Monday, January 18, 2010

A Brand New Day

Just thought I'd let you all know that we've updated our web site, complete with wedding photos and all the fixin's. After more than a 2-month hiatus for the wedding and holidays, Katie and I are recommencing our blog there.

Thanks again, everyone, for all your support over the months and years. See you all at the new site!


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Yet Another Chapter...

Friends, I've been burning to write... And yes, I know it's been almost 3 months since my last post. God has been pouring so much into us these days, and so much life has been lived. So much so, that it dawns on me that we're basically at that point where one day we will look back at these days and recognize them as a "turning of another page"... the end of this chapter and the beginning of the next. We'll start with a story, as told by Katie... Hopefully you find it sweet and heart-warming. It is certainly a testament to God's goodness. But to do it the appropriate justice, we're moving this blog to a new venue. Just click on the link. Katie and I will be merging our lives-- and our blogs-- into one...

Please join us HERE...

----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...)

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am sure you have considered the ramifications of this, but as a young mother to a son myself, I have to voice what I'm sure many others are thinking. Katie is not T.J.'s mother. She will most certainly mother him and will be a great influence in his life. But, he has a mother. Please do not replace her in his mind. My heart breaks at the thought that if I were to die, my son (at age 2) would really have no lasting memories of me. If my husband were to remarry (as he most certainly would--and should!) I would hope that he would not emphasize that his new wife was our son's mother. I am his mother. He is my baby--forever and always. Congratulations to you both.

October 30, 2009 8:14 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a mother of 3 childre, I have to agree with the other comment. Although I am sure that Katie is a wonderful person, she will never be TJ's mother. He already has one. I think that it is really sad that he will not remember his Mom as he is much to young. You have already replaced her:(

October 30, 2009 9:33 PM

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

A Bundle of Joy-ful Noise

"Ty, he's just such a happy kid." My mom-in-law reflected a week or so ago. She was at Dana's house for a couple days, and I was picking him up after work. We were just giggling at him from across the room, playing with the boys.
"Yeah, Mom. I'm so thankful. Every day. God has protected his little heart. His joy has helped me through so many hard days."

Isn't it just like God to take the ONE thing I've been most concerned about in the wake of the events of the past couple of years, and just turn it on a dime into the one constant encouragement and reminder of His goodness! My job, my pride, my home... everything was easy to "let go of", after being forced to let go of Leslie, in order to allow God to begin to do His redemption work. But TJ? He was the one thing I just had the hardest time entrusting to God.
"By the grace of God, Mom." I continued our conversation there in Dana's kitchen. "I mean... he's a little miracle, isn't he? I was so worried about how I'd manage. I mean, how can I be a mommy AND a daddy?! I can't do this alone!"

Obviously... I can't. But God has provided.
Sure, there are little quirks that will take years to work through. He still sleeps with his paci. (We're working on it.) He still has an exaggerated fear of abandonment-- nothing like it used to be... But every once in a while, I'll be taking out the trash or something and will come back inside to a crying little boy. "I thought you left me," he'll say as he wipes away tears. But all those things considered, I marvel every day at the joy, compassion, and fearless energy that just spills from this child's every word and action. I'm brought to my knees in humble thanskgiving for his apparent sense of security and comfort... for his "adjustment" (as we adults call it). He's genuinely happy for his Mom, that she's all better, and is totally secure in her love for him. And he loves the life we're living together.

And he's genuinely excited about the prospects of this "New Mommy" thing...

I just returned from a 4-day weekend on Lake Michigan with the Buchers. Dad landed a couple of Sea-Doo's for the week, and on Tuesday, Curt, Chris (bro's-in-law) and I were taking the kids on rides up and down the beach. After one of TJ's turns (he LOVED it... the faster and rougher the better... he's a little adrenaline junky like his dad), he plopped down beside Dana under the beach umbrella. (I was giving another cousin a ride, so Dana recounted the story for me.) Completely unprovoked and out of the blue, TJ grinned up at his aunt...

"Hey Dana! Guess what! I'm going to have a New Mommy soon!"
This of course caught Dana a little off guard, but she was touched by his sincere excitement at the thought. "Yes TJ! I know! Aren't you excited?"
"Uh-huh! And guess what! It's going to be KATIE!"

"Aw, that's great, TJ!" Dana encouraged him. "You love Katie, don't you."

"Yeah," he smiled his dimply smile and went back to eating his fruit snacks and building his sand castle.

Again and again, I stand in awe as I consider what we've been through as a family the past 2 years, and just witness these day-to-day miracles. Beauty to ashes, the new vessel, eternal perspective... I've tried over and over to put these things into words on the pages of this blog. And every time I fall short of the praise and worship that is due the One who has provided. I guess I'm brought once again to a profoundly simply word. "Hallelujah". A word of praise, thanks, or joy to the Lord. A joyful noise. With every breath, Lord, this will be my song.

Blessed be Your name
When the sun's shining down on me,
And the world's all as it should be.
Blessed be Your name.
And blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering.
'Though there's pain in the offering,
Blessed be Your name.
Every blessing You pour out I'll
Turn back to praise.
And when darkness closes in, Lord,
Still I will say,
"Blessed be the name of the Lord!" ...
...You give and take away.
My heart will choose to say,
"Blessed be Your name!"

This was our song through the diagnosis, the surgery, the prognosis, the suffering... It is our song in victory, in awestruck wonder at His provision and blessings... Again I say...


Special thanks to Papa, "Aunt" Lydia, and Heather H for the great photos!!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Heavenly Anniversary

TJ and I will be spending the weekend with Leslie's mom's extended family in Indiana. The annual "Asch Bash", as it's called. (For those of you who don't know, a freaky part of our family tree... Leslie's mom's maiden name: Aschliman. I know. Crazy. Don't worry. We checked it out when we were dating. It's legit. Completely un-related families. At least on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.) Anyway, I'm not sure how "coincidental" the timing of the annual Bash is this year, but we will all be together on July 26th. Exactly one year after Leslie finally defeated cancer. Exactly one year since those of us left behind lost our Leslie.

The Aschliman's on Leslie's side (well, BOTH sides of Leslie's family, actually), have always been remarkably supportive of us. Since the first time I met them (a typical get-together-- attended by about 60 or 70 cousins, aunts, uncles, and so-on-- consisting of a sausage fry, followed by an afternoon of playing basketball, followed by a family style potluck dinner) I was made to feel like I'd been there forever. From my first Thanksgiving with the Asch's, I felt like I belonged to the family. (We joke it's the Aschliman genes... I fit right in. I was already "one of them".) Through Leslie's sickness, this extended family wrapped their collective arms around us. In the time since, they've been so thoughtful and supportive. They loved Leslie so much, and they miss her dearly. It will be a wonderful and difficult weekend. On so many levels.

As I prepare my heart and mind for the weekend, I'm getting a lot of notes and hugs from people... "praying for you this week..." and so-on. It seems the expectation is that this should be a remarkably difficult week for TJ and me. I guess it would be all too easy to say that this is just a hard, sad week. But in reality, it's just not that simple.

Leslie's Birthday... now that was a nostalgic day, full of memories and all kinds of feelings. (Thank you to all my blog-ees, by the way, for making that day special with all the laughs, memories, and stories.) Mothers Day was difficult. Our wedding anniversary... THAT was BRUTAL. TJ's birthday found me basically catatonic, on my face in my parents' condo in Florida, soaking the carpet with my tears and snot. "HE'S ONLY THREE!!!" I cried out to God. "YOU TOOK HIS MOMMY!!!"

Yes, there were hard moments, this past year. Hard "firsts". Holidays, memories, relics she left behind, which I'd stumble across while trying to get the house in order... and so-on. But to be honest, this "first"-- the anniversary of the last week of her life and subsequent death-- is not by a far cry the hardest for me. The other "firsts" were representative of a life that was lost-- the part of my life that died with Leslie. Remembering her life-- so well-lived. At Christmas, for instance, I remembered our first Christmas together. TJ's first Christmas. The years of memories and traditions that we were building as a family. At her birthday this year, I mourned the loss of the gift that I and the whole world were blessed with on March 18, 1976... All the memories that would no longer be shared with her... At Mother's Day, it was dealing with the fact that she and TJ would never know the bond I thought, in my feebly human mind, that they should have. THOSE were sad days.

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.

But the hardest part about this week for me is thinking of the Aschlimans (on her mom's side, that is) and the Buchers... The friends here and in Indy... And those scattered across the globe. The ones who perhaps are reminded more this week of her absence than of her victory. My heart breaks for all of you. I know how deeply Leslie is missed.

I think sometimes people forget that the grieving, for TJ and me, actually began in the months leading up to July. Indeed, Leslie was even able to take part in that "grieving process", to a large degree-- a fact for which I'm strangely thankful. And furthermore... the truth is, most of Leslie's loved ones-- as difficult as it was-- were forced to face the fact that "life goes on", in the days and months that followed July 26, 2008. But for TJ and me, life as we knew it was over. Not a day went by-- not a breath went by-- when her absence wasn't felt in a very physical sense. The house grew a lot emptier those days. Quieter. We didn't merely miss Leslie... A part of our lives died with her. (Although we all know what Jesus did to death!)

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 sure... It has been a hard year, at times. But this week isn't among the toughest. This week isn't about losing a battle to cancer. This week, to me, is about gaining victory. Freedom. LIFE.

I do appreciate your prayers. Truly I do. I am continually humbled by the thoughtfulness of friends and family who just pick up the phone, drop an email, give me a hug when we bump into each other, etc... But if you do think to pray for TJ and me... please remember the friends and family who are struggling this week. So many people who loved Leslie weren't as "fortunate" as TJ and I to have to deal with the void she left on a daily, "with-every-breath" basis. So days and weeks like this are certain to be harder on some than on others. Not everyone has been so blessed as to experience the kind of redemption story TJ and I are experiencing these days.

Please pray for Katie as well. Perhaps not surprisingly, this week has been a very tough one on her. It's complex. The best I can do to give you direction as to how to pray is to direct you to her blog entry on the topic. In time, all things will become more clear. Of this we are certain. But this week has just been hard for "us". We covet your prayers.

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

The Cloud and the Fire

By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people. (Ex. 13:21-22 NIV)

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


So... Did it really take God just 7 days to create the universe? Or was it more like 7 billion years? (Or "7 ages", as some theologians infer, in an attempt to reconcile "science" and "religion"...)

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

Growing Up and Getting Old

"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.