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Friday, November 21, 2014

Happy Birthday, Kelsey!

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Happy Birthday, Kelsey! Although you are not here to celebrate with us this year in person, it is an opportunity for us to celebrate your life and the many lives that you touched in your 35 years here on earth.

I am not sure if the day of our physical birth is as celebrated in heaven as the day of our second birth, but I would imagine that Kelsey is enjoying some chocolate cake made by Nonie (her grandmother) and making those around her laugh as she regales them with hilarious stories. It is crazy to think she has been in heaven for over four and a half months and, in light of eternity, she isn’t even getting started!

But, back here on earth, there is definitely a huge void. Kelsey loved birthdays, regardless of whether it was hers or not. Having an excuse to eat cake always made for a good day. She had such fun sharing her special day with her niece, Rylen.

And, her birthday is another day which reminds us she is not here. She is missed for so many reasons! Thank you all for the sympathy you have shared with us today. Thank you for your prayers. Thank you for the memories you have shared of Kelsey. Thank you for taking opportunities to share the gospel with others. She is daily missed, but there is encouragement when we continue to hear how the effects of her life continue to ripple onward. It seems like a short 35 years, but they were well spent!

God continues to give grace. Thank you for continuing to walk with us in this journey.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Four months

Four months ago, at 4:00 pm, Kelsey left this dry and weary land and stepped into an eternity with her Creator, Savior, Redeemer, and Dearest Friend. Four months ago, at 4:00 pm, began the start of a new reality for Alexa, me, and all of Kelsey’s friends and family. A reality where praying for Kelsey’s earthly healing was no longer necessary. A reality where we would never again see Kelsey entering a room with her infectious smile. A reality where there are reminders of her 35 years on earth, but where those reminders are not connected to her physical presence any longer. A reality where her words of wisdom and keen perception hang suspended – complete. Kelsey is not around to add to them or offer additional insight in times of joy or struggle. It is the reality of a race well run, but also the reality of a life which goes on before those of us who remain behind.

Four months. Am I better? No. Am I bitter? No. Are there moments when I am angry, discouraged, overwhelmed, and/or frustrated? Yes. Grief still comes in waves, sometimes when least expected. My days are full, but there is a semblance of routine and order. Alexa is settled in to pre-K, loves her nanny, as well as her times with our dear friend and her daughter: going to BSF on Wednesday mornings and afternoons on Wednesday and Friday. We cherish times with family. I value the moments I get to spend with Alexa, watching her grow and seeing a feisty spirit and a joy for life which reminds me of Kelsey. But, there is someone missing and we are missing someone.

Sometimes, seemingly small inconveniences become big deals. Here is an example. On Friday, a sticker came home letting me know that Monday was picture day. Getting Alexa to wear clothes she is not excited about is never an easy task, and the outfit she wore on Monday was no exception to the rule. I am resigned to not being a professional hairdresser and getting her hair mostly presentable was a big deal. Got her ready, calmed the tears when she was quite distraught about what she was wearing with a reassurance picture days only came one time a year, then got her off to school. When I got home, I saw the note, “We apologize for the inconvenience, the sticker you received on Friday was sent in error, pictures are actually Wednesday.” I was furious. Some unkind thoughts ran through my head. I may have been somewhat composed on the outside, but inside, I was tallying the injustices. About pictures? Yep. That is the current reality at times.

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And look, I did get a picture that day, just not one from the school!

I share with you, not so you feel sorry, not so you write letters to Alexa’s pre-K (trust me, I wrote some priceless ones in my head), but so you see the reality of life. Decisions around every corner. A lack of time to do the things which seem like they MUST be done, but yet, when they do not get done, the world does not fall apart. Taking advantage of the precious moments with Alexa is far more important to me than a dust free home.

And in all of this, the reassurances of God’s Word rise up around me:

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they will not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched,
Nor will the flame burn you.” – Isaiah 43:2

“Do not fear, for I am with you;
Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, surely I will help you,
Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10

“Casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” – 1 Peter 5:7

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
– John 16:33

God is faithful. He is good. He loves me. He loves Alexa. Sometimes, I have to repeat those reassurances to myself again and again. But there is growing hope. I see God’s faithfulness today, and trust a bit more each day in His faithfulness tomorrow.

PRAYER REQUESTS

-- Pray for energy to spend time in the Word. Some mornings it is all I can do to drag myself out of bed after a full day before. The days I spend time in God’s Word are much more grounded in truth than days I do not.
-- Pray for wisdom with Alexa. She continues to eat, which is a wonderful praise, but also continues to exert control in random ways. Prayerfully she is at the other side of a phase where she didn’t drink much, because she didn’t want anyone but me to take her to the restroom.
-- Pray for wisdom in making decisions at home and at work.
-- Pray for my interactions with others. I desire to encourage others who are maybe also walking through dark times and may be wondering why God seems to be silent.
-- Pray for Alexa’s heart. I continue to pray she will come to know Christ and come to understand He will ALWAYS be with her – nothing can take Him away.
-- Pray for sweet conversations with Alexa. Moments when she shares a memory she has with Kelsey are hard, but so special. Pray as Alexa learns more about the type of person Kelsey was, she will seek to emulate Kelsey’s godly qualities.

There is more to write – more stories to tell and more pictures to share. For now, I leave you with a few photos:


Photo Oct 18, 7 12 43 PM

Photo Oct 24, 11 25 02 AM

Photo Oct 24, 12 02 55 PM

Photo Oct 26, 8 32 11 PM

Photo Oct 31, 6 28 57 PM

Photo Oct 31, 6 38 30 PM

Monday, October 13, 2014

Thank you!

I have been struggling with how to write this post for several weeks now. I start it in my head, then I get so overwhelmed with the enormity of it all, I give up. I start again (again in my head) and am worried I will leave someone out. Tonight, I am starting to write on the blog – we’ll see if I can do it! My parents taught me to be thankful from a young age. When someone did something unearned and undeserved, I learned the importance of saying thank you. I don’t think people did what they did to receive a thank you, but learning to say thank you helped me to see gratitude is probably as much for the recipient as it is for the giver. It reminds us we are undeserving.

Over the past eighteen months, you have all been God’s hands and feet. You have shown love and kindness to Kelsey, Alexa and me in literally countless ways. Bringing meals, watching and loving on Alexa, mowing our lawn, planting flowers, cleaning the house, sharing (and even writing) songs and poetry, photo and video sessions, calling to pray with us, sending notes, sharing your homes, helping financially, giving gifts, showing up at the house to spend time with us, sharing truth, sending books, passing along songs of hope, giving the gift of time, and on and on the list goes.

I had a pipe dream I would be able to write a hand-written note to each of you (and perhaps someday my dream can become a reality). Kelsey kept a list of all of the people who had invested in her life in some way until the days came when her hand was so sore it was tough for her to write. She would have me add to the list of people who had given some sort of tangible gift. The problem with the list we wrote down is there are many of you who are not included there. Many of you who prayed faithfully from the moment you heard of Kelsey’s condition until the day she breathed her last here on earth. The other problem is in the swirl of activity after Kelsey died, I was a bit less organized than she was and I know there are people who supported us in one way or another who are not written in the “giving book.”

So, forgive me friends! You may never receive a personal note to thank you for the gift you gave. So many of you gave gifts in memory of Kelsey. I think back now and it is incredible to think there was never a moment when I felt overwhelmed with any sort of financial burden. I honestly believe Alexa and I could live for three months on all of the gift cards we have received. You blessed us beyond measure and continue to do so. You have shared so many special memories of how Kelsey touched your lives, you ask me how Alexa and I are doing and are willing to listen and pray. My church family, both local and universal have been incredible in how you have poured out your love. My work family has been incredible in allowing me time to grieve. My family has been so incredibly supportive – what a blessing it is to have tremendous, godly parents and siblings on both Kelsey’s and my side of the family. I cannot imagine surviving the past 18 months without them. Multiple trips down to MD Anderson, multiple weeks they spent packed into our house – helping with Alexa and helping to care for Kelsey.

A thank you is really inadequate. My prayer is for God to bless each of you for the blessing you have been to me. My words cannot convey the overflowing gratitude I have in my heart as I see a significant part of my ongoing healing has to do with your prayers, love and support.

Are there hard days? Without a doubt. There are moments I look around and wonder how I will make it through the next minute. There are moments of utter exhaustion when I cry out for God’s mercy to get me through the hours before I can fall into bed. But, there are also nearly constant glimpses of God’s love and faithfulness – so many of those coming from you. So thank you! And, I thank God for you!

Please don’t stop now! I covet your prayers for Alexa and me. I am thankful for each time someone shares a song which encourages them, recounts a story of how Kelsey blessed their life, asks how I am doing, gives me a hug or shakes my hand and lets me know they are praying. Don’t stop! You won’t offend me when you bring up Kelsey in conversation. If I ever don’t have the ability to talk about her right then, I will let you know, but those times are very rare.

Many of you have asked how you can be praying for Alexa and me – here are a few specifics:

-- Pray for ongoing opportunities to share God’s love and grace with others. Like it or not, I have joined a community of people who lost spouses at young ages. I have been blessed with wonderful family and friends – others are not as fortunate. Pray I can glorify God in the way I live my life and point others to Him.
-- Pray for sweet times with Alexa. I want to be faithful to capture her memories of her mommy, so when aspects of her memory fade I can point to Kelsey’s tenacity of faith, love for others, and love for Alexa.
-- Pray for wisdom. There are more decisions to be made and time is very limited. Pray I can redeem the moments I have and make wise decisions with my time.
-- Pray for endurance. In a similar fashion, with everything to do, it can be a bit overwhelming at times. Ask God for strength for me to do the things which need to be done and trust Him for the non-crucial ones.
-- Pray for moments to grieve. In the chaos, it can be hard to find the time to take time to understand the loss.

Again, thank you! I have some insight into what Paul wrote in Philippians 1:3: “I thank my God every time I remember you.” I most certainly do thank God every time I remember you – while you may not receive a hand-written letter to that effect, it makes it no less accurate!

I’ll end with a less than perfect selfie of Alexa and me. Unfortunately you can’t see all of Alexa’s Elsa dress – she is very proud of it and was overjoyed when the package arrived in the mail from Mimi and Pop.

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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Hooray for eating!

After over a month of no solid food for Alexa, yesterday was a big day. In the afternoon, we went to visit with Alexa’s pediatrician, Dr. Kuhls. Alexa was very concerned about “the wood”, since she had a strep test at her last two visits, but I told her she wouldn’t need a strep test this time. We talked a bit more about it and I told her when I was growing up, I always hated the swab more than the wooden tongue depressor. We found out Alexa had lost another pound since her prior visit, bringing her up to losing about three and a half pounds since July 30 (the morning when she ate her last bit of food). It was a good appointment, Dr. Kuhls checked her out (after assuring her there would be no wood or giant Q-tip), looking at her throat and teeth, checking her breathing, listening to her heart and checking her tummy, then telling her there was nothing wrong with her which would keep her from eating. He told her that he wanted her to eat three times a day, as much as she wanted of whatever she wanted. He told her if she did not start eating there would be tests and procedures done which would make the wood and giant Q-tip seem easy. She grudgingly said “okay” when asked if she would do what he had asked her to do. I was very encouraged when she agreed to eat a sucker (again, no solid food of ANY kind in her mouth for over a month) and was almost finished with it by the time we were home. We talked about where she would like to eat and she told me she wanted to go to Fuzzy’s Taco Shop to have tortillas dipped in queso.

By the time I got home from work, she was more concerned about eating, but we went to wash the car and went to Fuzzy’s. She dipped her finger in the cheese several times and licked it off saying it was quite yummy. However, the drama began when I asked her to dip a (very small) piece of tortilla in the queso and eat that. I dipped a bite for her, and tried to coax her to eat it. At first, I reiterated what Dr. Kuhls had said, she needed to eat three times a day and there was nothing wrong which would keep her from eating. We ran the whole gamut of excuses, from being worried about whether she could still bite food, to being worried about how much she would have to eat, to being tired, to wanting me to give her a hug, to wanting her cousin Rylen there with her.

So (not proud, just truthful), being out of options on the reasoning side and wondering if people thought I was abusing my daughter right there in the restaurant (she was alternating between whimpering, whining and sobbing), I resorted to bribery. I told her that if she wanted to see her cousins, she would need to eat fairly quickly so that we go see them before it got late (since she had an early morning for Pre-K this morning). That fell flat, the 15 minute timeframe I had given expired and the whining continued (she had put the tortilla inside her mouth several times during that timeframe, but never actually let go of it or actually touched it to her tongue).

Once bribery failed (and my patience was beginning to fail), it was time to resort to threats. I picked up my phone and told her I was calling Dr. Kuhls like he had told me to if she wasn’t going to eat. That got a response, “No, Dad, no!” She proceeded to do the in and out trick until I picked my phone up again and then she actually put it in her mouth. She spit the first bite out after she had chewed a bit, but immediately proceeded to get another bite, dip it in cheese and eat it (lots of chewing for a tortilla, but it went down and stayed down). I then made 10 very small pieces for her and said she could eat those and see how she did. When she finished, I asked if she was done and she said, “Could you tear up four more bites for me.” I did, she ate those and then asked for four more. We repeated the process, then she picked up the tortilla and tore off her own bites. Over the next 30 minutes, she managed to eat two whole tortillas and finish about two thirds of the cup of queso. Then, she decided that she wanted some chocolate ice cream to celebrate, so it was off to Braum’s. Here is photo and video evidence:

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Saying “tortilla” after she had torn up some tortilla for herself and was continuing to eat.

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In action after about a tortilla and a half.

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Celebrating at Braum’s.

And, a video. Sadly, I stopped the first video I took inadvertently, she said some things which were even more priceless, so I tried not to have her repeat everything she had just said (worried she would question my sanity). However, she does give a big shout-out to all of her prayer warriors. I likewise am INCREDIBLY grateful.


Today, she ate a bran muffin, a sausage ball and a bite of banana (she was concerned because a piece I cut off of the banana had a little brown spot on it) for breakfast. I also think she was saving room for the snack at school (she had made strawberry and blueberry muffins yesterday to take for the snack with her nanny, Jenny, and Kelsey’s dear friend Shannon). She managed to eat four muffins for snack and then three more right after school. She is still a bit concerned about anything which she considers “hard” (no chips yesterday for instance), but we are definitely making steps in the right direction. Certainly an incredible relief for me that she has moved past that mental block!

Prayer requests:

-- Pray Alexa will continue to eat and it will become a part of her normal routine again.

-- Continue to pray for time for both of us to process. Our days seem to be filled with activity, finding time to slow down is a challenge.

-- Pray for God’s glory. I have had some wonderful conversations about what God has been teaching me (hopefully sometime in the not-so-distant future I can share some of those lessons here) and continue to pray that each day, God can use my grief and pain for His purposes in my life and the lives of others.

-- We will be starting a grief support group this coming Monday, September 8 (Alexa will be with other four year olds who have lost someone in their family). Please pray it will be beneficial for both of us and we can be used by God to minister to others there as well.

Thanks again for your prayers. Thank you for the encouraging comments, the thoughtful notes, the messages on Facebook, the text messages, meals, and multitude of offers to help in any way. I am simultaneously afflicted and blessed. I think I understand Job’s comment in the midst of his suffering a bit better. Nothing changed, but he was able to say,

“I know that you can do all things;
     no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
     Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
     things too wonderful for me to know.

You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
     I will question you,
     and you shall answer me.’

My ears had heard of you
     but now my eyes have seen you.”
-- Job 42:2-5

Thank you for being part of allowing me to see God in the midst of grief!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Grieving, Groping and God

Well, in case you were wondering, we have not completely fallen off the map. There have been many nights I have wanted to post, but a pile of tasks, a daughter who is reluctant to go to sleep, or exhaustion have kept me from posting. The other part of that is that there are so many thoughts swirling around in my head, that I haven’t even known what to write. I suppose I empathize with Kelsey a bit more as she would tell me about all of the posts which were halfway written in her head (side note, she has snippets of those posts saved in her notes on her phone – I’ll have to do my best to piece some of them together someday – I am sure you are not surprised, but she has some neat thoughts written down there).

There is no denying that on July 5, our lives were unalterably changed. There is a meaningful illustration in one of the books which has been very helpful to me through this time, A Grace Disguised, by Jerry Sittser. He speaks there of the fact that when we experience loss, the future which we had imagined is suddenly, irrevocably torn away. Our future then looks dark. Of course, we never know what the future holds, but we do a great job of pretending that we do. Loss is a potent reminder of the fact that we do not know what the future holds. I am sure in coming days I will share more from this book and from other books and sermons which have provided solace – it is so encouraging to hear from people who have walked through grief. Someone who can tell you that the crazy emotions and the crazy roller coaster ride which each day brings does not mean that you are losing your mind. Someone who can tell you that the grief never goes away, but if you are able to face it with God’s help, it becomes a part of your soul, not defining you, but becoming a part of who you are. Yet, while the grief never goes away, God can allow you to have wonderful moments of happiness and joy.

There have been a lot of firsts over the past almost two months. The first morning after Kelsey died, waking up and hoping that maybe it was all a dream. The first time coming back to our house, looking around at the touches everywhere which remind me of Kelsey (not to mention pictures of her in almost every room of the house). The first time back to work, first family trip without Kelsey, first day of Pre-K for Alexa and on and on the list goes. There are so many reminders of all of the ways that she kept everything running so smoothly around the house – from packing for Alexa when we went on our trips, to picking out cute outfits for Alexa, to fixing her hair. All of those things, when I am marginally successful at them remind me that she is not here.

And yet, in all of this, God is sovereign. None of this is outside of His plan and by His grace, we are sustained day by day. In that respect, I am no different than anyone else who may be reading these words. This is not meant to be a pity party, but more of a real reflection of some of the emotions and thoughts that run through my head on a moment by moment basis. You all have been so faithful to pray for our family and I want to provide you with some specifics as you are taking us before God’s throne, because those prayers have not and will not be wasted!

Many of you know that four weeks ago, Wednesday the 30th of July, was the day that Alexa took her last bites of solid food (in the form of two bites of a mini chocolate chip muffin). Since that day, she has not touched anything solid: her diet now consists of apple juice, apple berry juice, V8 Fusion (sneaking that vegetable juice in on her), and chocolate milk. The shenanigans we have tried to get her to eat are about endless – preparing some of her favorite foods with her, having other people try the same, offering donuts, ice cream, smoothies, trying to mix Pedialyte in with her chocolate milk, but she is resolved not to eat anything. She has had a weird off again, on again mild fever, but her throat certainly doesn’t look irritated like it did initially. She is still very concerned that if she eats something (even something soft like ice cream, pudding or applesauce) that it may still hurt. Like Kelsey, I have had to laugh at this: clearly walking through the journey of grief was not quite enough, I need a very strong-willed daughter thrown into the mix as well! We also had a fairly extended “poop-mageddon”, where Alexa decided she was on strike in that regard as well. Thankfully, we seem to be on the other side of that standoff!

She is trying to process her grief as well – I cannot even imagine what that is like for a four year-old who loved her mommy more than anyone else in this world. Seems like part of it is control, part of it is fear of pain, and who knows what else mixed in. We go to meet with a child psychologist tomorrow (I met with her today to share some of my observations) and are also hoping to be accepted into a grief support group in Oklahoma City. My prayer is that these will allow her avenues to express her grief (and even understand it) in ways that she is not able to now.
I do have a few photos to share. Alexa was not too thrilled to be going to Pre-K on Monday. I told her that she would have a great time and that I would be picking her up before she knew it. Here is one of the “first day of school” photos I took (they were all sad or grumpy):

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And then, here is once she made it to Pre-K. I dropped her off in the regular line, then told her I would come in to meet her other teachers and say goodbye. Here she is at that point in time:

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The skies were a bit brighter and she told me, “Dad, I am going to have a great time.” She did and day two (today) went even better. She was a bit hesitant as we were getting ready, but here she is on the ride to school (our dear friend Shannon Ho took her today):

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Alexa is totally thrilled to have a wonderful friend and playmate in her nanny, Jenny. She asked me this evening when she would get to see her again and I told her that she would be here when she got up in the morning tomorrow and she was quite excited. They have really hit it off.

So, each day brings new challenges and new glimpses of God’s mercy. At times it feels as though I will be overwhelmed by grief – I now realize heartache is not just an expression, it is a literal physical pain in your chest in the midst of moments of deep grief. At times, it feels as though I am groping in the dark, not knowing how to face the decisions which come along and missing my helpmate who was always a wonderful sounding board. But, God is faithful. He has sustained me and I trust He is not going to stop doing so.

Prayer requests:

-- My heart hurts for my sweet daughter, Alexa. How I wish I could take away the pain she is feeling and help her to process her grief. Please pray she will begin to eat soon – perhaps a combination of visiting with the child psychologist and going back to meet with her pediatrician will allow her to understand she is better and can slowly get back to eating solid foods again. Pray if there is some lingering bug of some sort that we would discover it quickly and be able to address the issue. Pray I can be a loving and supportive father to her during this time

-- Pray for time to process. Life continues, work presses, household tasks beckon, time with Alexa calls. Pray in the midst of the busyness for moments to seek to understand the depth of this loss, to understand this world is not my home and to learn to trust God more fully in these days of intense grief.

-- Pray for strength and endurance. Grief is tiring. There are so many other things going on as well. Late nights and early mornings taking care of tasks which used to be divided in two. All of the details to take care of after Kelsey’s death: insurance, finances, etc.

-- Pray for God’s glory. I don’t want to miss Him during this time and want to be used even now to encourage others and love them in their times of grief.

There is more, but I will share another time. This post has already become longer than I hoped for originally. Thank you (if you are reading this) for your strong resolve to read the whole thing!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Kelsey's life celebration service

My apologies for the issues with the streaming video. There was an issue with copyrighted material in the slideshow before the service. Here is a link to the celebration service from July 11, 2014 at 1:30 pm: http://goo.gl/OekDT1. Here is a link the to the pre-service slideshow - some fun photos of Kelsey: http://goo.gl/NxMS6e.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Celebration of Kelsey's Life

The Celebration Service for Kelsey will be at 1:30 pm CDT on Friday, July 11 at Edmond First Baptist Church in Edmond, OK. Thank you so much for your continued prayers and the many ways you continue to show love to our family.

If you haven't seen Kelsey's obituary, here is a link: http://goo.gl/2H1Fao.

Also, I know that many of you have asked about ways to give in memory of Kelsey. Memorials to help with ongoing integrative cancer research may be given online at www.reo-foundation.org. If you would like to give toward Alexa's 529 Plan, you can do so here: http://goo.gl/EyRudr. Not sure if you need an invitation code, but if you do, you can use OKGtLHj.