I have a confession to make. I have something I need to make right. I have truth to share that I have hidden. “Hide it under a bushel, NO! I’m gonna let it shine…” TJ sings from time to time.
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,