Rephrased

We were driving back from a day of boating with my family. My dad was driving and I had my eyes closed in the back seat next to Halle. Given the chance to be a passenger for the hour-long drive home was a welcome change of pace, and I didn’t want to miss it for getting some rest.

“Daddy?”

“Yes, Halle?” I opened my eyes to look at her.

“Can you please close that?” She pointed up at the built-in shade for the moon roof above her. I reached up and pulled it shut, then went back to closing my eyes and resting. I did it without even thinking. I wasn’t bothered in the slightest way to have to open my eyes to do something for her.

Then I remembered a verse that so often comes to mind as I raise my kids: “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!” (Matthew 7:11)

This verse often plays two ways in my mind. First, I remember that it is right and good for me to give good things to my children. Second, I remember that God gives good things to me and desires to give good things to me.

“The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.'” (Genesis 2:18)
“He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord.” (Proverbs 18:22)

I immediately and earnestly took on the heart of a child; God’s child. It was not something that took effort. It happened so naturally. But I felt just like Halle must have felt in that moment. I’ve never felt so child-like before in my life. And I echoed her words, slightly altered, and imitating her attitude.

I prayed in my thoughts: “Daddy, can You please give me a wife?”

I’ve prayed for another wife for over 3 years now, so this is nothing new, but the childlike innocence I felt in that moment will not long be forgotten. Even now, weeks later, I can vividly remember how I asked the question.

A tear dropped from my eye and I went back to resting.

Into darkness

…it was not land at all…It was a Darkness…utter blackness, as if they had come to the edge of a moonless and starless night.

“Do we go into this?” asked Caspian at length.

“Not by my advice,” said Drinian.

…all at once the clear voice of Reepicheep broke in upon the silence.

“And why not?” he said. “Will someone explain to me why not.”

No one was anxious to explain, so Reepicheep continued:
“If I were addressing peasants or slaves,” he said, “I might suppose that this suggestion proceeded from cowardice. But I hope it will never be told in Narnia that a company of royal and noble persons in the flower of their age turned tail because they were afraid of the dark.”

“But what manner of use would it be plowing through that blackness?” asked Drinian.

“Use?” replied Reepicheep. “Use, Captain? If by use you mean filling our bellies or our purses, I confess it will be no use at all. So far as I know we did not set sail to look for things useful but to seek honor and adventure. And here is as great an adventure as ever I heard of, and here, if we turn back, no little impeachment of all our honors.”

– C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

I read this tonight to Brady for bedtime. And it struck a chord. Give me five minutes with someone experiencing a Darkness in their life, and you’ll no doubt here me talk about leaning into it, or — to use the same imagery — about rowing steadily straight towards it.

I have never known a darker time in my life than when Stephanie died, but I was not willing to pretend I didn’t feel what I was feeling. And I give a lot of credit to that attitude for being where I am today. And, I give credit to God for giving me the strength to have that attitude. (In other words, don’t give me any of the credit.)

Here’s why I think it works. When you are able to accept that it is a horrible situation and you’re able to accept that you’re just going to feel miserable at times, you start to accept that maybe there is more to it than just pain. There’s learning. And there’s growing. When you are in that moonless and starless night, you start to see things clearly that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise. You find out who you are. You find out what you believe. You find out how deeply you can feel. And you find out how much others love you.

And from that point on, all it takes is a candle for you to feel like the whole entire world has been lit up as the sun. It’s a bright and beautiful day simply to have a flickering flame in the deepest dark.

It’s a lesson I’m still learning. One day last week, I was encouraging a friend to accept the feelings inside and express those feelings to God. Not even a full day later, I was struggling with my own feelings and forgetting what I had said the day before. Thankfully, my counselor encouraged me to lean in. Strangely enough, I still didn’t make the connection until that same friend pointed it out to me, showing me that it’s exactly what I was saying just one day prior.

Stress, loneliness, anger, pain, frustration, disappointment. None of these feelings are strangers to me. Instead of thinking they’ve come to the wrong house, what if I invite them in and hang out with them for a while until I get to the deeper reasons for why they rang my bell? Will I cry? Maybe. Will I complain? Probably. Will it be hard? Absolutely.

But I have set sail to seek honor and adventure. And if I turn back, I impeach all of my honor. And I miss a great adventure.

Free trip

I got a mailer informing me that I was being offered two (2) free airline tickets and a however-many-night stay in a hotel. Call for details.

I don’t mind free, so I called the number. You know… for details. I gave him my offer number.

“Congratulations, sir, that is a valid offer number. This is being offered by a new travel company in your area. All we ask is that you come in and meet us and watch a presentation.”

I’m not surprised. I expected as much. I was prepared to sit through a presentation and claim my offer without being swindled into buying something else. I have no problem saying “no.”

“Now, this offer is only for people who are married or cohabiting. Are you?”

“No, I’m not.”

“You’re single single?”

Am I what? Is that a thing? What does that even mean? Well, since I don’t want to be more single than plain single… “I’m widowed.” Widowed is also very different than single. I don’t feel single, let alone “single single.”

“Okay, well, I’m sorry but we can only offer this to people who are married or cohabiting. We have another offer that’s available to you, though, for a Caribbean cruise…”

I stopped caring. Maybe I was annoyed that cohabiting is on the list of applicants. Or maybe it was “single single.” Or maybe I was even just surprised I didn’t get the usual “I’m sorry to hear that” about being widowed. (In reality, I’m done with sympathy at this point, but am just so used to getting it that it’s odd when I don’t.) Whatever the case, I don’t want to go on a Caribbean cruise alone. It’s unfortunate, too. That plane ticket could have been very useful in my dating life for visiting someone new on the other side of the country. (Try as I might, “someone local” seems to be a very difficult thing to attain.)

[Click]

Like brother, like sister

Halle has looked up to Brady her entire life. For as frustrated as her do-it-herself nature gets when he tries to help her with… well, anything, she wants to be just like him in so many ways, and she just adores him. So I wasn’t surprised when things played out the way they did. Although, I thought it would take longer.

Brady is nothing if not blunt and matter-of-fact in the way he presents information. After he accepted Jesus into his heart, any mention of heaven or God or being a Christian lead him to discuss who in our family is and isn’t going to heaven. The main person that he brought up is Halle. I had to constantly try to tell him the right way to talk about it and not to kind of rub it in her face.

Well, it turned out to be a good thing, essentially. Just 8 days after Brady became a Christian, Halle was compelled. After reading the Bible before bedtime, she was very upset and started crying. She even sent Brady away and wanted to be alone with me.

“When is God going to be in my heart?”

“Well, Sweetheart, He promises to be in your heart when you believe that you’re a sinner and know you can’t get to heaven without believing that Jesus died to forgive you of your sins.”

I again did my best to explain it in terms she could understand, but without leaving out the important details. She climbed into bed and we prayed together. She prayed on her own first, asking God to come into her heart amidst thanking Him for trees and a good day. I reminded her of Jesus and how He died for her sins and prayed along with her about those things.

Brady was very excited. Now our whole family will be in heaven together!

Well, except for his baby cousin who is less than a year old. I guess he has his work cut out for him.

Better than a birthday

This was one of those nights where I was just going to forego reading the Bible with Brady and Halle. I was sick last night and had to sleep most of today. But I knew I needed to eat and felt well enough to take them to Chic-fil-A. It was an easy way for them to get active playtime without needing me to be involved. We came home past their bedtime.

And then, I decided that it was a poor excuse for not reading the Bible. Tonight’s story was about Nicodemus talking to Jesus in the middle of the night. You know, the one where Nic doesn’t quite understand what it means to be born again. After we finished, Brady says, “Well, I know how it happens.”

“How what happens?”

“How you can be a baby again. You just have to believe in God and love Him.”

I’ve heard Brady talk about these things before. I know he understands so many of the points about sin and God’s forgiveness, but I can’t help but make sure his understanding is complete. So, I told him how it’s not just about loving God, although that is a great thing and very important.

“When Jesus talks about being born again, He’s talking about being born spiritually. We’re all born the first time physically — that’s our bodies — but we need to be born spiritually, too.”

Brady displays more of his understanding: “Just like you were born from Nana. And we were all born from Adam and Eve.”

“That’s right. And because we were born from Adam and Eve and because they sinned, we’re all sinners, too. And that’s why we need to be born spiritually by believing that Jesus died to forgive us of our sins.”

“Well, I’ve said those things to God. Like, I’ve told Him that I love Him. In my head.”

“That’s really great that you do that, Brady! God loves that. But God also says that we need to believe in our hearts that we need Jesus to forgive our sins, and we need to confess it. That means, we need say it with our mouths.”

“But why do I have to?”

From here, I can tell he’s struggling about that part of it. For some reason, despite knowing all important theological points necessary, I’ve sensed that he was uneasy about expressing it verbally. As we head upstairs, I know he’s on the verge of being upset. I know my Brady, and when he didn’t come in to brush teeth, I found him in his room with a tissue on his eyes. I asked him what was wrong.

“I don’t want to tell you.”

“Please tell me. It’s important to me, and I want to know.”

He finally relented and told me that he couldn’t say those words. He didn’t know how. I told him that it was okay if he didn’t know how.

“How about this: I’ll say the words and all you have to do is repeat after me.”

He nodded his head. We were a go. So, we laid on his bed and prayed together.

“Dear God, I know that I’m a sinner. And I believe that Jesus died on the cross to forgive my sins. Please come into my life and forgive me. Thank You. Amen.”

I smiled big and told him what wonderful news that was. “Now you can call yourself a Christian. That means ‘little Christ,’ because you’re trying to be just like Jesus.” After getting Halle into bed, I came back in his room and told him how I was trying to decide how we should celebrate this exciting news. It’s like a second birthday. Only better.

Usually, he wants me to pray, but tonight, he decided he would.

“Dear God, thank You for this day. Please give me good sleep, and give Halle good sleep. Please help Daddy to sleep very well so that he isn’t sick the next time. And please give us a new mommy who’s just like our old mommy. Please give us a mommy who is fun and beautiful because our old one was fun and beautiful. In Your name, Amen.”

I added, “And thank You that Brady became a Christian today, and how exciting that is.”

So he added, “And thank you for the people, and for Daddy teaching me how to be a Christian.” (I found out later that by “people,” he meant Adam and Eve because we wouldn’t be here without them. A solid point.)

The part that really gets me to tears is to think about how Heaven is rejoicing tonight over Brady. And Stephanie is most definitely at the head of that celebration. And that’s a thought that is too precious to me.

I am certainly beaming tonight. I praise God so much for this night. And I’m a pretty proud daddy. I feel I have done my job well as a father, that I could take a child who’s mother died when he was 3 and raise him to love God so much. He knows that I love them more than anything, except not more than I love God. And he says he loves God more than he loves me. And that makes me smile big.

This is quite possibly one of the greatest nights ever.

Just one

I went to a marriage conference last weekend.

Alone.

I totally did.

On Valentine’s Day.

Here’s the thing about me: I love marriage. And not only did I love being married, but I truly love the institution of marriage. I love seeing my friends and family who are married. I love seeing senior citizens walking hand-in-hand. I love celebrating new marriages. And I would fight tooth and nail for any marriage to survive.

So don’t feel bad for me. It was completely my choice to go. I’m not looking for any sympathy here.

To me, there is nothing better on this earth than marriage. It is the closest representation of the relationship Christ has with His bride (the “capital ‘c'” Church). I also believe it is the greatest testimony of God’s love for us in a world of people who doubt that God even exists.

So, I went to a marriage conference. And not just any marriage conference, but one put on by my favorite author, Gary Thomas, and based on my favorite book on the subject of marriage – Sacred Marriage. If you haven’t read it, I strongly recommend it. (And I don’t strongly recommend things to the general public because any form of art is going to touch people as differently as each person is different.) But I’m just saying: you should read it.

I walked in the doors to my church towards the welcome table. The woman behind the table had two name tags in her hand ready to give to the next couple who came up. I took one. And I wrote my name. While I placed the tag on my shirt, she asks, “Just one?”

Not quite sure what to say, I just said, “Yes. Just one.” In my head, all I’m thinking about is how I clearly walked in unaccompanied and deliberately grabbed only one name tag and filled it out. You would hope that my wife would have been with me if she was coming along. But so be it.

“Yes. Just one.”

“Okay. Here’s a program. Did you only need one?”

Umm… should we really go over this again? Tell you what. Maybe she’s here. Maybe there was another “just one” who came in before me. Did you see her? Could you tell her I’m here now. Actually, now that I think about it, Gary Thomas is an ordained minister. I’m sure we can remedy this status of mine right here and now. She can be my “plus one” so we’re both no longer “just one.” Then I can take your two programs you had ready. And the extra name tag. We can take care of this “just one” thing so it’s less complicated.

Actually, I bet there’s a discount for married couples! If I find my “plus one,” can we still cash in on that discount?

To be fair, I’m sure she wasn’t expecting a widower to waltz up to her table. Likely, she took time beforehand to pair off name tags and programs because she knew the majority of the attendees would be paired off as well.

“Yes. Just one.”

Next time, so that it’s obvious, I’ll walk up to the table waving around my ringless left hand straight in front of me.

ring finger

I didn’t really much consider that I was a single guy in a sea of married couples finding out how to better their marriage. I was just there so that I can better the marriage I intend on having someday. While sitting in the front row, I turned around at one point and very much realized how I was in the vast minority. It felt weird for a second, but I just smiled and started taking notes again.

And let me just say that the conference was awesome! I loved every minute of it. And as if there wasn’t enough for me to love during the “marriage” portion, he even had a bonus session for people who are dating or who know someone who is dating. (It was based on another fabulous book, Sacred Search. Consequently, I highly recommend any singles out there to read it.) I think I fit into that category. “Just one” was the clear winner in that crowd.

I’m sorry to say I didn’t get to walk back up to the table to request that extra program and name tag. But, this conference was my favorite thing I could have done with my time. It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.*

I was, of course, so thrilled to get to talk to Mr. Thomas for a few minutes after the event. “Thank you for what you’re doing. I’m widowed, and just love marriage and look forward to cultivating another marriage based on the biblical principles you put forth in your book. Can I give you a hug?” (Oh yes, I did. And I gave him a hug. He also signed my 10-year-old copy of Sacred Marriage.)

*Name that movie

Endings are sacred

The End in a movie

I love movies, and fall more in love with them as I get older and see more of them. And the ending is often my favorite part. It is so critical to the story. It can make or break the rest of it. I’ve seen movies that have me thinking “meh” for 2 hours, and then suddenly bring it all together at the end. And then I have to watch the movie 37 more times and I still don’t get tired of it. Other movies have me engaged all throughout, only to shatter my fascination in the final moments. I’m left feeling angry that I just wasted those hours of my life.

When I was in college, someone told me the ending of the movie The Sixth Sense before I had seen it. And right now, I suspect that most of you who have seen the movie have your mouth gaping open indignantly. “Who would do such a thing?” Who would, indeed.

Endings are sacred. They should never be told. Only experienced. You’ve been on this journey through the lives depicted on screen, and at the end, you feel their resolution or surprise or satisfaction right along with them.

I don’t think it’s only movies, either. Books are another great example. But really, the ending for any story being told is clutch.

Including our lives. So many people have followed my story since Stephanie ended up in the hospital and died soon after, but truly we all have a story that’s being told through our lives. Personally, I can’t wait to see the ending to my story. It’s going to make the whole rest of this journey so much sweeter and that much better. And I’m expecting some pretty great things, to be honest.

And still there’s more: God’s story. I can hear someone saying, “but we already know the ending to that one.” In a manner of speaking, that’s very true. Be we also know that Romeo and Juliet don’t make it to the end, and yet it’s in the details that we’re captivated. And there are a lot of details we don’t know yet. God is going to show how awesome He really is through that ending. And that’s an ending I’m glad no one can spoil for me.

Best and Worst

“What was the best and worst thing about your day?”

I’ve asked my kids this for quite some time every night when they go to bed. I’m hoping as the years go on that it will be a good starting point for conversations about what they have to be thankful for and also what they’re struggling with. It will give me material for my prayers for them. For now, they are pretty consistent in their responses.

Brady’s best thing is all the loved ones he got to see in his day. His worst thing, half the time, is not seeing mommy. (Other times, it may include not getting to play with a toy. Go figure.)

Halle’s best thing is pretty reliably “Seein’ Nana!” and “Seein’ you!” (By which, she means me, of course.) She doesn’t usually answer the “worst thing” part.

I love nights like tonight, though, when Brady and I delve into a deeper conversation. He expounded on not getting to see Mommy. And as we talked, he buried his head and confessed to nearly crying that Mommy is gone. So we talked about how it’s okay to miss her and be sad. We might always be sad she’s gone. But we also talked about getting a new mommy and how she will love him and Halle so well and will be special, just like “Mommy Stephanie” was special. They’re each special in their own ways, and we can love them both.

He’s sad to not have a new mommy yet, and so looking forward to it. Speaking for Halle, he said, “We will always love our first mommy. Mommy’s right in my mind and in my heart.” I love speaking words to him of remembering the past and how thankful we can be to God for who his mommy was, but also having hope for the future in looking forward to having a new mommy.

He asked me to cuddle him, and as I did: “You’re the best daddy I ever had.”

Those were words I needed to hear tonight. Thank you, Brady. And thank you, God.

This day came

I never wanted this feeling to come. I knew it would happen, but I wanted to believe it wouldn’t. Even though it doesn’t feel wrong, it sure sounds wrong. And even though I know it’s good, I want everyone to tell me it’s bad.

The fact is… I’m okay.

I’m okay that it’s been 3 years since Stephanie died.
I’m okay that I have hated so many moments since then.
I’m okay on this day — an anniversary of the most awful kind.
As I think about the future, I’m okay.
When I think about the past, I’m okay.
I’ve been through the fire, but God didn’t let me burn, and the scars are just a reminder that He heals all wounds.

But there’s a part of me that still wants it to hurt. There’s a part of me that wants to live with an open wound that gets poked and scraped in unbearable ways. It helps me to know that I haven’t forgotten her. It also makes me depend on God constantly. And frankly, it gives me something to complain about. In fact, it makes for a pretty good trump card when others are complaining about their own lives. (I can’t deny the fact that I’ve done it.)

People warned me this day would come. (Or, as they saw it, they were encouraging me that this day would come.) As I said back then, I had a love-hate relationship with time. I loved that it brought me closer to healing, but hated that it took me further from Stephanie. And even then, I could feel the healing brought by every moment that came and went.

I don’t want to be okay. But I’m glad that I am. And I doubt the day will ever come when that makes sense, let alone that I’ll be able to explain it to anyone.

So please forgive me if I’m not sure how to answer when you ask me how I’m doing. I still want to say, “This sucks! I hate it!” and burst into uncontrollable sobs. And there’s a part of my heart that will always feel that way and do exactly that. But don’t be too surprised that I can genuinely say, “I’m doing quite well, actually.” It’s not a lie. It’s just an answer that seems brand new to me.

Children are amazing

Today is Stephanie’s birthday. We have built some traditions in how we celebrate her every year. The kids help decorate a cake for her, we buy a balloon or two to take to the cemetery, and we go out to eat. Brady has been asking over the last few days if we were going to go to “the place where Mommy died.” I can’t believe it has that importance to him already. And last night, before bedtime, the kids both came to me in the hall, hugging me, and saying how they miss Mommy.

I’m told they were both talking about Mommy with Nana during the entire time they were working on the cake. I can just imagine the discussion they were having, remembering all the things she meant to each of them (some real and some made up).

As we were finishing up dinner, Brady asked me if we could tell the waitress that it was his mommy’s birthday. Not wanting him to depend on me to talk to strangers for him, I encouraged him to go ahead and tell her. And his conversation with her will always bring a smile to my face as he so politely told her that it was “our mommy’s birthday.” The waitress was wonderfully involved and asked how we were going to celebrate. (At this point, she has no idea that the birthday girl is no longer alive. I can only imagine what the waitress was thinking as she could clearly see that the celebration was without a recipient.) Brady, however, masterfully kept the grim news to himself until the waitress asked about presents and it was appropriate that he make it clear: “Well, she got sick and died.” Now it made a little more sense to the waitress.

I am just in awe over how Brady handled himself through the whole conversation. He spoke clearly and politely, was engaged in the conversation, and ended it all by wishing her a great day and a great weekend (3 days early, but whatever). At that point, Halle chimed in a wished her “a good day, too.” And the waitress — bless her heart — was very patient and attentive, and told us to let her know that if there was anything she could do.

I thought my night was nearly perfect when Halle had to make it even better. For the first time, she prayed all by herself for bedtime. “Dear God. I hope we have a good sleep. I hope we have a good day tomorrow. I hope Daddy has a good work tomorrow.” And after a pause, as she tried to think of what to say next, “I love you, God! Amen.”

My heart is so full right now. All of this comes on an important date in our lives. For this year, I don’t think I have felt any sadness today. Even if I had, my children would have blown that totally away. But it’s an odd sensation, nonetheless, as I’m so accustomed to it being attached to sadness. I almost don’t know what to do now that it’s not.

But thank God for children and the blessing they are to me. What a great 36th birthday for Stephanie. As a friend so simply and perfectly said it: Happy Birthday, Stephanie!

Stephanie's Birthday