Five – FIVE?! – years


There’s actually something easier about saying “five years” than saying “five months.” And then, there’s something just unreasonably, ridiculously, stupidly horrible about saying “five years.” Five. Freaking. Years.

I can’t help but think of the beginning of the movie Elizabethtown. The main character has lost his company $972 million and the owner of the company is explaining to him how big that is. “How do I make the number real to you?” He talks about the basketball team and natural watchdog project the company owns that will have to go, and he emphasizes the fact that small countries are run for that amount of money.

That’s how I feel about trying to describe 5 years of being a young widower. How do I make that length of time as a young widower real to you? I’ve been a widower for one thousand eight hundred twenty-six days (as of October 14). You could basically round that to 2000 days at this point. Soon enough (March 15, 2016 to be exact), I will have been widowed for longer than I was married. Most people would have to live to be 120 years old to ever reach that point. I’m 34. I’m not even halfway through my 30s. But it makes me feel like I’m 70. It took me longer to graduate elementary school than it did for me to have a wife die. Both my kids have had more life without a mom than they had with one. I have friends who have grown their families from 0 to 3 kids in that time.


And yet, it can still feel easier than five months. At five months, it’s fresh. You wonder daily — instead of occasionally — if you’re going to wake up from the nightmare. You can’t imagine a day or a world that doesn’t involve figuring out how to do life without that other person. At 5 years, you’ve pretty well learned to manage life without. (What a horrible thing to be able to say?)

And that sometimes feels even worse. Effectively, I’m saying that I don’t need Stephanie. And if I don’t need her now, I never really did. It feels like such a horrible thing to say about someone you love so much. And yet, it’s a sentiment Stephanie and I shared towards each other. Our lives were not dependent on each other. We need God; not each other. Stephanie, in the midst of a struggle we were having, said to me, “I don’t need you.” She was right. She had promised to God to be married to me, no matter how hard things got between us. And that’s what she deferred to in the midst of struggles, rather than deferring to any presumed need for me. And that sentiment had the effect of spurring us on to work through that struggle and many others. I’m convinced that it is what made our marriage so wonderful. But, do hear me: I really wanted her in my life for 50 years or more. “Need” is not the same as “want.” If I needed her, that would mean my own sense of self was dependent on her and her existence in my life. That’s what most people would call a needy person. It gave me a great freedom to know that she was not dependent on me for who she was. And I, obviously, was not dependent on her for who I am. Five years proves that pretty well.

Furthermore, I’ve been able to grow so much in the past 5 years because I don’t need her. The man she married was not the same man she widowed. And the man she widowed is not the man I am today. As hard as it is to believe it’s been five years, this is a redemptive story. I thank God for the grace He has shown in my life and the lives of my kids. I’m stronger today than I’ve ever been. And I’m confident that I could survive any blow life can hand me, because I’ve survived this blow and seen that life does, in fact, go on.

Five years can make me cry, smile and laugh all in the same sentence. Five years can make me scream, yell and complain. Five years can make me ponder solemnly and find my pensive side. Five years can make me groan at so much life gone by, and it can make me indignant over the life left behind. Five years can make me realize I can’t imagine who my kids were when she died. I struggle to remember the Brady and Halle whom she knew, instead of the kids before me today.


Five years can show me the life and growth that comes. Five years can prove the strength God has given me, the resilience of my children, and the brilliant sovereignty of God. Five years brings so many new memories, so much new joy, and a life that gets restored. And finally, five years can give me hope for the next five years.

Made to feel

I have loved movies for as long as I can remember. I don’t know when the day came that I realized that they were more to me than just simply entertainment, but they are my favorite form of art. They speak realities about life. And they take me to a place that’s deep inside myself. That’s what art does. It opens our hearts and brings our emotions out into the light where we can experience them deeply.

Obviously, not all emotions are exactly pleasant, but I can honestly say that I have appreciated on some level every deep emotion I have ever felt in my life. Some are appreciated more when they are in the past.

I recently watched a movie called “If I Stay.” It’s a hard movie to watch, especially for someone who has lost someone close. I can’t say that it’s for everyone, but it was definitely for me. If my ratings for a movie are based on how much I cry, this one fared pretty well.

It’s about a high school girl, Mia, who is in a coma and on the verge of dying. We experience most of her life via flashbacks, as she both falls in love with a guy and chases her dream of playing the cello.

I cried most of the way through the movie. I’ve always said I was a sap because of how I cry while watching movies. What it comes down to is that I find it easy to relate to the characters portrayed on scene, whether it’s happiness, laughter or tears. And I’d like to think that’s how I relate to real people in my life, wanting to experience life through their eyes, so that I can “mourn with those who mourn, and rejoice with those who rejoice.”

There’s no shortage of scenes in the movie that I recognize from my own life. There is an endless line of people trotting in to her room to see her laying there. I can remember that scene with Stephanie so vividly, as if my own life plays before me like a movie. The wealth of love for Stephanie and for me was (and is) incredible. The waiting room was often filled with people. Praying for me. Holding me. Loving me. Hurting for me.

One of the characters in the movie chooses to let Mia go; to let her die. And I get that. There’s an amazing peace — I believe that only can come from God — that gives you the strength to say, “Okay. It’s time.” I’m comforted by that constantly. I never look back wondering if we shouldn’t have pulled the plug. I have never regretted it, painful as it was.

And movies like this remind me of those emotions. It reminds me of the pain which proves I’m still alive. And being alive means I get to experience all that God has for me in this life. And for that, I’m thankful. (I also get to watch more movies. So that’s a bonus, too.) It might sound crazy, but I love the reminder of how deeply I can feel — and have felt.


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.

Best and Worst

“What was the best and worst thing about your day?”

I’ve asked my kids this for quite some time every night when they go to bed. I’m hoping as the years go on that it will be a good starting point for conversations about what they have to be thankful for and also what they’re struggling with. It will give me material for my prayers for them. For now, they are pretty consistent in their responses.

Brady’s best thing is all the loved ones he got to see in his day. His worst thing, half the time, is not seeing mommy. (Other times, it may include not getting to play with a toy. Go figure.)

Halle’s best thing is pretty reliably “Seein’ Nana!” and “Seein’ you!” (By which, she means me, of course.) She doesn’t usually answer the “worst thing” part.

I love nights like tonight, though, when Brady and I delve into a deeper conversation. He expounded on not getting to see Mommy. And as we talked, he buried his head and confessed to nearly crying that Mommy is gone. So we talked about how it’s okay to miss her and be sad. We might always be sad she’s gone. But we also talked about getting a new mommy and how she will love him and Halle so well and will be special, just like “Mommy Stephanie” was special. They’re each special in their own ways, and we can love them both.

He’s sad to not have a new mommy yet, and so looking forward to it. Speaking for Halle, he said, “We will always love our first mommy. Mommy’s right in my mind and in my heart.” I love speaking words to him of remembering the past and how thankful we can be to God for who his mommy was, but also having hope for the future in looking forward to having a new mommy.

He asked me to cuddle him, and as I did: “You’re the best daddy I ever had.”

Those were words I needed to hear tonight. Thank you, Brady. And thank you, God.

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


It still happens on occasion. I get a reminder of those multitude of miserable days that are so thankfully fading out of memory. It’s never a day anymore. Maybe a moment. Maybe an hour. Maybe a night at most. But certainly noticeable, no matter how long.

It usually starts with something stupid, and often compounded by something else stupid, and with a big fat topping of “how did I end up here?”

I thank God that it’s never as bad as it used to be. I don’t fill the garbage with wet tissues. I certainly don’t shake with emotion. However, I might still bully a couple of pillows for a while. (They take it in stride.)

Pillows. That reminds me of something I said to my mentor: I have two pillows and only one head. It’s no wonder they take the brunt of my emotions. They’re partly to blame.

It’s so strange to look at pictures and wonder if those were snapshots from within a dream or not. It would certainly make sense, as I struggle to recap those events to myself because that’s the best way to not forget a dream in those moments just after you wake up.

But I’ll never be fully awake while this heart beats. Anymore, I’m convinced that Heaven is the waking moment. And at that point, true reality will finally saturate my soul. I could make the point that this life is probably more nightmare than dream in comparison to Heaven, but that might sound too dramatic and I’d have people sending psychiatrists to check on my mental state. (Don’t worry, I’m quite stable.)

And someone will tell you that I am as sure as — well, you know — not ready to be with someone else because I still think about the mother of my children on occasion. You can say that, as long as you also try to tell parents who have lost a child that they’re not ready to have any more. My heart is bigger now, not smaller. And I’ll never forget how long I’ve dreamed in my heart of being married.

And that’s what these moments remind me of. Make sense?

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!


It happens so randomly. Out of nowhere. And it always catches me off-guard.

It’s the memory of that night. That last night. Even nearly two years later, it still jumps on my back and knocks me down. I can’t say I’m surprised. I’m sure I’ll be saying the same thing 30 years from now.

That doesn’t mean I’ll ever grow accustomed to it. It’s a hateful, hateful thing.

And I quickly scramble to try to forget it as soon as it invades my thoughts. It’s not really worth my time anymore.

Just a visit

“Daddy, I just want to pray for a new mommy tonight. And that I love my first mommy so much.”

“OK, Buddy.”

“And, maybe can we go to Heaven to see our first mommy?”

“I’m sorry, Brady, but we can’t go to Heaven for a long, long time.”

“But why not?”

“Because once we go to Heaven, we can’t ever come back. People only go to Heaven when they die. I really wish we could visit mommy, too, but I don’t want to leave you or Halle or Nana or Papa or anyone else. And do you remember how we get to Heaven? We have to believe that Jesus died for all the bad things we do and that only He can make us better from all those bad things. If we don’t believe that, we can’t go to Heaven. Mommy believed that and that’s how we know she’s in Heaven.”

“Oh. Well, maybe I want to wake up real early and look at pictures of mommy. All of them.”

“Okay, Sweetheart. We can do that.”

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