Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Please join us HERE... http://web.me.com/kateandty/Kate%26Ty/Blog/Blog.html
----UPDATE---- 10/31/09- 12:15 am CDT
In the days that have followed the posting of this entry, the response at the new blog site has been so encouraging. However, a couple of anonymous readers decided to leave this blog "rest" with a bit of a parting shot in the comments section. The sad part is, I know their sentiments are not unique to themselves... I let it "breathe" a bit, prayed about it, and decided it needed to be addressed with "the truth spoken in love". Here is what they wrote, and my response... (Too long to be posted as a "comment"... so I'm adding it here as an update...)
I appreciate the thought, my anonymous friends, and cannot imagine how hard it must be for you, mothers of little ones, to fathom, vicariously through Leslie's journey, the thought of "outliving" your precious little kids.
I'm going to bypass the inaccurate assertion that somebody is trying to "replace" Leslie, because you obviously haven't read my previous thoughts on TJ's and my (and Katie's) understanding of what a "new mommy" entails. I encourage you to dig deeper into my archive here, to read up on Katie's blog, and follow our new blogs into this "next chapter" for a better understanding of how God is weaving together our little family. But to summarize, nobody CAN or is in any way TRYING to "replace" Leslie. Moving on...
Yes, TJ's first mommy-- his birth mommy-- will always be Leslie. She is in Heaven, and TJ can NOT wait to be with there with her some day. We talk of her often, and we pray at night and thank God for her...
...and we thank God for giving us Katie, who has selflessly and bravely dared to love a child to whom she did not give birth... as her OWN. Can you fathom such a love? It is God-breathed and miraculous to be sure!
Yes, Leslie is "always" going to be TJ's mommy-- the woman who brought him into the world and raised him wonderfully until her dying day. But she is no longer HERE. While I'm certain (although somewhat blindly) that she indeed still loves her only child... I'm also certain that her love takes on a much different form in the heavenly realm. She is no longer here to love and hold and speak to TJ. Leslie understands better than any of us today that life goes on-- for her, in the eternal sense, and for TJ and me and Katie and each of you in the earthly sense... Separated for a time, but not forever, for those who share this eternal hope.
I only bring these truths up for you two-- and others who share your sentiment-- to consider as you share your judgment and misled observations with the masses. Dig deeper. What is it you are clinging to, hoping that your son should no longer know the nurturing and loving touch of a mother, should you move on from this place? What of adopting parents out there-- be it a spouse of a widow (like Katie) or couples who are unable to birth children and choose to take on a child as their own, to offer the "orphan" the love of parents and a family that they would not otherwise know but by the grace and provision of a benevolent God?
My encouragement to you ladies is this: You have spent some time relating with Leslie, apparently, imagining yourself looking down on your kids from a far-off place, watching as they call another woman "mommy". Try just for a minute, instead, to relate with your KIDS... What if you were gone forever from this place, completely incapable of kissing an ouchie when the little ones fell? Or reading them a book at night? Or being there for their first day of Kindergarten, or graduation day, their wedding, the birth of your grandchildren... Would you prefer them dwell in the great void of the absence of you alone? Or would it be better-- for your precious, beloved children-- to have a "new mommy" there to love them through those moments, in your absence? Especially one like Katie, who knew you and honors you and your legacy? How you respond is a testament to the true love you have for your children.
And the last thing I challenge you with is this: Put yourself in Katie's shoes. She reads these blogs. And I know for a fact many other husbands and wives of widows (and widows themselves) read these blogs. Parents with adopted children read these blogs. Can you for a minute fathom loving those precious little kids of yours... had ANOTHER woman given birth to them? The way you do? With the ferocious passion you possess for your little ones? The life Katie has chosen to live is a tremendous cross she will forever bear-- one that DAILY I pray will bring her at least HALF as much joy and happiness as it has cost her in sacrificial love. She loves TJ as her OWN-- kissing the ouchies and disciplining and reading and hugging and putting up with all the crap toddlers put a mommy through-- in SPITE of the fact that she KNOWS that some of the world says that she is NOT TJ's "real" mother. She chooses every morning to wake up in the face of that opposition and love him EVEN MORE for it.
So, is it "really sad" that TJ will only grow up with our stories and his fragments of memories of Leslie? Absolutely! But not as sad as it would be if that was the ONLY idea of a mother that he ever knew at all. I thank God for Leslie. And since He saw it best to take her home when He did... I am even MORE in awe of His love, grace, redemption, and provision in Katie.
Thank you again for your thoughtful reflections, and I hope you understand my heart in sharing my response.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Obviously... I can't. But God has provided.
And he's genuinely excited about the prospects of this "New Mommy" thing...
Special thanks to Papa, "Aunt" Lydia, and Heather H for the great photos!!
Thursday, July 23, 2009
But what am I truly "remembering" this week? This time last year... well... To avoid being intimately graphic, I'll just say her family and I were watching Leslie endure the worst suffering I've ever seen with my own eyes. We were in her hospital room 24/7, watching her fight for her last breaths, as she was trying to escape this world and fly to Jesus. We loved on her. We rooted her on. We sang to her. Very special moments, indeed. I will remember them forever. But to be honest, when I look back and remember, this time is more about being thankful that those times are over... thankful that her suffering is done. And yes, thankful that a new life has begun... both for her, and for us.
No, July 26 will not be remembered by TJ and me as a poignantly tragic day-- a day marking the onset of our worst days. No, the hardest days of my life started in early May of 2008, when the thoracic surgeon uttered the words, "her cancer is on her lungs", followed by the words, "no cure". Or if you want, you can go back to October of 2007 and throw in those days for good measure as well-- the days leading up to her first major surgery, when the battle against cancer commenced. Sure, there were some sweet moments in there (as Ginny transparently reported in the "Leslie's Journey" blog). But to be honest, the biggest thing I'm "mourning" or remembering this week is more of a "celebration"... This week marks the beginning of the end to the hardest days of my life-- the end of watching helplessly as my wife suffered and died. You can see, I hope, how easily that "mourning" can become celebration of her (our) subsequent freedom and eternal healing.
I talked to (Leslie's) Mom about this just yesterday. We were asking each other how we were doing this week.
"Mom-- you remember in the hospital, those last 3 or 4 days... When the reality of what was happening set in... Our 'support' and words of encouragement for Leslie took on a very different tone. We no longer were telling her to 'fight'. We were encouraging her to 'let go'. We were rooting her on to victory in an eternal sense. We breathed a strange sigh of relief when it was finally over. That's kind of where I'm at these days. Just ready for it to be over. Ready to celebrate the victory. Ready to be done with the battle."
My thoughts go back to TJ's "taking the news" in the days that followed July 26, 2008. His eyes LIT UP over his hot dog at the zoo the next day, as I told him that Mommy had finally made it to Heaven, and that she wasn't sick anymore. A couple of days later, as Karen the Homecare nurse came by to pick up the cancer battle gear, TJ beat me to the door to greet her. "Nurse Karen!! Mommy's ALL BETTER!!!" He was utterly overjoyed.
So, friends... THAT's "how I'm doing" this week. Ready to celebrate the victory. Done fighting. Done dwelling on the suffering, and ready to get on with experiencing the new life. The "Redemption Story". Proud as ever of Leslie and the warrior and servant she was. Thankful as ever-- as she is-- that she is no longer here fighting, but finally whole... Finally, truly, ALIVE.
With you all this weekend,
Monday, July 13, 2009
Lately I've been relating an awful lot to the Israelites as they wandered through the desert on their 40 year journey to the Promised Land. It is such a powerful image of a life lived in faith. Open-handed commitment to the Almighty.
It's not always easy. Many of us have had this little conversation with God:
"Where are You taking us, God? You say 'The Promised Land'... but I've gotta admit, sometimes, out here wandering in the desert, we just miss the familiarity of Egypt. I mean... I know there was bondage and no hope for us there... I know you desire more for us... But at least it was familiar. At least we knew where to find water.... where our next meal was coming from..."
And yet, we get up in the morning and we see that cloud, and we follow. And when the desert sun sets, there is the fire in the sky... and we keep following. Our destination is in God's hands. We're just called to put one foot in front of the other and follow.
If we follow in faith, He will provide. Our questions and doubts will be answered. Our needs will be met. But in HIS time, and on HIS terms. Not our own.
My mind goes back to the story when the Israelites had gone 3 full days without water, and once they arrived at an "oasis", of sorts, the water was "bitter". That might have been enough to harden a heart or two, wouldn't you think? But rather than grumbling or turning from God or even taking matters into their own hands, Moses turned to God and asked... "Ummm.... so.... NOW what?!"
"Throw that piece of wood over there into the water. It'll turn sweet." Moses Obeyed. God provided. They drank. They slept. In the morning there was more manna. They ate. They followed the cloud. Maybe not how the Israelites would've drawn it up... but God provided. On HIS terms.
Indeed... His ways are NOT our ways. But His was are perfect.
Katie and I have been praying for months about the details, trying to navigate this wilderness together, en route "The Promised Land". Decisions, decisions, decisions. Where do we call home? What do careers look like in this "new life"? How do we balance our need for a "new start" or a "new life" without abandoning the blessings of provision which have carried us this far? This idea that TJ has carried in his heart for so long-- this hope of a "new mommy"... How does Katie fit into that? What is the "timeline" we're on?
It's just about enough to stress a relationship out, you know? But if we've learned one thing since we first started communicating 9 or 10 months ago, it's to stay "open-handed" with our trust and faith in God. To bring our requests, questions, needs, fears, doubts, and desires to God. And to rest in Him. And in the morning, wake up and follow that cloud. And in the night, there's always that fire. When we bang the staff on the rock, water gushes forth. He provides. We drink.
Praise God for His provision. For His plan. For His promises. For His goodness, which we are so blessed to drink to our hearts' content, as we continue to follow that cloud and that fire.
Friday, June 5, 2009
But then, really... what is a DAY to God? Diving deeper into that rabbit hole... what is one of God's "days" to us?
Do they have watches in Heaven? What about calendars? How do we measure "eternity"? When does (or did, rather) eternity start? How old is God? Does God the Father have a birthday party once a year? Oh wait... how long is a year in heaven?
The whole conversation concerning the perceived details of "God's timing" is rhetorical, really. Bottom line is, it is foolish to expect that God is bound to our 24-hour "day", and it is equally foolish to suggest that God NEEDS 7 billion years to do anything or everything He so desires. God is simply not bound by time. He is. He was. He will always be. Time is actually man's own invention-- a figment of our own imagination, God-breathed as our imaginations are. God's days are not numbered. Ours are. That's why our forefathers started measuring the speed at which the sun creeps across the sky, thousands of years ago. Time is man's own construct by which we measure our own days-- as if we have any control whatsoever as to the quantity or length of those days. But the God we serve, (whether or not we acknowledge Him or love Him, we do indeed serve Him-- every one of us), is not bound by our watches. He is not a slave to our calendars. He moves as He wishes. When He wants. For as long as He desires. It's all the same to Him.
I was just talking to a friend who has recently had some employment problems. And then of course, some resulting financial problems. And then some of the seemingly un-related "standard" child-rearing challenges mixed with some child health challenges. Was it perfect timing, or horrible timing? I mean... When the bathtub happened to explode into an uncontainable gusher, just as they were dropping one of their children into a cool bath, in the aforementioned tub, in an attempt to control a raging fever? Now, all homeowners have experienced some sort of plumbing crisis, to be sure. But, on top of all the other stuff this particular family has been facing...?? I mean, c'mon God... NOW??!! At such a time as THIS??!!
Well, my friend-- an intense task-master, and an expert at just about everything-- put his new found "free time" (a nice little ancillary benefit of being unemployed) to use. He shut off the water main into his house and went about fixing the problem. To hear him tell the story is truly priceless. He worked, drilled, wrenched, cut, sweated, and plumbed his knuckles to the bone for 5 or more days, trying to fix the problem as quickly as possible-- certainly I'd have done the same. ("It was like camping out. Only we were home," recounts his wife, referring to their lack of running water that week.) But as it turns out, the problem just wasn't going to be fixed until the right parts and tools arrived... And those tools and parts wouldn't arrive until 5 days after the gusher first gushed. And all the working, drilling, wrenching, cutting, sweating, and plumbing in the world wasn't going to make the parts arrive any faster. Bottom line, his expectation of the time it SHOULD take to fix the tub and have running water in his house again was something COMPLETELY different than what was actually even possible. The truly awesome part the story is that my friend, being a broken and God-seeking man (2 prerequisites for being the kind of person who tends to have a true and good impact the world), in hindsight, now sees the whole ordeal as God's way of saying, "Now... Enough of this plumbing thing... Let's talk about your job. Your family. Your life. Who's timeline are you on? Mine or yours? What exactly are you trying to accomplish? Your work or mine? You want to keep doing things your way, or are you ready to follow Me where I lead you?"
A bible verse bubbles up from my heart and settles on my mind... "Cease striving and know that I am God..."
I have another friend-- a full-time mother of 3 kids. Just turned 40. Her youngest is starting pre-school this fall, her older two in elementary school... JUST when it looks as though she might actually start to get some time to her "self" during the weekdays, ("Finally, some 'ME' time!" she says), she and her husband are faced with a tough set of circumstances, a solution to which may include home-schooling this coming year. They have been broken and seeking God (there it is, again), as to what to do with their kids' schooling situation... Which seemed at this moment to be an answer to their previous prayers as to whether or not they should adopt another child... "Time is running out... we need to make a decision on this..." God has a funny way, though, (as I mentioned in my opening "rhetoric"), of transcending time. 40-year-olds are not supposed to get pregnant. Especially when dealing with all this other "stuff". Timing is everything, right? Or rather, to God, timing is nothing at all. As my friend describes, this new "surprise" pregnancy is nothing short of a miraculous and timely answer to prayer. Several prayers, actually... So much for adoption, for now. So much for "me" time this fall-- and what to do with the "me" time. On with life. On with following wherever He leads. On with time.
Ask a cancer survivor how long it takes to "beat it". They'll answer, "the rest of my life". How long does it take to beat you? Hmmm... Same answer.
"How much time do I have, Doc?"
"Same as everyone else," answers the Great Physician. "The rest of your life."
You see, God's not as concerned with the quantity of our days. He's more into "quality of life" therapy. I guess you could call Him a "process guy".
It only took 10 months for God to lead me from living "the dream"-- happily and healthily married, a little boy, a dog, a house in the suburbs with the privacy fence, a good job, a good church-- to being a widowed single father. Four months later, upon returning home from vacation (or rather, a holiday "escape") to a severely flooded house, I laughed (because I couldn't cry-- my eyes had been cried dry the previous 4 months) at "God's timing".
"OF COURSE!!" I looked toward Heaven with my arms outstretched. "My HOUSE! ... NOW! of ALL TIMES!" And so-on... I remembered crying out, "WHAT NEXT?!" and then catching myself... "NO WAIT!!! Don't answer that."
And now, only a little over 10 months after the death of my best friend and wife-- the mother of my child-- I am partnered in love, life, and faith with a new companion. In a "commited relationship." Not at all the timing I'd planned. That's to be sure.
"Is he done grieving his wife?" Some have asked, the questions leaking their way back to me.
I'll never be "over" Leslie. (Which of us who knew the woman will ever be "over" her?!) I'll never be finished dealing with the fact that I lost my wife to cancer. I'll never forget the fact that my son lost his mommy before he was 3 years old. Those thoughts are never going to make me happy. They will always carry a certain amount of weight on my heart-- although that weight will shift and change as time goes on as my perspective changes or "matures". But it will always affect me. I've come a long way emotionally and spiritually over the past year-- I've done a lot of really good "grieving". But am I done? I don't think I'll ever be done grieving, you know? But here's the thing... God saw fit to begin molding a new vessel out of the crumbled mess of me that remained. And in HIS timing, not my own. In HIS fashion, and according to HIS good and perfect will. I couldn't have scripted this. And if I would have been able to, there's no way I'd have ever had the guts to will it into being. Ask Katie. She'll tell you that this is NOTHING that she ever wished or asked for... yet it's somehow EVERYTHING she's ever wanted and what she's been praying for all along. It's just nothing like what she was expecting. At COMPLETELY the perfectly WRONG time in her life. As a friend of mine likes to say, 'He's in the business of making beauty from ashes'."
I hear, (from a concerned friend), of a mega-church out west which has a policy which prohibits them from marrying a person who is a widowed parent of minors until 2 years after the death of their spouse. They have a 2 year "grieving" curriculum that must be completed by a church member in such circumstances before "moving on". It takes 2 years for God to work in a heart until it is capable of loving its way through a God-honoring marriage, apparently.
But it only takes Him 168 hours to create the universe. Actually, less than that. The last 24 hours were rest. Wait... what's that you say? It wasn't really 7 days??? It was more like 7 billion YEARS? How do you know? Were you there? Are you saying that God CAN'T create it all in 142 hours? Are you saying He can't heal a widow in less than 2 years? Or... are you just saying He doesn't? You know... kind of like asserting that we're still living in God's "Day of Rest"... God's off the clock. Not in the business of doing creative work anymore. He's done. See you in the afterlife. But for now, you're on your own. And it takes a mere mortal 2 years to heal himself (or be healed by other mere mortals) from that kind of heartbreak. ("Deism" is what they call that.)
I'm trying to take a lighter look at some pretty heavy stuff, I realize. But I'm just realizing these days how we as "believers" tend to have a hard time believing that God is still in the business of making beauty from ashes. Galaxies from nothingness. Flesh from dust.
And as if that's not enough disrespect to the Almighty, when we do "allow" for the possibility of His activity in our lives, we set the ground rules. The timelines. The parameters. The criteria. We, my friends, have put God in a box. We have taken the Creator, Father, Counselor, Healer, Savior, and Almighty, and we've turned Him into a beautifully harmless, predictable, inanimate object. We have, en masse, broken the 2nd commandment. We have created for ourselves an idol. And we have called it God.
Now, it's a two-way street. Just like the "God has no timeline" thing seems to be working in my favor, in regards to my new relationship and all the joy and happiness He is bringing me in it, so does the same truth strike a gut-wrenching blow into my friend who is still asking, "God, when are you going to lead me to a job? How are you going to provide? When are you going to move?!"
I am not a template. Not a how-to manual in grieving. Not a "standard timeline". God doesn't work in templates. He is creative to the "nth" degree... He is, in fact, Creator. God may take 2 years to put the pieces back together. Just the other week I met a widow who is in her 7th year without her husband, with no idea how I am where I am. "How do you just take that step?" She asks. "You don't." Was my answer. "You abide. And then you move when He sees fit." Just as no 2 people are the same, neither are 2 stories. As similar as circumstances can tend to be on the surface, whether between friends or absolute strangers, the differences are infinite... And so are the possibilities. This, as best I can tell, is as good a "proof" as any of a living, breathing, loving, Creator God. (God doesn't need the proof. But sometimes we do, I guess.)
So... What's your timeline? What's God's? Is He an idol? Or is he GOD?
Thank you, Lord, for moving when You are. How You are. Where You are. I will not drag my feet. I will not push to shorten the timeline. I will simply abide. And I will follow. Be glorified in us-- Your beauty-from-ashes stories. Amen.
Monday, May 25, 2009
"Why don't you have scratchies on your nose?" TJ asked a couple weeks ago, as I was putting his PJ's on. I had just returned from a couple of days on the road and he was exploring my face with his hands and eyes.
"Because whiskers only grow on my cheeks, neck, and chin," I answered.
"And right here?" He asked as he traced his index finger between my upper lip and nose.
"Yup. And right there." I pulled his soft shirt over his head.
"And this is kind of prickly, too." He felt my sideburns and my scalp. (I had just cut my hair that night-- going with the 3-guard these days, using one of Leslie's industrial-strength clippers from her days as a hair stylist. Ironically enough, it seems to be hiding the aggressively receding hairline, the shorter I cut it. One of these days, I'll just go all the way and use my razor on it.) I tickled his tummy with my face and the top of my head while I pulled his arms through into his shirt.
As I finished dressing him, he summarized his discovery. "You're getting old, Daddy." He rubbed the back of the crown of my head. "You're hair is going away back here... Like an OLD MAN! And OH! You have some gray hairs!!!"
"Yes, TJ," I chuckled. "Daddy is getting older. And YOU are growing UP!"
As I mentioned in my last post, there has been an unfortunate upward trend in the amount of traveling I've done lately. But TJ's and my time together has been thriving, by the grace of God, as my little man continues to grow up in every way. Typically, when I spend my one night a week away from home (sometimes even less than that), it usually works out pretty well-- Aunt Dana is typically the slumber party hostess. (Bless her heart.) TJ gets so excited every time I tell him he's spending the night over there with her boys. Once or twice, Miss Liz has spent the night with him at our place. But a few weeks ago, I spent the entire week "on the road"... Arkansas for a couple days, back to Chicago for a night, and then on the road to Ohio for the remainder of the week, and then to Kentucky for a wedding on the weekend. TJ stayed at Gram's for the entire week. We had a wonderful little reunion party when I returned that Sunday night, and I was certain the kid had grown 2 inches while we were apart. My heart broke a little that night, thinking about how proud I am of him-- no longer a toddler, now a "medium-sized boy", as he puts it (not all the way a "big boy" like cousins Max and Sam, yet, but not a "little boy" either)-- and how proud Leslie would be just to see him playing soccer with me there in the basement. Gram gave him a mini soccer goal for Christmas. And a few weeks ago, she followed it up with the ULTIMATE gift: his first pair of CLEATS! (Yes... it matters that much to him. He has been pretending for-- I don't know... about a YEAR-- that several different pairs of his shoes actually have cleats on the bottom of them. And now, he's got a real pair of Adidas soccer cleats.) So we're playing soccer EVERY night before bed-time. He is such a fun and energetic little kid. Full of stories, thoughts, questions, and brimming with love.
Aunt Lois, (Leslie's aunt) has been sending TJ monthly mailings of Thomas toys since Leslie was sick. He is building quite the collection of Thomas-to-Go (is that what the line is called?) engines and accessories. He LOVES his Thomas stuff. Anyway, in a recent "shipment", Lois shared in the attached card that she was rejoicing with Katie and me, that she was very glad that I had "found someone". She inquisitively noted that I had not really discussed much, in this venue at least, about how TJ was doing with the whole thing. She was right, I realized. So... here is the blog post I'd written 2 weeks ago, (after I got TJ to bed the night he discovered I was getting old), as I was just thanking God for the unique and precious relationship between Katie and TJ that is budding before my very eyes...
"Gram! This weekend we get to find an APARTMENT for KATIE!! She is going to live up by us so we can see her WHENEVER we WANT!!!" TJ could not contain his excitement as we put on his soccer cleats for one more game before Gram left for home this afternoon, after staying with him for one more day today.
Katie landed a great job in nearby St. Charles. She starts on the 11th of May. Quite a miracle (I do not use that term lightly) in today's job market. She's coming up this weekend to make a decision on where she'll call home for the next step on this new journey. And TJ is STOKED. A couple of the apartment complexes have ponds/ lakes that are stocked with fish. He's been excited about going fishing again this spring. Katie and I are just excited to not have 200 miles between us.
The relationship between Katie and TJ has been an amazing thing to witness. TJ is just enthralled with her. He talks about her all the time. I think he thinks she comes over just to see him when she visits. And I guess... he's probably not far off. She adores him. TJ wants to take her to the zoo. And to a Cubbies game. And to the soccer park. He giggles about how she "counts his ribs" (her excuse to tickle him). A few times lately when he and I are alone, he has spontaneously shared how pretty he thinks she is. A couple weeks ago, before she got the offer in St. Charles, he asked me if I could maybe find some "more work to do" down in Indianapolis, so we could live there closer to Katie and go to her house. So of course he was very excited to learn that she'd be getting an apartment right near our house.
Friends, you need to know I have NOT pressed the issue with him. And of course, neither has Katie, in spite of how exponentially her love for him as grown these past few months. It can be a complex and challenging road for her, as she grows into this new role in his life, and she has been continually seeking God's confirmation of His will as we watch their love grow for one another. She told him "I love you, TJ," couple months ago. I think it caught him a bit off guard. And when he's embarrassed, his #1 defense mechanism tends to be this sort of abrupt silliness. He answered her, funny-faced and kind of giggling, "but I don't love YOU!" I thought Katie's answer was perfect. "That's okay, TJ. You don't have to love me back. But no matter what, I will always love you." That was the end of that conversation. Until TJ saw her a few hours later... Mimi and Papa had come over to visit, and we were all hanging out in the basement. I was talking to Mom and Dad, and Katie and TJ were playing with his tool bench. Katie leaned over to him and whispered again, "Hey TJ... I love you." He responded gently and sincerely, "I love you, Katie." Now he's telling her that all the time. From time to time he asks me, "Dad, do you love Katie?" I tell him that yes, I do. He grins from ear to ear and kind of shrugs his shoulders up to his ears (his "I'm SO excited" expression) and says, "I love her too!"
He just adores this woman. And it is not an accident. It is the work of our wise, sovereign, and benevolent Father. One time, many months ago, even before Katie was "in the picture", in the midst of a "Mommy moment" I planted the seed of a possibility of having "a New Mommy" someday in our family. He had been struggling with the fact that I didn't know when we would be going to Heaven to see Mommy-- and that Mommy would not be coming back here to see us. But while this New Mommy that God might give us someday, I explained, would not replace Mommy, (because we know that Mommy would always be waiting for us, watching us, in Heaven with God), God might give us a New Mommy to live with us here... in a home on earth, to go to the zoo with us and eat dinner at night and to tuck us in bed and love us and give us big hugs... until we can all go to Heaven together someday. (And yes, TJ's great big drum set will be all ready for him by then, and Mommy will be so excited to see us all.) Just one time I mentioned this to the little guy... and he latched onto it. I didn't realize it had left such an impression on him at the time. He brings it up on his own valition from time to time. It gets him excited. He clarifies that this New Mommy won't be his Mommy in Heaven. But he does look forward to trips to the zoo and the soccer park... he looks forward to being a whole family again.
He has not, as far as I can tell, begun placing Katie into this "New Mommy" space that he's created in his own mind... Although when he does talk about Mommy, lately, he typically brings up a conversation about Katie shortly thereafter. I'm hoping he pieces it together on his own... but I'm not going to push it. That all might just be something we all need to grow into over time. But rest assured, he LOVES Katie. And he can't wait to have her living close to us so we can eat dinner and "just hang out" with her more often. And neither can his Daddy.
Anyway, as I was on a "TJ kick" tonight, I thought it appropriate to fill you all in as to how TJ's doing with the whole "Daddy and Katie" thing. It's been a true answer to prayer, and an affirmation, of sorts. The boy's child-like faith and profound insight continue to amaze me daily. And the older I get-- the more hair that I lose and the more what remains turns gray-- I am all the more humbled at God's blessings of provision and grace. He is indeed GOOD. And He's got my little man all wrapped up in His loving arms.
Friday, May 22, 2009
(hold it for a sec...)
Finally I have a moment and the prerequisite clarity of mind to sit down and summarize the last few weeks. Sheesh... Guess it's been a month since I last posted... It's kind of all been a blur, really. I've had a few notes from friends asking, "Are you okay? You haven't blogged in a while!" That kind of makes me laugh a bit, but it's also kind of shocking that so much time has passed since I've had much of an opportunity to do reflect in this venue. I did sit down once or twice to type, just to be interrupted or to run out of time (or the aforementioned clarity of mind) before I could finish the thread of thought. It's just been a crazy month since my last post. Here are some "news briefs" to summarize.
- The "Sisters By Heart" event on May 1 was an amazing experience. I'm pretty comfortable in front of a "crowd", typically-- I lead worship almost weekly at my church, I've "performed" in bands and various groups on stage, and the high school sports in which I participated were a pretty big deal in the community I grew up in, always drawing a crowd. I even spoke at my high school graduation. But delivering a "message" is a completely different ballgame, and it was quite an eye-opening experience for me. (Props to Ronn and my other pastor-friends who do this on a regular basis!) The study, prayer, and meditation in preparation was great for my mind, and the night of the event was good for my heart. After stuttering and stumbling through the first thirty seconds or so, I got into my groove (and my outline) and just shared what was on my heart-- what God has been teaching me. I know some of the ladies who were there read this blog, so to them I say a great big, "thanks again! It was a truly awesome time!" I got a little long-winded (I know... BIG shocker!), and went about 15 minutes over my "target" time during the message... and the Q & A was a lot more A than Q. (Ronn even warned me about this in his little "pep talk" he gave me while I was preparing.) But overall, I was just humbled and encouraged by the discussion that went on. And of course, the objective was met-- that is, God was glorified. Here's a link to the audio of the message and the Q & A. Well over an hour in total, just to warn you. (Feel free to skip the stumbling and stuttering first 30 seconds.) :) That evening, as it turns out, was just the beginning of an action-packed weekend that kicked off this crazy bunch of weeks... (And that's what they call in the Industry, "foreshadowing")...
- We wrapped things up in Ohio about 11pm that Friday night, and before 7am on Saturday I was at the starting line for the Indy 500 Festival Half-Marathon (downtown Indianapolis-- 3+ hours away from Wauseon, OH). I'd never done THAT before, either. A weekend of firsts, I guess. I did pretty well, considering my lack of talent, experience, and sleep the night before. Beat my "goal". (I'm not much of a goal-setter, but in this case, I was quite pleased with myself.) I'm not sure if it's actually physically possible for a person to run his or her legs off-- like, actually so they detach from the body-- but I met up in Indy with 34,999 other crazy people on May 2 to try to give it the ol' college try. What an experience! I even got to kiss the "Brick Yard" (finish line at the Motor Speedway), which marked the half-way point of the 13.1 mile course.
- So, with our legs barely attached, on Sunday Katie (who also ran the "Mini") and I met up with her sisters, bro's-in-law, and some friends at her townhouse in Broad Ripple. In the weeks leading up to the Mini, Katie had been busy landing a job in St. Charles, IL... and then an apartment in Aurora (only 15 minutes from TJ and me)... And on Sunday we packed all of her earthly possessions into a moving van and relocated her to the greater Chicagoland area. She's a local now!
- The last couple of weeks has been a "settling in" process for us all. Katie's got a 40 minute commute to/from her new job, sans traffic. So in addition to "the daily grind", she's trying to figure out a routine that allows for exercise, regular "bonding" time with TJ and me (dinner, evenings, whenever we can get it in), keeping an apartment, and some occasional socializing and relationship building with some new friends. (Thank you women of CrossTown for reaching out and loving her the way you have these past weeks!) This is a HUGE move for her-- new work, a new home, a new city, new friends... And of course, this process of growing into a "new life" with TJ and me. I mentioned at the top that I tried to blog once or twice these last several weeks. Well, I did manage to patchwork together one post, written in several installments, in which I reflect a little bit more on this "process". It needs to be updated a bit, but I will post it soon. We're just being taught so much each day, as we seek God's will in our relationship. Whew... more on that in weeks to come...
- On top of all that, work has been "active" for me, too. Work is going very well-- business is coming along nicely. We just moved our local offices from Schaumburg to Itasca in the past few weeks, which is quite a process in and of itself. Meanwhile, I've been traveling a bit more than normal, lately, which is always stressful on things at home. Things seem to be calming down a bit now-- or at least settling into some sort of "equilibrium"-- but these are all just things that add to the "blur" of the past month.
- Oh. And my fridge blew up. 100% food loss. (including the frozen goods.) So that took some time cleaning up... Upside is that I got a GREAT deal on my SWEET replacement, which is being delivered tonight.
- Oh. And my air conditioner broke. Just got fixed this afternoon. (Total damages this week, right around... well... more than I want to remember right now...)
- Oh. And it's yardwork season again. The rainy spring has made for some beautiful green lawns... that need frequent mowing. And my fence needs repairing. And my landscaping needs cleaning up. And so-on.
So there you go. That's what I've "been up to". There's my excuse for my absence from this blogspot, these past weeks. There is so much I'm learning, so much worthy of some time and effort to try to wrap some words around the truth that God is revealing these days... The love He's pouring into me. So, take a deep breath with me. Ahhhhhh.... And stay tuned!
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
- Who: All women, High School through "Golden Girls"
- What: "Dancing With God"-- the fourth and final installment of a serial women's conference entitled "Sisters By Heart", which began in November of 2008.
- When: Friday Night, May 1, 2009. 7pm to 10pm EDT.
- Where: Oasis Christian Fellowship, 400 Enterprise Ave., Wauseon, OH
- Cost: Free!
- 7:00 – Worship
- 7:35 – Laughter & Snacks
- 8:15 – Special Speaker: Tyson Aschliman
- 8:45 – Snacks and Q & A with Tyson
- 9:20 – Worship
A dear friend of Leslie-- and a fellow cancer warrior-- named Jessie called me several weeks back and asked if I'd be interested in speaking at her church's upcoming women's event. Yes, I first got a chuckle out of that too. It's seldom a good thing to be the only man in a room full of women. But the more I talked to Jessie, and heard her heart and what this thing was all about, I was indeed honored to be asked. And now I'm just plain excited about the whole thing.
These women have been exploring what an intimate relationship with God looks like, through the eyes of "today's woman". And, of course... what an intimate relationship with God looks like to God. It's impossible to summarize the powerful truth and heart-rending grace that has been exposed and explored among these "Sisters By Heart" over the past six months, but the organizer of the event gives it an excellent effort in a single sentence: "Freedom in Forgiveness (Nov.) leads me to experience more Peace (Jan) so that I can Hear from God (Mar) ... then I will Dance with God." Wow. Now THERE's a mouthful.
So I am honored to be speaking on this concept of "Dancing With God" on Friday May 1. The more I think and pray and read scriptures on the topic, the more my heart is stirred, because it is basically the essence of everything I've learned and lived for the past couple of years. I've said frequently that "Leslie taught me how to love. She taught me how to die. She taught me how to truly live." That is her ministry-- and not just to me, but to so many of you, as well. Well, the more I think about it, the more I realize that I can summarize what she taught me in this: "Through everything, I have learned to dance with God."
I shared at her memorial services that Leslie learned the hard way that the answer to every "WHY?" that can be asked is a very simple (but not easy) answer: To bring glory to God. Or, in a word... WORSHIP. The greatest command, according to Jesus, is to LOVE the LORD your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. Which, not coincidentally, is the very definition of worship... to love the Lord with everything you've got. Everything you are. Worship is the expression of our love and honor of God. And when I think of the ultimate act of expression, I think of dancing. Movement set to music. A person's whole self engaging without hinderence or inhibition in the simple task of self-expression.
Dancing can be a remarkably sacred and intimate act-- as newlyweds and their "first dance" at the wedding reception. And it can be a powerful act of celebration and joy-- as the wedding party and guests get their collective groove on later on the same night. There are dances of mourning-- "dirges". There is a dance for every season of the human soul.
The very interaction of God and mankind can be summarized in the following metaphor: The Cross was the act of God Himself filling the room with music, clearing the crowded floor, walking across the room, and asking His bride-to-be once and for all, "May I have this dance?"
So, who feels like dancing? Come and join us at Oasis in Wauseon, OH on Monday May 1 as we explore what an intimate dance with God looks like. I've got two left feet, as anyone who's seen me dance will tell you. But as long as I've got feet, they will be set to dancing.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
Friday was about a cross. A crown of thorns. Friday night's service moved me deeply in to a tearful place of pain and repentance. I thought of death. I thought of Leslie's death. Of the fate the God-Man gave Himself to, willingly, that Leslie could have hope throughout her own battle... throughout her journey toward her own "empty tomb". Katie's sister Sarah-- profoundly enough-- just celebrated her 4th "birthday" in Heaven, on Good Friday this year. Katie wrestles with the emotional complexity of death, suffering, pain, resurrection, hope, and faith on her blog Friday night.
Good Friday. What an ironic concept. What's "GOOD" about a man suffering in pain and humiliation on the epitome of evil symbols-- that horribly human torture device... that cross... GOOD Friday?! What is GOOD about dying? Certainly we can say, "she's not suffering anymore". At least there's that... But at its very basic level, death is anything but good. In fact, the opposite of good. Anything that is not good is evil. Evil leads to death. ("for the wages of sin...") Sin-- DEATH-- is really what that cross is about.
The perfect man-- in His very nature, fully GOD-- knows death. He volunteered for it. Humbled Himself to it. So that He could stand there with outstretched arms, welcoming His children home. We are all dying. Some don't realize it until moments before we breathe our last. But indeed, the plight of man is that our days our numbered. However, because Jesus did what He did, no one ever again-- in that moment in which death falls upon them, nor anywhere in the "life process" leading up to that moment-- can ever again call out, "My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?" Jesus died that no one would again be forsaken at the hand of death.
Yes, Good Friday-- this year, more than any other in my own life-- was about death. Death of Jesus. Death of Leslie. Death of Sarah. The eventual death of even me. Yet, as I poured myself into that night of communion, I couldn't shake this mysterious hope... that the perfect plan-- the purpose-- of this cross and the death it represents, isn't really about the end of a life. It's about the death of SIN... The death of DEATH itself.
I will praise my Savior tomorrow, with all I have within me, that, while Friday was about a bloody cross, SUNDAY, my friends... SUNDAY is about an EMPTY TOMB!! It's tomorrow, Easter... Resurrection Sunday... that JESUS CONQUERED THE GRAVE! Leslie knows that truth more than ever this night. So do I-- though surely not to the extent that she does.
Friday, my sin-- my self-- was laid bare. Crucified with Jesus on the Cross. Tomorrow... In a few short hours, I will raise my arms and open my hands and receive the fullness of life that results. I will drink of His Resurrection. I will testify to the redemption of His people. I will join with the Heavens-- the angels and those whom, like Leslie, have gone before us-- and all creation and proclaim our RISEN LORD!
Enjoy this Easter, friends. For tomorrow is the single day that represents the very essence of joy in this life... that empty tomb.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
This whole blog thing is founded on a simple philosophy to which I espouse in all my relationships: that the truth offered in love is never a bad thing. Leslie and I chose to live transparently and open up an honest dialogue for the entire world to witness as you so desired, as together we faced the battle for her very life. We exposed our weakness, brokenness, frustration, fear, and pain. We rejoiced in the answered prayers, encouragement, quiet joy, and senseless peace. We explored the complex truth that, in all things-- indeed, even in intense suffering-- God is good. ("ALL the time!") And God was glorified in all of it. It was Leslie’s ministry. It is a ministry I have felt compelled to maintain in her absence. The idea is that if one walks in the light, one has nothing to hide. And when light exposes the truth within the human soul, God will be known... and He will therefore glorified.
“The great thing about the blog,” Ronn said to me on Sunday, “is that it’s real. Raw. From when you first started it, until now. You allow people to come alongside of you and see everything as you see it. To witness things as they are, without apology or translation... you just say, ‘This is what God’s doing, as crazy as it is.’ Tyson, don’t be afraid to share the good stuff with the same kind of raw transparency. Don’t be afraid to share God’s goodness in His blessings, along with His faithfulness through trial and suffering.”
My friends, I confess it is all too easy to share with you and focus on the emotional struggles and burdens that TJ and I (along with Leslie’s friends and family) experience on a weekly basis, all the while giving praise and glory to God for His faithfulness and goodness in the midst of those trials. And I have a sense that’s probably the stuff many of you expect—even want—to read. People want to know that I’m "suffering well". "Grieving well". Continuing to praise God “in the storm”. Certainly, I have grieved deeply—although it has looked nothing like I thought it would. Indeed everyone's grief takes a different form, and it's not something a person necessarily chooses. And the truth is that I am not the only one who lost Leslie. Just take a look at my “birthday” post. 100 comments and counting. What a testament to God’s wonderful gift to us all in His child Leslie! What an amazing woman! While I am encouraged deeply by all those comments, my heart is constantly burdened with the grief of Dana, Mom, Leslie’s family, her friends… I see it on the faces of the loved ones who miss her deeply. I read the words of anonymous strangers who never met her, and yet feel they have lost a dear friend and sister. And I have realized that I’ve been falsely assuming responsibility for the “grieving process” of the masses. It has prevented me from walking in the light, with freedom to proclaim the goodness of God—more concrete evidence of His faithfulness… that indeed, though the sorrow may last for the night, His joy DOES truly come in the morning. Friends, I’m seeing the sunrise. And it is foolishness for me to try to conceal it.
Last Tuesday I talked to Mom and Dana. I told them how much I love them. I told them how much I loved their Leslie. And then I told them something else. And now I’m bringing the thought into this venue. I’ve reached a startling realization… In the name of “sensitivity” and “compassion for those hurting”, I’ve not fully expressed the goodness of the blessings that God is pouring into my life… Namely… I have not truly shared with you the miracle of Katie.
Sure, I blogged about her here and there. But I haven’t really done justice-- in this venue and in other relationships with people who loved and miss Leslie-- to the fullness of God’s “redemption story”, which He is powerfully writing in my life. Katie has literally been a miraculous blessing of grace and loving kindness in my day-to-day life. She is my redemption. My new life. My "today". Why, if I’ve written in full transparency and honesty in all the “hard times”, would I not be all the more eager to share the miraculous blessings that have come along the way? In my sensitivity to others and in the burden of my perceived expectation of the masses of what “grieving” should look like in the life of a man in my situation, I have somehow tried to hide or temper the goodness that God is blessing me with in my daily life.
I am in love, friends. With a woman who God seems to have been preparing—as unlikely as it may seem—for me.You might ask, “How?” How is it possible? How can he just "move on" like that? Indeed, many friends and family members have asked, “What is it like, Ty? I mean… aren’t you constantly comparing her to Leslie? What is it like to be with someone else… in a relationship?” It’s a legitimate question. Let me try to answer as best I can.
What is the part of a person that contains love for another in this life? It's not the heart-- that's a physical organ that pumps blood through the body. I can't say for sure it's the soul-- we don't take our marriages to Heaven with us (as hard as that fact is for many of us to accept). It's not the mind-- not a mere emotion or thought. Not the body-- it's not just a "feeling" or "sensation". It's something more... For our purposes (because it fits the analogy so wonderfully), we'll just refer to it as this "vessel". The vessels of Leslie's and my love were formed from the very stuff that we were both made up of-- and were in time formed into "one". It was beautifully and masterfully shaped by the Potter Himself, and was constantly poured out into each other and filled back up by this Potter. It was its own unique shape and size. Indeed, there were difficulties that would arise through the years, the stress of which would cause a crack in the vessel. In prayer and faith and commitment to one another, we would rely on the Potter to do His necessary repairs. This process would lead inevitably to a stronger, bigger, more beautiful vessel. All the more glorifying to Him.
Well, on July 26, 2008, this vessel wasn't just cracked. It was shattered. All the love it contained was spilled out like wine on the floor when the waiter drops the uncorked bottle.
Obliterated. Irreparable. Without Leslie here to live it with, our earthly love relationship ceased to exist. It was no longer a partnership. No longer a marriage. It was a remnant. Incomplete. Expired. Only shattered bits and pieces remained.
As if that wasn't enough for a vessel to have to endure, the Potter was only getting started with having His way with the mess that remained. First, He went about picking up the pieces of the vessel, (He never lost a single sliver, compassionate and sovereign as He is), and then after He gathered the pieces, He laid them out to dry on His workbench. He then took out his first tool—no, not a bottle of glue. Not a pair of tweezers. Nor some new clay with which He could go about piecing the shattered vessel back together... No, He took out a hammer. He went to work crushing the remnants of this vessel into a fine, dry dust. No piece was left uncrushed. Only a pile of earthen powder remained. Then, He left His workmanship—pathetic mess that it was—laying there for a time... Until He saw fit to take His next creative action. (By the way, for those of you "tracking" with the story at this point, I have learned with all certainty that there is no consistency as to what kind of timeline God deems necessary. There is no quota or number of days or months or years. He will simply move when He chooses to move. Not a minute sooner. Not a second later. The trick is, being the subject of His creative moving—that pathetic pile of dust that I am—to neither delay nor rush His timing. This is a challenge that requires constant prayer, vicious faith, and a whole lot of His grace. And don't think for a minute that this truth only applies to grieving and "moving on".)
So, what is His next creative action? He is moved to tears.
In my case, I recall the moment. (That "Shower Prayer", as I've come to know it, a couple months after Leslie died, as reflected upon in this blog months later.) He is moved in His compassion, recalling His own life on the earth-- the trial, the abandonment, the burden, the pain, the cross-- and the tears fall onto the workbench, soaking the pile of dust which is all that is left of the original vessel. He begins to work the resulting mud with His hands again... soon, a new lump of clay is before Him. (You now may see where this is going.)
The Potter throws the newly tear-wetted clay back onto the wheel, and He spins it. He shapes and forms and molds and loves this new vessel, with all the care that He did the first. And all the creativity, as well, for this new vessel is a completely different shape, size and form than its predecessor. Or rather... it is different than it was the first time around. (For is it, really, a completely and differently new vessel, after all? Isn't it made of the very stuff from which the first one was fashioned?) But it's not the same vessel... it is renewed.
When this renewed, reformed vessel is again filled up by the Potter, it is as if it has never been filled before... like the new wineskin. It is a new shape. A different size. A different vessel. But it is something even more beautiful, for it is made up of the very stuff-- the wisdom, maturity, experience, the memories-- from which the "old wineskin" was made... that first vessel, complete with all its tempering, patched cracks, and character.
Friends, I can't explain "how" or "why". Indeed, the more something can be fully explained by man, the less likely it is fully of God, amen? Who, after all, can fathom His ways? Who can explain the will and plan of the Almighty? Who can wrap their arms around the love of the Father? Who can know the suffering-- and resulting grace-- of the Savior? My attempt at explaining this miracle is like my attempts at worship... The more perfect and beautiful my song, the more humbled I am at how far it falls short of that of which He is truly worthy. Or, it's like science. The more we seek out and learn about creation-- from the expanses of the universe to the finest details of cell structures-- the more we realize how little it is we actually know. How little we can control.
This is the metaphor—this earthen vessel—that keeps popping into my mind as I try to make sense of the miracle of Katie in my life. Still, it’s unfathomable. The intense joy—even happiness—we’re experiencing. How everything is so new, like I've never been here before. But how in every moment I am entirely aware of the life I have lost (or is it "gained"?) with Leslie. The complexity... And the timing! Not at all what I expected, asked for, or even hoped for. But we can’t deny His goodness. His blessings.
Certainly, it is hard. For her. For me. We were just talking last week about this. I said to her, “Katie, you’re crazy. You realize that, right? I mean… you choose to be here. In this ‘first year’, and all the tough things I’ve got to face. And you stay here at my side as I experience all the firsts. The anniversary. The birthday. You know, I’d wait for you. If you said, ‘call me this time next year’, I would. But you are choosing to be here with me now.”
“It takes an amazing woman to do that,” several in my family have said to me. Well, she is an amazing woman-- seemingly shaped and molded by the hand of the Almighty, “for such a time as this”. For me. Crazy thing is… I'm realizing that God has also been molding and shaping and preparing me for her, throughout the course of my life, including these last couple of years. It’s hard to wrap your head around, I know. But again… that should be of no surprise to any of us, if it’s truly of God. This, my friends, is the redemption story-- the miraculous healing-- that you’ve all been praying for. It’s not at all what you thought it would look like. Not at all what I thought I was asking for. Not what I desired in the moment of those tear-soaked prayers of pleading. Yet somehow... it's exactly what we were asking for all along. That’s how God has worked throughout history. (The Pharisees were indeed hoping and praying for the coming of the Messiah, but couldn’t recognize Him when He stood right in front of their very eyes, even though He was fulfilling every messianic prophecy ever uttered. They just expected something different.) Yes, we’re in love. Yes, I am eternally thankful for Leslie. (So is Katie!) Yes, it is “soon”. But, it is what it is. Or rather, God is Who He is.
I’ll close with this, because it is a powerful symbol of all the complexities and beauty that this new love brings to life each day, and it will allow me to share a little more of this woman-- this miracle-- with you all. I think it will give you all a wonderful little glimpse into the powerful and beautiful and mysterious ways in which God is working here...
Katie wrote a “birthday” note to Leslie. She didn’t post it on the blog "e-card", because she didn’t want to draw undue attention to herself, or to stifle the conversation. But she sent it to me, my sister, my mom-in-law (who sent it to Dana), and Anna. Here and now, I share it with you all...
Hi there. I wanted to send this to you four. All of you have intricate places in my heart, I have your emails, and I know that the road incorporating me into Tyson's and TJ's life has not been easy. It's a complex road of healing. Anyway, with the recent blog post I did not want to deter from the comments. So here is my birthday wish/note to Leslie. Vicki, I haven't known how to communicate my love and thankfulness to you. Thank you for your note and your prayers. They mean so so much to me. I think that my thanking Leslie will be a good way for you to know my heart in all of this.
I know you have heard my heart in prayers to God; in thankfulness for letting me share in "your life" that you left on earth. You have heard my cries for understanding that you really are "ok" with this. That it is something you are happy with. And with confirmations and dreams and visions thank you for giving me just that.
Today, my sweet friend, I want to wish you the happiest of birthdays. As Tyson and TJ celebrate at Red Lobster, I am celebrating in my heart and probably with Anna as I see her tonight. There are just a few things on this very special occasion I want to tell you.
Oh the blog... you ministered and are ministering greatly through it. So thank you for writing during those hard weeks and months on your blog. As I go back and read the whole thing through, the hardest parts for my eyes to read are what you wrote. I stand in awe of how God strengthened you, in your innermost being, during those days. Thank you for your vulnerability. Thank you for living your life, very openly, with thousands. I assure you not one heart who has read your words has gone untouched.
As far as memories... babysitting TJ, learning to "swaddle" him, and hanging out with you at the lake house all stick out in my mind. I remember sitting at Anna's kitchen table, talking about my upcoming trip to Kenya, you picking on Robbie, and just laughing at him. I think he ate too much ice cream, and complained when you had warned him not to because you knew his reaction. Typical. Thank you for letting me babysit TJ. You knew I could, and you saw my love for him early on. Thank you for your trust and even joy in that.
I cannot begin to thank you enough for your friendship with Anna. I would say there hasn't been a friend like you in her life. One who understood her inside and out; who sharpened her and encouraged her the way you did. Anna always tells me stories of how you understood Robbie, and she understood Tyson in some situations. I know that was helpful for both of you in your marriages. It was a huge blessing to Anna in how you offered consistency in friendship; even after you moved to Chicago. When she became friends with you it was as if God breathed new life into her. Someone who understood her, "spoke her language", and spoke into her life in a God-breathed way. You met Anna where she was, and loved her in it. You understood the dark places that sometimes draw her down, and YOU were a vessel of hope for her; and still are. Thank you for loving my sister so well in some of her darkest times. You have made an imprint on her as a mom. I know you learned from Dana, who probably learned from your mom, but know that those valuable lessons have stuck with Anna. And now... Anna teaches others. Laura's pregnant Les! Isn't that crazy??? So your legacy in her life will continue on, and on, and on...
Thank you for loving my family. I know you loved every member, and well. Thank you for coming to Sarah's memorial service and walking the road of suffering with us. Your love in that time will never be forgotten. My parents miss you very much.
And now... I'm sure you know it's coming and I know it's with a smile on your face that it does... thank you for sharing Tyson and TJ with me. They both give me so much joy. As you visited me in my dream, with symbolic moments of sharing two pieces of chocolate, my heart was drawn to worship. "Katie- let's share them. You can have half and I'll have half." Not understanding the significance in the dream, when I woke up. After prayer and talks with Anna and Tyson, I realized you were giving me the "ok" to "share" Tyson and TJ. Thank you. It brings tears to my eyes again remembering that moment in my dream. You were so real. Happy yet somber.
You are home. Your joy has been made complete. You are whole. As I walk this broken road, as I go through life's unknowns, Tyson is an instrument of hope for me. He is to me, what you were and are to Anna. He gets me Leslie; and that is not without your mark. He is who he is because he was married to you. I will never let that go unacknowledged. I will always be thankful for the life he had with you, because that is the only Tyson I know and will ever know. YOUR Tyson. The Tyson that God put you with for 8 years. Thank you. Thank you for saying yes to him when he asked for your hand in marriage. I wouldn't have the joy in his friendship I have now, if not for you. Thank you for sharing your son with me. Thank you for sitting alongside Jesus as He has intricately worked love in their hearts for me and in mine for them. Thank you for making them who they are. Thank you for helping shape Tyson as the man of God he is. Thank you for leaving your mark on TJ; for raising him the way you did; for loving him the way you did; for making him one of the sweetest boys in the entire world.
Thank you for being you. Thank you for walking in freedom in Christ. Thank you for living boldly in the face of cancer. Thank you for loving me while you were here, and thank you for participating in the orchestration of my relationship with the family that you left.
I treasure you. I will never forget you. You will live in in my heart, and my family's heart, always. Happy Birthday. I am so glad you were born.
With all the love and thankfulness and humility in my heart,
Friday, March 27, 2009
Several of those great stories were shared by a group of ladies that had a special place in Leslie's heart. A group of friends from her high school days-- the ones talking about her convertible (DA BUCH) and all other kinds of craziness that might just be news to Leslie's parents... (the convertible ending up in a cornfield one night comes to mind... I believe when Leslie told me that story, she specifically noted that Dad never knew about it.) Anyway, this group of girls came up to me 8 months ago at one of Leslie's memorial services and made a commitment-- they would get together every year to remember "the good ol' days"... to remember Leslie, to love on each other, to share laughter and tears. And they determined that the annual event which would be the venue for this get-together would be the Washington, IL Relay for Life. (American Cancer Society)
Now, while I'm all about charitable giving, I'm admittedly not one who gets into "fund-raising". I can't remember EVER pushing a cause before... Well... This might be the only cause I'll ever pitch, and fittingly so.
DeLene, Julie, Elisa, Sarah, and the gang (if I didn't mention your name, girls, that's my shout out to JOIN THE TEAM or DONATE!! And yes, I KNOW who you are!)-- along with Leslie's family and a couple of our friends-- have started a Relay for Life team in Leslie's honor. You can support our cause by clicking on the following link and clicking on the DONATE button:
One of the really cool things about ACS and Relay for Life (in my mind... I tend to pay close attention to this kind of thing) is the fact that 75% of donations go directly to fund cancer treatment and research programs. Only the remaining 25% goes to the infrastructure and adminsitrative costs to support ACS (so they can continue pushing 75% of everything they get into their actual cause). That's a great ratio for such a large organization. (One to which our government and churches should espouse, if you ask me.)
Anyway, if your heart feels so led, consider joining the Walking Warriors and donate, will you? In honor of Leslie. In honor of your loved one who has battled. It's just another great way to join this little party we started last week. (In case you're wondering, over 1500 unique visitors have partied with us in the past week, viewed the blog, left comments, etc... Representing 44 states and 21 countries worldwide.)
Thanks again for joining us in celebrating Leslie. And for considering donating-- a "birthday gift" of sorts.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Not sure how or why, exactly-- I don't think anyone said anything to him-- but TJ asked me tonight, "Dad, when is my mom's next birthday going to be?" I stopped in my tracks. We were just putting away the drumset to clear the floor for our baseball game, and it was just spontaneous and rather matter-of-fact. I asked him if Mimi had mentioned something to him about Mommy's birthday. (My mom has been in town helping out since mid-last week, with Miss Liz on Spring Break, TJ being sick-- ear infection now that he's kicked the puke virus, and things pretty crazy for me at work.) He assured me that no one had told him about his Mom's birthday, and just seemed rather surprised and curious at my response. It just seemed to him like a normal question to ask me, after all.
I sat down on the basement stairs and had him sit on my lap. I told him that Mommy's birthday was in 2 days-- on Wednesday. "Oh, I think they're going to have a GREAT BIG party for her in HEAVEN!" He said. I agreed, and told him it would be an extra special one because it was her first birthday in Heaven. He got all excited and asked rhetorically if we could go to the party. I said, "TJ, you know that we can't go to Heaven until Jesus is ready to come get us, and it might be a very long time. We probably won't go this week. But when we do go, we'll have LOTS of birthday parties for Mommy to get caught up on all the ones we missed while she was there without us." He smiled and did an excited little dance, quite pleased with this explanation. Then, we began to plan our own little birthday party for Mommy, just TJ and me. We're going to Red Lobster. (It's been his favorite special treat lately-- yes, the kid LOVES lobster... I know... I'm creating some sort of monster... It will be his second trip there in a week. He suckered Mimi into taking him once when I was away on business last week.) We're going to eat lobster and we'll have them bring a birthday cake and sing happy birthday to Mommy with us. (Seriously, they'd be cold-hearted or just plain dumb not to, at such a request, right? I mean, the kid can be VERY persuasive!) I assured him that Mommy would be able to see our little party and it would make her very happy that we're having birthday cake with her, while she's having her party in Heaven.
So, that's how TJ and I are celebrating Leslie's 33rd birthday. Now, here's your opportunity to join the fun. I'm inviting every reader of this blog to post a comment. I seldom give a shout-out for comments. But I'd like to just honor Leslie in this way. Some of you have never met Leslie. But she means something to you... You know her story, you are living her legacy. Tell her (by clicking on "comments" below) what she means to you. Those of you that knew her, share a memory. Tell a story, or share something about her that you truly appreciate. I believe she can read-- or feel, or somehow know-- these comments as you share... carried up on the wings of angels, perhaps... like some sort of Heaven-bound birthday card or e-greeting or something.
Let me start by sharing a brief memory... Of when I first met Leslie...
She was a Psychology major at good ol' Taylor U. in Indiana. I was a Psych. minor, so we had a few classes together. She'd "caught my eye" as they say, and I got up the courage to ask her on a "study date" before a mid-term one semester. To say we hit it off would be... well... an outright lie. Oil and water. No chemistry. I thought she had a chip on her shoulder and was hard to get to know. She thought I was a cocky punk with an attitude problem. (She was probably not far off.) That was that. I'm not sure if we ever spoke again...
...Until a couple of years later, after we both graduated and happened to both move to Indianapolis... Where we bumped into each other at a party... And were married about 18 months later. My, how a little "coming-of-age" can change one's perspective! Or two people's perspective.
So... What's your "Leslie story"? Join with me in celebrating Leslie on her birthday.
PS. Just found out this morning that my book proposal for Leslie's Journey is being presented to publishers in the coming week(s). If you think of it, I could truly use some prayer, that God would open and shut doors and make His desires known as to which direction we should go with this. Let the adventure begin! Or continue, I guess...
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
So I'm back at home with him now. We just finished watching the Jungle Book (his favorite movie these days, although I believe this is the first time he's had the patience to watch the whole thing start-to-finish in one sitting). He really only watches TV when he's sick or very tired. (Or, as I've mentioned before, it's The Wiggles or a sporting event-- but that's not as much "watching" TV as it "doing" TV. He does all the Wiggles' dances and can't watch a sport without simultaneously playing it.)
Anyway, The Jungle Book is over now, and he's held down about 3 ounces of Sprite and a cup of jello. So far so good. He's fast asleep on the make-shift bed I've made him on the floor of our newly refurbished bathroom on the main floor, where I can keep an eye on him as I fiddle with work stuff in the living room. Bathroom floor beds are a special treat when he's sick. He loves "camping out" on the floor for naps, and he's so good at puking into the toilet all by himself, so it's a pretty good arrangement for everybody. I make sure I'm there when I hear that tell-tale whimper which forecasts another bout... I sympathetically cheer him on and rub his back and tell him how brave he is. But he does it all by himself. Wakes up from his nap, lifts the lid, does his duty, and rinses out his mouth with Sprite afterward. (He knows not to swallow until his tummy settles back down a little.)
The day is rather fitting of these past weeks, really. My mind and heart have been so completely full of him, and we've had a lot more "down-time" to spend together as well. I mean, he's bringing me so much joy. I'm learning so much from him. He's been so happy. I've mentioned to various people lately that he really seems to have turned a corner from those "terrible threes" I blogged about a month or so back. He's hardly had any "melt-downs", and when he does start to "go there", it's only a small inkling of the magnitude of the events they used to be. He has been obedient, kind, playing well with others, and extremely lovey... Cuddly, kissy, verbally expressive... "I love you, Daddy!" Spontaneous proclamations of his passionate adoration. I feel like I could just burst with all the love that it builds inside me. The most amazing attribute of his that's really starting to blossom is his inquisitiveness. The kid doesn't miss a THING. And he has this insatiable desire to KNOW the ins-and-outs of everything his mind stumbles across. The lady sitting two tables over from us at Panera on Monday night couldn't hide her amusement with the discussion, even though she tried-- she looked almost apologetic when I caught her chuckling at us, as she was trying hard not to eaves drop on our conversation.
"Daddy, can I please have a great-big piece of your bread?" (He's got me well trained not to be stingy with my sharing of the sourdough baggette that comes with my meal.)
"Sure, buddy. Here, you can dip it in this." I handed him a generous chunk of my baguette and a little cup of salad dressing that I had served on the side.
"Is that salad dressing yummy on my bread?" He asked, tempted to try something new.
"Yes, it's very yummy, see?" I dipped a piece of my bread and ate it, with a dramatic, "Mmmmmmm!!"
"Mmm! It is good!" He tried it himself. "Why is it so yummy on my bread if it's for your salad?" He asked.
"Well, it's kind of like how you like to dip your carrots in ranch dressing. It's just made up of good stuff like olive oil and garlic and..."
"Daddy?" He interrupted, apparently satisfied with the answer to his previous inquisition.
"Why do other people like to eat at Panera like us?" He was observing the growing line at the counter.
"Well, they have really good food, here, TJ. And it's healthy food, too."
"You mean like your salad and my grilled cheese?"
"That's right, buddy. Our food is yummy and healthy too."
"Why is it healthy?"
"Well, it's made up of healthy things, like veggetables and good chicken, and good fresh bread."
"Why are those things healthy?" He truly wanted to know, and wasn't asking to be difficult... even though I confess, at times my patience wears thin.
"Because they're good for you." Indeed, my patience was wearing thin, in this case, as amused as I was.
"Why are they good for you?"
"Because they're healthy."
"Why are they healthy, though?!"
"Because they're good for you!" (This is a little trick I employ whenever I've had enough of a particular topic.) Just before he got frustrated enough to call me onto the carpet for the mean little trick I was playing, we heard the chuckle from the quiet lady two seats over.
"Daddy, why is that lady laughing at us?"
"Because she thinks you're funny, TJ." I answered, as I gave an understanding smile to the lady.
"But why does she think I'm funny?"
And the conversation goes on...
...All day, every day. And you know what? I love every minute of it... Even when my patience grows thin, I'm just constantly overwhelmed with amazement, compassion, and thankfulness for this little person. I am so thankful for how God is providing for his needs-- comforting his little heart; giving him safe "places" to find security and nurturing that his Mommy no longer is able to provide in person; allowing our relationship to just grow in trust, companionship, laughter, and love. Still, it is hard for me not to just worry-- or even hurt for him sometimes.
I was just watching him eat his dinner last night. (Special treat-- Chuck E. Cheese!) (As an aside, it was actually an impromptu decision... an excuse to get out of traffic in Naperville on the drive home-- with all the flooding we've had, the Wheaton-to-Bolingbrook evening commute has been horrible. Just as I started to feel the road rage creep in, I saw a smiling Chuck E. waving at me from a marquee just ahead. I baled. Traded in my frustration for a headache. TJ was quite pleased with the decision, at least.) But he was just so happy, as I watched him there eating his pizza and broccoli. (I know, the sign on the salad bar says "NO SHARING"... So sue me. Or start offering some decent greens on the kids menu!) Anyway, TJ was just watching all the flashing lights and action, looking out for Chuck E. so he could give him "five" again. As "into" everything as he is-- never sitting still, always figuring something out or imagining or experiencing something to its fullest-- he just seems so content. As I said, I thank God for this. And I thank all those who have risen to the occasion to help meet his needs, by the grace of God, as I will be the first to confess I cannot do it on my own. But sometimes I just fight this deep sadness. Not for me-- that I've lost Leslie, or the fact that I can't "do this alone"-- but for our son. It's like little man has no idea how big of a deal this has all really been. It's like he'll never really know just what he's missing. It's like he's somehow okay with the fact that Mommy's in Heaven, and we can't just go see her whenever we want. We do talk about her every day. But it's as if she's just "away". This morning he asked if he could just go to Heaven for a little bit, so he can just talk to her just for a minute, as if he was trying to get me to cut him a deal, similarly to a "just one more book" request at bed-time. I told him he can pray and tell God everything that he wants to tell his mom, and she will be so happy to hear it all from God. And I told him how proud of him Mommy is, watching from Heaven. And it's weird... That all seems to be okay with him. He just goes on loving me, laughing, playing, dancing, drumming, asking questions, watching the world unfold before him.
Witnessing all of this just reminds me-- even amidst my own bouts with sorrow or worry for him-- that indeed, Jehovah Jireh, our God provides. TJ is the one thing I protect and hold onto with all that I am, all that I've got, above all other things-- far above even my own life. And even TJ is something I am learning to lay down at the foot of the Throne-- to give up into the more competent hands of our Father-- in humble acceptance of God's will and provision. Certainly, God is using me to provide for His child, TJ... pouring into me (or right through me) far more love and wisdom and "parental guidance" than I ever thought myself able to contain. But even then, the stuff that comes out of me is not enough. I just fall short. And when I have run dry and empty, God continues to hold TJ in His hand-- providing all the more perfectly in my weakness. And He doesn't stop there... God is loving and healing me through TJ. God has given me TJ to provide for me, as well. It has been truly miraculous to see Him work in this dynamic these days.
So that's been welling up in my heart for the last couple of weeks. Feels good to broadcast it to the world. Tears of pride and joy are welling up in my eyes as I watch him sleep on his make-shift bed on the bathroom floor. Such a big boy. A warrior, like his mommy. A true joy and a blessing. Thank you God, for my TJ.
(whew... I'll call it a day, I think. While I dry myself off a little... here are some candid photos I've shot this past week or so, with the camera phone...)
Doing the high-flying balloon-bike thing at Chuck E. Cheese's.