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!

The Story of Stephanie’s Feelings for Brad

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


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

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

Enjoy the educational reading,
S. :)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

Learn, Live, Look

Learn from the past. Live in the present. Look to the future.

I spend a lot of time (pun intended) thinking about what I’m thinking about and how I’m thinking about it. I feel like a big source of getting off-track in our minds is when we mix up the above phrases. That’s especially true when we put “live in” with anything but “the present.” It’s at least emotionally – if not even clinically – unhealthy.

“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it” is a common quote used to persuade people to learn from the past. Anyone who has ever known someone to die can probably remember how easy it can be to want to live in the past, pining for a time when that person was still alive, when life was as it should be. The same goes for any “loss” of another person, whether by death, divorce or otherwise. But if you’re living in the past, you’re not living in the present. And if you’re living in the past, you’re not learning from the past. I have really felt God’s presence in the lessons that can be learned from our history, both as individuals and as a group. We can also learn from other people’s histories, which is why I’m always harping on the importance of sharing our stories with anyone who will listen and also being people who are always willing to listen.

What’s hard about living in the present is that today is so short. By the time yesterday is more than barely gone, tomorrow is nearly here. “God again set a certain day, calling it ‘Today’.” (Hebrews 4:7) God found so much importance in the here and now that He gave it a specific name. Every day, we wake up to a new creation of God’s: today. “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24) Are we doing that, or are we too sad that yesterday is gone or too desperate for tomorrow to be here? Every second that goes by is another opportunity for us. God gave us that second – that opportunity – out of His abundant love. How can we make the most of it?

That doesn’t mean we totally disregard the future. “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?” (Luke 14:28) We have to consider where the Lord is leading us and how to take those lessons from the past and the events of the present and apply them to the future. If we don’t, it’s all for naught and we’ve not grown. The first chapter of the book of James implores us to learn. The reason we can have joy in our trials and sufferings is because of the atmosphere it provides for growth and improvement to make us the people we need to be for tomorrow. That’s also why he tells us not to be the person who looks in the mirror and forgets what he or she looks like.

I would love to know: what happened in your past that you can learn from in your present in order to prepare for your future?

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.

Pages make chapters make books

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about God’s story. I have not held back when talking about how important I think it is for people to share their stories. And I have obviously shared my story as openly as I can. My deep underlying reason for that is because of my conviction that it is all part of God’s story.

In the time I have spent thinking about moving on and my future and marrying again, I feel like God has really helped me zoom out to see these events as part of the larger collection of pages and chapters, rather than just as individual paragraphs. This isn’t “my story” or “Stephanie’s story” or “our story.” All of the events of my life and her life and my kids’ lives — and your life — are simply little bits and pieces of this grand novel that God is writing. And while you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can certainly read the title. This one isn’t called “So-and-So’s Life”; it’s called “God’s Story.”

We can’t read ahead and we don’t know what’s on the next page but we do know how the story ends. And the theme throughout it all is God’s love, despite whether or not page 357 has a catastrophe or page 792 tells of some great accomplishment. You wouldn’t explain the story of Moby Dick by talking about the relationships among the sailors and forget to mention the great white whale for which the story is named. Similarly, why should our lives be about us rather than how God can show himself through our events?

I want to live each day with the explicit intent that each moment points back to Him and not to me. When I have done that even semi-successfully, I have been stunned at how much the stress and worries of life begin to fade away, and it makes me even more determined to remember Who this is really about.