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.

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.

Into darkness

…it was not land at all…It was a Darkness…utter blackness, as if they had come to the edge of a moonless and starless night.

“Do we go into this?” asked Caspian at length.

“Not by my advice,” said Drinian.

…all at once the clear voice of Reepicheep broke in upon the silence.

“And why not?” he said. “Will someone explain to me why not.”

No one was anxious to explain, so Reepicheep continued:
“If I were addressing peasants or slaves,” he said, “I might suppose that this suggestion proceeded from cowardice. But I hope it will never be told in Narnia that a company of royal and noble persons in the flower of their age turned tail because they were afraid of the dark.”

“But what manner of use would it be plowing through that blackness?” asked Drinian.

“Use?” replied Reepicheep. “Use, Captain? If by use you mean filling our bellies or our purses, I confess it will be no use at all. So far as I know we did not set sail to look for things useful but to seek honor and adventure. And here is as great an adventure as ever I heard of, and here, if we turn back, no little impeachment of all our honors.”

– C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

I read this tonight to Brady for bedtime. And it struck a chord. Give me five minutes with someone experiencing a Darkness in their life, and you’ll no doubt here me talk about leaning into it, or — to use the same imagery — about rowing steadily straight towards it.

I have never known a darker time in my life than when Stephanie died, but I was not willing to pretend I didn’t feel what I was feeling. And I give a lot of credit to that attitude for being where I am today. And, I give credit to God for giving me the strength to have that attitude. (In other words, don’t give me any of the credit.)

Here’s why I think it works. When you are able to accept that it is a horrible situation and you’re able to accept that you’re just going to feel miserable at times, you start to accept that maybe there is more to it than just pain. There’s learning. And there’s growing. When you are in that moonless and starless night, you start to see things clearly that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise. You find out who you are. You find out what you believe. You find out how deeply you can feel. And you find out how much others love you.

And from that point on, all it takes is a candle for you to feel like the whole entire world has been lit up as the sun. It’s a bright and beautiful day simply to have a flickering flame in the deepest dark.

It’s a lesson I’m still learning. One day last week, I was encouraging a friend to accept the feelings inside and express those feelings to God. Not even a full day later, I was struggling with my own feelings and forgetting what I had said the day before. Thankfully, my counselor encouraged me to lean in. Strangely enough, I still didn’t make the connection until that same friend pointed it out to me, showing me that it’s exactly what I was saying just one day prior.

Stress, loneliness, anger, pain, frustration, disappointment. None of these feelings are strangers to me. Instead of thinking they’ve come to the wrong house, what if I invite them in and hang out with them for a while until I get to the deeper reasons for why they rang my bell? Will I cry? Maybe. Will I complain? Probably. Will it be hard? Absolutely.

But I have set sail to seek honor and adventure. And if I turn back, I impeach all of my honor. And I miss a great adventure.

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.

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?

Parent-Teacher Conference

We never really change, do we? To this day, I always get nervous when I’m about to meet with an authority figure of any sort. That happened today before meeting with Brady’s preschool teacher. It’s totally irrational and my worries were immediately dissuaded upon entering the room.

“I can’t brag about Brady enough,” she said. (Strangely enough, I feel the same way. Go figure!)

She went on to tell me all the wonderful things he has learned and how he has really grown throughout the year. I see it at home, too, of course. I knew this would be a great experience for him. Brady has always been a very attached child, sticking by adults with whom he is familiar, rather than running off to play with the other kids. But now, especially at school, he joins the other groups or calls over his friends to join him.

I remember the days of exhaustion for Stephanie as she talked about how much attention he was desiring from her. It was hard, but she loved him too much to do anything but try to meet those needs. One of her highest goals for our children was that they be secure in who they are. Meeting those types of needs was part and partial to that. I wish she could be around to enjoy the benefits of his security now and ability to be more independent.

His knowledge of numbers, letters, shapes and patterns is top-notch, and his fine and gross motor skills have improved incredibly. He loves to read to himself or to others, or to listen to others read. He loves books just like I do. (I wonder if he’ll spend summers on the porch reading like I did.)

Afterwards, I arrived at my car crying. I can only think of how proud Stephanie would be. I talk to her, telling her that she would be so proud, and hoping that God will deliver the message. She poured her entire life into her family, and the seeds she planted in Brady and Halle will never stop bearing fruit. The hopes and dreams we had for our kids are just beginning. And each time I reap the benefit, I feel the sting of death. My only response to that is just to love my kids more.

Thank you, Stephanie, for serving God, me, and our children by remaining faithful to the call God had on your life in our family.

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.


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.