Thursday, August 30, 2012


At some point in every great life change- whether a change for the better or for the worse- you have to find a "new normal."

Bryan had this experience when we started having babies.  Nathan was born, and he wondered when things would get back to normal.  Just as we started reaching that point, Megan came along, and then Evan.  After baby number three, he said he pretty much just surrendered to the new normal.  (That was also when he started changing diapers.  He realized he would never get to spend time with me if I did all of the baby care.)

Now, our current upheaval has a much darker cause, of course, but the necessity of finding the new normal is still there.  Being widowed with seven children is a unique experience.  Although having children is of course a comfort, it does eliminate the "cash in the life insurance and start training to climb Mt. Everest" option for dealing with grief.  Instead, we're left with doing all of our ordinary things, but with hearts that feel anything but "ordinary."  The things we've always done cause pain because he's gone: dinner in the evening, Saturday morning breakfast, being with friends, going to church, watching Fox News.  (Who knew Brett Baier could be such a tear-jerker?)

As time passes- it's been two months- the pain lessens.  It begins to seem less strange, though perhaps no less sad, to do these things without him.

The Apostle Peter wrote to the believers,

"May the God of all grace, 
who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, 
after you have suffered a while
perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you."  
(1 Peter 5:10)

It's this "settling" that I think we're heading toward.  We'll still miss him- we'll always miss him- but we'll begin to feel settled.  Somehow, on the other side of suffering, will be a place where we stop feeling adrift, and the Lord will give us the blessing of being settled.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

If You're Happy and You Know It

I was listening to Dennis Prager's Happiness Hour on the radio the other day.  (Wouldn't he have the perfect voice for a psychiatrist?  Calming, friendly, thoughtful.)  He was asking if people looked back on their lives and thought of a particular time period as the "good old days."  Then he asked if people knew at the time that they were happy, or if they could only see the happiness in retrospect.  Most people, he said, are not aware that their present time is good and happy.

When Bryan and I had three or four little people, an older person told us, "These are the best days of your life.  You just don't know it."  Bryan told him, "Yes, we do.  We know these are good times."

It gives me great comfort now to know that we DID know how happy we were.  We valued the times, even the challenging times, because we said that at least we had each other.  Bryan said of people who complained about life- particularly about their spouses- "They just don't appreciate what they've got.  They should think about how short life is."

Now, I don't really think his perspective was prophetic.  Bryan had lost many loved ones, and that changed his thinking.  I'm thankful, given the short time we had together as a family, for the attitude of joy and gratitude that defined our thinking.

Life is short.  And in the grand scheme of things, so few things really matter.  Happiness is a mindset.  And when you think about it, it's usually the little things frustrations that keep people from seeing the happy moments of their lives.  If we complain about each other, if we complain about our circumstances, we'll miss out.  And we'll be the people who are living in the best days of their lives and don't know it.

How many times have we spent hours or days worrying about something that didn't happen?  Or perhaps, the dreaded event did happen, but in retrospect, it wasn't as bad as we thought it would be.  Sometimes, our happiness is robbed by skewed thinking.  Well, we think, our present time might be okay, but if we had (fill in the blank) THEN we'd be happy. 

Did you know that one of the Hebrew words translated "blessed" is also translated "happy"?  We are all blessed in many ways, and we need to see those blessings as our happiness.  Ultimately, complete, unspoiled happiness will only come at the end when the Lord sets everything right.  In between, though, He gives joy in the wilderness to those who are willing to have the eyes to see it.

From 1 Peter 1: 
You are kept for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 
In this you greatly rejoice,
though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials. 
You rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory,
recieving the end of your faith- the salvation of your souls.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Cheerier Post

I was writing another blog post, and Nathan, reading over my shoulder as usual, informed me that this blog is too sad, and that I should write about something else.  Like our daily lives.  So here you have it...

We had a small, informal birthday party for Evan on Sunday.  His "real" birthday was a little lame since all the kids were recovering from a stomach bug.

Evan loves pugs.  We don't have a pug, but if it were up to Evan, we would.  Bryan never understood his obsession with the little smashed-faced dogs, but he did make sure that Evan got a Webkinz pug.  Bryan called him "Bruiser Dog."  I think Evan calls him "Pugsley."  Wait, I'm being corrected by the kids over my shoulder- there are twin Webkinz pugs- Bruiser and Pugsley.  Webkinz is a big thing around here, particularly since it allows the kids to "connect" with friends that might be online at the same time.

When I made the cake, Evan suggested that I add the words, "Hug a Pug," after the Webkinz song of the same title.  You've never listened to "Hug a Pug"?  Then, you, my friend, are missing out on a very fine musical arrangement.  Steffen can sing it quite well, and it's the sort of song that sticks with you, playing through your mind in an endless loop.

So, Hug a Pug it was, and Evan had a great party.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


"More than anything else, I'm sorry for myself, for living without you."  That line from a John Denver song was running through my head, and it made me stop and think.  Am I descending into self-pity?

There are so many resources on grief, and yet, though I have to admit to only scanning the many resources I've received, not one seems to address the character issues that might be associated with it.  "Anything's fine" when it comes to grieving, it seems.

I suppose that's a compassionate stance- no one would want to tell someone struggling with a great loss how to "properly" deal with it.  Maybe, though, it neglects some of the needs of the moment.  After all, if the purpose of suffering is to turn us into more godly people, then there must be something we can do in the midst of it to aid that process.  Not everyone who is faced with great difficulty becomes a better person.  Some people are broken beyond repair.  Many make foolish decisions.  Others turn against the Lord.  The "testing of your faith" (James 1:3) only produces endurance if we pass the test.

So what determines the line between mourning- a good and biblically-sanctioned activity- and wallowing in self-pity?  Perhaps that's why it's a topic people shy away from- it's difficult to define.  It's probably something only the Holy Spirit can truly determine.  Each person grieves so differently, that there are no "rules" to govern the process.

I think it must have something to do with the focus of the mind.  When my thoughts to turn to "self," I'm immediately in a dangerous place.  The mind set on the flesh is death.  It takes away my strength and my ability to serve others.  It robs me of peace, and it certainly doesn't honor Bryan's memory.

The key must somehow be found in the mind set on the spirit which gives life and peace.  (Romans 8:6)  I have to take every thought captive, particularly during the moments of extreme sadness, and make them obedient to Christ. (2 Cor. 10:5)  Are these thoughts part of the healing process, or are they leading me down a destructive path of self-pity and bitterness?

I need to model the godly process of mourning for my little people.  The path is dark, and we are all going to stumble quite a bit along the way.  We each need to discover how to get through this valley and emerge on the other side- every valley has an end- more than conquerors.

Monday, August 13, 2012


Evan turned eight yesterday.

Every time one of the kids has a birthday, I find myself thinking, "Where did the time go?"  The years just slip by so quickly.

Evan was our first baby born at home.  And he was due July 31st.  We thought he was never going to come.  He was just showing the first insight into his personality.  Evan is never in a hurry.  He goes through life in his own little world, enjoying the process without worrying too much about the destination.  He does not like to be rushed, and he notices many things that the rest of us overlook.

Evan loves to be silly.  He always has.  He laughed aloud at six weeks, and things have been cracking him up ever since.

I pray that joy always defines him.

Happy Birthday, Evan!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Larry Boy

Steffen loves VeggieTales.  Our family generally tries to limit TV viewing, but when a babysitter shows up, my kids know that they'll get to watch a few programs.  And we've had a lot of babysitting help lately, so Steffen has watched lots and lots of VeggieTales.  He especially likes the superhero ones with Larry Boy- the amazing cucumber with super-suction ears.  He can recite whole passages.  (Who needs Shakespeare?)

In fact, he has now decided that he IS Larry Boy.  And for some reason, he's also decided to wear cowboy boots, even with shorts.  I'm not quite sure how cucumbers and cowboys really go together, but in his mind, they do.  He corrects us when we call him "Steffen."  "No, I'm.... Larry Boy...." he says, throwing his arms out to the sides for emphasis.

Steffen is at that delightful and exasperating two year old stage.  He's extremely verbal, and he thinks he's an adult, with all of the rights and privileges that entails.  It's very funny to see how his mind works.

The other day, we were at another family's home for dinner.  We were praying before the meal, holding hands in a circle, with Steffen in between me and one of his brothers.  The very instant the dad said, "Amen," Steffen let go of my hand, and decked his brother.  "Why did you do that?!" I asked, shocked at the sudden "violence."  "He was squeezing my hand- like this- the whole time!" he replied, demonstrating.  Apparently, he had been patiently awaiting that "amen."

Then, this weekend, I decided to order pizza as a special treat.  (Read: I was too lazy to make dinner.)  Now, ordering pizza used to be Bryan's area of expertise.  I did let them get soda (it was free), but I failed to get those little greasy dessert sticks.  When everyone got to the end of their pizza, there was some disappointment about that.  Steffen jumped up, ran out of the house and down the driveway, hollering, "Hey, pizza guy, you forgot our dessert!"

That's right, Steffen, blame it on the pizza guy.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


Have you read Romans 8:28?  Have you memorized it?  If you've walked into a Christian bookstore, you've probably been surrounded by it- plaques, cards, bookmarks.  We Christians love that promise:

"And we know that all things work together for good"

For good!  Such a cheery, uplifting verse.  We quote it when we're discouraged.  We especially quote it to others when they're discouraged.

But is that the full verse?  Is that the full story?  Is it a glib "everything comes out right in the end" promise?

It does come out right in the end.  I've read the back of the Book.  It comes out okay, but that's not the full story, and even that fragment of the verse contains more meaning than we give it credit for.  Take, for example, "all things."  What are these things?  Surely they're the events in our lives, the things that happen that shape and mold us.  These "things," though they may work together for "good" in the end, are not necessarily good in and of themselves.  They may be hard, horrible, and painful.

Then, of course, there's the rest of the verse:  "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."  I remember seeing the fragment of this verse on a plaque on someone's desk once.  He was, by most accounts, a rascally person.  I didn't know him well enough to know if he claimed Christ, but his life didn't proclaim Him.  This promise isn't for just anyone.  It's only for those who have started on the Pilgrim Road with the Savior.  And, it says, who are called for His purpose, not for our own.

Plus, Paul didn't write in verses.  He wrote letters.  He didn't know we'd be memorizing little sections of his writings and forgetting the other parts.  What does he say is God's purpose in calling us?  "To be conformed to the image of His Son."  (v. 29)  The Son didn't walk an easy road.  He was a "man of sorrows and acquainted with grief."  (Is. 53:3)  

In this very same chapter, Romans 8, Paul, also a man acquainted with grief, wrote, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us."  And that's the full promise.  Suffering may come (though some may be granted an easier road), but the glory overshadows it all in the end.  So while we do believe in the "good" that's promised, we also understand that all of the "things" in between might be very hard.

CS Lewis said it so well, "We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be."

Saturday, August 4, 2012


Three or four weeks ago, I called Social Security to file for Bryan's benefits.  I talked to a lady for a full forty-five minutes while she took down information on each child.  Name- date of birth- place of birth- social security number- and on and on.  At the end of our conversation, she said, "Okay, now let me make you an appointment to file for benefits at your local Social Security office."

Appointment?  To file for benefits?  What had I been doing for the last three-quarters of an hour?  "I'm just getting all of your preliminary information so that they have it when you go in."  So she gave me the next available appointment, nearly a month away, at 10:01 AM.  She didn't find the "01" funny.  That was the appointment time.

No problem.  I'm an Air Force Brat.  I know how to "hurry up and wait."  "What do I need to bring with me?"  "Your marriage license."  Okay, got it.  

The day for my appointment rolled around yesterday.  I got up early to make sure I had everything I needed.  Rule number one for dealing with bureaucracies:  Take every piece of paperwork you've got.  I took the marriage license, the kids' birth certificates, the death certificate, the kids' social security cards, and at the last moment, I stuck in my Certificate of American Citizen Born Abroad.  Just in case.

I got all the kids settled in gymnastics practice or with friends, and I made the trek with Austin to the Social Security office.  I walked up to the door, and I saw the hours: Monday to Friday, 9 to 3:30.  Only the government can stay in business with hours like that.  No wonder it took me a month to get an appointment.

We went through security.  There are three security guards and one metal detector.  That means one rifles through the bag while the two others watch him.  They told me to hold the baby out eight inches and walk through the metal detector.  After a brief moment of trying to judge eight inches, I held Austin at arm's length and we marched through.  No problem.  Then, I signed in at the computer, and went to sit down and wait.  It wasn't 10:01 yet.

I sat down and tried to figure out what was so odd about the place.  Then, it hit me.  The rows of chairs are facing each other, so all of the waiting people are looking straight at each other.  They've hung flat screens from the ceiling, but they're up so high that they're hard to see.  They were playing endless public service announcements, telling people to PLEASE do their Social Security business online.  (I had already tried.)  And, don't let anyone have your social security number.  (The people sitting at the desks a few feet away are loudly proclaiming their social security numbers, dates of birth, and names.)

At 10:12, my name was called, and I headed down the hall to my designated window.  Austin and I are greeted by a lady in a smart leather cap with nails manicured into a feather design.  She does not smile.  Apparently, bringing a baby to a Social Security interview is a bad thing.  I, however, am confident.  I have already given all of the information to the lady on the phone.  This was going to be a breeze.

She began by asking the EXACT SAME QUESTIONS that the lady on the phone had asked.  I opened my mouth to say so and closed it again.  Rule number two for dealing with bureaucracies:  Never question the efficiency of the system.  I handed over the kids' social security cards and gave all the details on their births.  She wrote the information down on paper, and THEN put it into the computer.  She needed to see the death certificate because he was so young.  

Austin was crawling around, playing with my purse, and trying to get the attention of the people around him.  He thinks everyone is his very best friend.  Then, the Social Security lady got to my information.  She typed in my social security number.  "Are you an American citizen?"  "Yes."  "I need to see proof of your naturalization."

I wasn't naturalized.  I was born a citizen.  Rule number three for dealing with bureaucracies:  Don't correct the bureaucrat.  I slide my Certificate of American Citizen Born Abroad across the desk.  "Oh.  Hmmm.  I'm going to have to make a copy of this."

(Note to those proudly serving our country overseas:  This will be your reward.  Your children will be harassed by every government agency for the rest of their lives.  Just ask John McCain.)

The Social Security lady, after a few tense moments, decided that I am indeed here legally, and began to wrap up our interview.  She smiled for the first time and said, "He's a good baby."  Yes, he is.  And, just as she said, "You're all set," Austin took a face dive, bumped his lip, and started to wail.  I scooped up all of my paperwork, picked him up, and we beat a hasty retreat.  As we passed the weird facing-each-other chairs, I noticed that some of the people had fallen asleep waiting.

My appointment had taken an hour and a half.  The only piece of paperwork she didn't ask for?  The marriage license.