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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Three years?

“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” - Psalms 90:12

It is hard to believe, looking back now, almost 13 years ago (I guess it will be 13 years ago on September 25), I snapped this picture. Sure, I thought it was funny – a photo of several people getting set up to take timer pictures of all of us. But, there was an ulterior motive – I thought the gal on the left, wearing the red bandana, was a pretty special gal. And boy, was I ever right. What a joy it was, when 525 days later, we made a covenant before God for “as long as we both shall live.” 3045 days later, Kelsey stepped into eternity. So many special memories made during those 3570 days from the day I snapped this picture until the day she was safely home. So much refining. So much grief and pain as Kelsey died here on earth and stepped into the presence of her Lord and Savior.

Three years since that day? Sometimes it feels like it has been much longer, sometimes much shorter. Throughout the despair, heartache, and grief, God has remained constant. I heard this song today for the first time (which I suppose makes sense, due to the fact it was written on June 29 for another husband left behind with his daughter). Many of you may have seen the story of Megan Johnson, who died in childbirth. This is a song which was written for her husband Nathan. The lyrics are below the video.

Always Good – Andrew Peterson

Do you remember how Mary was grieving?
How you wept when she fell at your feet?
If it’s true that you know what I’m feeling
Could it be that you’re weeping with me?
Arise, O Lord, and save me
There’s nowhere else to go
You’re always good
Always good
Somehow this sorrow
Is shaping my heart like it should
And you’re always good
Always good
It’s so hard to know what you’re doing
Why won’t you tell it all plain?
But you said you’d come back on the third day
And Peter missed it again and again
So maybe the answer surrounds us
And we don’t have eyes to see
That you’re always good
Always good
This heartache is moving me closer
Than joy ever could
And you’re always good
My God, my God, be near me
There’s nowhere else to go
And Lord, if you can hear me
Please help your child to know
That you’re always good
Always good
As we try to believe
What is not meant to be understood
Will you help us to trust
Your intentions for us are still good
‘Cause you laid down your life
And you suffered like I never could
You’re always good

Isn’t it true? There really is nowhere else to go! And God is always good! Praying God encourages you with that truth today …

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Marvelous, Infinite, Matchless Grace

“The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.” - Ps. 126:3

Grace. It is a word which has often been on my mind. God’s grace is something which I know in my head and experience in my life on a daily basis. I experience God’s common grace (the grace which is showered out on every human on earth) daily. “… For He [God] makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” - Matt. 5:45 “The LORD is good to all, and His mercy is over all that He has made.” - Ps. 145:9

I experienced God’s saving grace when I was five years old and recognized that I did not meet God’s standard of holiness and came to understand (in my limited understanding at that age) that God had made a way for me to have a right relationship with Him through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. I saw my need to confess the wrong things I had done (yep, even at 5, that was a fairly decent list), and ask Jesus to save and cleanse me and be the new ruler of my life. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” - Eph. 2:8-9 “But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” - Rom. 5:8

I continue to experience God’s sanctifying grace as His grace enables me to become more like Jesus. I have a long way to go, and could not do it on my own! “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” - Phil. 2:13 “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” - 1 Tim. 6:11-12 “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” 1 Peter 2:9-11

And the list of other ways I see God’s specific grace in my life is long. A few selections: A wonderful family, a godly heritage, physical health, great training in walking with the Lord during my years at home, in college, and beyond, my church family (both local and universal), friends through all seasons of life, education, opportunities to see firsthand God’s work around the world, bringing Kelsey into my life and the over 8 years of marriage to her, the new members of my family which I gained from that marriage, the joy of welcoming Alexa into our family, my work and the flexibility it offered during Kelsey’s battle with cancer and after she stepped into eternity, direction, perseverance and guidance in single parenting, getting a different glimpse into God’s sovereignty even in times that are very difficult, and recently, bringing an incredibly godly woman into my life who not only puts up with me, but says she actually enjoys being around me!

As I thought about this post, and thought about those of you who have walked through the difficult journey which began on March 4, 2013 as Kelsey noticed a knot in her right forearm, I was struck by the fact that even in the midst of those dark times, God’s grace was apparent. For those of you who don’t know about this journey (and might want to), you can start back with the first post that Kelsey posted after she had heard the word “cancer” from the orthopedic surgeon she visited: It leads up to July 5, 2014, when Kelsey stepped into the next life where she is now completely cancer free: And I realized that even if God had done NONE of the things that He has done in my life, even by having life and not being destroyed because of the fact I have not lived up to God’s standard of holiness, I would have experienced His grace: “Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail.” - Lam. 3:22

God could have dealt very differently with me and with all of us. He could have destroyed us completely when we turned our backs on Him. But, He showered us with grace.

He doesn’t promise happy endings on this earth, but there is a joyful ending promised to all who choose to believe in Jesus. “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. “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.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then He said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.’” - Rev. 21:3-7

I realize there may be many of you who are walking through hard times of your own right now and may not be feeling God’s grace. But, I can assure you God’s grace is there. And it will be there, whether you survive your sickness or not, whether you get married or not, whether you and your spouse can resolve the conflict you are walking through or not, whether you can have children or not, whether your children choose to walk with the Lord or not. WHATEVER you either experience or don’t, God’s grace is constant!

So, if any of you are still reading at this point, know this happy news is tempered with the recognition that our happiness is not guaranteed on earth. What is that happy news, you may ask? On May 13th, Sarah Malone said “yes” to the prospect of being my wife, to stepping into our family and walking through the “as long as we both shall live” which is to come! What grace! Sarah is an amazing young woman who loves God, loves people, loves children, has been willing to embrace all of the nuances of my life, is compassionate, caring, hospitable, beautiful … and the list goes on. What a joy it is to be able to enter into this new adventure at our wedding on August 12th! Sarah will be moving to Norman on July 10th and staying with a dear couple from our church. What fun it will be to have her closer than Louisville, KY!

A few pictures (from our proposal/engagement photo shoot):

I know many of you have been following this journey and may want to celebrate with us. We sent a LOT of invitations, but I know there are others who have faithfully read and prayed who did not receive an invitation. So, if you want to come to our wedding, we would love to have you! There is a website for you to visit and RSVP if you would like to attend (it also has all of the important details like time and location):

Prayer requests:
-- Alexa’s understanding/adjustment in this new stage of life.
-- Alexa’s salvation.
-- Special time for Alexa and Sarah to spend together before the wedding.
-- Wisdom for both Sarah and me as we walk into this adventure and balance the various aspects of life both before and after our marriage.
-- Wedding details
-- Wisdom in how to point others toward Christ now and in the future.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Overwhelmed by grace

Photo Credit: Shannon Ho – Instagram: @shannonhophotography
"Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." - Hebrews 4:14-16
When Kelsey and I embarked on this unexpected journey over 4 years ago, I had no idea what sorts of hard things God would allow into my life. The converse of that is I also had no idea of how much grace would be outpoured in my life. I am so thankful for the “throne of grace” where I have consistently and repeatedly seen God’s mercy and grace which has been an incredible help in time of need.

There is no magic “easy” button in life. There is no magic prayer I can pray which will “force” God to act in a way which makes sense to me (and as I look back, I am thankful that is the case). The idea that we just need to “grin and bear it” is a load of horse manure. Over the past several months, there has been a word which has continued to turn over and over in my mind: Providence. What a mysterious and wonderful word. It is that word which helps us have faith that we can trust in a God of Whom the following verses are completely true: "Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?" - Lamentations 3:37-38

God is completely in control in EVERYTHING. In the good times, we celebrate that fact as complete truth, but in the hard times, there is a part of us that begins to wonder if perhaps, this one time, God wasn’t paying attention and something snuck by Him. But, as we see in a familiar passage (which we often stop with the first verse), God is working things for our good (specifically that we are conformed to Christ’s image): "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers." - Romans 8:28-29

Isn’t it interesting to note: there were a WHOLE LOT of bad things which God was in complete control of, leading up to the horrific death of Jesus. And, Jesus was not a victim, but a victor in His death – fulfilling Scripture and triumphantly finishing the task which had been set before Him. Because of His death, if we choose to follow Him, we will experience eternal life in heaven with Jesus instead of the condemnation to an eternity apart from God we deserve. Because of His pain and suffering, if we choose to follow Him, the worst pain and suffering we can ever experience is here on earth, followed by an eternity without pain or suffering. Because of His separation from God as He bore our sins, if we choose to follow Him, we will NEVER again be separated from God. Those horribly bad things – shams of trials, mocking, beating, slapping, crowns of thorns, carrying a cross, crucifixion between thieves, taking on our sin (unimaginable as the perfect Son of God to have that sin put upon Him), separation from God (a state which had never happened in eternity past and will never again happen in eternity future), and a relinquishing of control as Jesus gave up His spirit (the Creator and Sustainer of all recognizing He would be powerless in death) – all for OUR good.

I know there are so many of you who have been faithful to pray. Many of you I know, but many of you I don’t. What a picture of the universal church it has been for me as I hear from people I don’t know at all who have prayed for Kelsey, Alexa and me during this journey. Thank you for those prayers! It is one of those moments of grace in my life that I want to share with each of you, my prayer warriors. God has brought an incredible young woman into my life. She has been willing to jump into the nuances of my situation: widower, single dad, two families who will continue to be involved, and an ongoing journey of grief. She has cared for me, cared for Alexa, cared for Kelsey’s family and the Kennedy family. We have shared many hours of FaceTime communication (she is currently living in Louisville, KY), exchanged a multitude of text messages, and had two incredibly sweet extended times to spend with each other and our respective communities (she knows a vast percentage of my community from having been here in Norman prior to moving to Louisville 5 years ago). It is exciting to see God’s direction, amazing to see the capacity of a broken heart to care so deeply for someone again, and so fun to see the excitement of our friends and family. And, photo evidence – otherwise I might be accused of making all of this up!
Me, Alexa and Sarah Malone (and a couple animals who joined as well).

Prayer requests:
-- Direction for both Sarah and me as we continue to seek God’s wisdom and clarity in our relationship – for our own personal walks with the Lord to grow and thrive.
-- Alexa as she processes this new development in life – for her to understand the great benefits of this relationship and not just see the potential changes.
-- For Alexa’s salvation
-- For wisdom with balancing the details of life well: time with Alexa, time with Sarah, time investing in the kingdom, time at work, time to rest.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Take heart!

First of all, it has been been a while since I last posted. I don’t know that I have any fantastic reasons for the slowness. I have thought about it a few times, then felt a bit overwhelmed thinking about how I will try to catch up on the last several months. I will try to give some high level details, but since today marks 11 years since Kelsey and I were married, hopefully you will pardon me if I wax a bit philosophical. The beauty of writing a post in blog form is that if you don’t want to read it, you certainly don’t have to! ;-)

We are studying through the book of John this year in BSF, and there have been a few things which have really stuck out to me over the past couple weeks, as I recognized this day was coming – certainly still a day of celebration, but in a very different way. A verse which stood out to me this week (and has been helpful to me over the journey of the past 4 years) is Jesus’ words recorded in John 16:33 – "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

It doesn’t take a lot of close looking to recognize there is trouble in the world. I think of my good friend who has had a recurrence of cancer and is in the midst of an aggressive chemotherapy while his wife is expecting their fourth girl any day. I think of my uncle, who is walking with my aunt through her cancer treatment (after she suffered from a stroke which has left her needing pretty constant care and not being able to be her normal independent self). I think of couples on the brink of divorce, people who are dealing with the fallout of a divorce, parents who question why their children have made terrible choices and now have to deal with the consequences. Trouble.

Then I look back at that verse. Why am I surprised? Jesus promised there would be trouble. Yet, sometimes we seem to get smacked out of the blue with it. Certainly there has been trouble in my life over the past 4 years. A cancer diagnosis, watching my wife go through a battle with cancer all the while wishing I could help, praying God would heal her, the details of a memorial service, details of making sure Alexa has good care, making sure the house doesn’t fall to pieces, needing to continue to work, trying to navigate the waters of dating when I certainly didn’t anticipate that being something that would be necessary. This isn’t a pity party, it is just pointing out the reality: Trouble. But, oh, thank God, the verse doesn’t end there.

Jesus knew His disciples and those who followed Him in years to come would have trouble, but He shared more. "But take heart!" What? How can we do that? That is the freeing part, it isn’t up to us to muster up the "taking heart", we can trust that Jesus has overcome the world. Think about this for a moment. Here are the disciples, being told (once again, but perhaps starting to get it a bit this time), that Jesus is going to die. The man they have left everything to follow for three years. How can this happen? Their sorrow is intense and will be even more intense in a matter of hours. Jesus recognizes all of that, but He says, "Take heart!" And the reason He gives: He had overcome the world. Now, the timing of when He said this is crucial. This is before He was arrested, before His friends deserted Him, before His sham of a trial, before being beaten and forced to carry His own cross to the place where He was crucified, before being scorned by the crowds, before all of the wrong things we have done were laid on Him (who is completely holy) and there was a moment when God the Father looked away – a relationship which had been completely unbroken from eternity past was broken. Trouble. For us. But, notice Jesus didn’t say, "Take heart! I will overcome the world." He said, "I have overcome the world" [emphasis mine]. He knew what lay ahead, but He knew he was going to die for our sins, rise again, ascend to heaven where He sits at God’s right hand, waiting eagerly for the day when He comes to claim His own. From the moment when Adam and Eve chose their own wisdom instead of God’s, Jesus had overcome. From before the world was even in existence, Jesus had overcome. Wow! Since I serve a God who has overcome, I can take heart.

That doesn’t mean the trouble won’t be hard. That doesn’t mean we won't have questions, but we know it is not a surprise to God - the same one Who told us to take heart has overcome the world. And God provides us incredible resources. If we have chosen to follow Jesus as our Lord and Savior, the truths at the end of 1 John 5 (verses 18-20) are true for us: "We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life" [emphasis mine]. Sin no longer holds power over us, we are no longer under Satan’s power, we can have understanding! In the midst of trouble!

Reminds me of a great song, As Long As You Are Glorified, by Sovereign Grace Music. Here are the lyrics:
Shall I take from Your hand Your blessings
Yet not welcome any pain?
Shall I thank You for days of sunshine
Yet grumble in days of rain?
Shall I love You in times of plenty
Then leave You in days of drought?
Shall I trust when I reap a harvest
But when winter winds blow, then doubt?

Oh let Your will be done in me
In Your love I will abide
Oh I long for nothing else as long
As You are glorified

Are You good only when I prosper
And true only when I’m filled?
Are You King only when I’m carefree
And God only when I’m well?
You are good when I’m poor and needy
You are true when I’m parched and dry
You still reign in the deepest valley
You’re still God in the darkest night
I am thankful for the amazing provision God has given in the midst of the challenges of the last several months. Alexa continues to grow and is a joy to be around (the vast majority of the time). She is enjoying first grade (here is a first day pic):
I am thankful for the great team of folks around me who have been so helpful: a gal who comes over twice a week to get Alexa ready for school in the morning, so I can get out and run, two gals who get her after school and help get her to music school and gymnastics, her teachers at school, music school, gymnastics and BSF, a gal who comes over ridiculously early on Saturday morning so I can go to BSF leaders meeting, a gal who has done a fantastic job of keeping the house clean, a great lawn care team, family who lives close by (thankful that her grandparents now live up in Edmond – that is such a helpful thing) and who is always willing to help out. Okay, here are some more pictures (along with descriptions):
Adventure with Kelsey’s family at River’s Edge.
Half-birthday celebrations.
At the fair.
Jog-a-thon at school.
Bone museum fun.
A daddy-daughter camping trip.
School zoo trip.
Halloween costumes.
Big kid day at her old school.
Tree climbing with her cousins.
Fun times decorating for Christmas.
Celebrating Alexa being chosen as a "Hero of the Month".
Christmas in Edmond.

Christmas in California.
Posing with a frog prince.
The Daddy-Daughter Dance.
Posing on The University of Oklahoma Campus.
McKinley Family Fun Night.
Getting eaten by a giant spider at the Sam Noble Natural History Museum.

There is a bit of a photo journey over the last several months. Also in there are numerous trips to the park, bike rides, trampoline jumping, and a lot of other things I have probably forgotten.

If you have made it this far, you are a glutton for punishment! Seriously though, God is good. Please do continue to pray for Alexa’s salvation. We have had some great discussions going through John this year in BSF, but she has not yet made a decision to follow Jesus. Pray for wisdom for me as I seek to raise her in a way that is God-honoring. Pray I will be faithful to encourage others who are walking through trouble of their own.

Thank you for your continued prayers and encouragement!