” But God’s gracious gift to me today was reminding me of our love story, and then of the greatest love story…

Love Stories

Our story is the stuff that movies are made of. I’ll never forget the first time I actually met Jon. We were with our church singles group at a blue grass “ho-down” in Pumpkintown, South Carolina. Yeah, pretty awesome, huh. Jon was wearing the most hideous, peachy-orange Hawaiian shirt possible.  I was dating someone else at the time. Jon walked up to me, and said “So, are you with him?” When, I said yes, he shook his head in dismay and walked away without another word! As I watched him interact with others that night, I remember thinking how obnoxious he seemed.

So fast forward through many details- I got engaged to that other guy. That other guy broke my heart.  (I’m so thankful he did!!). Jon also understood a broken engagement, so our friendship was cemented. But then he asked me out merely two months after the break up! My heart was still healing. Of course, I see pain a lot differently now. At the time, the loss was deep, but it really is nothing compared to death of my husband!  By the way, here’s a little tangent, this loss is different. People keep saying I will heal. But I don’t get that. My heart is not broken! I’ve been there, done that, and this loss is different. My Jonathan loved me and would have done anything to stay with me. It is not the same as a broken heart. I can’t quantify it, but losing your husband is a depth of sorrow I didn’t even realize existed.  So I know that God is carrying me, and will continue to carry me, but I don’t know if “healing” is the right word. Perhaps it’s not healing, but happiness. Perhaps God will someday restore happiness and delight. I have joy now, but maybe life will be a delight again some time. I mean, I think someday He’ll take me again out of the valley. But I’m ok being here as long as He wants me to be.

But of course, I digress.  Anyway, I told him I would go.  And at the end of our first date, Jon said, “So, where do you see this headed?”  And as kindly as I could, I told him nowhere! “No, Jon, I just need you to be my friend. We’re not going to date.”

I could fill chapters will all the details of following months. And they’re beautiful details that I’ll always treasure and love to talk about!  But the gist is that God slowly began to change my heart. At first I didn’t even realize it. And Jon did not give up pursuing me. When my eyes finally opened to the wonderful man before me, it was his pursuit that won me. He came after me, and wasn’t going to quit till he got me. And then when he got me, he still didn’t quit.  It reminds me of an even greater Pursuer.

About four months after our first date I went to a wedding in Arizona with my best friend. I had still given Jon no indication that there would ever be a future for the two of us. Jon had volunteered to take us to the airport two hours away, at 3:00am, however. And his ulterior motive was obvious. He and I had tremendous conversation all the way there while Yesenia was asleep in the back seat (well pretending to be- Ahem.) When we arrived at the airport, Jon parked and carried in our bags. As I watched him walk away, I had the strongest compulsion to hug him. “What!” I thought, startled, “Where did that come from? No way, I don’t want it!”  But whether I wanted it or not, he was on my mind, and I couldn’t shake it. And finally, as dense as I was, I realized I had more than just friendship thoughts toward him.

I spent so much time on that trip in prayer evaluating my heart and motives. Was it just infatuation? Was it just the desire to have someone because Yesenia did?  I told her, “I know all I would have to do is say the word.” But I was still nervous, so I kept praying. The wedding was on the day that would have been my wedding day to that other guy. But he was not on my mind at all! Jon was. There was no sorrow. Only joy. It was never the day the Lord intended for me. As I watched the bride walk down the aisle there was a series of extremely vivid images in my mind… me walking down the aisle to Jon, us serving in ministry… And they caught me so off guard that I gasped. So I prayed, “God I desperately need your wisdom.” The more I prayed the more God just seemed to say, “Ami I just want you to be willing.” So, by the time I got home from that week in Arizona I was willing.

Jon picked us up from the airport, and for some reason, we dropped Yesenia off, but not me (she and I were roommates). So here we are conveniently alone in the car. Of course, Jon asked about the trip and specifically about the wedding, for he had known that it had the potential to be a difficult day. I was so excited to say that God had officially closed that last chapter. I told him that I spent a lot of time in prayer. And as soon as I said it, I knew he was going to ask, “About what?” And he did. And here I faced a dilemma. “Do I tell him? Or do I figure out a way to weasel out of it?’  But what came rushing out of my mouth was, “You.”  And then his jaw just about dropped to the ground! “What? You can’t be serious!”  So I went on to tell him all that God had been doing, and that I was willing to see what where God “would take this.” We hashed out a lot that night, but there was one question I really had to ask. “Jon there’s one more thing I need to know. Why do you want this? Why are you interested in me?”

And the hugest grin spread across his face. “Where do I even begin? First of all, you are absolutely beautiful!” Then he launched into a specific, obviously well thought out paragraph about my character. “Ami I see your compassion for others, your servant’s heart, your desire to live the gospel, you have a heart for ministry, your life radiates Christ. The more I know you, the more I think ‘she’s godly’ and I want that…”

I was floored. He had been watching me for months. And he thought that highly of me? He knew why he pursued me, and was able and willing to tell me so. I was stunned. And so as they say, the rest is history.  Sometime I’ll tell you our engagement story. Now that’s the stuff forthe  romantics!

When we first started dating, there were folks who thought Jon wasn’t good enough for me. There were folks who slandered him and brought up elements of his past to others, and told me I was a fool. They were flat out wrong. I was the one who didn’t deserve him.  Jesus was transforming him, and already had transformed him. Most people however, could see what we saw, God’s hand orchestrating and guiding events to bring us together.

So as I sat here this morning reflecting on the almost 5 years we’ve known each other, 4 years together, 3 years since engagement, and 2 ½ years married, God reminded me that they were the most delightful and joy filled years of my life. I would rather have had 5 beautiful years with Jon, than to not have had him at all! I’d rather be going through the deepest valley of loss than to never have experienced what it is to love and be loved so thoroughly by another. Our story was masterfully designed and woven by God.  It was His goodness and grace that brought us together and formed two into one.  But our story reminds me that Jon and his love for me pales in comparison to God’s unfathomable love.  And now it is His grace that says it is good to take Jon away. That it is good for me to be a widow. It is part of that masterful design. He has not forsaken me. He has engraved me on the palm of His hands. He has not forgotten me. (Isaiah 49:15-16)

Weddings

Jon loved weddings. I mean, you don’t understand. He absolutely adored weddings! He loved going to them. He loved dancing at them. He loved rejoicing with the new couple. He loved everything about the most “special of days.” In fact, I’ve never seen a man who was more genuinely excited about going to weddings than Jon. One of our dear friends commented that she thought Jon was more excited about her wedding than she was! I think it’s true. And with our own wedding, Jon was intricately involved in every facet of planning. He wanted to help pick out the colors, the cake, the venue… He and I spent hours meticulously planning the program and music in order that our wedding would overflow with the gospel and Jesus. We sat on the floor tying hundreds of tags on party favors that said “I love you 1,000 red m&ms” or “I love you 1,000 blue m&ms”— You guessed it. The favor was red and blue m&ms. I know, all of this may seem really weird… So, before you start thinking my husband was a pansy, he also loved trains and airplanes. And the Bears, Cubs, Bulls, and Blackhawks. Let me explain.  I think the reason Jon loved weddings so much is that he really got the symbol. He recognized that for believers, earthly weddings are a miniscule foreshadowing of the Great wedding between Christ and His bride, the church.  He recognized that one day Christ will come for His bride wrapped in splendor and majesty. And that this destitute, dumb, lame, filthy, enslaved, scoundrel of a bride will be gloriously remade into what He has already declared her to be: spotless, clean, purified, redeemed, chosen, beautiful…  (Ephesians 5)

It was more than just weddings. Jon loved marriage. One of his primary passions was teaching men to love their wives and sacrifice for them. He desperately wanted our own marriage to reflect Christ. But, just to clarify, he didn’t worship marriage. He very clearly saw that marriage is but a picture of the gospel. It is not the end all in itself. But rather, Christ, the Heir, the One who is God, made Himself low.  He pursued a bride who hated Him. With His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead, He gave his life for her, purchased her, ransomed her, lavished His love on her…And this is the greatest of love stories!  And I get to be a part of it. Of course, we know that God does all things first and foremost for His own glory! His primary reason for sending His Son was not His love for me, yet His righteous desire for His own glory.  Yet, there was unfathomable love there as well. So as I contemplate the abundant gift God gave me in Jon, I stand in awe at the even greater gift he gave me in Jesus.

Epilogue

So I went to the wedding. It was beautiful, gospel-filled, and much harder than I thought. As with the wedding that started it all, I had vivid pictures of me walking down the aisle to Jon. Thoughts of our own beautiful day, and beautiful life flooded my mind. Though this time there was immense sorrow, I found it still possible to rejoice with others.  I shed lots of tears, but it’s ok that my church family saw the grief  and the ugliness of loss. I made it through most of the evening. I consider that a victory.

“Lord I realize that It was not wrong for me to love Jon so– to still love him so. It was not wrong to take great pleasure and joy in Him. For he constantly led me back to supreme love for you. He was your gracious gift. Thank you for the most joy- filled delightful years of my life. Through the difficult challenges of being newlyweds, you were faithful. Thank you God for the joy of loving and being loved.  Thank you for the intimacy, the silliness, the tears, the laughter, the arguments, the reconciliation, the sacrificial love… Oh God you dealt with me abundantly! And still you deal with me abundantly.

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You have chosen me to be a part of the greatest story. Of your story. You gave your own Son. You will withhold no good thing from me. This I know. ‘Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand and marked off the heavens with a span… who has measured the Spirit of the Lord or what man shows Him counsel?’ Lord who am I to argue with you? Or to think that I know what is good? You are the One who knows all things. You are the One who gives life and being, and now somehow widowhood is your gracious gift to me. Somehow this is what will teach me to know you and love you more. I stand in awe that you would give me such a gift as Jon in the first place, but the comparison to Christ is overwhelming! That you would give me Jesus!”

There’s a song that sums this up I think….

Behold Our God -Sovereign Grace Music