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.

The rain came

A few years ago, in the wake of my wife’s death, I added a second floor to my one-story bungalow. My counselor and I had a conversation about how the project was progressing. I was building my house on a promise that I felt was from God. That promise was that I would be married again someday and get to have more children. (As it was, my two kids and I didn’t need the extra space.) It was a promise I believed, and so I added a second floor.

As I discussed this with my counselor, he said he was reminded of Noah. Noah was told by God that it would rain, and so Noah built an ark (per God’s instruction). I was told by God that I would be married again, and so I built a bigger house. I followed my counselor’s idea, and wrote on some of the construction: “The rain is coming.”

Well, the rain came.

On Wednesday, January 13, I had my parents and girlfriend over to celebrate my birthday. After dinner came the opening of presents. The last present I opened had some slightly more — shall we say — unique gifts. The first item was an angel with the Noah’s Ark story depicted on the bottom of her dress. I pulled it out, recounting to Julie the conversation I had had with my counselor years prior. She thought it was cool, but still thought it was for me, so I pushed it towards her. “This is actually for you.”


As she surveyed the angel, I returned to my box and took out a dozen roses. I then turned to kneel in front of her. She had posted on her Facebook years ago just before Christmas, “All I really want for Christmas is for a wonderful man to send me beautiful roses, with a note saying how much they love me and don’t want to picture their life without me. Then for that sentiment not to change for next infinity of Christmases! :) Now that would be absolutely amazing!”

And so, as I knelt in front of her, I told her, “You’ve wanted a man to give you roses and profess his love for you. Well, I do love you, and I want to spend my life with you. Will you marry me?” After her answer, some tears and smiles, and hugs and kisses, I presented her with the final item from my box: an engagement ring.

After we embraced each other in celebration, I returned to my dwindling stack of presents. I grabbed the last present and gave it to Julie’s 2-1/2-year-old daughter, Hannah. She opened it to find a plush Noah’s Ark with animals stored inside. And I told her that I would love to be her daddy. I asked her if she would like that. She, like her mommy, said “yes.”

As I have read the story of Noah recently, I have taken note especially of how he sent out a dove so that he would know when land could be found. I liken our relationship to that story. It began raining last summer as I met Julie; the flood endured while we got to know each other and dated; and now, the dove has come back to me having found land. She is the land I have been searching for all these years. And now, my house can be fully used as we add two beautiful ladies to our family.

Here is Julie’s take on that night.

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.

Children are amazing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephanie's Birthday

I know dat

While she trotted off to bed, I was admiring Halle and the lovely hair she has. “You’re so pretty, Halle.”

“I know dat!” (Of course you do.) “I need to be pretty for Mommy.”

“You’re already pretty like Mommy.”

At bedtime, I always ask the kids what the best part and worst part of their day was. Since she doesn’t fully understand the concept, I was trying to prime the pump for Halle tonight. “My favorite part of today was listening to you and Brady play and have fun together. What was your favorite part?”


(Seriously? Wow, Halle. I love your affection. Goodnight, sweet girl. Sweet dreams.)

Fall again

Stephanie loved the fall. She got excited about the leaves turning to light the trees on fire. She loved the crisp air, even though she was cold if the temperature dipped below 80. She loved pumpkin anything, especially if it had the word “Starbucks” in it. And there was no greater excuse for her to bake constantly.

But she loved fall for another reason. And it was my favorite reason for the summer to come to an end: her birthday.

She breezed in right at the beginning of October; a fact that she quite enjoyed. She would have turned 35 today. (She barely made it past 33.) I would have racked my brain for months trying to decide what spectacular thing I could do for her celebrating a “5” birthday, worried the entire time that I could have done better, and knowing the entire time that she would absolutely do better when it came my birthday.

But here I am, writing for the world to see. And hoping, that if the world can read this, maybe she can, too. Happy birthday to the most beautiful, most caring, most loving, most compassionate, sweetest, and — [list cut short so as not to break the Internet] — woman I have yet to know. You made the years you were here count so much that it’s hard to imagine you could have poured any more life and joy and love into those around you.

Whenever summer turns to autumn, I can’t help but think of you, Stephanie. Your name is synonymous with autumn in my mind. You made me love the fall more than I ever had. And now I also hate the fall more than I ever have. It’s painfully fitting that you died in your birth month and your favorite season.

I praise God for bringing you into the world on this day 35 years ago. And I thank God and you for who you are. You changed everyone around you for the better. Just like your daughter after you, you radiated joy and you brought it into the room along with you.

I love you. Brady and Halle love you. And we miss you.

It’s fall again. Happy birthday!

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

Location Undisclosed

While at the pool, Halle bounced happily over to me.

“Daddy, when is my mommy going to come?”

I caught my breath and stuttered a bit. I drew her close. “Honey, don’t you remember? Mommy died.”

“No, Daddy!” she said indignantly, “My other mommy.”

This made it obvious to me (and I asked in order to clarify) that she was asking about a “new” mommy. I informed her that I don’t know but that I keep hoping and praying to find her soon.

As with so many things, I have to wonder what her perception is of all of this. It’s entirely innocent. The lack of pain her own voice makes it both easier and harder to hear her ask such things.

I didn’t think to tell her at the time, but I’m so thankful to all the women in our lives who love on my kids and show them that tenderness that doesn’t come so naturally to us guys. And I know how much my kids appreciate it, too, even if they don’t have the words to express it.