Hindsight is twenty-something

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giving a good gift

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Little Friends

“What’s your name?”

The other boy at the pool doesn’t waste any time with pleasantries.

“Brady. And that’s my daddy.” (After all, why would he introduce himself without acknowledging his namesake?)

“He’s holding a baby.”

Brady is quick to defend. “No he’s not. That’s my sister, Halle.” He’s always very logical and straightforward about such things.

And then comes that ever-present fact of life for Brady.

“My mommy’s dead.” Every time he says it, it’s emotionless, like something he read in a text book. (And yet, he spares no emotion when we’re alone and talking about her.)

The other boy is a little confused. “She’s dead? ”

“Yeah. Now she’s with Jesus.”

That’s my boy! He didn’t quite get to lay out the whole plan of salvation to the other 5-year old, but I love that there’s no way for any of us to share our story without God being a critical part of it.

And I’m not surprised. I’ll always stand firm on the fact that this is not our story, but God’s. We’re just tiny bit roles. Nice job playing the part, Brady.

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?

Jesus in the Bible

Every night before bedtime, we pull out a toddler Bible to read. For as much as I want to instill good habits in Brady and Halle, I often get concerned about things just becoming routine and meaningless.

Last night, Brady proved my fears to be unwarranted. As I’m grabbing the Bible, he chimed in excitedly.

“I love the Bible!”

I applauded him, letting him know how wonderful that is, and that I love the Bible, too.

“And I love Jesus in the Bible.”

Sweet! On top of him loving Jesus, it sounds like there might be more than one Jesus that he feels the need to clarify the biblical Jesus. Of course, I don’t expect he knows that other Jesus’s today are usually called “hay-zeus” and not “gee-zuss”.

“And I love everyone in the Bible.”

Well, now that’s painting a broad stroke. Perhaps we’ll wait a little while before we start talking about Pharaoh and Herod and Judas. But, God certainly loves those people, and I wouldn’t put it past Brady to really mean everyone, including the bad guys.

As always, it’s hard not to wonder what’s really going on in a child’s mind, but I can only pray and strive to have his same enthusiasm for God’s Word.

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

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.