Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Most Generous Man in the World

I wrote a little story for my dad's birthday, and wanted to share it here so everyone can know how amazingly generous he is. Happy Birthday Dad, I love you!

Once upon a time there was a man with a wife and six children. They lived in a little house and were very happy. One day, the man decided to sell the little house and move to a big, beautiful house up the road. His children played games in the huge yard, slept in spacious bedrooms, and explored the comfortable neighborhood. They were even happier than they had been in the little house. The man worked very hard in the big house. He kept the lawn cut, the trees trimmed, and the pool sparkling. He threw massive parties for his children and their friends. Everyone loved the big house. Everyone loved the man's parties. 

But the man didn't stop there. He wanted his children to see the world, and so he would pile them into a big gray van that he had bought, brand new, and take them on spontaneous trips. They traveled up the coast to Canada. They traveled down the coast to Florida. The man bought his children things and memories. But that wasn't the most important thing. He gave them the gift of relationships, that couldn't be bought with money. He liked to have his children sit up front with him and talk. He spent time with each of the six children, listening to them, learning about their hopes and dreams. And when the man spoke to his children, it was with wisdom and understanding. He taught his children about God. He showed them how to love God and each other. The man raised six children who became best friends. 

When it was time for the man's oldest child, a daughter, to go to school, the man let her choose where she wanted to go. He took her to visit the school, and when she was accepted, he sat down and wrote a check for the first semester, and for each of the semesters after that. Sometimes the man ran into hard times financially. Often his children never even knew. He did everything he could to give them the best life possible. After the oldest daughter graduated from her expensive school, she planned an expensive wedding. And the man worked harder than ever before. He worked long, long hours all of the months before the wedding so that he could walk his daughter down the aisle in the setting of her dreams. 

Three years passed, and the man gave his second daughter a wedding just as exquisite as the first. He sent his third daughter to an expensive school. And he worked harder than ever to make it all possible, to make his children's dreams come true. At last, it seemed, life began to slow down for the man. The full nest began to empty as, one by one, his children set out to make their own way in the world. Then, terrible tragedy struck. The oldest daughter found herself alone in the world with her newborn baby girl. And the man once again made a home for her. He moved to the basement of his own house and gave his bedroom to his daughter. He found furniture and pretty things to make her smile. He bought her crepes and coffee and listened to her when she was confused. He loved her baby girl like his own. 

Every year brings the man closer to retirement age. Every year, the man works harder than ever. He brings his mother into his home. He drives to North Carolina, Kentucky, Alabama, and Canada to visit his children. The man does not stop working. He does not stop praying. He does not stop loving. He does not stop giving. He is the most generous man in the whole world. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016


When Nathan and I lived in Houston the local Christian radio station (KSBJaaay!) provided constant background music in both of our cars. One new song by Big Daddy Weave, "Overwhelmed," was played more often than usual. I vividly remember making the trek downtown for a prenatal doctor's appointment right before Elissa was born, as "Overwhelmed" played for what seemed like the tenth time that day. The words brought me to tears as I visualized the glorious relief I would feel once our daughter had entered the world. In my imagination, the thrill of beholding her face to face after the agony of giving birth would feel very akin to dying and entering heaven. I knew that what happened in that delivery room would be a holy moment, that heaven would touch earth and I'd be compelled to worship.

"I delight myself in You, in the glory of Your presence
I'm overwhelmed, I'm overwhelmed by You..."

Elissa's birth was every bit as painful, glorious, and miraculous as I'd anticipated. Three weeks later, in a single instant that obliterated our euphoric new family life, Nathan was hit and killed by a drunk driver. I immediately went home to Maryland to be with our families, but a few weeks later found myself back in Texas for his memorial service. As I once again drove those familiar highways with KSBJ playing in the background, my grief seemed punctuated by the same refrain, over and over again: "I'm overwhelmed, I'm overwhelmed by You..." It seemed like every time I started the rental car "Overwhelmed" was playing on the radio. I knew it was no coincidence. In the midst of overwhelming feelings of pain, betrayal, and anger towards God for allowing this to happen, the lyrics nonetheless became my anthem:

"God I run into Your arms, unashamed because of mercy
I'm overwhelmed, I'm overwhelmed by You." 

My once-solid faith that I'd clung to for 26 years was in tatters, wrecked by the one thing I was sure would never happen: losing the one person I couldn't live without. Yet as I visualized Nate at home and free in the arms of his Creator I knew that the words of this song were an apt description of what he was experiencing, even as we who were left behind struggled to keep breathing, to make it through another day. I found a measure of comfort in my own devastation knowing that he was in the place he was made for, fulfilling his eternal destiny.

Fast-forward twenty months later. Elissa and I are spending the summer in Prince Edward Island, at an idyllic inn on Memory Lane (I kid you not). Nathan brought me to this same inn exactly two years ago as a surprise last hoorah before we became parents, both of us clueless as to what would befall us just months later. This place was meant to be a part of our story, and before I even realized the connotation of the road name I brought along a bag stuffed with the journals I'd kept during our years together. I've spent the last month poring over hundreds of handwritten pages, documenting the ups and downs from our days of first meeting and falling in love, to fights, passionate trysts, joy, laughter, heartache, and everything in between. And I've only made it to 2008!

I never imagined how painful a trip into the past could be. Though we had the best marriage possible this side of heaven, I've felt acute pangs of grief and guilt over so many things I should have done differently in our relationship. Ways I could have loved him, served him, cared for him...missed opportunities because I was too absorbed in my own selfishness.

Our early years of dating were particularly rocky. We grew up together in many ways, hours apart at different schools with very different pursuits, and though we longed to be together it was agonizingly unclear at times whether our paths were ultimately meant to converge or separate. Woven between the stories of conflict and confusion are my journaled prayers for Nate, reminding myself over and over again that he belonged to God and that God would fulfill His purposes for him, regardless of how our future together played out.

Today it hits me, reading once again the many ways that I'd failed Nate in spite of my best efforts, that he is now overwhelmed by a Love like he never imagined. Nathan struggled his whole life to believe that he mattered to others, that people really cared about him. It hurts more than I can express to admit that, even knowing this, there were so many times that I didn't do enough to convey my love for him. I love him more wholly and passionately than anyone can ever know, yet all the love in my heart fell woefully short of what he needed and deserved.

As I am devastated once again that I couldn't be a more perfect wife, I find my grief turning to thanksgiving. Impulsively I start to praise God for dazzling Nathan with all the love he was created to eternally behold. I thank Him for holding Nate in the palm of His hand, guarding him from countless unknown disasters until the moment that he was destined to enter heaven. In January of 2008 I wrote in my journal: God, please give me Your heart for Nate and use me to show him how special and wonderful he is and how much You love him...

It is overwhelming to me that God gave me this priceless treasure of a man for eight years, that I got to love him with everything I have and thus be a part of showing him God's love on earth. Yet the story was never meant to end with us. Tim Keller describes how Jesus embraced the cross, "knowing that no matter how dreadful, on the other side would lie the joy of being with us. We are his reward." This. This is overwhelming Love. And until I can hold Nate again I will rejoice that he is safe in the arms of his Father.

Nathan and I at Green Gables on July 4, 2014

Elissa and I on Memory Lane, June 2016

Sunday, February 14, 2016

A Letter to My Husband

"Many waters cannot quench love, 
neither can floods drown it."
- Song of Songs 8:7

Ten years ago today I met my best friend and hero - the greatest man I've ever known. Nate, knowing, loving, and losing you has forever changed and shaped me. There are countless ways you've impacted me for good, but today I want to thank you for showing me the love of Jesus. It has been a long, bitter, tear-filled journey to relearn and accept His love for me. I will be perfectly honest: when God took you home I was furious that He would let me taste that kind of love and then take it away. His promises to care for the orphan and widow incited rage, not comfort. I didn't want a stand-in husband and father; I wanted YOU. One day I begged God for just one more conversation with you to tide me over until we were together again. In that moment God spoke to me so clearly. He said, "If Nathan could give you one thing right now he wouldn't give you himself. He'd give you Jesus."
"Lord," I responded, "help me to want that. Let Jesus be enough." 

Days later I had the most vivid dream of my life. In my dream I was with Jesus, and He loved me so much. He wanted me - me! - to be His bride. I will never forget the way His love made  me feel: complete, and whole, and infinitely valuable. Nothing I could do added to or detracted from His love; it was as boundless and constant as the sea. I woke from my dream and realized that if I just had that love I would never need anything ever again. And Nate, what struck me the most about Jesus was that He loved me like you did. And what I am most thankful for about our years together is that with you I had a taste of Christ's passionate love for His bride. Thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart for showering love upon me in the best and the worst of times. For never giving a harsh word or a cold shoulder. For bearing, believing, and hoping always. 

Today, a day that we should be celebrating ten years together, my arms physically ache to hold you. And yet I have hope, because stronger and more real than the grave is Life Everlasting. We did long-distance for years in college, and we're doing it now. Every day I feel your love and support as I run my race. I can't wait to make it to the finish line. I can't wait to hug you again, but I know that when we're finally reunited you will take my hand and lead me to Jesus. In life and in death, He is all we will ever need, and He will never let us go. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Reflecting on 2015

"I'm more than you dreamed, more than you understand
Your days and your times were destined for our dance
I catch all your tears, burn your name on My heart
Be still and trust My plan, I'm more than you think I am." 
- Danny Gokey

I mentioned in my last post that I've experienced the full range of human emotions in 2015, our first year without Nathan. There were big chunks of time when I didn't post, too crippled by grief and doubt to fully stand behind whatever words I could muster. But I was writing all along, and looking back over my journaling in 2015 I see themes and shifts that have helped me better understand my journey through loss.

2015 was a year of firsts without Nate: first New Year, his birthday, Valentine's Day, Easter, Mother's Day, Father's Day, anniversary (we would have been married five years in June '15), my birthday, Elissa's first birthday, and the first anniversary of the accident. The once-special days seemed to come in waves, pushing me back down into a sea of pain and broken dreams as soon as I started coming up for air. I am thankful now that I chose to embrace the holidays for all the joy and pain that they represented. I didn't even attempt to suck it up and march blindly forward. I spent Valentine's Day blinded by tears, surrounded by piles of love letters from Nate. On our anniversary I was in Houston, tracing our steps back to all the places where we'd lived, gone on dates, and eaten our favorite foods. On my birthday I took Elissa back to Strong Mansion, our wedding venue. October 5 found us in Destin, FL, one of Nathan's favorite beaches, with the people he loved most. Looking back I see a trend on these poignant days. I would begin the day overwhelmed by grief, barely able to breathe. The path through our memories seemed unbearable, but necessary. There was nothing else I could or wanted to do. And by the end of the day I was actually able to smile, and laugh, and be so thankful for my years with Nate and find genuine joy in the life I now live with my baby girl. That is a priceless gift, and I don't think I would have come to that place had I not chosen to throw myself headlong into the most painful aspects of my loss.

Valentine's Day 2015 - overwhelmed by all the love!

As Thanksgiving and Christmas '15 rolled around I noticed a marked difference from the previous year, when we were all still stunned by Nate's absence. In 2014 I wanted nothing to do with these holidays; I tried my hardest to avoid them. On Thanksgiving I spent the day driving to North Carolina, timing it so that I would miss all the feasting. On Christmas I locked myself away for most of the day and refused to give or receive gifts. It was the only way I could make it through what used to be my favorite holidays, but this year, with a busy toddler in tow, I baked traditional Thanksgiving dishes and ate and wrapped presents during Christmas movie marathons and even felt a spark of the old anticipation on Christmas morning. Seeing things through Elissa's eyes makes these days new again. Holidays will never be what they were with Nate, who literally made me giddy with joy more times than I can count. I had the best years of my life with him, but there is so much life still to live with Elissa. Every day I thank God for the hope and fresh perspective that she gives me.

Thanksgiving 2015

I read about a couple who lost their six children in a fiery car crash, and years later they attributed their faith in God to the way they'd seen Him carry them through each day since. That is exactly the way I feel fifteen months after Nate's accident. My faith has run the full gamut of questions, rage, and doubt, but the one constant thing is that Jesus has never let us go. Several months ago I journaled these words:

I've wanted to write inspiring posts about trust and faith but I barely know what those words mean anymore. My worldview has been upended; my beliefs are in tatters. It scares me to publicize my fear, anger and doubts. What happened to the steady Christian girl with unshakable faith?

The unthinkable happened. Try as I might I cannot roll over and play dead with God. I cannot blindly accept everything that happened as being "part of a plan" or "for a reason." Nate's accident is senseless and meaningless and so wrong. It should NEVER have happened. As long as I live there will never be any answers to explain it away. 

Was my former faith really so shallow that a catastrophic loss can destroy it? I've come to believe that God doesn't expect me to shut my mouth and play this hideous hand I've been dealt without an epic internal battle. I believe He's invited me to have it out with Him. He's big enough to handle my rage, my hurt, my doubts and my tears. He already knows all about it anyway, so it's both senseless and futile to try to bottle everything up inside. 

I don't want anyone to think for a minute that I'm stronger or braver than I really am. My faith is one long string of question marks and expletives, and I am relearning how to live in a world where nothing is guaranteed and the most beautiful things can suddenly become the most horrific. I once thought I knew God. Nothing could have prepared me for this side of Him. 

My former faith has been torn down and rebuilt on a foundation that includes the worst loss imaginable. Yes, God allowed it. And somehow, even now, He is still good. He is still God. And every day I am learning a little more about what that means. 

I believe that people suffering the aftermath of a catastrophic loss are given little glimpses of their loved one as an encouragement to pull through to the finish line. Around Elissa's birthday I had a vivid picture of Nathan that changed my perspective so much. Many well-meaning people had said things about Nate being "in a better place" and "at peace," and I took this to mean that he was so happy with Jesus that he wasn't even missing the ones he left behind.

While I do believe that heaven is infinitely better than earth, and that given the choice Nate would probably not want to come back, I firmly believe that he knows this is not the way things are meant to be. God has promised to redeem all evil for great good, but sickness and drunk drivers and serial killers and death were never part of His original plan. Death is horrific, nauseating, the antithesis of creation. All the perspective in the world doesn't make it okay. Jesus wept at Lazarus' tomb. He knew that He was about to raise him from the dead, but that didn't take the pain away. Nathan sees how all this will turn out, yet I believe he still grieves the untimely severance of our souls. We are separated by time and space, and the eternity in our hearts heaves against the separation.

Somehow the image I saw of Nathan cheering me on through tears at the life I am left to walk alone has filled me with hope and the will to press on. The end of Hebrews 11 talks about martyrs "of whom the world was not worthy" dying in faith before receiving what was promised. The very next verse, Hebrews 12:1, admonishes us to run our race with endurance, "since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses." To me, the image of a cloud of witnesses means that Nathan is still involved in my life on earth. Like Jesus, he sees what I am going through and he intercedes for me. Randy Alcorn suggests that there is a "present heaven" where saints go before the final creation of the New Earth: the longed-for paradise where there will be no more tears or sadness, because all will finally be well. In the present heaven, as depicted in Revelation, Christians who have died still watch the drama being played out on earth and pray for those they have left behind. It brings me comfort to imagine Nathan watching the way I raise Elissa, praying for us because he will always be part of our family.

I can't pretend that I've been through the dark valley of anger and doubt and made it through to the other side. I don't ever want to stay quiet until I've resolved things about God and the way the world works that will honestly probably never fully resolve, but I do want to end affirming what I still know to be true: that God loves us. He has a plan for us that isn't exempt from horrific pain, but that is guaranteed to use the worst circumstances for good. As it turns out, God's "good" is usually the opposite of what seems good to me. But He is the One in control, who sees the end from the beginning, and while this life was never promised to bring us happiness or ultimate satisfaction, awaiting His children is an eternity filled to overflowing with all the things our hearts most deeply long for.

My Sunshine.