The Story of Stephanie’s Feelings for Brad

In celebration of my anniversary on May 14, an email sent to me from Stephanie dated March 1, 2004 – the day after we started dating.

B.,

You wrote in one (of the many) of your emails about how I’ve been thinking about this (that would be: us) for a year or possibly more. I wanted to just come out with it and let you know how everything happened. This is more or less a synopsis, because it would be way too long for all of the details.

Hopefully you don’t think I’m a loser, but I wrote the entire thing down as a third-person story. It just made me happy to write it that way.

Enjoy the educational reading,
S. :)
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Once upon a time, in a land not too far away, there lived a young lady named Stephanie. Stephanie was your average girl-next-door, who was content to work at her church and spend time with her friends. Among those friends there existed a college student named, Brad. Stephanie didn’t know Brad all that well, but every once and a while their social circles would cross and she would have an opportunity to spend time with him. She looked forward to those encounters because she always found herself in good conversation with Brad.

Years passed. The college student graduated. Stephanie was now going to a different church – one where many people her age surrounded her. That church was not so far from where Brad lived and he also started attending. Their social circles crossed more frequently. Stephanie was able to talk with Brad at a local restaurant after church, and she always looked for him there. She knew there would be quality conversation, lots of laughs and many good times when he was present.

Then God gave Brad the opportunity of a lifetime at a place called FFI. That was a land, which was far, far away and Brad left for several months. Stephanie missed her friend very much, but wasn’t quite sure why she was feeling so sad. She knew he would be returning home eventually, but she missed looking for him at church. She was disappointed with her time at the local restaurant. There were many conversations, some laughs and okay times, but it wasn’t the same.

…But then Brad began sending out messages to his friends and family, telling about all God was teaching him at FFI. Stephanie also received those letters and read them over and over again. Some letters made her smile, some made her laugh, and some made her cry because she was rejoicing in what Brad was learning. Each letter was like a glimpse into his life, his heart, and his mind. Stephanie came to better know and appreciate the person that Brad was. She began to realize that he was a quality individual, unlike any she currently knew. Stephanie found herself thinking of Brad and apparently she spoke of him often – too often, because her roommate, Rebecca, was tired of listening about him (Stephanie knows this because Rebecca later told her).

Time continued to pass and letters continued to come. It was late in October when one letter in particular came and impacted Stephanie so greatly, that she could not even speak after reading it. That is when she realized that something had changed. It scared her. She wasn’t ready to go down that road again. She wasn’t sure what she was feeling, but she knew that her heart had changed for Brad. She began thinking about all the things he had written and what an impact they had made. She started thinking back to things that happened over the summer. Then she went further back and remembered things that had happened while he was in college. Then she sat down in shock and amazement, because she realized that all along it had been him.

Not knowing what to do with this new revelation, she began to pray. She knew that if left to her own control, she would just make a mess out of things. She also knew that God had a plan for her life and that because He is sovereign, He would not make a mess. She began seeking God to know what to do. She didn’t tell anyone at first, because she wasn’t sure where her feelings were going. She knew that Brad’s time at FFI had been the turning point in her awareness of how she felt about him. Still, she wasn’t sure of how to proceed. This lasted until Brad (finally) returned home.

Stephanie was now nervous and awkward around Brad. She didn’t know how to act. Stephanie knows that she wears her emotions on her sleeve and that she can’t hide how she’s feeling. She didn’t want him to know yet. She needed time to sort things out. She didn’t know what God wanted her to do.

Stephanie invited Brad to a party she was having at her house. She was overjoyed at his attendance there and she once again had an evening of quality conversation, lots of laughs and many good times. It was after this party that Stephanie went public about her feelings for Brad. She told only her closest friends so they might be praying for her. Christmas turned to New Year’s and Stephanie was then invited to Brad’s party. She was so nervous that she could barely speak to anyone in attendance (plus she didn’t know anyone there besides Brad). She left the party early, but not before she made a new friend named, Tim. She liked Tim from the moment she met him and within fifteen minutes thought, “This is a quality guy.”

Stephanie, Rebecca, Tim and Brad began spending a lot of time together. They went out to eat, they played games of skill, they watched movies, and became very close. Stephanie looked forward to their times together. She felt safe. She felt she could be open. She felt like she could be herself, because she didn’t fear judgment from her friends. This continued for several months and Stephanie began to thank God daily for the blessing of her friends.

Then, after the best week ever, Stephanie and Brad were finally able to talk about what was going on. This was some scary, big stuff, and they’re working through it to figure out what to do. The best part of Stephanie and Brad is that they both care more about what God wants than what they want. Because of this, they know that He is going to work all of it out, and that everything is going to be okay. They are not afraid. They are taking God at His word, and they trust and have faith in Him. It’s exciting times and it’s scary times, but they know that no matter what happens, there will always be good times.

365 Years per Day

Well, here it is. Don’t act surprised to find a new post here today. I’m not. What does surprise me is my apparent lack for words now that it comes to it. I even took the day off so that I could have time alone to be with my thoughts and contemplate my emotions, attempting to put them down in 10 point font.

What I recognize most is my seeming inability to cry. Why is that? Maybe because it’s been a year. Maybe it’s because I’m only closer to God now than I was then. Maybe it has to do with all the blessings I’ve received over the past year. Maybe God won’t let me stay in that place of sorrow and loneliness and anger.

But I feel like I should still cry and should still be able to cry. In a way, crying brings Stephanie close to me. And in a way, crying brings me close to God. It’s a reminder. And, for as hard as it feels to cry, it’s even harder to be able to cry. Or so it seems. It’s when I’m not trying — and least expect it — that I read something or see something or remember something. And my eyes drain.

Quickly.

And I find it hard to be sad. I really try. I miss Stephanie and I miss that part of me. I keep trying to transport myself to those days back then when I felt everything so deeply and when the thoughts just dripped from my fingers onto my keyboard. But while I have some good moments of crying hard, it’s usually hard not to be okay. It’s hard to forget how gracious God has been to me throughout all of this and throughout my life.

Every day for the past year has each felt like a year in and of itself, and yet the last year is just a blur. The days blend together better than fruit in a smoothie, and yesterday becomes the day we were still together. I’ve been saying so often that I don’t think the heart knows how to believe the loss of a loved one. It holds on forever. But it can still go on. And so I do, with or without a choice. I just wish I didn’t feel so old because of this.

I don’t have a choice because of God. Despite what came a year ago, He’s given me so much grace and so many reasons to feel blessed. Even today, as I sat alone to think and read and write, the pastors of my church came across my path — and they prayed for me. And it reminds me that God understands my sense of humor. I’m a dork and love a good pun. I call moments like that “puns of life” — what some people would call coincidence is more often God doing something really cool that makes me smile. It’s so completely random, and yet is not surprising at all in the economy of God.

So where does that leave me? I try to cry, and He makes me smile. I ache to hurt, but laugh for joy. I hate the past, excited for the future. I ask God the questions, and He tests me first. Where have I come in the past year? What have I made of my time? How have I grown and learned and made use of what God has given me, both good and bad? Those are the things I can’t stop pondering.

So much for not having anything to say.

I no longer hate “easier”

I still have a love-hate relationship with time, such as I began to have last year. As the days have marched forward over the past year, it certainly has gotten easier. The second time I tucked the kids in on my own was certainly easier than the first time. And the third time easier than the second. And so on.

Everyone told me that it would get easier with time, and I never doubted that. But I wanted them to be wrong. I didn’t want it to get easier because I was afraid that “easier” would mean the memories were fading or my love for her was diminishing. I wanted to hold tight to all those things. And as painful as it was, I never wanted to stop crying.

But I did. And it did get easier. But “easier” hasn’t been the negative thing I envisioned. Instead, I now find more meaning in those memories. The pain and tears, while good at the time, often served to only cloud my mind regarding great truths of those moments. Now, I feel like I can really truly take hold of those memories in a way that I couldn’t before. Sometimes I still cry. Other times, I laugh. And many times, I learn.

I still constantly worry that my memories will fade. But I’ve also noticed many times when a memory that felt lost suddenly returns to me because of a comment someone makes or a random circumstance that reminds me of something she said. And it restores my hope that I might not forget everything. And “time spent” is a great friend when “time ticking” is not.

And now we come to it

I feel like I’ve been waiting for this for 365 years rather than days, anticipating what it will be. The worst anniversary I could ever imagine is now upon me as October begins. 1. 3. 13. Though strangely related and all prime, what would otherwise be arbitrary numbers in any other scenario weigh infinitely heavy when they follow the seven letters representing the tenth month.

October 1, 2010 was Stephanie’s last birthday. God’s grace, once again, was in full force, as He put it in my mind to take that Friday off of work to spend the day with her – something I don’t think I did any year previously. It is a sobering thought to realize that at the time, I could never have imagined what would enter our lives just two days later.

Speaking of, that day is fast approaching when I can no longer say “a year ago, Stephanie and I…” And it will feel even sooner after that when I will be saying “two years ago” or “five years ago.” I fear the steady train into the future that will leave her standing at the station so far back on the horizon. I fear my memories will fade just as the miles fade our visibility.

On October 3, I’ll resort to thinking how that date in 2010 was the last day I was with her, talking to her. And I’m remembering that in the best way I can figure how, by having a bake sale in her honor. My coworkers especially knew Stephanie because of the treats she sent to work with me. I’m convinced she somehow found a way to bake into everything she made the pure joy she had from being in her kitchen, creating. And joy tastes absolutely wonderful! Dear friends of mine have also taken that idea and put together a cookbook of her/our favorite recipes, some created by her and others simply tweaked by her. Knowing that other people can have those recipes and continue to share some of her magic will make every morsel even sweeter.

I’ve also made the decision, once again, to experience the emotions as deeply as humanly possible. It might sound crazy to some, but it’s the only conclusion I can make. And to accomplish it, I plan to read each of my posts from a year ago as related to when those events happened. I want to remember what I was experiencing. I want to remember how God was at work. Remembering how my spirit broke is to remember how much He loves me and how deeply He sees me.

To put it concisely, I want to remember what God has done for me in 365 days.

An Odd Longing

It’s actually an odd thing to want. For some reason, I find myself longing to be back in the hospital more often than any other point in my marriage. I can only guess that I’m too much of a realist to imagine earlier times. My time in the hospital isn’t all that different of a reality than now.

But I think back to that time every few days. I remember how comfortable I got there, as if it were a 10-day sleepover. I can’t imagine what it must be like for others who endure much longer battles. I spent every night either on a couch in the waiting room or in a chair next to Stephanie’s bed.

I began to know the nurses, and I’m sad that I don’t get to see them any more. They were so wonderful, taking care not only of Stephanie, but of me and my entire family. How many times have they done the same for others? I wish I could have thanked them more while I was there.

I learned how to read all the monitors. I was so proud of her for breathing “above the machine” – she took more breaths than the machine made sure she took. And then she stopped doing that at the same time God stopped telling me to “just wait” and I knew she was gone, even if her death certificate says it was two days later. I could read the EKG and knew when she was having seizures. I remember sliding up next to her during those times, holding her hand and touching her face, trying to calm her down. I can still hear myself saying, “Oh, honey. You gotta stop.”

How many nights did I beg her to fight? How many times did I remind her that she refused God to take her once before and needed to do it again? How many hours did I spend holding her hand and stroking her hair?

I know it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense because she wasn’t talking to me at all, but I miss my time with her in the hospital. What part of that longing is because of the hope I still had that she might be okay? I miss spending every moment with her, even if she wasn’t exactly “with” me during those moments.

Months

As of yesterday, I’m able to talk about the last time I spoke with Stephanie in terms of “months.” I went to a GriefShare group a couple days ago, and we all said who we lost and when they passed. For some people, it has been a year or more. It really got me thinking about which date is more significant to me: the day she had her cardiac arrest and I last talked to her, or the day she officially died. I guess I especially wonder since the date on her death certificate is not the date I think she actually passed, so it seems like it has less meaning to me. And, it’s her I really miss, so even though I had hope while we were in the hospital, it has still been two months since I got to really be with her. I’m sure I’ll probably just recognize both dates, but these are the things I think about.

As for how I’m doing, it’s hard to really describe. Getting along each day is overall okay. I have a bad moment at least once on most days. I stop what I’m doing and will either take a short walk (if I’m at work) or just take some time to cry as long as I need. I put in a full week of work this week. Again, it went okay, but I also didn’t have any big accomplishments expected of me, so there was little stress related with that. I’m making it even though there’s not a moment that goes by that doesn’t suck. I’m always keenly aware of how miserable I am, although there are times when I would say I’m doing good.

The other night I pulled out a picture of Stephanie and just stared at it for a while. It’s just so hard to believe she’s gone. I’ve never known disbelief like this before and I don’t know how to even express it. But I look at her picture, and she’s real. She’s alive in the picture and she’s as beautiful as ever, and even seemingly more beautiful than ever. And my brain can’t even process that a picture is the only way I can see her now.

She feels so tangible, I can almost reach out and touch her. And yet, I haven’t been able to hold her or touch her face or feel her lips on mine in so long. I’m not going to lie – it sucks so bad. She absolutely was my best friend and we did everything together. And, this last year when she couldn’t drive because of having seizures, we especially did everything together because she didn’t have a choice. So many things happen throughout the day where I want to call her up and tell her about it. And talking to her by just talking to myself is only helpful in certain situations, and paltry at best.

Another month gone by and before I know it, I’ll be saying “year” and then “years.” I’m just stunned – still.

Difficulties

This past week was tough. I spent every night at home with the kids. I anticipated it being a rough week, but had no idea how that was going to present itself. Before Monday night, the kids and I had not all spent the night at home. And there was only one day before that when I stayed the night sans kids while Stephanie was still in the hospital.

Every night – particularly starting around dinner time – was nothing short of miserable. I’m not going to sugar coat it or pretend differently. It’s probably because this was the time we had every day when we were all together as a family. We’d eat dinner together and one of us would clean up while the other gave the kids a bath. It’s when I most notice the absence of her voice in the house. I guess the rest of the day is so new to me at home that it’s not as bad. The house was also very much Stephanie’s domain and she would often have a plan for the night. I was never very decisive about such things, so went along with what she had for the most part. Now, I just find myself wondering what to even do at night. Thankfully, I’ve been tired enough at the end of the night to mostly just fall asleep.

I still have all our pictures up, of course. One picture had been “in storage” and I pulled it out for the wake. That one now is propped in the kitchen near the fridge. Apparently, I’m often near that spot because I look at that picture so many times and just about want to scream every time. I’m sure I can’t unpack all the thoughts I have throughout the day, but most of it takes me back to unbelief and/or anger that this actually happened. Occasionally, I’ll punch a wall or something. (That has yet to actually hurt, by the way, which is probably evidence of how little I care about physical pain compared to the emotional.) I’ve screamed into my pillow or just zoned out for a bit while the kids play.

I’m glad I got through so many emotions while still staying at my parents’ house that I can now take on this new set of emotions on their own. I’m not sure how much that makes it easier, but I have to assume it helps a little bit. And, I know it will get easier with time, so I guess I’m mostly just waiting at this point.

I’ve wanted to keep up on the writing, but haven’t felt very motivated. But, I do feel that God still wants me to write. And even though I’m not always necessarily sure what to put down here, I plan to keep at it and pray that He will keep me on task.

Give and Take

Job is my hero. And by Job, I mean the Biblical stalwart who suffered the loss of every one of his kids to nearly every possible disaster, and then he was made to suffer miserable boils on his skin. And yet, after all of that, he didn’t turn his back to God. I love this guy. I wish I could have been friends with him – seriously. I’ve always loved the book of the Bible with his namesake and poured over it endlessly all my life. My favorite quote from the book, I would have to say is in the second half of verse 21 in chapter 1: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”

Here’s a guy who has literally lost everything: sons, daughters, land, money, dignity, and his own health. His nearly immediate response is to acknowledge that the Lord has every right to take away, just as much as He decides to give to us, and then he praises God’s name in that fact. I’ve always tried to relate and have such an attitude as much as that is possible, but I always had to scrounge for situations in my own life that could even fit in the same universe as what Job experienced. I wanted to be someone who would praise God even when the worst imaginable thing happened. God finally gave me the opportunity to try. And, as with everything these days, I find out just how immeasurably small my contribution to my own life actually is.

I remember vividly when the music minister from my church came to be with me in the hospital. I had just found out devastating news. Through tear-flooded eyes, I looked up at him with the only response that made sense to me: “I want to worship God. Can you lead me in that?” He faithfully obliged. I want to be clear: this was not some sort of character strength of mine or some such claim that I’m devout or a great Christian or anything like that. This was a NATURAL response. And by “natural” I mean “supernatural,” as in the Holy Spirit in me created this spiritual response that I couldn’t ignore. I had to praise. It was literally the only thing that made sense, and it still is. God gave me a wife and beautiful marriage. He allowed that to be taken away. Praise His name. I wish I could describe the feeling that wells up inside of me as I say that. There is nothing more true to me than the Lord’s praises when I think about His involvement in this and His taking my wife away.

For whatever reason, it was only yesterday that I remembered that Job said that. I have felt his words for the past month or so, but forgot that he expressed it exactly as I felt it. And then tonight, I got to worship at a church that I attended for the first time where we sang “Blessed Be the Name of the Lord.” In that song, it says, “He gives and takes away. My heart will choose to say, ‘Lord, blessed be Your name.'” I’m so glad I was there for that song, and I’m sure I’ve never sung it louder than I did tonight. It is the cry of my heart to declare His praises to the entire world. And if you’re reading this, I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to do just that.

Rings

Wedding rings

Some people were confused by the fact that Stephanie’s engagement ring was what most people consider a ten-year anniversary ring. For us, we mostly just loved how it looked, but we also loved the idea of past, present, and future. She also was not a jewelry girl and knew she wouldn’t want to ever replace or upgrade her ring, so we always said that this was her ten-year anniversary present ten years early. It’s crushing that we didn’t get a chance to even make it that far.

A month ago was the day everything started. In fact, 31 days and 33 minutes ago as I write this was when her seizure started. I both can’t believe it’s been a month already and that it’s only been a month. Every time I think about that last moment, it feels like it’s a moment that is infinite in time and was only a second ago. I literally feel like I could reach back and touch that moment with my hand. It’s that visceral and tangible to me. And I think it always will be.

But it’s been a month. Thirty days ago, I wouldn’t have been able to imagine making it a month enduring such pain, but everyone does. Anyone who’s been where I am knows that you just keep going – you make it, however it needs to happen. When I was in the hospital, I kept saying, “I can’t believe a week ago we were doing that together.” Then it was, “I can’t believe two weeks ago was her birthday and we were celebrating and loving life together.” Now it’s, “A month ago was the last time I talked to her. I’ve never gone more than a day without talking to her, and now it’s been 30.”

I took my ring off today, just to see how I would do. I’m normally not the type of person to ever take off something like that. A lot of me never wants to, but another part of me feels like it’s slightly inaccurate to wear it. I’m still not sure how I feel about it. Stephanie never wore her rings around the house as they were uncomfortable, but she proudly displayed them when going out, and I never took mine off. It always made me so happy. I’ll probably put it back on, but only time will tell.

Now I start counting the time since it all happened in months instead of weeks.

Glee

Like movies, Stephanie and I had been really getting into TV shows. We suspect it’s because they are becoming more serial and thus more like long movies just cut into weekly segments. Anyway, one of those shows we watched together was Glee. I’ve been trying to catch up on the shows I missed throughout this month, and finally decided to start watching Glee. The episode I had to start with is called Grilled Cheesus and aired two days after Stephanie’s crippling seizure. I mention the air date because of the story and because it originally aired while I was in the midst of everything going on. Part of me wishes I saw it then. Part of me is glad I didn’t.

I won’t recommend the show because of some sexual content I don’t care for (including this episode), but it was a poignant episode for me for a couple reasons. One of the main characters found himself dealing with the fact that his dad had a lack of oxygen to the brain which caused a heart attack. The story was the same: doctors didn’t know if he would wake up, what kind of damage might have been done by the lack of oxygen, etc. What was vastly different was that this character (Kurt) very much doesn’t believe in God and they made that point throughout the episode.

I could easily go through the episode scene by scene, but this post would be forever long, so I’ll avoid that. I was struck initially by the first song of the episode – “Only the Good Die Young” by Billy Joel. Really, what more can I say about that? Secondly, Kurt just wants his dad to squeeze his hand if he can hear him. Stephanie, upon coming out of her seizures would often squeeze my hand to let me know she heard me and was okay and often with three squeezes to say “I love you.” How difficult it can be to have a lack of touch!

Much of this episode presented the idea that there’s no reason to believe in God. Kurt says, “I appreciate your thoughts, but I don’t want your prayers.” I have felt much the opposite. I need your prayers. And while I appreciate your thoughts, it’s the prayers that are really getting me through. Kurt also sends his friends away when they’re in the hospital praying for his dad, in order to have acupuncture done because “pins pierce the skin better than psalms.” I couldn’t disagree more, and also couldn’t want people praying more and being around Stephanie. Someone had said to me that with all the people praying, God wouldn’t be able to stop hearing her name any moment throughout the day. And I still very much trust God more than any doctor or acupuncture specialist or any other human.

Another character (Finn) spends the episode praying to a cheese sandwich with the impression of Jesus on it, and says that he felt like he had a direct line to God because his prayers were being answered. After that’s over, he’s not sure how to feel. What I wanted to scream is, “You do have a direct line to God!”

The last thing to mention is the last song: “One of Us” by Joan Osborne. She says “What if God was one of us? Just a stranger on a bus? Just a slob like one of us?” and “If God had a name, what would it be?” My youth pastor in high school said regarding this song, “God was one of us.” That song has been so much more meaningful since he said that to me. God’s name was and is Jesus. Jesus was one of us. He was human and just like all of us. And I am reminded of that in these days. Jesus was forced to deal with all the wrong and all the badness of this world and all the hard situations. He lost a friend. He was betrayed. He was tortured. And He understands it all, and He understands what I’m going through right now, as well as what everyone else in the world is going through.

While watching Glee, it was hard to be reminded of so much of my situation, but I was even more just overwhelmed with grief and sadness for Kurt, who was missing out on so much more that God has for us when we just trust and believe and look to Him. I always thought that Christians have hope in death because we know that person is in Heaven. While that’s true, my bigger source of hope is in the fact that I know God has a plan for me. And even though I thought that plan would include Stephanie, I now know it doesn’t. But the plan does include me, and I have hope in that fact and hope in God for that.