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.

To be chosen

It has been a while since I have expressed any deep emotion via my blog. I think a big reason for that is because I get the feeling that people will assume I’m pining away for Stephanie, whereas I and everyone close to me know that is not the case. But nonetheless, I have spared the world from my laments. I’m about to break that streak.

I find myself lonely today, and in recent days. It’s not that I don’t have those in my life that love me. It’s not that I don’t have God. It’s not even about being single that has me lonely.

It’s that I don’t have someone around who chooses to love me.

Every year, I recognize around the holidays that I feel lonely. I haven’t really spent a lot of time in the past trying to figure out why. I guess I just always assumed it was because of being widowed. But, that’s really an unreasonable conclusion to me anymore. While there are certainly the occasional times when I miss Stephanie, for the most part, I’m pretty accustomed to life as it is now.

But today, I think I’ve figured out the reason for my loneliness: it’s that I don’t feel chosen. During the holidays, all of my friends are spending all their time with their families. Of course, I don’t blame them. After all, I’m spending all of my time with my own family.

And I have an amazing family. It’s pretty much the best family, I would argue. My parents. My brothers. My kids. I wouldn’t ever trade them for anything. And I know I’m loved. But we’re family. Love kind of comes with the job description. Friends, on the other hand, only really stick around because of their choice to do so.

When I was still married, I constantly had someone around who had chosen to love me. Even when we were at odds, I knew that she had chosen to love me for the rest of my life and I to love her for the rest of hers. But now, I don’t have a best friend.

And unfortunately, I’m part of my own problem. I know there are so many people who love me and do choose to love me. But I hate to make people feel obligated to me in any way. I hate the thought of asking someone to be there for me. I would find it hard not to question if they really wanted to be there, or if it was only because I had asked. Maybe I don’t always do a good job of accepting another person’s love for me. I want to tell them “I’m fine” and make it believable so they don’t feel obligated to give me the time of day. I don’t want obligation. I want to be sought after and chosen.

And so, I rely on the one source of love that is truly always by choice and where I know I’m never an obligation even when I ask: God.

Deuteronomy 7:6b — “The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.”

I’m a treasured possession, and I seek solace in that.

And for those of you who have loved on me — acquaintances, friends, close friends, family — I say “thank you.” Nothing I’ve said here takes away from the fact that you have loved me well, and I am forever thankful for you. I hope that I have also done well to show others my choice to love them.

Decade

I got to be back in Colorado Springs this week for a conference. I lived here for a semester right after I graduated college. But, the last time I was here was 10 years ago with that girl who married me. We were only dating at the time, and she came along with me for my Focus Leadership Institute reunion. While we were here, we absolutely had to see the sights. And it’s no different this time.

Once again, I’m stunned at what the passage of time can bring. Between the last time I was here and this time, I got engaged, married, had two kids, and then was widowed. I’m here once again as unmarried.

When Stephanie and I came, we walked Garden of the Gods and hiked up Glen Eyrie. And this time, we visited Garden of the Gods and wanted to hike up Glen Eyrie. Unfortunately, as the man at the Glen Eyrie gatehouse explained, we’ll have to come back in 8-10 years. Fire and floods have made the area unfit for hiking. It is closed indefinitely.

8-10 years. I could come back in another 10 years.

I can only imagine what my life will be like after that time. Perhaps the fire and flood that has so changed the landscape of both my life and of Glen Eyrie will have been a distant enough past that the path I once walked 10 years ago is the path I can walk once again.

I hope and pray it is so. I don’t believe that path will be closed indefinitely.

Garden of the Gods then and now
Garden of the Gods then and now.

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]

Random spontaneity

It’s been bugging me for a couple months now. This insatiable itch to do something a little crazy for a widower with two preschoolers.

I love road trips. I’m not sure why, but 12 hours each way to Myrtle Beach every single year has nothing to do with it, I’m sure. And 24 hours each way to Colorado Springs, once on my own and once with Stephanie, also had no part in solidifying that. Sprinkle in a month-long vacation to California and back and countless other locations through my life, and I’m sure there’s no reason I should like road trips.

But now that it was just me and the kids, the task seemed a bit daunting to do alone – no one riding shotgun to divvy out snacks, drinks and entertainment. However, I’ve heard from so many various people how much fun they had when their parents would just up and take them on the road to some undisclosed destination at the last moment. I also fondly remember our various trips growing up.

And so it happened. As I started lunch one Friday less than two weeks ago, I had no plans for the weekend. As I finished lunch, and thanks to a random conversation on Facebook (oh, technology!), I was then giving serious thought to being in Chicago for the next two days.

Dinner came and went quickly due to the promise of time at the pool. (A six-hour drive looming in the near future and we’re at the pool – surely, I’m crazy!) We made quick work of the nighttime routine, after which point I packed up all I could think of in preparation for an early morning drive. Four AM arrived, and we were on the road, presumably while the kids slept and I enjoyed music or podcasts or both.

To my chagrin, the kids stayed awake all but one hour of our drive, but they did really well. We had extra stops for bathroom breaks, but I’m impressed with how well they handled it. In our fifth of six hours on the road, there was also the call from Brady, “Daddy, can we please just go home now?”

He changed his tune for the ride home, though. To say the weekend was a success is a vast understatement. We all had a great time spent with good friends and my cousins (who have four boys under 12). For our ride home, Brady was asking that we spend not one night, but two nights with my cousins.

We’re building memories. It’s not always easy for me, but I’m learning what works for me and the kids that we all can enjoy. And I’m so thankful to my cousins for letting us stay on such short notice and for my friends for hanging out over the weekend at the last minute.

Chicago: we’ll be back!

Brady enjoying the water
Brady enjoying some swimming

Oh, Summer, How I Missed You!

Dear Summer,

I’m sorry that we had a temporary break in our relationship last year and we didn’t spend any good time together. You see, I’m no good at family event planning. That was Stephanie’s department, and I feel most women/mothers are much better than me at that.

Frankly, I didn’t have the strength in me last year to make our time together worthwhile. I was too busy being a widower with two kids. I didn’t hear your knocking at the door above the absence in my heart. I was too wrapped up in the old memories: walks in the park, ice cream Sundays, everyday pool days, and hours in the yard.

I hope this year will be different. Just like my random bike ride recently after years of not touching my bike, I plan to make this just like riding again. My ride last week sparked all of this, in fact. I was able to just get on my bike and ride until I was afraid I’d be too tired to make it back the same distance. (It reminded me of pre-license days when we would ride our bikes what felt like miles to buy trading cards.)

This year, I’m not a widower with two kids. Instead, we… are a family. And we’re going to make new memories as well as reinvent the old. We’ll splash in the pool. We’ll walk to get ice cream. We’ll enjoy the park and have picnics there. We’ll play on the swingset or go to the playground. We’ll go boating. And we’ll find new things to do. Maybe we’ll try camping or a random vacation just the three of us.

We’re going to make it happen, and I am so thankful that you are back, summer, because I missed you. I didn’t even realize how I missed you, because I was too wrapped up in missing someone far more important than you. (No offense, and I wouldn’t change that if I could go back.) I’m glad you came back to me even though I left you in the lurch. And I’m so excited to be ready to enjoy you this time around.

Thanks for being perennially committed. Here’s some proof that we’re already starting.

Brady loves vehicles
Halle captures pure joy in her smile

What’s the Jewish word for “God the Nagger”?

It has been too long since I blogged here. Many of you have asked me if I am still blogging, or if the Internet is broken, or if I’ve suddenly become a very uninteresting person. Well, the answers are “haven’t been”, “no”, and “I hope not – you tell me.” The truth is, I’ve been a slacker. I’ve had many ideas come through my head that I should blog about, but I’ve let tiredness (i.e. laziness) get in the way.

God keeps calling me out, reminding me that I said I wanted to do this and that He wants me to do this. He certainly won’t just let it go. (Goodness, He sure can be persistent!) Believe it or not, He’s using many of you to remind me of that. And once again, I offer my thanks. You’re very kind and polite in the ways you all have asked. I hear you asking me with gentleness and kindness in your words.

But I also hear God in your questions nagging me: “Hey, remember that thing you thought that you wanted to share that you didn’t and you should’ve and I wanted you to? Well, you should still share that.”

So, here I am, hoping that I can maintain my discipline a little better and continue blogging before everyone gives up hope and stops checking for my words. I had one of those moments earlier today when I think yet again that nobody cares what I think or wants to hear what I have to say. But God turns the moment on its head, nearly scolding me for thinking it has anything to do with me. It’s all about Him and completely not about me. And as long as I’m tuning my fingers to Him, He’ll ensure that I’m only saying what He wants me to say, and He’ll make sure that people care what He has to say through me. And He’ll do it even if I don’t understand why He thinks it’s a good idea to use me for sharing His truth. I’m very human and very imperfect. But thankfully, that means it has to be all about Him since I’m a broken vessel.

Assuredly, He’ll keep nagging me. And I’ll thank Him for that, because this is what I want to do even though I’ve been a slacker about doing it for two months. I hope you’re all still willing to read. I hope that it blesses you all as much as it blesses me to share. And I hope that I do a better job writing more often. Thank you for the encouragement you’ve given me wishing for more blog posts.

Chicago

Fairly miserable weather withstanding, my trip to Chicago was fantastic. In some ways, it wasn’t what I expected it to be, but it was everything I could have hoped it would be. Much of what made it so worthwhile were the stories and revelations I came home with.

I rode the Megabus to and from Chicago through the night, so I slept for most of my traveling hours. About one hour prior to arriving, however, I woke up and knew I wouldn’t fall back asleep so I pulled out a book to read. This book was the very same as I started reading when Stephanie died — a book my mother had given her to read. Anyway, the gentleman next to me commented on how good the author is and asked me how long I’ve been a Christian. We then, as brothers in Christ, shared each of our stories (I stole more of the time, for which I hope he doesn’t mind). After exiting the bus, we prayed for each other and got in touch in order to stay in touch. What really amazed me through this event and the entire weekend is the providence of God. He most definitely got me to start reading that book in a way only God knows how. And, guilty though I felt about it, I have put off reading it for the past 6+ months only to end up pulling it out of my book bag at this very moment. My seat partner knew the author and struck up a conversation. He also chuckled because he had been praying to God that he would sit next to another Christian. God really does have a plan for everything, and it’s so exciting to watch.

Friday morning was a gorgeous day, and it gave me a chance to have a slow breakfast outside while reading some more. It was such a meaningful time between me and God, as He reassured me in so many ways through the words of this book. I feel compelled to share so much of it, but will save that for later. Suffice it to say, that I would highly recommend everyone read “When Life is Hard” by James MacDonald regardless of whether or not you’re going through something you would categorize as hard. The rest of Friday was just a day out in the city, enjoying the weather and beautiful flowers along Michigan Avenue. God even blessed me with some opportunities to talk to friends on the phone and be encouraged by them and be an encouragement to them. I can’t explain to you the joy I feel when people can come to me for advice and I can feel God speaking through me to them.

Sadly, the weather went downhill from 11am Friday until I left, but I ignored that as best I could. I basically got to enjoy my time alone and also time with family and friends who live there. As is becoming more commonplace, I go into these situations expecting my heart to be wrenched into a mess, and yet I come away surprised at how little or how not at all I cried. And it’s all thanks to God.

I also chatted with the maître d’hôtel, who was there last year as well. I recognized him immediately and he vaguely remembered me and Stephanie. (It’s nothing short of amazing that a year can go by and he remembers me.) That is just the kind of reason why we hoped to frequent the same hotel, and I am so thankful to God to have had a familiar face. We talked quite a bit before I left the hotel for the weekend, and it was so wonderful to be able to share with him what had happened and thank him genuinely for being there and being so kind and welcoming. I told him how much we both enjoyed him last year and how great it was to see him again.

One thing that has been on my mind for some time now is what to do with this blog. I often think no one is still reading, but the response to my posts from that week say otherwise. I obviously can’t spend the rest of my life just blogging about the death of my wife, nor do I want to. (Plus, I’m sure that wouldn’t do a whole lot of good for attracting a potential wife.) Anyway, God has reminded me of my spiritual gifts: exhortation, teaching, and shepherding. I’m certain I need to be using these gifts, and also certain that God has given me a place to do it. (Note to self: write more about how God has used a Computer Science major, a Bible minor, and a desire to disciple others all via one outlet.) So, as long as God continues to bless it and people are still willing to read, I hope to share my thoughts on God and life and how I think we should live. And with that, I hope there’s also some sort of discussion. I very much appreciate the comments of support for me, but would be infinitely more blessed by God teaching us all more about Him through each other.

Thanks again for being a part of this.