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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Back to school

I know, I am one of those parents – posting the first day of school pictures. Alexa had her first day of kindergarten yesterday and she had a fantastic day. Alexa was laughing and talking with her nanny after school, and Alexa said, “I am full of joy.” Later in the evening, when I was getting her ready for bed, Alexa said, “I get to go to school tomorrow too.” I told her that she got to go to school on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and she said, “YES!” Ah, to have that sort of excitement about our daily lives as we grow older. And apparently, she is a lot more adventurous with her eating at school than she is for me at home. Today cheese pizza was on the menu for lunch (which Alexa was quite excited about), so she got to eat at school. Not only did she eat the cheese pizza, but she ate the salad, red bell peppers, and pineapple which were served along with it. She has never even been willing to try salad for me and she told me she loved it! I suppose stranger things have happened at other times in my life, but hearing that come out of her mouth was a bit of a shock.

I thought I would give a bit of an update with life for us around these parts. I am very excited about the gal who is Alexa’s nanny. She helped out with Alexa over the summer and is going to be able to continue into the fall. She loves Alexa and Alexa loves her (most of the time, but more on that later). She also loves Jesus – very glad to have her in Alexa’s life! Bible Study Fellowship will be starting for us on September 14, so my first early morning leader’s meeting will be on September 12. I think I am well on the way to having a great team of folks who can come over to be here in case Alexa wakes up on those early Saturday mornings (and there may be times that she’ll go and spend the night with her cousins).

Some additional detail about Alexa. She has been having some somewhat tough times with her nanny over the past week or so. I am certainly not trying to guess the cause of all of it, but she has had some major meltdowns, speaking (or screaming) unkind things, running away (in the store or this morning before the start of kindergarten), and throwing some major tantrums. I have spent time sharing with her that these are unacceptable behaviors and she is well aware there are very tangible consequences to her actions. She doesn’t behave in these ways with me currently, although I have seen samples in the past.

The house construction project continues along (not that I have too much to do with the construction). The exterior is nearly complete and they are getting the sheetrock up on the interior. It looks like move-in will be sometime in December (currently planned for right around Christmas time). Thankfully, a calm time of year! ;-)

In terms of how I am doing, there are aspects of this season which are easier and aspects which are more difficult. It was so hard to see Alexa so excited about going to kindergarten yesterday – thinking Kelsey would have been so proud to see Alexa heading off to school (and would have loved hearing her stories afterward). On the other hand, some of the edges of grief are softer now. When Kelsey comes to mind, I am struck with how grateful I am that God placed her in my life. There is still sadness, but I can genuinely be grateful for the years God afforded me. And, of course, I am so grateful for Alexa. I ran across this song the other day (Nearness – Jenn Johnson, Bethel Music), and it does a good job of capturing a lot of the thoughts which run through my head. I do still have questions, but I am content with them perhaps never being answered. I have often heard people say, “We’ll know why this happened when we get to heaven.” I certainly don’t see that guarantee anywhere in Scripture and I know that God does not owe me any sort of an explanation for why He does what He does. However, I do know that God is with me. He daily sustains and strengthens me.

Thank you all for your continued prayers. Here are a few specific ones:

-- Please pray for Alexa’s heart. I want to be able to shepherd her heart wisely. Helping her to understand fits of anger are not necessary when we don’t get our way. Helping her to understand her words can hurt people. Helping her to see there are consequences to our actions, even when we quickly say, “sorry”. So coupled with the prayer for Alexa is prayer for me and for Alexa’s nanny, that we can be wise in how we point Alexa toward the truth.
-- Praise God for His favor in helping Alexa’s transition to full-day kindergarten to be so smooth. She has so enjoyed it!
-- Praise God for the interactions he has allowed me to have with others who have lost loved ones. I am thankful He has already allowed me to see how the grief I continue to walk through can be used for good in my life and in the lives of others.
-- Pray that in the midst of the distractions and everyday pushes and pulls of life I will be faithful to continue to look to Christ for my sustenance and strength.

Sunday, July 5, 2015


One year ago, at 4:00 pm on July 5, 2014, Kelsey lived out the final stanza of a song which was very dear to her, Untitled Hymn, by Chris Rice:
And with your final heartbeat
Kiss the world goodbye
Then go in peace, and laugh on glory's side
And fly to Jesus
Fly to Jesus
Fly to Jesus and live
It is hard to believe that Kelsey is a year into her eternal celebration of her Creator, Redeemer, and Friend. I suppose it will all even out in eternity, but I imagine, given her competitive nature, Kelsey will be giving others of us a hard time when we make it to heaven, because she has been praising Jesus in person longer than we have. :-)
So many thoughts have been going through my head over the past week. As we celebrated Independence Day yesterday, I was struck as I realized for the first time on Independence Day, Kelsey is no longer a citizen of the United States, but her citizenship is fully and completely in heaven.

Thinking back on the events surrounding her death: her love for her nurses and friends who came to visit her and who were unable to be there in person, her desire to have beautiful music playing whenever conversations were not happening, the silly times of laughter, and the moments of sharing tears, I cannot help but think how much Kelsey is enjoying perfection. Knowing others deeply and intimately, praising her Savior, enjoying perfect laughter and no longer enduring pain or dealing with tears.

So many memories of the time I have known Kelsey have come to mind. I remember the first time I really noticed her, the summer after she returned from Lebanon. She had a beautiful glow about her: she had learned a lot and been refined during her time overseas and it showed. “Wow, now there is one special woman.” Little did I know, how true that initial thought would prove to be. Lots of prayer and getting up the nerve later, I remember the night when I asked her if she would like to begin dating. She wanted to take time to find out a bit more before she committed – I am so thankful she never looked back once she did. The trip down to Dallas for Valentines after two weeks of dating (I think I scared her dad a bit when we showed up in a surprise visit to her parents). Crazy times spent traveling back and forth to Edmond (she was living there and I was living in Norman at the time). Late night talks, her taking care of me as I recovered from Lasik surgery (funny story there when she thought a candlelight dinner would help my eyes and I ended up requesting that we turn on more indirect light), my first ride with her (me on a mountain bike, her on a road bike), having her ring made, giving her a ring and telling her I loved her for the first time before leaving for six weeks when I went on a mission trip and had very limited contact with her, coming back and being so surprised when she met me in Memphis and a trip home which proved she could stick with me through thick and thin, as I had some severe digestive issues due to some not so friendly passengers who made the trip back from overseas in my GI tract.

I remember proposing, and the pause which seemed like forever before she said, “yes”. The whirlwind of preparation, marriage counseling, and deciding we would buy and renovate a house. Then the glorious day when we agreed to be each others for as long as we both should live. The adventure continued with a honeymoon, settling into a house and making it a home (Kelsey was in charge of that – I was in charge of moving furniture, hanging pictures exactly where needed, and keeping the exterior of the house looking decent). Special times being in a small group and later leading a small group. Many people got to experience the late nights with us as we would have people over or go to someone’s house and talk for hours (to be honest, Kelsey was asking questions and telling stories, I just enjoyed taking it all in). Outdoor adventures: bike rides, hikes, camping (not her favorite), walks, picnics, kite flying and time at beaches and lakes. Eating (something Kelsey loved): great food, delicious desserts, some less tasty food (burned by one or the other of us or food poisoning at a restaurant) which was still memorable. Special trips: California, Colorado, Charleston, Dallas, Bed & Breakfasts, Branson, and more. Wonderful conversations, whether laughing, more intentional conversations, or just talking about our days. Lots of celebrations. Birthdays, weddings, the birth of Alexa. And sad memories. As my grandfather, who Kelsey had only known for a short time, went home to be with His Maker. As we tried for several years to have children and were met initially with no success and then a miscarriage. Another miscarriage as Alexa got older. Friends moving away. And then, the cancer diagnosis.

Watching Kelsey be refined throughout our time together was beautiful. Seeing firsthand how God chipped away rough edges and made her more and more like Him. Watching as she released her preconceptions about God, continuing to trust Him for children, then trusting Him for healing, and ultimately trusting that God was in control even if she were not physically healed here on this earth.

And so a new phase begins, one where I have to look back more than a year to find my last memory of Kelsey. Uncharted waters. The reality is, as long as I tarry here on earth, those memories will be further and further back (yet still very much a part of who I am). The reality is, this is my new reality. I am a widower. I am raising a daughter. I still have responsibilities and life must go on for Alexa and me.

It has been a long time since my last post. We have been busy, true, but there have also been times I have thought of sitting down to type but don’t because it is a bit overwhelming, since it requires I compose my thoughts somewhat (if you are still reading this, you may wonder if I actually did that at all this evening). The house we are building is coming along. Alexa has enjoyed going in to look around. She is enjoying her special nanny for the summer. She continues to eat (not quite the appetite that Kelsey or I had), although she continues to be picky (sounds a bit like Kelsey was growing up). She is doing well. She keeps me on my toes and makes sure the energy I have after a day of work is devoted to her! I continue to figure out how to walk in this unexpected path God has me on.

There are a few prayer requests which I would pass along to my faithful warriors. I am humbled to know so many of you continue in faithful intercession. Thank you for your kind words of support over the past few days by text, email, Facebook messages and posts. I know I would not be where I am today without your boldness in approaching the throne. Thank you for your prayers!

-- Pray I can find a wonderful nanny for Alexa for this upcoming year. I will also need to find someone who can come hang out at the house ridiculously early on Saturday mornings as I go to Bible Study Fellowship leadership meetings.
-- Pray I can lead our family well. Pray I will take opportunities to nurture and lead Alexa. Pray I can be the support she needs.
-- Please continue to pray for her salvation. Pray God will draw her to Himself and that she will choose to follow Jesus.
-- Pray I will continue to grow in understanding of how to walk with God and trust Him in the midst of my ongoing grief.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Happy Mother’s Day!



It is hard to grasp how much can change in a year, but today the reality definitely hit home. Here are photos of Kelsey with Alexa on Mother’s Day last year (which was on May 11th). Two months later, Kelsey would be in heaven. Mother’s Day today looked different for sure. Alexa got to spend time this weekend with a few of her favorite people: Mimi, Pop, Aunt Holly, Uncle Mark, Rylen and Layton. I know the reality of what this day means hasn’t sunk in with her and she had a great time playing with her cousins.

I had some sort of nasty crud this weekend, so didn’t get to head up to hang out with family until this afternoon. I had a sore throat of the variety where I felt like screaming with every swallow (if it wouldn’t have made my throat hurt even worse). It isn’t strep, but knowing that fact still didn’t help when it was really hurting! All that to say, I did have some time to reflect on things over the past couple days and wanted to share a few of those thoughts here. I had a chance to go visit Kelsey’s grave (which is a weird thing to say, because I know that she isn’t really buried there, just her body) this morning. It certainly pays testament to the amount of water we have received over a very short period of time here in Oklahoma!

The picture quality isn’t perfect – I was using the wrong lens (and I didn’t think about taking a picture with my phone until I was already driving off, or think about taking a broom or brush to wipe off the headstone). The mud and leaf debris certainly demonstrate the type of weather we have had. Hail and LOTS of rain. Kelsey always loved storms. She said they were a wonderful display of God’s power. She would get almost giddy in the midst of a hailstorm or rainstorm and she loved the sound of thunder. We have certainly had our share of all of that over the past few weeks. I did think it was fairly ironic that I took flowers to the graveside. Kelsey liked flowers, but she told me she would appreciate me spending the money on getting her some “empty calories” (read as La Baguette caramel fudge cake or a double doozie from American Cookie Company) or taking her somewhere to eat.

Here is a photo of this Mother’s Day. A noticeable absence in this picture. I had a chance to journal after I visited the graveside and as I reflected back on my years of life and thought of how grateful I am to have a mother who continues to be there for me, my heart aches for my dear daughter. I don’t know when the reality of what this day means will sink in for her, but it will someday. As I wrote in my journal, “Today is certainly a sobering day. Thinking of all my mom has meant to me makes my heart ache for Alexa – she only had four short years to spend with her mother and the rest of her life to live without her.”

I know it has been forever since I last posted (seems like about a two month gap between posts – I won’t promise I will do better, but I will try). Thank you all for your ongoing prayers – I know many of you have reached out to me to let me know you you would be praying for Alexa and me very specifically today. A lot has happened since then. Alexa celebrated her fifth birthday (with five parties, of course). I hope to write a post about her birthday celebrations. We got to go visit my sister’s family in Maryland (and see some good friends while we were out there as well). The builders have broken ground on our new house (and then we have subsequently been hit by monsoon season, so not much more progress than that). I finished another year of Bible Study Fellowship. Work continues to go well, I feel like my brain gets a bit less foggy each day.

For the first time, at the ten month mark since Kelsey made it “safely home”, the day was different. There was a lot of sadness (which is not different), but mixed with the sadness was a sense of God’s incredible faithfulness. Ten months later, I am still alive, the house is still standing, and Alexa has not run away from home. We both have clean clothes, I still have my job (and people tell me I am doing well at it), and we eat every day (generally three times a day). Alexa is thriving at school and has grown and matured so much. All of that overwhelmed me with God’s faithfulness. Had you asked me what life would like like 10 months after Kelsey died the afternoon of her death, I would have had no clue – I was not even sure I could make it through the next moment. The future is no longer as dark or bleak as it has been.

This post is getting incredibly long. I wanted to leave you with a few specific prayer requests:

-- Pray for wisdom to find a great nanny for Alexa for next school year. Have a fantastic gal for the summer, who both Alexa and I are totally excited about. She has been blessed with Jenny in her life this year and I look forward to seeing who God will bring along for next year.
-- Pray for special times with Alexa this summer. I hope for some great spiritual discussions. She is starting to ask more questions, I want to encourage that and help her to clearly understand how much she needs a Savior!
-- Pray for motivation to get some things done around the house. Piles need to be picked up and gone through, I still need to update the will, I need to finish sorting through photos and put together an album I want to give to Alexa and the list goes on.
-- Pray for a continually greater grasp of God’s faithfulness. Pray I can pass it along to others.

I leave you with this – a video of Alexa performing at the Mother’s Day Tea at her preschool (Gingerbread). Mimi and Aunt Holly got to go and they filmed this. You certainly don’t have to watch the whole show, but you’ll get a flavor of her flair for drama (she definitely takes after her mom) in the first few minutes of the video.

Friday, March 6, 2015

We’re still here!

Although my lack of posting would indicate otherwise, Alexa and I are still hanging in there. I have wanted to post many times, but wanting and doing have not lined up until this evening. A lot has happened since my last post. I have started back to Bible Study Fellowship (a dear lady from our church has been watching Alexa that evening so I can go). Alexa and I are going to church on Wednesday nights again (and Alexa is loving getting to sing each Wednesday night – she looks forward to it and asks when we get to go again). We celebrated Valentine’s Day (both at Alexa’s school and together). We played in the snow. We have read A LOT of books. We have played outside on nice days, played inside on not so nice days. We have played games and built many fun buildings out of Legos. We have gotten together with friends and family. I have been working with our builder and ground should be broken soon on our new house. Work continues on, with many different projects to keep me challenged and engaged (and in prayer for wisdom). Alexa came down with her first sickness in her almost five years where she was prescribed medication (walking pneumonia). We’ve had a few other sicknesses (colds and Alexa may have had the flu).

And, we have walked through milestones. Seven months since Kelsey danced into heaven. Our anniversary was two days ago, providing an opportunity to reflect on the special memories (and funny stories) since March 4, 2006 as Kelsey and I exchanged vows and embarked on our life together. Yesterday marked eight months since Kelsey’s death. I have seen God’s hand in this journey – I can trust He is supporting me. I have seen Him do it, but to say there are not moments when things are hard would be a complete lie. Referring back to a book I referenced earlier, Lament for A Son, by Nicholas Wolterstorff, I definitely identified with his sentiment as he wrote (I changed the “him” which he wrote to a “her” as identified by brackets):

Something is over. … A moment in our lives together of special warmth and intimacy and vividness, a moment which I specially prize [her], a moment of hope and expectancy and openness to the future: I remember the moment. But instead of lines of memory leading up to [her] life in the present, they all enter a place of cold inky blackness and never come out. … And now instead of those shiny moments being things we can share together in delighted memory, I, the survivor, have to bear them alone. … All I can do is remember [her]. I can’t experience [her]. The person to whom these memories attached is no longer here with me. … I’m still here. I have to go on. I have to start over. But this new start is so different from the first. Then I wasn’t carrying this load, this thing that’s over.

I am thankful I do not have to bear this alone. Thankful for friends who are so willing to help on days when the normal routine does not work out. Thankful for God’s Word, which reassures. Thankful for devotionals, which point toward the glorious day when there is no more suffering. Last month I read this excerpt from God Loves Broken People, by Sheila Walsh:

You keep track of all my sorrows.
You have collected all my tears in Your bottle.
You have recorded each one in Your book. – Psalm 56:8

Why would He do that? Why would God keep track of all our sorrows? Why would He collect all our tears in a bottle? Why does the Lord record each heartache, each grief, each sadness in some divine journal inscribed with heavenly ink?

It’s because He has plans for those things.

It’s because He wastes nothing.

He intends to fill our sorrows and tears with His expansive love. This was the glorious expectation of both the prophets and the apostles when each said of God:

He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces. – Isaiah 25:8

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. – Revelation 21:4

What a start to our 8 year, 4 month and 1 day journey of marriage together on March 4, 2006! I’ll share a few funny stories. The first was the hunt for a scrubby in Dallas the evening after we got married. As we were driving down, Kelsey realized she had not packed what she viewed as an essential for personal hygiene. This was before the release of the iPhone (I know, dark ages), and neither of us had a smartphone, so we tried finding somewhere to get a scrubby using our GPS. We struck out at two stores, then came to another store where I was honestly concerned our marriage may have been cut short. Thankfully, I walked out of the store with a scrubby and no bullet wounds!

The next two stories are from the following day. We didn’t leave ourselves a lot of time to lollygag at the airport – found a parking spot, checked in and headed to security. We got to security and I pulled out my passport and Kelsey just looked at me in horror. “I didn’t think to pack that,” she said. Filled with compassion, I said, “It was on the packing list we both got from the travel company.” She had paid very close attention to all of the toiletry and clothing items, but missed out on one of the most essential items on the list! Thankfully, we found a kind security agent who was willing to let her through after seeing her voter registration card. Near disaster averted. The other is not so much funny as it is just a good cap to the trip down. It was decidedly warmer in Riviera Maya than it was in Norman, OK. So, we get to the resort and walked around the grounds while we waited for our room to get ready. During this tour of the grounds, we were dressed in very appropriate clothing: jeans, and t-shirts, with the ever-so-necessary jackets wrapped around our waists.

The final story happened on day two, and is maybe not so much funny as ironic. Kelsey went out to enjoy the hammock on the porch, but did not have the hammock entirely secured. She ended up landing on her rear on the not-so-soft marble porch. Hurting your pelvis is not apparently something you really want to have happen on your honeymoon. We had a great time at our resort: we enjoyed long walks, LOTS of tasty food, reading, being lazy, great conversation, and meeting some really interesting people. So, all that to say, even on days which are hard, there are definitely some fun memories which do bring a smile to my face!

Thank you for your continued prayers and support. Thank you for those of you who have stepped in to help out with Alexa in times of need. Thank you for your encouraging words over the past couple days. Thank you for sharing your memories and your moments of sadness as you think back on your relationship with Kelsey. The sadness reminds me that death is an interloper.

Some specific prayer requests:

-- Wisdom: wisdom in making decisions concerning the house, wisdom at work, wisdom in raising Alexa, wisdom in decisions about care and schooling for Alexa during the summer and next year, wisdom in grieving.
-- Strength: there are days when I get home from work and don’t feel like I am up for spending time with Alexa. Pray I will continue to take advantage of those moments.
-- Alexa’s salvation: please pray that God would be drawing her to Himself and that she would be sensitive to his drawing.

I am sure there are more prayer requests, but my brain is fading… I’ll leave you with a few things. The first is Kelsey’s and my love story. We showed this video at our wedding (many people knew one or the other of us, but not both, and we wanted this video to provide a glimpse into how we met). The setup is this: both Kelsey and I were asked the same questions and responded to those. The kicker is that we were not in the same room. While I was being interviewed, Kelsey was in another room, while she was being interviewed, I was in another room. This video is a compilation of those responses.

Next are several photos of Alexa at various times over the past two months.



Monday, January 5, 2015

Open Christmas letter

For those of you who received our Christmas letters in the past, you know we shared the “top 10 blessings” of the prior year. To set the record straight, in case anyone was wondering, the “our and we” used here is really “Kelsey” with a bit of token help from me. I was involved in thinking through the blessings, a bit of proof reading and help with when she needed to trim things down to fit nicely on the layout of our Christmas card. As today marks 6 months since the day Kelsey stepped into eternity with Christ, I thought it would be an appropriate time to share our top 10 list from 2014. Although I haven’t discussed them with Kelsey, I am sure she would share many similar sentiments (but would probably say them better than I will). I tried to do somewhat of a countdown, but many of these are ties, so the order doesn’t mean too much (with the exception of the number 1 blessing).

Top 10 Blessings of 2014

10. Care and caregivers - We were blessed to have caring doctors and nurses throughout the journey (during and after biopsies and surgeries and as Kelsey neared the end of her life). Knowing that Kelsey was not in pain in the final hours of her life was a comfort.

9. Work family - The support I have received throughout this “unexpected journey” has been incredible. What a blessing to have coworkers and bosses who are genuinely concerned with how I am doing and have been (and continue to be) incredibly flexible.

8. Grief stories - It has been a blessing to interact with others who are walking through the road of grief. Hope is offered when there is testimony upon testimony of God’s faithfulness. Books, the grief group through Calm Waters, and the new friendships I have with men who are at a similar place or a bit further down the road have been invaluable resources.

7. Church family - My local church has been (and continues to be) so supportive. We have also seen the church universal lift us up in constant prayer. Thank you for being God’s hands and feet. You gave me a reason to be grateful for Facebook.

6. Friends - They have been so willing to dive in and help: watching Alexa, running errands, mowing the lawn, listening to me verbally process (sometimes a messy affair) and other duties as assigned.

5. Family - I am blessed with two wonderful families. I cannot imagine the journey without them. Caring for Alexa, caring for Kelsey, miles traveled on the roads and in airplanes, encouraging phone calls, texts and emails, and constant words of affirmation are just a few of the blessings that you have brought into my life in this past year. I thank God daily for each of you!

4. Tangible memories - Kelsey left our family with a richness of memories. Many we have in tangible form: photos, videos, and written words (cards, the blog, her diary, and her notes from Bible Study Fellowship). A beautiful legacy to pass along to Alexa.

3. Alexa Hope - How true her middle name has proved to be. Caring for her gives me hope. Seeing her grow and blossom in her interactions with others and her delight in life gives me great joy. I am SO thankful she is eating.

2. 3013 days - The number of days I was married to Kelsey. Although technically only 186 days of our marriage were in 2014, I am thankful for each day. There were hard days, sad days, joyful days, challenging days, exciting days and fun days, but sharing 3013 days with such a special gift from God was a privilege.

1. Christ - He is the one I cling to. His birth, life, death and resurrection provide me with a confidence and hope. One day there will be a joyous reunion. Death, tears and sadness will be all made right.

Another blessing (which, if included, would result in a top 11 list, so was not included) is music. Thanks to each you who have shared music – it continues to be an encouragement. If you are curious what is in my playlist now, here is a YouTube playlist (this is the order I heard them on shuffle this evening). I will not be offended if you don’t listen to all of the songs (it is an hour and 55 minutes).

And, a couple recent photos of Alexa that capture some of her delight in life: