It’s been a decade since she was here with us. I can’t believe it has been ten years. It’s simply impossible that it has been that long. There’s no other word for it. Just… impossible.

I have such a wonderful life now, with an incredible wife and amazing kids. And yet, at the same time, I can’t help but long for what could have been. It’s such an odd dichotomy that leaves me feeling as if I’m betraying myself. But my wife reassures me I’m not crazy. She is so kind, compassionate and understanding when it comes to my feelings about Stephanie and the pain of losing her. She welcomes me with open arms so that I can bear my heart before her.

My heart breaks for the years that Brady and Halle have missed with her. And I hate having missed the years seeing her with them. She so loved being a wife and mom, and it lit up my life to see her enjoy it so much.

I wish we could borrow her for a day from her heavenly home, so that I could introduce her to Julie, Hannah, Graham and Grace. I could show her the new second floor on our house to accommodate the seven of us. I can almost see her and Julie sitting down for coffee, laughing like long-time friends about all of my quirks and the things the kids have done. It would end too soon, of course. And the next day would be harder than any day in recent memory.

And then I wake up from that dream to remember that I will get to have that day, years from now, when we get to see her again in Heaven. It’s going to be so great to see her again. Until then, I will fully enjoy those I have been given for the time I have with them. I will honor her memory by exemplifying her joy over our family.

A Growing List

Mother’s Day. This day continues to have increased significance. I never imagined that the list of women who make this day worthwhile in my own life would continue to grow so profusely. And yet it has.

I have to start with my own mother, of course, who has proved over and over again how gifted she is in teaching and raising children. Her expression of motherhood is more proof than anyone could need that there is a God in Heaven who sent His Son to die so that we could live. She gave of herself continually, doing for my brothers and I without end. But she did not enable, as she also insisted on raising wise, loving, sensitive, genuine, gentlemen in her sons. And that extended to other kids beyond her own, as she taught preschool for many years, was involved in our church youth group, has mentored countless younger women, and has welcomed more than a few daughters-in-law into our family as if they were her own daughters. As if that weren’t enough, she jumped back into motherhood when Stephanie died and effectively raised my kids in her stead. Clearly, my mom was made to be a mother.

Then, of course, there is the mother of my (first) two children: Stephanie. When I think of Stephanie, I just picture a pitcher of pure joy and love being poured out into the cups that are Brady and Halle. She found a way to fill those two kids up with so much of her, even in the short time she got to have with them. They continue to show how that has affected them in so many positive ways. Stephanie came alive in motherhood. It fit her so well. I feel like the enjoyment she got out of her children could make everyone else wish they had children, or appreciate better the children they do have.

Obviously, I couldn’t be thankful for Stephanie without the woman who gave her life. My mother-in-law has been so supportive of my journey towards re-marriage. I am continually stunned at how someone can both grieve her own daughter’s death, but also grieve for me and desire that I would find someone new. I can’t imagine what those feelings much be like, but she has only ever prayed for me and encouraged me and listened to stories about the women I’ve met over the years. And I can’t mention her without also mentioning my aunt-in-law, who has also shown the same amount of love and support and prayers over the years. I know I wouldn’t be where I am without their love.

A year ago, on Mother’s Day, my kids and I began a journey to where we are today: able to celebrate a “new” mommy. We began reading a book all about praying consistently for 100 days. I knew God would work in our hearts as we prayed for a mommy, and I was believing as much as I could that we might even meet her during those 100 days, but it was hard to believe that entirely. Little did I know that God would pull off the “impossible” (or so it seemed impossible).

Here I am today, able to celebrate, along with my kids, a new mother; the (now) mother to my two children, and bringing along a new child for me, as well. One of my first thoughts about Julie was this: “Thinking about the mother she is to Hannah is possibly the most attractive thing I’ve ever seen in a woman.” I think that makes it pretty clear that she’s an incredible mother. I’m so excited to get to start celebrating her this year on this day and I look forward to so many more years celebrating her. Julie has welcomed Brady and Halle into her life with open arms, and they, too, are so excited to have her to celebrate. She is their favorite gift ever.

And, I’ve said it before, there are countless other women – friends, family, teachers, and otherwise – who have taken on a mother role towards my children over the years. They have loved on my kids as much as they could in ways that only women can and have softened the pain of not having their own mommy still on earth.

So, to the increasingly long list of women who have mothered me and mothered my children – and continue to do so – I say “Happy Mother’s Day.” It’s a great day to recognize so many people for whom I am thankful.

The plan changed

On Wednesday, January 13th, I awoke with many thoughts flowing through my mind. “Oh goodness, I pressed snooze too many times again; what a lovely time I had with Brad last night for his birthday; I hope I am not late to work; is Hannah’s cough going to get better soon; did she sleep well…” You know, the usual stream of thoughts a woman and a mother often wakes up to. Little did I know, today wasn’t going to be the same as any other day. Today, my life plans would change.

I headed out the door to work hoping I didn’t forget anything. As I drove, I reviewed my mental checklist feeling a little worn out by life. That evening, I was scheduled to go over to Brad’s house for birthday dinner with his parents and all the kids. As much as I was looking forward to it, a part of me was wondering if I should go. It had been a full week and Hannah wasn’t feeling well. The battle commenced in my mind. What is the right thing to do? I mentioned to Brad that I wasn’t certain about the evening, and if we came we would need to leave early. He kindly offered to keep Hannah overnight and watch her the next day so I wouldn’t feel too overwhelmed with the week’s demands. I had to be at work extra early the next morning. His offer was so sweet and thoughtful; I had no idea it was not only his way of caring for Hannah and I but also ensuring we came to the evening celebrations. He had a plan!

Hannah and I arrived at Brad’s house that evening and enjoyed a delicious birthday dinner. A beautiful cake graced the center of the table waiting for candles and a song. In the living room, four gifts sat all wrapped in “Happy Birthday” paper. It all seemed just as it should. After dinner, Brad gathered us in the living room for present time. Somehow, he managed to arrange for me to sit alone in the recliner chair. I simply thought he was giving me the comfy chair. He had a plan!

The birthday guy arrived at the third gift and opened up a lovely box. I immediately noticed how pretty is was. Still, I was clueless. He pulled out a gorgeous angel with a scene from the story of Noah’s Ark engraved on her flowing skirt. He began to share the story of how he built the second story on his home after his wife died. The large addition to his home was done in faith that God was sending him a wife and the kids a mother. He recounted how he and his counselor likened it to Noah building the ark in faith that the rain was coming. Even then it didn’t hit me. He turned toward me and said, “So, this is for you.” I was surprised, and yet, it still had not dawned on me. I sat back down on the recliner and looked over this thoughtful gift. He returned to the box and retrieved a dozen red roses. I looked up to find him on his knees with the roses. Yes! Then I got it! He was asking me to be his wife. Honestly, after that it was a blur. My heart was bursting with joy! I heard him say “Will you marry me?” and I heard myself say “Yes, of course I will.” I couldn’t stop smiling. He had a plan!

There was one more gift remaining. Brad took it over to Hannah and had her open it with him. It was an adorable plush toy of Noah’s Ark, complete with stuffed animals inside. As she opened the gift, Brad asked her, “I would love to be your Daddy. Can I be your Daddy, Hannah?” Hannah looked up at him sweetly and nodded her head yes, and then went back to happily playing with her new toy. My mother’s heart was overflowing. God had sent us a double portion of love. It was worth the wait. God had a plan!

Here is Brad’s take on that night.

Brad and Julie

The rain came

A few years ago, in the wake of my wife’s death, I added a second floor to my one-story bungalow. My counselor and I had a conversation about how the project was progressing. I was building my house on a promise that I felt was from God. That promise was that I would be married again someday and get to have more children. (As it was, my two kids and I didn’t need the extra space.) It was a promise I believed, and so I added a second floor.

As I discussed this with my counselor, he said he was reminded of Noah. Noah was told by God that it would rain, and so Noah built an ark (per God’s instruction). I was told by God that I would be married again, and so I built a bigger house. I followed my counselor’s idea, and wrote on some of the construction: “The rain is coming.”

Well, the rain came.

On Wednesday, January 13, I had my parents and girlfriend over to celebrate my birthday. After dinner came the opening of presents. The last present I opened had some slightly more — shall we say — unique gifts. The first item was an angel with the Noah’s Ark story depicted on the bottom of her dress. I pulled it out, recounting to Julie the conversation I had had with my counselor years prior. She thought it was cool, but still thought it was for me, so I pushed it towards her. “This is actually for you.”


As she surveyed the angel, I returned to my box and took out a dozen roses. I then turned to kneel in front of her. She had posted on her Facebook years ago just before Christmas, “All I really want for Christmas is for a wonderful man to send me beautiful roses, with a note saying how much they love me and don’t want to picture their life without me. Then for that sentiment not to change for next infinity of Christmases! :) Now that would be absolutely amazing!”

And so, as I knelt in front of her, I told her, “You’ve wanted a man to give you roses and profess his love for you. Well, I do love you, and I want to spend my life with you. Will you marry me?” After her answer, some tears and smiles, and hugs and kisses, I presented her with the final item from my box: an engagement ring.

After we embraced each other in celebration, I returned to my dwindling stack of presents. I grabbed the last present and gave it to Julie’s 2-1/2-year-old daughter, Hannah. She opened it to find a plush Noah’s Ark with animals stored inside. And I told her that I would love to be her daddy. I asked her if she would like that. She, like her mommy, said “yes.”

As I have read the story of Noah recently, I have taken note especially of how he sent out a dove so that he would know when land could be found. I liken our relationship to that story. It began raining last summer as I met Julie; the flood endured while we got to know each other and dated; and now, the dove has come back to me having found land. She is the land I have been searching for all these years. And now, my house can be fully used as we add two beautiful ladies to our family.

Here is Julie’s take on that night.

Five – FIVE?! – years


There’s actually something easier about saying “five years” than saying “five months.” And then, there’s something just unreasonably, ridiculously, stupidly horrible about saying “five years.” Five. Freaking. Years.

I can’t help but think of the beginning of the movie Elizabethtown. The main character has lost his company $972 million and the owner of the company is explaining to him how big that is. “How do I make the number real to you?” He talks about the basketball team and natural watchdog project the company owns that will have to go, and he emphasizes the fact that small countries are run for that amount of money.

That’s how I feel about trying to describe 5 years of being a young widower. How do I make that length of time as a young widower real to you? I’ve been a widower for one thousand eight hundred twenty-six days (as of October 14). You could basically round that to 2000 days at this point. Soon enough (March 15, 2016 to be exact), I will have been widowed for longer than I was married. Most people would have to live to be 120 years old to ever reach that point. I’m 34. I’m not even halfway through my 30s. But it makes me feel like I’m 70. It took me longer to graduate elementary school than it did for me to have a wife die. Both my kids have had more life without a mom than they had with one. I have friends who have grown their families from 0 to 3 kids in that time.


And yet, it can still feel easier than five months. At five months, it’s fresh. You wonder daily — instead of occasionally — if you’re going to wake up from the nightmare. You can’t imagine a day or a world that doesn’t involve figuring out how to do life without that other person. At 5 years, you’ve pretty well learned to manage life without. (What a horrible thing to be able to say?)

And that sometimes feels even worse. Effectively, I’m saying that I don’t need Stephanie. And if I don’t need her now, I never really did. It feels like such a horrible thing to say about someone you love so much. And yet, it’s a sentiment Stephanie and I shared towards each other. Our lives were not dependent on each other. We need God; not each other. Stephanie, in the midst of a struggle we were having, said to me, “I don’t need you.” She was right. She had promised to God to be married to me, no matter how hard things got between us. And that’s what she deferred to in the midst of struggles, rather than deferring to any presumed need for me. And that sentiment had the effect of spurring us on to work through that struggle and many others. I’m convinced that it is what made our marriage so wonderful. But, do hear me: I really wanted her in my life for 50 years or more. “Need” is not the same as “want.” If I needed her, that would mean my own sense of self was dependent on her and her existence in my life. That’s what most people would call a needy person. It gave me a great freedom to know that she was not dependent on me for who she was. And I, obviously, was not dependent on her for who I am. Five years proves that pretty well.

Furthermore, I’ve been able to grow so much in the past 5 years because I don’t need her. The man she married was not the same man she widowed. And the man she widowed is not the man I am today. As hard as it is to believe it’s been five years, this is a redemptive story. I thank God for the grace He has shown in my life and the lives of my kids. I’m stronger today than I’ve ever been. And I’m confident that I could survive any blow life can hand me, because I’ve survived this blow and seen that life does, in fact, go on.

Five years can make me cry, smile and laugh all in the same sentence. Five years can make me scream, yell and complain. Five years can make me ponder solemnly and find my pensive side. Five years can make me groan at so much life gone by, and it can make me indignant over the life left behind. Five years can make me realize I can’t imagine who my kids were when she died. I struggle to remember the Brady and Halle whom she knew, instead of the kids before me today.


Five years can show me the life and growth that comes. Five years can prove the strength God has given me, the resilience of my children, and the brilliant sovereignty of God. Five years brings so many new memories, so much new joy, and a life that gets restored. And finally, five years can give me hope for the next five years.

Hindsight is twenty-something

Perhaps you’ve heard of the app called Timehop, which shows what happened in years past in your “Facebook life.” Well, mine is quite jam-packed today. Yesterday, after all, was a red-letter date in my timeline. Five years ago, my late wife Stephanie was in her final days on this earth. It’s surreal to read these things as if they happened yesterday. It almost feels like I’m reading a book written by someone else.

My wife had three seizures in less than 24 hours and is in neurological ICU. Please pray.

I posted this at 6:48am, after one of the worst nights of my life. At this point, I was still waiting to hear anything from the doctors. I remember being mostly unable to sleep and using the hospital computer to write emails to some of my closest friends. This particular post was about the first thing I told “the world.” It felt like days, but just 6 hours later, I posted the following:

She’s not doing well. She hasn’t had seizures in a while, but has brain swelling. They can’t assess the damage without an MRI. She’s not stable enough for that. Praise God that we have a Good Physician, though. He can heal beyond all human understanding. And if He doesn’t, we know He has a great plan in mind for His ways are so much greater than ours. I know not what will happen, but I know God knows what He’s doing no matter what the outcome. You can all help me by knowing that. And Stephanie would say the same – that everyone would know the great love He has for us and for all of you. Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!

I have no recollection of saying all of that about trusting God despite the outcome, but I can’t say I’m surprised. In retrospect, it was more true that I could have realized. That attitude has continued to remain in my spirit. He truly did and does have a great plan in mind. I’ve seen some of that plan come to be, and I’m convinced I will continue to see it more and more as time goes on. And the following was a huge part of seeing God’s hand at work.

I have updated my long-neglected blog to include posts about the recent days for Stephanie, and will be updating as a central location for the latest in her condition. Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers.

I would go on to hear from people all over the world who were not only praying for me, but also being encouraged by me and my story. None of this could have been by my own doing. I could not have crafted a plan that would involve ministering to people’s souls while sitting at the bedside of my dying wife.

A quote from Perelandra, by C.S. Lewis, captures it best. The main character, Dr. Ransom, is expressing his own lack of credibility for accomplishing any task of noteworthiness.

Don’t imagine I’ve been selected…because I’m anyone in particular. One never can see, or not till long afterwards, why any one was selected for any job. And when one does, it is usually some reason that leaves no room for vanity. Certainly, it is never for what the man himself would have regarded as his chief qualifications.

If God has used me in any way to bless other people, it has nothing to do with any of my own qualifications. Without a doubt, I had no hand in the situation and would have much rathered not have my wife die. But, she did. And God managed to bring beauty out of my pain. He was able to bring His redemption into one of the worst situations I could have ever imagined, as He is prone to do.

And, His redemption continues to come crashing down on all the terrible things that happen in this world. I thank Him for that!

Encouraged to lead

In the Christian dating sphere in which I spend a lot of time, the conversation comes up regularly about how women can encourage men to take the lead and to be stronger leaders. They express wanting to be respectful in how they present the encouragement. Well, while I was at a singles conference in Colorado Springs recently, one of the ladies gave a perfect example of how to do just that.

A group of about a dozen of us set out to hike up Pulpit Rock. Thrusting up out of the earth, Pulpit Rock offers a couple different experiences of varying difficulty. We chose the more difficult, which involved some climbing near the summit. When it was time to head back down, there was a little bit of hesitation about how and where to start our decent. Where again was the spot where we climbed up?

It was at this point that Lindsey spoke up. “Well, Brad’s really good at forging a new path. Why don’t you lead the way, Brad?”

There it was. That was all I needed to hear. I wasted no time in stepping forward and being the first to head down the slope. I could do this. I knew I could do this. One person believed I could do this. So I did this. There was no question in my mind.

I also wasted no time in thanking Lindsey for her kind words, encouraging confidence, and supportive trust. She had done — in my mind — exactly what men need from women as respectful encouragement to lead.

She called out the ability she had seen in me. She affirmed it, acknowledging that she knew I would be a great candidate for forging the path. She then called me to live into those attributes she had seen in me. She had set the bar for me, and told me that she believed I could reach it.

Men love to be issued a challenge. If I say to a guy that I can beat him in a game of one-on-one, it won’t be long before he’s playing me to prove me wrong. If a guy next to me at the stop light revs his engine, I’m likely to hit the gas hard once I see green. (Although, if I’m smart like Marty McFly, I’ll put the car in reverse first.)

When a challenge is made, the bar is set. Sometimes, the bar seems too high. If that’s the case, some men will give up before even trying. (I’ve certainly done that before.) But, if there is someone there to tell the man he can reach that bar, he’s much more likely to try; especially if that someone is a woman he loves.

Certainly, this framework would be a great way to encourage anyone to take the lead. But, I think it is especially effective for men.

Starting line

“Seek first His kingdom and all these things will be added unto you.” For a long time, I think I was doing this. In fact, I think I was pretty focused on it for a time. I was seeking first His kingdom. But, I have fallen away from that being my singular focus. And I hate that I have. And I’m sorry to God. And, let’s be honest: it’s not the first time, either. Last night, God really sparked me to want to really do more for Him, even if I don’t know what. Writing a book is kind of my go-to. But there is so much more. I want to mentor men. I want to pray more, and better. I want to work as unto God. I want to encourage others. I want to be more like Jesus, ultimately. I just don’t know where to start.

So here I am. If this is some semblance of a starting line, consider me on it. I might not bolt off the line. I might just lumber forward after the gunshot, slowly working myself into a trot — or some imitation of it. I might be huffing and puffing after a few steps. I don’t know. I’m just tired of sitting in the stands making excuses for why my legs don’t work. I’m tired of saying “I don’t know where to start” so many times that I start to believe it. Just start at the white line, Brad. That’s where to start.

How do I reset? How do I go back to depending on God? How do I give it all up and over to God? How do I find what God wants me to do? How do I see it clearly?

I can hear what He’s saying now: “You don’t need to stop caring about finding a wife; you just need to start caring more about finding Me.” And, if I’m honest, I haven’t been. It probably has something to do with me being annoyed with Him for making me wait this long. That might not be all of it, but I’m sure it’s some of it. And from there, I find excuses for doing what I want to do. That’s so ugly! It’s so dirty. It’s so pathetic. It’s so… stupid. Why am I like that? I don’t want to be like that. I want to be used by Him; not useless to Him. I want to feed others; not steal bread. I’m tired of focusing on myself.

I need Your help, God. I don’t even have the strength to ask for it as fully as I should. I know I’m not even strong enough to admit how much I need Your help. And I’m not strong enough to stay committed to it, either. I’m afraid I’ll give up in 10 minutes or less. I’m afraid I won’t see it. I’m afraid I’ll stop caring again, or get annoyed again, or feel defeated again. And I’ll give up and I’ll give in. I hate it. That’s not how I want to be. Not truly.

So, I need Your help. Again.

Giving a good gift

As Mother’s Day approached, it was obvious it was on the minds of my kids. There’s no doubt it was a frequent topic of conversation in their classrooms; as well it should be. But there’s no avoiding the very real wounds left by the loss of a parent.

We concluded one of our evenings this week in the usual way by reading the Bible. This time, it was about heaven, giving expression to John’s vision as described in Revelation. And Brady, my always sweet boy, began crying. “As soon as I get to heaven, I’m going to cry to see Mommy.” He is so keen to his own feelings. “Every one has a mommy, pretty much, except for me!”

Halle chimed in. “Everyone in my class has a mommy, too, except for me. Now Brady is making me sad.” She wasn’t blaming him, so much as just recognizing her own sadness. She’s sad that she doesn’t really remember Mommy. She wishes she knew her better, but is glad “Mommy looked like me.”

They both are so hopeful for me to find a new mommy. And that’s where it gets tough for me.

When it comes to parenting, one of my go-to verses is in Matthew 7:11, where Jesus is talking about prayer: “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” As I read this, I hear it as a call for me to do like God and give good gifts to my children, especially when they ask. (Emphasis on “good” there, because I won’t just give them anything they ask for. In the same way, God knows more than us, so won’t give us everything we ask for.)

So, when the thing my children are most asking for is a new mommy, and it’s the very thing I want to give them, and it’s a good thing that I can find no “bad” in, it breaks my heart tremendously that it’s the only thing I can’t give them. I have tried my best for nearly 4 years now to give them just that.

So, I’ve decided that we’re going to spend the next 100 days in consistent prayer for a new mommy. And we’re going to wait and see what God decides to do. I’m circling August 17 on my calendar.

And the thing of it is this: there’s more that I’m just beginning to learn now. From long ago — even before Stephanie was officially pronounced dead — I have been giving up my pain to God over losing her. I would say I gave up most of that pain 4 years ago and have given up more as time has ticked on. But now, I’m truly starting to learn the pain of my children’s loss. And so, I am starting to learn how to give that up to God. It’s critical that I don’t drive my kids to find their hope in getting a new mommy, but that they rather find all their hope in God. And may I do the same.

Made to feel

I have loved movies for as long as I can remember. I don’t know when the day came that I realized that they were more to me than just simply entertainment, but they are my favorite form of art. They speak realities about life. And they take me to a place that’s deep inside myself. That’s what art does. It opens our hearts and brings our emotions out into the light where we can experience them deeply.

Obviously, not all emotions are exactly pleasant, but I can honestly say that I have appreciated on some level every deep emotion I have ever felt in my life. Some are appreciated more when they are in the past.

I recently watched a movie called “If I Stay.” It’s a hard movie to watch, especially for someone who has lost someone close. I can’t say that it’s for everyone, but it was definitely for me. If my ratings for a movie are based on how much I cry, this one fared pretty well.

It’s about a high school girl, Mia, who is in a coma and on the verge of dying. We experience most of her life via flashbacks, as she both falls in love with a guy and chases her dream of playing the cello.

I cried most of the way through the movie. I’ve always said I was a sap because of how I cry while watching movies. What it comes down to is that I find it easy to relate to the characters portrayed on scene, whether it’s happiness, laughter or tears. And I’d like to think that’s how I relate to real people in my life, wanting to experience life through their eyes, so that I can “mourn with those who mourn, and rejoice with those who rejoice.”

There’s no shortage of scenes in the movie that I recognize from my own life. There is an endless line of people trotting in to her room to see her laying there. I can remember that scene with Stephanie so vividly, as if my own life plays before me like a movie. The wealth of love for Stephanie and for me was (and is) incredible. The waiting room was often filled with people. Praying for me. Holding me. Loving me. Hurting for me.

One of the characters in the movie chooses to let Mia go; to let her die. And I get that. There’s an amazing peace — I believe that only can come from God — that gives you the strength to say, “Okay. It’s time.” I’m comforted by that constantly. I never look back wondering if we shouldn’t have pulled the plug. I have never regretted it, painful as it was.

And movies like this remind me of those emotions. It reminds me of the pain which proves I’m still alive. And being alive means I get to experience all that God has for me in this life. And for that, I’m thankful. (I also get to watch more movies. So that’s a bonus, too.) It might sound crazy, but I love the reminder of how deeply I can feel — and have felt.