Sunday, November 23, 2008

Prayer and Suffering

A friend asked me a question this week that really got my wheels spinning out of control. Which means, typically, there's a blog post a-brewin'. The question went something like this: "What's the point of prayer, really? Especially when we don't get what we pray for?" My friend is walking alongside another friend, who is currently facing quite a long journey of suffering, and was just discouraged that true prayer seemed to require more energy and time and emotion and thought than it is worth. Now, set this up against the backdrop of what I've lived this past year-- the recollection of the prayers I've prayed, the "answers" (or lack of answers) to those prayers-- and what I've learned as a result about faith and life and death and life again, and WHAM-- you've got the title of this post. The intersection of ideas of life and death; suffering and blessings; hope and doubt; our desires and "God's will"; namely, this crossroads we call "prayer".

What does it mean when I don't get what I pray for? Or even... when it seems that God hears my prayer, sees my faith, my sincerity, my humility, my anguish, and then seemingly CHOOSES to give me exactly the OPPOSITE of what I requested? Or even worse... seemingly chooses to IGNORE me?

Cutting right to the chase, let me get specific... Did God not hear our requests to heal Leslie? Certainly He would have been GLORIFIED in showing up in a miraculous way-- an obvious "sign" to doctors and lookers-on that He IS present, and active, and powerful... Indeed, "Mighty to Save", even in the earthly sense. Did He ignore us? Why did He do just the opposite? Why did He let cancer kill her? Why did He have her suffer like that, in spite of our prayers to the contrary?

Was it my/our "lack of faith"? Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." I wasn't asking to move a mountain... I just wanted God to cure a little cancer.

Or, as I plunge into the darker parts of my mind and soul... Does God just not care? Or perhaps... does He delight in our suffering? Like some cosmic screen-writer, trying to devise the saddest of stories that He can let unfold before Himself so that His bored and under-utilized heart-strings might be tugged on a little?

Here's another good one: Why pray if He's just going to do "His will" anyway, regardless of what I desire with all of my being-- as insignificant and sinful as my being is?

These questions are rhetorical, perhaps. But believe it or not, these are questions to which I've started to hear the faintest whispers of answers over the past months. I'm not claiming anything prophetic. Many before me have come to the same conclusions-- I've read their words, heard their accounts-- but I've been too thick-headed, hard-hearted, and earth-minded to really let it sink in. Well... in my brokenness-- through experiencing real "suffering"-- I'm finally starting to get it.

In the midst of some of the darkest, deepest, gut-wrenching moments of prayer I've ever experienced, I've often heard a question being whispered... "What is it that you REALLY want? What is it that you're REALLY praying for?" It stops me in my tracks. It sends my mind spinning. And then, it brings me to my knees in silence. What was I really praying for in healing for Leslie? An end to her/our suffering? Well if that is the case... if God had healed her cancer back in July, would that have been the end to her suffering? Certainly, she would have suffered and died another way, eventually... c'est la vie. Was I asking God to preserve our family that we could go on loving TJ and bringing him up in His ways? If that is what I was praying for... hasn't He provided just that-- isn't He doing that, even now? And in miraculous fashion, at that! Was I praying for the ability to go on living in the completion and joy that I had felt throughout those wonderful 7 years of our life together? To go on tasting this beautiful little "slice of Heaven", as I've dubbed marriage? Indeed, my life has never been more full and complete than it is today. I've never seen Heaven more clearly... never tasted His blessings on a daily basis-- minute by minute, breath by breath-- as I do these days, even in her absence.

So tell me... what prayer did He not answer? What mercy has He not shown? Is Leslie not better off now? Are each of YOU not better off now, having loved-- and even "lost"-- your Leslie the way you did, as closely or as distantly as you loved her? I would argue that indeed He asnwered those prayers. Your prayers. My prayers. Our prayers. It just looks NOTHING like what we had expected it to... hoped, wanted, desired... at that time, in our human near-sightedness. He did not ignore my prayers. He answered them (is answering them) more brilliantly than I ever could have imagined... as hard as it is for me to take.

To be honest, the most desperate prayers I prayed were not for me. They were not for TJ. Not for her family, our future, or anything like that. The most dreadfully intimate prayers I prayed with Leslie were when she was unconscious, in that hospital bed, in the days and hours before she left this place. I just wanted her suffering to be over. "Have mercy, oh God!" Indeed, my prayer for "healing" took on a completely different meaning, in those hours. And indeed, I have echoed similar prayers for my own soul, as I have struggled to "move on", in the months that have followed. "God, I will stay here and suffer forever," I wailed one morning, on my knees in the shower, at perhaps my lowest point. "Somehow, this suffering makes me feel closer to her. But God... I desire to feel closer to YOU. She is free now. I am not. I am still here. If you desire more for me-- for me to live this life again-- TAKE MY SUFFERING. HEAL ME, GOD. HAVE MERCY, OH GOD!"

Indeed, in both cases (my prayers for Leslie and my prayers for myself), God indeed answered/ is answering those prayers in miraculous ways.

...but what if He didn't? What if Leslie was still suffering in that bed? What if I was still buried deep in grieving depression? It's not like I said those prayers and *POOF* our suffering was lifted and we were out in the Streets of Gold jumping for joy. Indeed, my own suffering is far from finished... far from "complete". It is in THIS place-- the place where no mercy is shown, where the prayers seem to be unheard, where suffering is unbearable, and there is no hope of an end in sight-- where FAITH lives. I'm neck-deep in a phenomenal book on this very topic entitled, The Gospel According to Job. It was Job's suffering that defined his faith. Indeed, it is the suffering of Jesus that defines our salvation. Suffering is not something to be rescued from. Suffering is something to be endured. Jesus didn't promise happiness, relief, easy living, answers to questions, or any of that stuff. He promised the cross. He promised, in fact, suffering. ("If anyone should come after me, he must pick up his cross and follow me." ...and... "Are you willing to bear my cross? To drink from the cup that I drink?") (You all DID see The Passion of the Christ, right? You're aware of what He's asking here?!) This is not the "Gospel" that evangelicals usually preach, (let alone embrace or live), in my opinion. But it IS the Gospel that Job knew. And Paul knew. And James and Peter and John and Phillip and Tabitha and Stephen and the members of "The Way" knew. Indeed, these are not truths that I've discovered on my own. They've been right there in front of me in the scriptures my whole life. I just never understood them until now.

For instance, Paul wrote:

...there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Cor. 12:7-9)

What was Paul really praying for when he prayed for that thorn to be removed? He was just wanting to glorify God, right? To do His work. And perhaps, to have an end to his own suffering. After all, wouldn't have his ministry been stronger, had he been relieved of this thorn? Wouldn't have he done more? Traveled further? Preached with more energy and power? Obviously, God's answer to that question is, "NO... My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness." Paul himself was beginning to grasp this, 2000 years before I am, because in the very next sentence of that letter, he writes:

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:9-10)

And then in another letter, he wrote:

...we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Rom. 5:3-5)

James, in perhaps a more famous or often-quoted passage wrote something similar:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

What this means is that the person who does not suffer is a person who is lacking the fullness of life that God intends for us to live. Indeed, suffering is a BLESSING, to the true child of God.

You see, we need to be quiet in our prayers from time to time. We need to just meditate and search our hearts and ask ourselves, "Just what is it that I'm asking for?" As Christians, if we're living by faith, the answer to the question will always be some version of this following statement... this "mission statement", if you will:

It is my heart's desire to know my God. To LOVE Him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. To ABIDE in His presence, in the shelter of His almighty arms. To KNOW His wisdom and Truth. Indeed, I can never know, in this life, the fullness of His glory; the full extent of His grace; the greatness of His wisdom; the depth of His holiness; the perfection of His love. But indeed, I will live my life-- I will even die-- trying to know these things. In the meantime, my hope is not for physical healing or relief from this suffering. My hope is not for even temporal blessings or bliss. Surely, I will ask for the desires of my heart, and I will give thanks for my relief, my rest, my blessings, my happiness, should these things befall me. But no... These are not the things I truly hope for. My HOPE is for HEAVEN.

So I will go on praying-- pouring out my heart to him as Job did. Asking God for what it is I want from Him... showing Him my heart's desires, and asking that He provide. But I will not confuse these desires for my hope. Just as God does not rely upon my prayers to go on being God, neither do I rely upon God's apparent answers to my prayers to go on abiding in faith in Him. But regardless of how He answers, this I have learned to be true: Without prayer, I will not know Him. THIS is why I pray.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The 800 lb. Gorilla and the Pretty Barista

This morning, I was in a heavier-hearted, contemplative mood. It's Friday, and a bright, crisp, sunny one, at that-- it was 18 degrees with not a cloud in the sky as I took out the trash this morning. TJ asked me why it was so cold, and I told him that it's because it's winter now, and pointed out that all the trees had lost all of their leaves. He beamed with delight as he inspected the trees and felt the cold creep in as he stood in the shelter of the garage while I did trash duty. He's really taking in the changing of the seasons this year, and as much as he was awe-stricken with the beautiful colors of autumn, he's REALLY pumped up about winter. Snow and Christmas are 2 of his favorite things.

This little exchange, the beautiful sunrise, and the fact that it's Friday should have been enough to free my heart a little, on any other such occasion. But as I said, it wasn't so today. First off, I'm sick, now. Sinus infection or something-- perhaps the bug that TJ had last week, minus the fever. But as I said, my mind was awhirl and my heart just felt... heavy. The prayers just didn't jump out of my chest the way they typically do, during my morning shower. My mind wasn't as clear. Maybe it was the sinus infection... or maybe we all just have mornings like that, from time to time. Leslie had those mornings every day-- she was admittedly NOT a morning person. :)

After taking out the trash, I packed TJ (sleepy-eyed and paci-faced, donning his warm and wooly blue footed pajamas under his winter coat) into the car seat, threw a change of clothes for him in the passenger seat, and took off for Dana's house, where he was to play today. I stopped, of course, at Caribou, where I'm something of a regular. (It's kind of like Bolingbrook's own little "Central Perk" scene, for those Friends fans out there.) After spending 5-10 minutes making my rounds through the crowded little cafe', saying hello to the people I've come to know there, (including the pretty barista behind the counter), and chatting with Pastor Ronn who was there preparing his sermon for Sunday, I ordered our favorites: a large depth charge for me (that's a regular coffee with 2 shots of espresso added to it) (I don't mess around when it comes to my morning caffeine), and a blueberry muffin for TJ. Only... they were out of the blueberry muffins today. This made TJ quite sad, and his cute and cuddly cheeriness which previously had everyone in the place going "ga-ga" over him began to fade into the whiney "grumps". I was just thinking to myself, "I should've just got in, got out, and got back on the road. Cut with the socializing and just get him to Dana's. Now I'm losing him, and he's going to make a scene." I hastily ordered a piece of coffee cake for him instead-- they had free samples out at the register, and I had given one to TJ, and he said he liked it-- assuming that coffee cake was better than nothing. But apparently, that turned out to be a bad idea, because as the barista handed me TJ's coffee cake, he plunged further into his grumpiness-- now heading full-bore toward a melt-down. Pretty Barista, in a compassionate effort to help a needy customer, said that they had just received some more blueberry muffins, but that they were still in the freezer, and then offered to have one heated up. At that point, I knew that there was no changing the momentum of TJ's mood, and it was just a matter of time until we reached melt-down status, so I just politely declined, then thanked her, grabbed our treats, and bolted for the exit. Indeed, we reached melt-down status just as we were pushing out the glass door of Caribou, back into the cold parking lot. As I was trying to console him, reason with him, scold him, encourage him, and throw every trick in the book at him in order to get him buckled back into his seat so I could resume the prolonged Friday morning commute, I was just overwhelmed with second-guessing and self-doubt. This was the scenario that my heavy heart had been anticipating since I rolled out of bed before sunrise. "What am I DOING to this boy? This is just so hard on him. This is not fair to him. He needs a mommy. I need a partner. I can't do this alone. He should be able to be at home in his PJ's with a sippy cup right now. He should be waking up in the same bed every morning, and sleeping in that same bed every nap time. He needs to be able to hold the same neck and cuddle with the same arms-- the same smells, the same voice soothing him." (... and so-on.)

The struggle in my heart and head morphed into prayer, wherein I once again gave it all up to our Father... placing even TJ (the HARDEST thing for me to "give up to Him") back safely in the palm of His hands. "I know you can't do it yourself," I heard that familiar whisper on my soul. "But I can. In your weakness, I am made strong. I am not only providing for you, but I am providing for your boy, as well." (... and so-on.)

I'm doing much better with it now. TJ's having a great day at Dana's with his cousins. I'm abiding, once again contented with His manna. And all that stuff. Please don't feel the need to write me an encouraging response about how great I'm doing or whatever. I need to just be able to "deal" with my insecurity and weakness honestly, without feeling like I'm fishing for complements or a hearty slap on the back.

As this post's title foreshadows, all of this morning's adventures got me thinking quite a bit about a certain 800 lb. gorilla that's been in this room-- this "next chapter" of my life. I've been ashamed to come out and think about it out loud until just recently, but the more I bounce ideas off friends and family, the more I realize it's on everyone else's mind, as well-- and in fact, has been for quite some time. The 800 lb. gorilla is this: What about our future? What about a new "mommy" figure for TJ? What about a wife for me? Okay, so I might be getting ahead of myself, but I'm to the point in this "process" where I can admit that the thought crosses my mind... in fact, almost daily. If that's too bitter of a pill to swallow, I can soften it a bit and put the question out there in this way: "What does that 'dating' process look like, for a person in my situation?"

Now, if you're a newcomer to this blog, I encourage you to read through the last few months to see just how I loved my Leslie-- how she will NEVER be "replaced", how she will always be "my better half", how no woman will ever be Mommy for TJ the way she is, and how our family and I are coming to dwell in peace on the thought of her eternal healing and completion-- as our friends Anna and Leah sang at her memorial services, on Leslie's behalf, "I'm in better hands, now". So I proceed on this topic with caution, knowing that there are family and friends who visit this blog to check in, who also loved and miss Leslie deeply. I guess I submit myself to your mercy and compassionate understanding, hoping that you are easily reminded of what you know of me, how you knew our marriage, and how we loved each other. This topic does not negate any of that. It is what it is-- all part of "living without her". (In case you're wondering, I've already had these conversations with her immediate family, so it's not like I'm dropping a bomb on family dynamics here.) :)

I thought for a minute about being devious and falsely announcing to the world that Pretty Barista and I have a date on Saturday night. But that's just not the case. I am, in fact, not yet at a place in my life where I could commit the time, effort, and concentration that would be required of me in order to pursue a "dating" relationship. My saying this should be of no surprise to anyone-- and perhaps even a relief to most of you. (Certainly Pretty Barista would be most relieved to know this... I'm rather sure she doesn't read this blog, though. Crap... I hope she doesn't... Maybe I'd better think twice before posting this...) You'll note that I mention the pursuit of a "'dating' relationship", here, and not this notion of entering the "dating scene". Which brings me to my first point on the topic:

I've long since kissed [casual] dating goodbye.

This is just a clever little play on a book title that hit the Christian singles market in the 90's-- one that, to this day, makes me cringe. But regardless of my opinion of the book, the stark reality is that before Leslie and I started hanging out, in that glorious Fall of 2000, I had come to a point in my life where I'd basically had enough with "dating" in general. Casual dating brought out the worst in me, it seemed. It distracted me from my priorities, from my pursuit of God, from living as I wanted to live. In fact, I had declared an indefinite hiatus from the dating scene, just a couple months before Leslie and I started hanging out. (It was never my intent to "date" her-- in fact, I was certain, going into that proverbial first chat over coffee, that she and I would never ever "work", in that dating sense, due to how we DIDN'T get along in college.) (Another story, another time, perhaps.) Anyway, I dated quite a few girls-- a couple quite seriously-- back in the day... high school, college, after college. All were rather "intentional", as far as casual dating goes-- I never dated a girl who wasn't a Christian, or someone I couldn't at least consider being with indefinitely. But the truth be told, I just knew so LITTLE about these women, at that point of our first dates. And it takes so much time and effort to get to know someone, especially when your truest exposure to their personality is in the "dating" realm-- I mean, let's just face it... no matter how "casual" it is, that's a pretty intense situation, on a lot of levels.

All this rambling to make this point: I have learned through my life experience (especially the last year of it) that I am not-- nor will I ever be-- interested in "casually dating" anybody. When I am ready to date, don't be expecting me to just ride a wave of adrenaline-laced confidence and ask the Pretty Barista out for a Saturday night. Sure, she's a very sweet and attractive young lady... but that's basically all I know of her. Well, that, and the fact that she serves a mean depth charge. And while a pretty face and access to an endless supply of caffeine might be a good start-- a VERY good start, even-- I'm going to have to have more to go on that that. My time with TJ and our life and our home and my "ministry" are just too valuable to go whittling away time, just to "get to know someone", or to look at a pretty face for an evening. Sure, "dating" can be fun-- it can be a wonderful way to stroke the egos a little, have some good laughs, feel somewhat desired and cared for. But is "a little fun" worth my time away from these other things? Is it worth spending more time away from TJ?? (Those are rhetorical questions. We all know the answer.)

And on that topic, that brings me to my next very crucial point:

When I start dating, I'm not just looking for a friend. I'm not merely looking for a wife. I'm looking for a mother for TJ.

Well, if any eligible candidates weren't scared away before, they certainly are now! :) (By the way-- as an aside... I DO NOT welcome any gestures or covert suggestions at set-ups, blind dates, phone numbers, etc... at this juncture. Just thought I'd preemptively strike, on that one. When it is time, in God's eyes, I feel the right opportunity will be right under my nose.)

But seriously, to this crucial point... A big part of the "dating" process will be seeing TJ and this new woman interact. One important facet of this will be my and TJ's time alone, away from this new woman, just talking about her, getting to know his thoughts and feelings on the whole idea. He is my #1 thing. My prioirty. My life. He is the one person with "veto power", as far as I'm concerned. My own little 3-year-old president elect-- unknowingly preparing to set up in his new digs in our metaphoric Oval Office.

CONCLUSION/ WRAP-UP: (for now...)

Our life is not ready for me to date. But to be honest, my heart and mind are much closer to ready than I'd ever imagined they could be. I'm by no means in a hurry, but I look forward to the prospect of dating with a mixed bag of emotions: excitement and apprehension; patience and anticipation; a burden of protection for TJ's heart and my own heart's desire to again be known; clinging to Leslie and intrigue with this person God might be praparing for us. These things I turn over to God daily. And I know that He will provide, and I pray His timing, wisdom, will, and blessing will be known. But when that time comes for me to pursue somebody... it won't be just somebody. I'm not wasting my time on just somebody. She will need to be a person I know well enough that I am able to see her potentially being TJ's mommy. I will need to know going in to our "first date" that I could potentially love her as my wife. And she would have to be willing to love all the "Leslie parts" of me-- my "better half"-- just like she would love the rest of me. Gee... as I'm re-reading these "criteria", I'm realizing what a tall order this is for a person. God bless her! It will indeed take a miraculous act of God for such an opportunity to present itself... but if or when God presents it, I will be ready. And when that opportunity presents itself-- much like I was with Leslie, once I became aware of my feelings for her, (later in that year of 2000)-- I will be intentional yet unassuming. And it will be Christ-centered. And there will be nothing casual about it.

Monday, November 17, 2008


Whew... Another week is upon us. It's hard to believe there are only 10 days until Thanksgiving. I'm looking forward to the holidays, although I'm fully aware of the emotional challenges that faces our family. But I feel strong, and ready to "enjoy" the experience. It will indeed be bittersweet. TJ just lights up whenever he sees a snowflake fall (it's been COLD here!), and he's ready to build snowmen and go to Mimi's Condo for Christmas. (We're going to be in Florida for Christmas. The "change of venue" should take some of the edge off that week-- it would have been remarkably difficult to spend it at home alone with TJ and without Leslie. So my parents invited us to hang out with them on the beach. Gee... it was a TOUGH decision, let me tell you!) :)

So I wanted to give a couple of updates... A lot has happened in the past week.

I mentioned I was traveling all week last week out on the East Coast. It was a great trip, work-wise, and actually served as a bit of a vacation of sorts-- as horribly as I feel having to admit it-- from the "single fatherhood" thing. TJ had been so needy lately, and I was really getting worn out. The work trip came at the perfect time. And it worked out well, because it was kind of a group thing, and we flew out of our plant in Ohio, which is in the same town where I grew up, where my parents still live. So it worked out perfectly, just dropping TJ off at Mimi and Papa's for the week. He was so excited. He loves staying there, and adores his Ohio cousins, whom he usually gets to see for a couple days when he's there.

There was a minor set-back, though... I felt rather guilty, arriving on Sunday evening to drop off a crippled 3-year-old. Earlier that morning, while I was setting up the sound equipment for church, TJ was at his friend Ryan's house, where he usually spends his Sunday morning pre-church hours, while I do the set-up routine. Well, while he and Ryan were playing up in the bedroom, they decided in their 3- and 4-year-old wisdom that it would be a good idea to jump off the bed onto the bean-bag chair on the floor. TJ missed the bean-bag chair, (he will be quick to proudly point out that he actually jumped OVER the bean-bag chair), and seriously injured his foot. I didn't learn about the incident until after church, as we were tearing down, getting ready to head to Ohio. TJ was unable to walk on it. Unable to even crawl on all fours, really, because it hurt his right foot so badly. So he was just kind of scooting around on his bottom, propelling himself with his arms and digging in his heals for traction. He wasn't complaining-- just scooting around, like he'd been doing it that way forever. So, Mimi had to take him in for X-rays on Monday, after I left for my trip. I'm ashamed to say, TJ knows Mimi's doctor quite well-- this was his 4th trip to Dr. Yoder at the Archbold Hospital. Stitches once, 2 trips for flu-related dehydration, and now this foot injury. He's been to Dr. Yoder more than he's been to our own doctor in Naperville. Feel free to pick on my mom about this, those of you who know her. :)

Anyway, the X-rays came back negative, but were kind of inconclusive, because of the softness of the bone tissue in a 3-year-old's feet and ankles. They gave us the recommendation to keep him on ibuprofen around the clock, and if he wasn't walking on it in a week, to take him to a specialist. He scooted around on his rear-end for the next 6.5 days. On day seven, he began to walk, and now, he's almost back to normal, except for the fact that his foot looks like he's wearing a black and blue sock.

Oh, and except for the fact that he now has the flu, or something, as well. Not wanting Dr. Millar's office in Naperville to feel left out, TJ came down with a fever of 103 as soon as I got him home on Saturday. So, since I had some X-rays to run by the doc anyway (I picked up the films in Archbold before leaving to come back home), I decided I could have the fever checked out. They prescribed some anti-biotics, just in case it's a sinus infection or something-- he had a sore throat and his frontal sinuses were a little sensitive... which is a symptom I try not to let freak me out, I confess. Yesterday, he was improving to the point he was playing and eating little more. (Between his foot and his fever, he was pretty inactive on Saturday.) So either the antibiotic is working or he's just kicking a flu bug. He was pretty miserable, and having some crazy fever dreams, to boot. He's still convinced that one of them was real-- "The Drink Bear", as TJ named him, came into his room and asked him if he could steal his drink, which was sitting on his bed-head. TJ yelled "NO! You leave!" (he really did yell it, I heard him), and, according to TJ's report, the Drink Bear proceeded to leave, get into his car and drive away. "No, he IS real!" TJ argues with me, every time I try to explain that it was just a dream, and there really is no Drink Bear. Miss Liz came over to babysit on Saturday night, and she and TJ made a sign before bed-time to hang on the front door: "NO BEARS ALLOWED!"

The sign has worked, apparently, because the Drink Bear has not returned. He's an obediant beast, at least, that Drink Bear.

I'm trying to roll with all of this, but now I'm feeling suddenly "worn out" again. Thankfully, Leslie's brother's wife, Margaret, came up from Indy with her two little ones this week to help out and play with TJ. I'd like to sit and argue that I don't NEED the help, but I'm glad to have it, regardless... and to be honest, I'm not sure my argument would be too convincing. I'm trying not to start second-guessing myself, with his injuries, sickness, and general neediness lately. "Just a bad couple of weeks," or something. Funny... my mind goes to that crucial scene of Good Will Hunting where Robin Williams' character is repeating those words to Will until they finally sink in and drive our protagonist to tears... "It's not your fault... It's not your fault..."

Oh! Some GOOD NEWS!! Mr. Stuart Strahl called me on Friday, as I was landing in Detroit, ready to embark on my return drive home to Chicago. Mr. Strahl is the Director of the Chicago Zoological Society. (The Brookfield Zoo.) The freaking DIRECTOR. Not the director of membership, or "Ms. Director", as I referred to her in my previous "Zoo Frustration" post. No, Mr. Strahl is Ms. Director's boss's boss. The Head Honcho. The Big Cheese. I had to ask for clarification... "I'm sorry, did you say you're the DIRECTOR of the ZOO? Not membership services, but the entire ZOO?" He seemed flattered at my awe, and kind of laughed and humbly answered, "...yes... the 'entire zoo'."

Mr. Strahl's tone was genuinely apologetic, as he assertively started to lay out his action plan to "make things right". "I'm trying to instill a sense that customer service is the #1 priority in this organization. Unfortunately, the ladies downstairs were abiding by the letter of the law a little too rigidly. Yours is a unique case, and we want to do everything we can to make sure you and your son have the same access to the zoo that you always have..." I was SO grateful, and humbled, even.

On Saturday, the mail man delivered a giant package from the Brookfield Zoo, with a thoughtful letter from the VP of Membership Services ("Ms. Director's" boss), and a nice little "care package": A membership card with TJ's name on it; 4 "caregiver passes" for Ms. Liz, Mommy Beth (Ryan's mommy, who watches TJ a lot), Gram, and Aunt Dana-- the 4 most likely to be taking TJ to the zoo; (I'm realizing I should have had one made out for my mom, as well, for when she comes to visit... but that's okay, because the letter also states that whenever I feel like it, I can call the member services department and have additional caregiver passes made out for whomever I please-- as many as I please); also, there were free passes to several of the attractions; free parking passes; and a stack of guest passes, should somebody besides one of the listed "caregivers" want to take TJ to the zoo one day. We're talking "above and beyond"! Fixed, and then some. Mr. Strahl assured me that as long as we were members, I could just call his office, and he would see to it that accommodations would be made for us, whenever we needed it.

Wow. Praise God for good people in positions of authority, amen?!

SO... now I have a request... I'm guessing a few of you sent letters. Mr. Strahl had the slightest undertone of "bravery in the face of terror" in his voice, as if there was a mass of rage awaiting him on the other end of the line. I get the idea he received more than just a forwarded version of my letter to Ms. Director's boss. So here's what I'd ask, now, to those of you who may have been compelled to write on my behalf: Write a thank-you note to Mr. Strahl.

As my mom and dad aptly point out (they asked for the proper address and contact info so that they could send a thank-you note), businesses and organizations get a whole lot of complaint letters, and not a lot of thanks or validation when they take the proper corrective action. It's like only spanking your kid when he's bad, and failing to reward him when he's good. So again, if you sent a letter, I'd ask you, send another-- this time in thanks and as a symbol of gratitude and appreciation for their willingness to accommodate and "do the right thing".

Anyway... There are plenty of other little stories I could share about the week... but that's the "big stuff". Just wanted to give an update. What a week! In the words of the Foo Fighters: "One and done, and I'm on to the next one..."

...oops, almost forgot. Here's that contact info for the zoo. :)

Mr. Stuart Strahl- President and CEO
Mr. Chris Panek- VP Membership
Chicago Zoological Society
Brookfield Zoo
3300 Golf Road
Brookfield, IL 60513

Thursday, November 13, 2008

...To Be Poured Out

I realize that I referenced this idea of "being poured out" a couple of months ago, in a rather sad post. Wow, those were some rough days. Every day I praise God for His provision and continued healing... indeed, He is electing to "fill me back up", rather than leave me empty. It will never be like it was... but it is sweeter by the day. Glenn Phillips (my oft-quoted favorite musical artist) writes a song called "Blind Sighted", where he is apparently (to me at least), singing to a lost loved one...

"I remember back when we were younger,
You filled me up like water.
It's different now.
It's stronger.
And I can't see you now, but I still know you're here.
I can reach out,
and feel you near.

Indeed, Leslie filled me up like water. She was a torential downpour of blessings, from God, which He used to "complete me" (thank you, Jerry McGuire for ruining that line for everybody who actually knows something about being completed by another, by the hand of God). (No, I'm not bitter about it... but c'mon, that was a pretty cheesey movie. A wasted line.)

To be filled up... in order to later be poured out...

I believe I mentioned this in the old Leslie's Journey blog long ago, but it is worth repeating here, because it's been so instrumental in my own journey, in this next "chapter". My friend and mentor from when we lived in Indianapolis once had an encouraging "word" for me. Call it prophetic... call it a "vision"... whatever it was, it was indeed from God. It encouraged me in the moment probably 5 years ago, now, and it has proven true time and again, bringing me new layers of encouragement along the way. It went-- or should I say, it GOES-- like this:

A group of men used to get together at my friend Beau's house once a week to pray. We were a multi-generational group of about 6-12 men, depending on the week, from different churches in the area. We'd get into the bible a little, and Beau or one of the older men would "teach" from time-to-time, but the main focus was just accountability and prayer. And it was POWERFUL. Men, get yourselves surrounded by other men who are not afraid to lay hands on you and pour out their soul in prayer for you... and who aren't afraid to hold you accountable, or be vulnerable to accountability themselves. There is nothing like it.

Anyway, it was one of these nights when I just shared something that had been eating away at my heart... The thing was... Life was good. Too good, I feared. I had a good job-- one that came too easy to me, at that time... I was almost bored with it, but happy with the "financial blessings" that came along with it. I had a beautiful wife. We were "DINKS", (dual-income, no-kids), living it up in the suburbs, hanging out with friends and going on dates several nights a week. We were involved in our church's children's ministry, and felt like we were being "fed" well through the teaching and worship at the church... It was just all... so... EASY. "Surely, God", I was praying, "You have something more for me. I've always sensed You speaking and working in my heart... certainly this isn't ALL You have in store for us, is it?" As I shared with the men in the group that night, I was starting to worry that I wasn't listening, or afraid to be led by God somewhere other than the comfortable place in which I was currently abiding. I prayed and searched my heart and mind... I felt as though He had led me to that particular place, and I was "in His will"... but just felt that He had more in store for me... and I was eager to GET THERE already.

The men in the group began to pray for me. Most of them just prayed wonderful words of thanksgiving to God for who He made me to be... loved on me and encouraged me with their prayers. And then there was some silence, and then Beau half-prayed, half-spoke to me...

"Tyson, I have this image in my head... call it what you will. Time will tell if this is 'prophetic', or a 'word from the Lord'-- and maybe only you and God will ever know. But I just feel like I need to explain this image to you.

I see a reservoir. Something like Geist (those of you from Indy know what he's talking about). There is this little river running through a shallow valley that has been dammed up by God. The little river is fed with these little tributaries, ditches, streams, and of course, by the rain. And every drop of water-- every molecule-- from each of those sources, is a blessing from God. And God is letting that water-- His blessings-- fill up this reservoir. The water will rise. The once barren land will be lush with the fruit of His blessings-- indeed, just like Geist which was once just swamp and forests, and is now some of the most prized real estate in all the state. But you should know, Tyson... that the reservoir will not just sit and collect water forever. It will be poured out. Perhaps it will just rise up over the threshold of the dam, and trickle over the top. Or perhaps, the dam will break and it will flood into the valley below, downstream. But it WILL be poured out. Abide now, and collect His blessings, and accept them for what they were. You will be poured out in His time."

Wow, huh? In the months or maybe year-plus that ensued, God began to get very "direct" in His guidance-- very real and powerful answers to prayers and questions about where we should live, what we should do, where we should serve, when we should have kids, etc... Some of the stories would give you goose-bumps, they're so cool. Anyway, we were "led" to Bolingbrook, where we "settled in" for a couple of years, growing into our church family, starting our own nuclear family, getting my work established here, etc... And then, we moved to our new house. And then, a month later... The dam broke.

It is good to be poured out. What got me thinking about it was the thought of a conversation I had just last night with another stranger, whom God had obviosly had been placed there in my path-- at a particular place in that dry valley downstream-- so that I might be poured out. Conversation started with business-- we were both obviously out-of-towners, eating alone at a bar (I'm in New Jersey this week, by the way), making small-talk. And then the conversation migrated onto the topic of family... and from there... Well, you can imagine. This particular man is Roman Catholic and is dealing with the fallout of having just survived a messy divorce-- his wife basically had a mid-life crisis of sorts and decided she didn't want to be a wife or mom anymore, choosing instead the allures of the single "night-life", if you catch my drift... My heart just broke for him, as I related with him that in my opinion, what he's going through is so much harder than what I've endured. "I'm blessed with the fact that my wife died loving me. I don't know what I'd do with myself if she had CHOSEN to stop being my wife... If she had known me as she knew me and decided after all of that to just turn around and walk away." This resonated with him, and he was fighting back tears, just reaching for my hand, as if to "shake", and then just holding on with both of his, looking me in the eyes... it was just so good for him to be able to "relate" with another man like that. I encouraged him with scripture and a little discussion about God's grace and compassion.

Anyway... it's just another little story... These things happen several times a week, lately... It's just good to be poured out. I've never felt so alive.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Zoo Frustration

Life isn't fair. No one said it would be. God doesn't promise fair... in fact quite the contrary. But He does promise his presence.

So, God is present with me now... and He even present at the Brookfield Zoo, in spite of my current frustration.

I've blogged before about our trips to the zoo. I took TJ there the day after Leslie died. He learned of Mommy's departure for Heaven sitting under a little tiki-style umbrella over a hot-dog-on-a-stick and a fruit punch, right beside "Stingray Bay", one of his favorite exhibits. Leslie used to take him there several times a month. We paid a pretty penny for a "Family Plus" membership-- unlimited parking and admission for the 3 of us, and we could even bring along a guest on each visit... discounts on food, dolphin show passes. It was awesome.

It WAS awesome.

As much as TJ got to go, most of his visits were during the weekdays in the warm-weather months. He and Leslie typically needed to get out of the house to do something, just for their shared sanity. They'd wake up, see a sunny and mild day outside, and decide spontaneously to head to the zoo. (Of course, this past summer, such visits were not as frequent, as Leslie would need help-- someone to drive them, etc...) But it was nice, because it's only a half-hour drive, if that, and they could get there, have fun, eat lunch, and then be home in time for TJ's nap. A few times over the course of each of the last 3 summers, we'd plan a Saturday visit, where we could all go together. Anyway, it was well worth the money we spent on the membership-- so many special memories there... memories of Mommy that fill TJ's mind.

So this year, when our membership came up for renewal, I placed a call and informed them of our "situation". I said I was calling to renew, but was curious how we make out the 2nd membership card-- the one that was formerly Leslie's. (Membership card and photo ID are required both at the parking lot gate and the admissions gate.) Apparently, we could pay a little extra and have them issue a "Caregiver" card... but the problem was that we had to declare ONE specific caregiver... And I have NO idea what TJ's child-care situation is going to look like 2 months from now, let alone ALL of next year. I asked if they couldn't just issue the 2nd card to TJ, and use his birth certificate as his ID at the gate, and then admit his caregiver that day as his "guest". No-can-do. Members must be 18 or older.

You can see where this is going...

I wrote a letter to the director of member affairs at the Chicago Zoological Society. I boiled our story into a one page summary-- how special the zoo is to our family, the tragedy of the last year, my desire to maintain the membership and TJ's opportunities to visit the zoo regularly. Yesterday, Ms. Director called me back. It was all I could do to maintain my "professional courtesy". And tragically, I fear that I failed at maintaining the level of "lovingkindness" God desires me to administer in such situations.

No grace. No consideration. No alternatives. No exceptions. She merely offered her "heart-felt" condolences and then proceeded to say, "If we make one exception to one member, then we need to make every exception to every member..." yada-yada... I asked her, "Is it such a bad thing to make exceptions for ALL little kids with dead mommies??" Like I said, I confess that the "Society's" lack of grace was exposing the limitations of my own, in this situation.

We talked in circles, my stating the inequity of the situation and offering alternatives (which I mentioned above), her stating that the rules are the rules and no exceptions would be offered. Finally, before saying anything I'd truly regret, I just concluded the phone call:

"Well. I guess I can thank you for your time, in reading my letter, offering your condolences, and stuff. But basically, what you're saying is that you are not willing to make any accommodations. And what that means to me, is that a 3-year-old boy will not have the same access to the zoo next year that he has enjoyed each of the last 3 summers, simply due to the fact that his mommy died. I'm not one to pout about someting 'not being fair', but there is just something horribly unjust about this. I guess this is a part of being a single dad that I'm just going to have to get used to-- that this concept of 'family plans' and 'family passes' just doesn't apply to me anymore. Again, thank you for your time, and I'm sorry my 'business' and TJ's story is not worthy of your offering any accommodations. Goodbye."

I know I'm not alone in this type of battle. I've heard from so many single moms and dads out there, who certainly brush into this type of thing on a regular basis. I'm frustrated with my lack of awareness and/or compassion in these regards through the first 31 years of my life, before I had the "opportunity" to experience them first-hand.

So anyway... I guess we'll just have to find a new "special place" that TJ and his caregiver can enjoy on a regular basis next year. Sure, he and I will still make the occasional Saturday trip to the zoo... (his love for the place outweighs my "self-righteous indignation" which suggests I boycott)... We'll just end up paying more per visit. When I think about it, it's not really about the zoo--we'll still be able to enjoy it together... TJ just won't be able to go as often as he has in the past. It's really more about the apparent injustice of such a "kid-focused" and "family-friendly" organization being completely unwilling to make a compassionate decision or compromise.

Oh well. As I said to Ms. Director... it's their prerogative. It's their business. Their decision. Just like it's mine to stop my membership. Unfortunately, that's all the noise I can make in my frustration, and it's just such a small, tiny noise, in the grand scheme of things... Well... there's that noise, and the one I can make on this blog-- thanks for letting me vent. I just needed to feel some compassion, I guess.

Everyone needs compassion,
A love that's never failing.
Let mercy fall on me.

Everyone needs forgiviness,
The kindness of a savior,
The hope of nations...

Monday, November 3, 2008

A Full Weekend

I know it's been over a week since I've posted. It's not that there hasn't been anything to share... it's just that I feel like I've already shared it. My life seems to be a series of recurring revelations and themes, lately: the grace of God; learning to live as a "single dad"; learning to live without Leslie (I think this is what they call "grieving"); abiding, enjoying the "manna" which God continues to provide daily; struggling with feelings of inadequacy-- or fully grasping my limitations-- as a parent, and again giving even my son-- my pride and joy-- over the care and provision of our Loving Father; experiencing this miraculous joy, strength, and peace, and these newly or re-awakened passions; and so-on... All these things I've "already learned or experienced", and blogged about over the months. All these things I learn anew each week. It's like when you're really into the bible... When I first got into "The Word", it was the book of Matthew. I'd read a chapter a night, and when I finished the book, I'd just start over. It almost got to the point that I could basically recite it-- like a movie you've seen too many times. But still somehow every time I read those stories and that teaching of Jesus, it seemed so fresh and new. It still does to this day. Something new jumps out at me every time I read those words-- the Spirit speaks to me through the words in a new way, completely relevant to my current circumstances. Anyway... that's the way my life has been lately... "Abide. Lean on my grace. What do you need that I haven't already provided? What is your weakness that my strength will not cover over? What is your sin that my blood has not already covered? In me, you are complete. In your weakness, I AM made strong." Again, all things I've written about in these past months. And still, every day I hear Him speak these words all over again-- "new every morning".

Now, that being said, my weekend is something which is worthy of "updating" you. It was "bittersweet", (again, to rehash a recurring theme). Sad, beautiful, joyful, peaceful, eventful, restful, full of love... Simply "full". I was just sharing with a friend that I have learned to "embrace, even enjoy" things like quiet, alone-ness, even sadness. A bunch of happy feelings and laughter and fun stories are no longer prerequisites for a day to be considered a "good day". A "good day" now is simply a "full day". A "good weekend", a "full weekend". And indeed, it was a good weekend.

It started with some good TJ & Daddy time on Friday. I "worked from home", (a concept that is becoming more laughable every time the situation requires me to give it another shot),on Friday morning, because TJ & I had appointments to see our family physician. I was going to get a flu shot (and was hoping to get TJ to agree to one as well), and TJ was due for his 3-year-old "check-up". (I wanted to be present for this, which is why I stayed home that day, because I just needed assurance from a medical professional that I wasn't failing in my primary job to care and provide for my son's general well-being and health... These things were never a concern before. But without Leslie around, I find my confidence on such basic matters is shaken from time-to-time.)

Anyway, TJ was quite needy on Friday morning. Another "high-maintenance" day, it seemed. This bothered me quite a bit, because after our struggles the previous weekend, he had a wonderful week with Ms. Liz and Aunt Dana. And our evenings together were just fine. But here I was, spending a full day with him again, and he was unraveling-- on the brink of another melt-down. I was beginning to think it had more to do with "me" than the fact he's "just a 3-year-old". At about 9am, I gave up any hope of actually being able to get ANY work done. I put down the laptop, stowed the Blackberry, and just sat on the sofa and read some books to him. Turns out the little guy just needed my undivided attention for awhile. We read and cuddled and then put together the newest addition to his Playmobil Airport set. After that, he was fine. He was able to play alone again, entertaining himself. He was back to being the happy, busy, and chirpy little TJ we all know and love.

Around mid-day, we went to our doctor's appointment. I'd previously started to ease him into the idea of getting a shot. I assured him that I had to have one, too, and explained to him "why". "But I'm not SICK!" he tried reasoning with me. I explained that the shots were to keep us from getting sick. He seemed to be okay with the explanation, and I told him that I'd go first, just to show him how to be "brave", and how it doesn't really hurt, and it's over very, very quickly. Before the shots, he had his check-up. He kept eyeing me nervously as they took off his shirt, examined him with the stethescope and what-not, and measured and weighed him. Throughout the exam, he kept telling me, "No, I want YOU to go first! I don't want my shot yet!" He thought they were going to sneak in a needle without giving him the chance to properly prepair himself. His height and weight, much to my pride (or relief), both measured around the 70th percentile. Everything else was normal and healthy-- except for a heart murmur that we already knew was there (the pediatric cardiologist is not concerned-- we'll visit him again when TJ turns 5). Then... it was time for the shots. I sat myself up on the exam table-bed-thing, and pulled my arm out of my shirt. I just watched TJ and smiled as I explained what the nurse was doing... "She's just cleaning off my arm with a cotton ball...." "...She's getting the syringe ready..." ("Syringe" is a word that should not be in a 3-year-old's vocabulary... but it is in TJ's, for obvious reasons...) (Mommy's old IV saline "flush" syringes are his favorite bath toys.) Then, it came time for my injection. I just looked at him and smiled, and said, "See? It doesn't really hurt! It's not that bad! And now, look! It's ALL DONE!" But what I was really thinking in my mind is, "HOLY CRAP! I forgot these things hurt this much! I'm such a horrible father, lying to my son like this!!!" But I'm apparently a good liar, because when it was his turn, he bravely plopped himself back up onto the table and let the nurse do her evil deed to him. He was VERY brave. He started crying a bit after the first shot was done, (oh yeah-- I forgot to mention they were also recommending a roto-virus vaccine for him this year), and I basically had to hold him while the nurse very quickly and deftly administered the second. And as soon as it was over, I held him, and said, "It's all done! I'm so proud of you, Buddy! You are SO BRAVE!!" He stopped crying and asked if he could have his chocolate treat now, which I had promised him as a reward for such bravery.

Then we went to lunch at our favorite restaurant near the doctor's office. He had a blast, because it was Halloween day, and all the servers were dressed up in costumes. He was particularly enthralled with the guy that was sporting a full-body, Disney World-esque, likeness of that starfish guy from Sponge Bob Square Pants. I kept having to "shush" TJ, because whenever he'd see the guy from across the dining room, he'd yell, "HELLO, GUY FROM SPONGE BOB!" and wave. Apparently, he couldn't remember the starfish's name either. However, he DID remember our server's name from the last time we were there, almost a month ago. We had been there with my parents, and our waitress that night was a cute and friendly girl who kept on teasing TJ, trying to get him to give her "five" and what-not. He was playing hard-to-get, or "shy", or whatever, which just made her adore him all the more. (He does a really cute and convincing "shy" act.) Anyway, as we were seated for lunch, I scanned the room and told him I didn't see his friend from the last time we were there. I was having a hard time trying to remember her name. "What was her name...?" I mumbled to myself, in an effort to jar the memory of our last visit free in his own mind. He was a step ahead of me. "You mean Marrie?" he asked rhetorically. The kid is some kind of freaky, with that memory of his. He does names and faces and details WAY better than I do. The other day, he was talking about a baby with whose name I was unfamiliar. (I won't say the baby's name, should I indict myself and my embarrassing forgetfulness, should this particular family check in on this blog from time-to-time.) He proceeded to explain to me who the baby's parents are, and where we know them from. In this case, it was a family from church, whose baby's name I certainly should have remembered, but didn't. (To my own defense, there are a LOT of babies at church these days.) I was both embarrassed at my absent-mindedness, and impressed with his little mind. More impressed than embarrassed, though. ("... more sweet than bitter...")

From the restaurant, we headed to Gram's and Gramps' house (Leslie's parents, about a 2-hour drive southwest) to meet the entire family for our Fall Birthday bash. This group birthday party is an annual celebration/ get-together, and this particular one was to be our first without Leslie. I was so proud of myself for remembering to buy the gifts... and subsequently so frustrated with myself when I arrived at their house empty-handed. I'd left the gifts at home-- unwrapped, in a shopping bag, on top of the fridge. Gifts and birthdays and things like that were Leslie's domain. (I apologize in advance to all the family, friends, and friends' children who have yet to experience my "learning curve" in this regard, come the holidays, birthdays, etc...-- this will take some time and effort, to be sure.)

The weekend in Washington started on Friday evening with trick-or-treating for TJ, and some great worship time for me. I had made plans to lead worship with a small (50-60 people) gathering of people nearby-- a connection through some friends-- that night. So I got TJ all dressed up in his dinosaur costume, (special thanks to the Curletta family for this one!), which he was VERY excited about and proud of, and I sent him off through the neighborhood with Gram, Aunt Margarite, and cousins Tori and Jonathan. And then I headed off to "The Garage" of East Peoria to worship. Wow, what an awesome night! TJ got his candy for his tummy and Daddy got to indulge in his own sampling of "morsels of sweetness from Immanuel" (a term I was introduced to by my dear friend Beau). (There's a story there, but another time, perhaps. I will say that anyone who has experienced worship like that already knows what I'm talking about, though-- like candy for the soul.) It was good just to worship and pray with a group of virtual strangers-- to feel so connected in the Spirit with them. It was as if I knew them all my entire life. I just felt "at home" there, in the presence of our God, worshiping and praying for one another... truly a refreshing experience.

Saturday morning, I had breakfast at a local diner with Dad and Chris (Leslie's dad and brother, that is). It was such a wonderful time. The food was fine, but the conversation was... well... I was just so "blessed", I guess. (I hate that I can't avoid certain "church-speak" terms sometimes... you'll just have to bear with me. There's just no better way to describe it in this case than to say "I was so blessed".) We talked about Leslie-- stories; memories; her present and eternal completion and healing and what it all means to us now, here in this place, "without her". We all shared "how we're doing", and told stories of ways that she's effecting us daily, even though she's gone. We related as to how our perspectives of Heaven have become so much fuller now than they used to be-- even different from what they were as she was dying, and certainly different from what they were before she was sick. Let me go a little deeper, here, because I believe it's such an important thought...

When Leslie was getting sicker-- as we both quietly knew "the end" was drawing nearer-- I used to cling to this more "worldly" view of Heaven. She and I both found solace and comfort in this notion that we were "one flesh", biblically speaking, here on earth... and perhaps this meant that we'd share "one flesh" in Heaven as well. Forever. For eternity. This actually made us HAPPY, even amidst her suffering. I remember holding her and just smiling together at the thought of being whole, healed, in eternal embrace, worshiping our God together with TJ, as a family again, some day. Now, the truth of that image has become a little more "full" and clear. Indeed, Leslie and I-- together with TJ-- will be more united "one day" than we ever were here, in our "marriage". But our connection in Heaven will be different. Less "limited" to each other. Indeed, we will be united with ALL of God's people in that same intense "marriage", with our "Bridegroom". I have hope, still, that we will have the joy of the memory of what we shared on Earth, but when that time comes, I believe now that it will be merely a sweet memory. And the fullness of what we have that day will far exceed-- even eliminate-- any desire to again have what we "lost" when she died. Just as she is more complete now than she ever was with me here in this life, so will I be more complete when I join her there. Similarly, she will not be any more complete then--when I join her-- than she is now. As Jesus said, "At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven." The really cool thing is, that He went on to say this: "But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not the God of the dead but of the living."

WOW! and HALLELUJAH! I believe, in consideration of this passage, that God actually "blessed" us with our more limited view of heaven, as Leslie was "dying". It can, indeed, be a blessing that now we only see fragments of the fullness of the mysteries of God and eternity, pain and suffering, Justice and Truth-- as through a broken and foggy mirror. Indeed, someday, we will see clearly, face-to-face. But I can say that this fragmented, limited view of heaven got us through some very emotionally difficult times. He was, in that time, indeed the God of the living-- and our hope of eternity with Him was from the perspective of the life we were sharing at that time. Now that Leslie is there-- and I am not-- my perspective has changed a bit, as I have described above. I will no more be united with her that day, (as I reflected with Dad and Chris Saturday morning over our eggs and coffee), as I will be with you all. And that's okay with me, now. Because the fullness of the joy that we experience together in His presence then will just blow any memory of joy or happiness we have experienced here right out of the water. There will be no comparison. There will be no longing for these broken and incomplete "latter days". One of my favorite bands, Over the Rhine, sings about this beautifully:

What a beautiful piece of heartache this has all turned out to be...
...If the music starts before I get back,
Dance without me-- you dance so gracefully.
I really think I'll be okay.
They've taken a toll, these latter days.

Leslie is okay. She's better than okay. She's complete. Perfect, even. And I'm left here with this "beautiful piece of heartache". All I am left to do is abide here... To dance without her. I shared this with Dad and Chris... that I will again learn to laugh. I will be happy again. Indeed, the joy and peace I've experienced these "latter days" since she left me is deeper and more wonderful than anything I've ever experienced... but I can't say I'm really that "happy" very often. But I'm getting there. And I will be. I'm settling onto the fact that I will probably re-marry someday. I even WANT that. I've tasted this little slice of heaven which we call "marriage"... and I long to taste it again, someday. "Anew". Certainly, it will be different. And certainly it will be good. And this new, more "complete" view of Heaven allows me to explore the thought of "moving on" without a guilty conscience. In fact, no longer do I worry about how my heart will ever be able to "deal with it". In fact, God has already done so much healing in the realm of my own heart and mind, in these regards. Indeed, time will only make things more clear, but I'm already in awe of how He's working in me. I AM concerned, though, for the heart and mind of my future wife, should God have such a person out there for me. I mean, I'd be bringing quite a bit of "baggage" into the relationship. As I said to Dad and Chris, she'd be marrying into TWO sets of in-laws, for petesakes! (the Aschlimans AND the Buchers) I could go on and on, concerning these thoughts-- what about TJ? What about the Leslie that will always be a part of me?, etc...-- but again, another time... And besides, it doesn't do "her" or myself any good to concern myself with such things. If "she" is indeed out there, I know that she is already in the palm of God's hand, and He is preparing her heart for such things.

These are all things that we discussed as a family this weekend. It was so good for all of us. And we laughed, celebrated, had fun, enjoyed one another. We even played some basketball (I sprained my ankle... ouch... a little puffy this morning). We had hot-dogs, sausages, and s'mores over a bonfire. The whole weekend was just a beautiful... FULL... Shoot, the weather was even gorgeous. The hardest part was leaving to come back home on Saturday night. I left TJ with Gram, at her request-- which was a no-brainer, since all his cousins were still there, and I had worship stuff the next day, and a lot of yard work to do. (He'll be back home today when I get back from work, and is having a GREAT time there.) But that meant that I had a 2-hour drive home, in the dark, alone. I was driving away from our family and toward an empty house. It was a drive Leslie and I made 100 times together. And Saturday night, I made it alone. It was a sad drive, to be sure. But as I stated earlier, I've learned to embrace-- even enjoy-- the sadness. I prayed. I remembered. I worshiped. I stared into oblivion. I drove. And on Sunday, I did church, yard work, small group, and even watched my Colts beat their arch-rival, the Patriots, on Sunday Night Football.

It was a full weekend, to be sure.

A good weekend.