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.

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.


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

No Excuse Acceptable

God revealed something to me tonight: I’ve been making excuses. I’ve been coming up with reasons. I’ve been claiming my thoughts are acceptable.

He showed me my mistake. And here’s the punchline: He is present in my loneliness.

I know that seems like an obvious conclusion. And it is… in my head. At least for a moment. Then my heart gets involved and, along with my mind, colludes to the point of tricking me.

What are my excuses? Shamefully, I’ve even spoken these out loud.

  • “Of course God is all I need, but I’m lonely for someone made of flesh and bones; who I can hold; who I can hear and see and touch.”

    Seemingly, I’ve forgotten the first seven words of that statement by the time I make it to “lonely.” Is He or isn’t He all I really need? Well, in the depths of my heart and soul, I have no question that He is all I need. My need for interaction does not surprise God. It does not overwhelm God. It is not too much for Him to handle. It is not beyond His ability to satisfy.

    In fact, it is one more moment in life wherein He is still there. He is ready to receive my need for interaction; to receive my need for communion and connection and communication. He’s ready to hang out with me.

    And yet, I try to tell myself “it’s not the same.” It’s so easy to pull the old “flesh and bones” card and claim that He’s not good enough. Where do I get off? How dare I make that claim? As if He could ever not be enough for my needs! That is a bold-faced lie and attack on His character. And of all things, I’m claiming it’s a need that a mortal, imperfect human being can satisfy. What am I thinking?

  • “It’s obvious I need other people because God said it’s not good for man to be alone.”

    This one is tricky, because it uses the Word of God. Does that surprise me, though? No. Satan used God’s own words to try to tempt Jesus. It’s so easy to think, “Well, God said…” and thus assume I’m accurate in my conclusions. The problem is that I somehow believe that I actually am alone. It’s true that it’s not good for man to be alone, but I’m not alone. I have so many family members and friends and others who would be so gracious to be there for me. Above and beyond that, I have God. Again, God has supplied my every need and yet I start assuming that He hasn’t supplied because He hasn’t supplied my every want. But to say that I trust God and all He says, is to say that I believe He has given me all I need. And I do.

Here’s the thing: I would make a guess that I’m not the only one who has thought these things. We’ve all been lonely at one point or another, whether it’s for a significant other or for a friend or for some other type of relationship. Maybe you’ve come up with other excuses. I’m sure I have, as well. I’m making it a goal to abolish these in my life and hopefully be aware of any others that come along.

Who’s with me?

How much is God worth?

There’s a closeness with the Lord that comes through trials that doesn’t come any other way.
James MacDonald, When Life is Hard

There is no avoiding difficult circumstances in this life, unfortunately. I think that’s why I’ve always held fast to the book of Job and the first chapter of James throughout my entire (admittedly easy) life. (It was also God’s grace to lead me there constantly, knowing that it would prepare me best for my wife dying so young.) You can talk yourself in circles over why this thing happened or that event took place, but that very possibly won’t get you very far. It’s likely you’ll never know. All you can do is decide how you respond to it.

It’s not true that God won’t give us more than we can handle. I certainly felt like my experience was more than I could handle, but God more than made up the difference in what I was lacking. Through it all, He kept coming closer and closer, and continues to come closer. Despite my constant failures before Him, He forgives me, picks me up and moves me along.

And it has been through all of this that I have only grown closer to God. It seems harsh to say, but the relationship that I now have with God was worth Stephanie dying. He continues to show me how He is worth so much more than her life. And I will share that with anyone who will listen. If the quote above is true, as I believe it is, then it’s easy to see why we can have joy in trials the way James tells us to do.

Trials take all shapes and sizes, from big and ugly to small and annoying. You stub your toe. A dinner date is cancelled. Your job is taken away. That favorite t-shirt ends up with the red clothes in the laundry and is never the same. A loved one dies. (Almost on the same level as the t-shirt, right?) But every time, we can use it as an opportunity to spend more time with God to deal as appropriately as possible with this particular situation.

It’s easy to think our current crisis is pretty significant. I have certainly thought the death of my wife was a big deal, but it doesn’t take long to see it can always be worse. Job is a great example, losing all his children and property in a day, only to be stricken with boils soon after and then mocked by his wife and friends. More contemporary, Robert Rogers describes his loss of his wife and four children in a flash flood from which he miraculously survived. And yet, in his book Into the Deep, he says the same thing: that his relationship with God and God’s work through him was absolutely worth his family’s lives.

And sadly, how often do I push God aside so I can watch another TV show? How often do I say that I’ll just pray a little later when I have more time? How often do I let day-to-day life get in the way of God? When life as I knew it ended, I selfishly made all the time in the world for God to hear my voice. And yet I forget about Him so easily when things are going fine. It’s always the right time to turn that attitude around.

What is God worth to you? And how do your actions prove it?

Learn, Live, Look

Learn from the past. Live in the present. Look to the future.

I spend a lot of time (pun intended) thinking about what I’m thinking about and how I’m thinking about it. I feel like a big source of getting off-track in our minds is when we mix up the above phrases. That’s especially true when we put “live in” with anything but “the present.” It’s at least emotionally – if not even clinically – unhealthy.

“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it” is a common quote used to persuade people to learn from the past. Anyone who has ever known someone to die can probably remember how easy it can be to want to live in the past, pining for a time when that person was still alive, when life was as it should be. The same goes for any “loss” of another person, whether by death, divorce or otherwise. But if you’re living in the past, you’re not living in the present. And if you’re living in the past, you’re not learning from the past. I have really felt God’s presence in the lessons that can be learned from our history, both as individuals and as a group. We can also learn from other people’s histories, which is why I’m always harping on the importance of sharing our stories with anyone who will listen and also being people who are always willing to listen.

What’s hard about living in the present is that today is so short. By the time yesterday is more than barely gone, tomorrow is nearly here. “God again set a certain day, calling it ‘Today’.” (Hebrews 4:7) God found so much importance in the here and now that He gave it a specific name. Every day, we wake up to a new creation of God’s: today. “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24) Are we doing that, or are we too sad that yesterday is gone or too desperate for tomorrow to be here? Every second that goes by is another opportunity for us. God gave us that second – that opportunity – out of His abundant love. How can we make the most of it?

That doesn’t mean we totally disregard the future. “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?” (Luke 14:28) We have to consider where the Lord is leading us and how to take those lessons from the past and the events of the present and apply them to the future. If we don’t, it’s all for naught and we’ve not grown. The first chapter of the book of James implores us to learn. The reason we can have joy in our trials and sufferings is because of the atmosphere it provides for growth and improvement to make us the people we need to be for tomorrow. That’s also why he tells us not to be the person who looks in the mirror and forgets what he or she looks like.

I would love to know: what happened in your past that you can learn from in your present in order to prepare for your future?

The Perfect Example

I really appreciate my grief counselor, and how well he could listen to me and also the way he could draw me out in talking about what he knew would help me to talk out. That’s what a good counselor does, at least in my opinion. I always imagine counseling school to be basically training people how to listen really well.

“And he will be called Wonderful Counselor” – Isaiah 9:6

I have a new perspective on this verse, this name of Jesus. I don’t feel like I ever really gave it the appropriate amount of thought. But He has certainly been my best counselor through rough times of life, letting me whine and moan and complain and cry and scream about what just happened. Of course, He already knows what happened, but He wants us to tell Him. And I think most of us don’t hold back, especially with a captive audience for our complaining. But He patiently listens, and more often than not, I come to “my” own conclusions.

But as long as I’m talking to God about what’s going on, He’s on my mind as I come to conclusions and I more easily view things from His perspective and make decisions that I think would please Him. He truly is a Wonderful Counselor, drawing us out to talk about our lives and allowing us to talk ourselves to the point of better understanding or acceptance or opinion on life.

“They will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God with us’).” – Matthew 1:23

I be happy

Recently, my 2 1/2-year-old daughter was having some rough, crabby days. Those usually consist of her scolding me for trying to tell her something or even answer a question of hers when she would prefer someone else to answer. I make it a point not to stand much for this behavior and constantly inform her that if she’s going to be crabby, she can spend some time alone in her room until she has a better attitude.

After having reminded her once again that she should not talk to me that way and be crabby for seemingly no reason, she started whining again, only to be reminded by my friend of what I had just said. I have a lot to learn from her response, which was priceless:

“Okay. I not be crabby. I be happy.”

The real lesson was in the fact that she didn’t only say it, but she then lived it out. She stopped whining and began playing happily by herself not causing any more commotion. While I understand that emotions are important and have their place, I ought to remember that it is all too easy to sin in the midst of negative emotions. Instead, “I be happy.”

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.
Philippians 4:8

Pages make chapters make books

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about God’s story. I have not held back when talking about how important I think it is for people to share their stories. And I have obviously shared my story as openly as I can. My deep underlying reason for that is because of my conviction that it is all part of God’s story.

In the time I have spent thinking about moving on and my future and marrying again, I feel like God has really helped me zoom out to see these events as part of the larger collection of pages and chapters, rather than just as individual paragraphs. This isn’t “my story” or “Stephanie’s story” or “our story.” All of the events of my life and her life and my kids’ lives — and your life — are simply little bits and pieces of this grand novel that God is writing. And while you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can certainly read the title. This one isn’t called “So-and-So’s Life”; it’s called “God’s Story.”

We can’t read ahead and we don’t know what’s on the next page but we do know how the story ends. And the theme throughout it all is God’s love, despite whether or not page 357 has a catastrophe or page 792 tells of some great accomplishment. You wouldn’t explain the story of Moby Dick by talking about the relationships among the sailors and forget to mention the great white whale for which the story is named. Similarly, why should our lives be about us rather than how God can show himself through our events?

I want to live each day with the explicit intent that each moment points back to Him and not to me. When I have done that even semi-successfully, I have been stunned at how much the stress and worries of life begin to fade away, and it makes me even more determined to remember Who this is really about.