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

Baked Encouragement

“We baked cookies for co-workers. Everyone enjoyed the cookies and thought it was a great way to honor Stephanie’s memory. I’m so glad we participated and we hope to do it again next year!”

“I think one of the best ways that Stephanie touched my life is that she showed me by example how to ‘love my neighbor’ in a practical way.”

Last year, many people participated in something I called Operation Baked Blessings. As I stated then, it was inspired by the way in which Stephanie showed love to seemingly everyone she encountered. Her favorite place to be in the house was the kitchen, and it was because that was where she was able to create love for people in the form of food.

She would scoff at the thought of selling her treats and goodies. It was a painful thought for her to not simply give it away. And I know that she was as blessed — if not more so blessed — than those people she shared with.

As someone said: “Can we make this an annual thing? It is a good way to remember Stephanie and to bless others at the same time.” The answer? Yes. Yes, we can.

The goal is simple: bake or buy some sort of edible treat and share it with another person. You can share it with co-workers, friends, students, classmates, neighbors or someone you have never met before. Share it with someone simply to make them smile and give them a bright spot in their day. And the dates are relevant: October 1 is the day Stephanie was born; October 13 is the day she died. Also, if you’re so inclined, come to the Facebook event page and tell everyone how it went! It was so great to hear all the stories from last year.

“I baked shortbread cookies and cut them into leaf shapes and decorated them with fall colored sprinkles last night. I thought of Stephanie the whole time because she loved making (and eating) those cookies, especially in the fall.”

“We decided to bake for a woman who we always see walking around our block. I never knew her name, but I know she’s an avid weight watcher member. We made a WW banana pumpkin bread, drew some pictures, and waited anxiously by the front door at her usual walk by time. We gave her our treats, invited her in for a moment from the cold, and told her all about Stephanie. She had tears in her eyes. She said she had lost someone very close to her in the fall time many years ago, and it still hurts. She kept hugging my boys and saying how thankful she was that we took time out and were thoughtful to make her something on her diet plan. The best part of this whole thing is we learned her name: Grace. Grace was something very dear to Stephanie, and when she introduced herself, I got goosebumps all over!”

“I wanted to share this here because I thought it was neat: last week I baked pecan tassies for my students, and this week one my students brought it pumpkin cookies for all of us because he liked that I baked something for everyone. I hope all of our baking and giving last week inspires more people to encourage others with their baking!”

The tug

A weird thing happened almost three years ago when I found myself in the neurological ICU as my wife was dying. People started reading my blog. Lots of people. Thousands of people. I’m still amazed at how God did that. All I was doing was letting people know how Stephanie was doing. I didn’t plan for Him to actually use my words for His good. But, He was determined.

Nearly ever since that time, God has been constantly reminding me that He wants me to do more with my writing. Countless people have suggested, encouraged, or even begged me to write a book. (They all expect autographed copies, of course.) Others are so encouraging whenever I write a blog post, saying it spoke to them. (Seriously, it’s not me that spoke to your heart! Please know that.) Every time I start to push those feelings and comments aside, He reminds me again that He’s asking me to do it. Whenever I think, “Nobody cares what I say” or “Who would want to read a book by me?” someone else comes along and says quite literally, “You should write a book.” And I can’t ignore it. I won’t ignore it. I just don’t know necessarily how to respond to that call.

Enter Jon Acuff and his START experiment, based on a book he wrote about going out and actually doing that thing you’ve always dreamed of doing. I recently joined this challenge and have made it my goal to get serious about defining what I want to write a book about. Along with that, I plan to blog at least twice a week for the next 3 weeks.

Frankly, I’m not sure what I’ll blog about, but I know that the more I write, the more I’m inspired to write. So I’m starting there. When we were in the hospital, it was “easy” to write. I was an emotional wreck at times, and so I spilled that all out onto the page as best I could. I had tons of material to work with. But I quickly moved away from that place where I was stuck in those emotions. I’m not content to live in the past. But with my blog, I wasn’t sure anybody cared so much about my present or my future. But regardless, God continues to point out the fact that I have lots I can say. I just have to figure out what those things are I should say.

So, here’s to hoping I do. Here’s to following His call and my dream. Here’s to writing about what He puts on my heart, even if nobody reads it. Here’s to trusting that the same God who put me and my family before the whole world with their hearts and prayers is the same God who will help me fulfill what He is asking me to do.


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?

Sweet Brady

I don’t know what it is, but every few months, Brady starts expressing more frequently how he wants a new mommy. His thoughts often also turn to how he misses Stephanie, and we spend quite a bit of time talking about the how’s and what’s and why’s. It is such a joy to know that he understands and remembers so much of what we talk about. Yesterday, amidst one of these conversations, I captured these nuggets of his mind:

“I like you and Nana the most, but I like God even more. He’s our daddy like you’re our daddy. And even if mommy died, God is still our daddy.” I’m so thankful that his love for God is not conditional!

“And when do you think we might get a new mommy? Because I want to show her all my LEGOs.” This is a big deal because that is what he is most excited about and proud of, so it’s definitely an expression of his love.

“I really like that you stayed alive.” I told him that I’m pretty glad of that, myself.

“Do you think Mommy knows what I’m doing?” I let him know that I think she does.

Tonight, he again discussed how he loves me so much, but that he loves God even more. And while we were praying, he asked, “Please tell all the kids who I do not know in all the world that they should love You more than their parents.” This was something new for me to hear him pray something completely on his own and to bring up children around the world that he doesn’t know.

And after I prayed that we find a new mommy, he asked that I would meet her soon so that he can show her the LEGO games and his LEGO castle that he’s planning to build. I told you. He loves those LEGOs! (But he loves me the most. And God more than that.)


“Daddy, do you miss having Mommy?”

“Yes, Brady, I do.”

“Me, too.”

And then the conversation becomes about finding a new mommy. I’m reading a book about dating as a single parent, so I want to put some of that into practice — notably, to make sure they are “okay” with me dating. For that to happen, I need to make sure they understand dating as best as possible.

“In order to find a new mommy, I’ll need to get to know her and become best friends with her. That might mean I’m not with you all the time like I am now, but I promise to do my best to spend as much time with you and still get to know her.

“I also want to make sure you know that she’s not going to be just like Mommy. She’ll look different and act different and like different things. But, she will love me and she will love both of you. And she’ll be just the right wife for me and just the right mommy for both of you. And we’ll all love her.”

Brady chimes in: “I’m bored without a mommy.” I guess we need to work a little on the meaning of “bored,” but I think I understand what he means. He’s tired of this feeling of not having a mommy around. Like me, he’s just weary of that absence in our lives. It’s getting old.

He adds, “I feel like mommy’s been gone for five years.” (It’s been a little over 2 1/2.)

And then Halle speaks up. “Well, I feel like she’s been gone for SIX years,” says my four-year old.

Good talk, kids. Good talk.

Travel by car

Halle has been commenting a lot recently on her lack of an earthly mother. Just as I have been straightforward with them, both Brady and Halle tend to be very matter-of-fact about it.

First, it was after hearing The Cat in the Hat read out loud. At the end, it asks the reader what she would do if “your mother asked you” what you did all day. Halle responded semi-indignantly, “We don’t even have a mother.” I’m constantly thankful for the resilience of children that she could make this statement without a tinge of sadness. (Of course, there’s also a part of me that is sad about her lack of sadness.)

Then, after a show talked about families being made up of a mother and father, etc., Halle again commented on her lack of mother. My mom explained that Mommy is in Heaven and how one day we will see her again if we believe in Jesus Christ and His sacrifice to cleanse our sins. Halle’s response was to ask if it would be a long time. “Yeah, it will be a long time before you go to Heaven,” my mom answered.

“Then I’m going to need to take a nap in the car.”

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.)

Spreading joy

One of the greatest things I learned from Stephanie (and continue to learn) is how to love people well. She made an art form out of actively finding ways to make other people feel cared about. And, along with that, joy simply followed her around exploding out into any room she entered.

I am reminded continually of how precious and important other people are and how much better this world is when we love on others, instead of simply looking out for ourselves.

One of Stephanie’s favorite things to do and favorite ways to show love was giving gifts, especially if that gift was something she baked in the kitchen. Many times it was suggested to her that she go into business for herself owning a bakery, but she just couldn’t stomach the thought. She enjoyed giving away what she made far too much to charge for it. The satisfaction of simply making another person smile was enough for her. (Many of my coworkers benefited from how often I came in with goodies. And I was always so excited to be able to email back home with all the “thank yous” and “yums.”)

And this is all something I don’t want to die along with Stephanie. It’s a legacy that I want to continue on. And so, I’m asking anyone who reads this to please buy or bake some dessert that can be given away to someone, especially if they are someone in need of encouragement. It can be someone you know. It can be a complete stranger. But when you give it to them, tell them why. And, if you would, please share your story and/or post a picture on the Facebook Operation Baked Blessings event page. I set up the event to run from October 3 to October 13, because those were the dates Stephanie was in the hospital before dying on the 13th.

I hope that many people are blessed by this and feel loved and cared for and that it brightens their day. It’s exactly what Stephanie would want.

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!