Jacob's Legacy

Jacob's Legacy

Even though we are bombarded with bad news on television, and currently our country is deeply divided politically and socially; our troubles pale in comparison to what most of the world endures on a daily basis. The sustainable projects funded, resources given, and love shown to the people of Uganda are part of Jacob's legacy. I can't begin to tell you how much it means to Brea and I that you have given so generously to this cause.

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Writing a book is way harder than I thought.

It's a good thing I didn't know what I was getting myself into when I said "yes" to writing a book. For the last nine months, I've written just over 70,000 words and 11 chapters. In order to hit my manuscript deadline of July 1, since September I've been writing an hour or two every week night and at least half a day every weekend. I greatly underestimated the amount of work it would take to get to this point. Here's the kicker - I'm not even close to being done. 

God bless Tony and Lisa, my editors at Fortress Press. They may need a raise after the overtime they've had to put in editing my book. Let's just say, I should have paid a little more attention and not slept through most of Ms. Day's English class my senior year of high school. When I received the first edits and comments back, my proverbial balloon got popped. I'd done the best I could and it was not as good as I hoped. Entire chapters were marked through, every "would" had a red line through it (who knew you weren't supposed to use "would" so much?), along with what seems like an overwhelming amount of additional writing I'm going to need to do over the next few months.

When I turned in my manuscript, I didn't have any grand illusions I was completely finished. I just didn't realize how long the process actually takes. I feel like a sprinter who thought he was running the 400 meter dash and as he approaches the finish line, he's told to keep going and that he's actually running a marathon. It's not anyone's fault but my own. I simply signed up a for a race I didn't know I was running. 

Additionally, since I had poured so much time and emotions into what I have written, I was totally unprepared for how much the the edits and critiques hurt. As Tony gently put it, "I have a lot of work to do."

I thought seriously about quitting. 

A part of me is tired of writing and I miss spending time with my family. After nine months, I'm exhausted thinking so hard about how I feel and writing it down everyday. 

I'm not a writer. I like to write but I'm an amateur, at best. It takes me a long time to form a good sentence. My ability to write well is even more handicapped when I'm given a deadline. To be frank, deadlines just take all the fun out of writing for me. It makes it really hard work. 

The book writing process has been a fascinating experience. I never imagined how many rounds of edits and how many months or even years it takes to get a book completed. I have a new found respect and admiration for full time authors who have written multiple books. The amount of time they spend in front of blank pieces of paper and screens is unimaginable to me.

Additionally, my family has suffered because of the time I've had to commit to writing. It's my fault and Brea will tell you that I normally take on a project and then figure out how to make it happen without thinking about the consequences. Part of it is my nature. I like working on creative projects. I'm starting to realize, though, I use work and projects as a distraction from my pain. 

Working, writing, fundraising, staying busy - all keep my mind occupied. I'm afraid of being still too long for fear of my grief coming to the surface. Doing these projects seems good and worthwhile from the outside, but other aspects of my life have suffered.

For the last nine months, my time at home with Brea, Kendall, and Kelsey has diminished. I wouldn't say that distracting myself with projects is a bad thing. Actually, I think the work has helped me stay sane and provided healing. The reality is, my daughters will only be home for 4-6 more years and I have a limited amount of time to parent them.

Since Jacob died, I've probably been more focused on healing myself than being a parent. It's not something I've consciously chosen. And, I don't think it's something I would change. I think I've done the best I could given the circumstances. The example that comes to mind is how flight attendants tell you to put on your own oxygen mask first before you help your children in the event of cabin pressure issues in flight.

If I hadn't worked on myself first, I know I wouldn't be the father my daughters need going forward. 

After having a few days to gather my thoughts and Brea talking me back off the ledge of throwing in the towel, I'm feeling back on track and confident in being able to finish a book I'm proud of. Moreover, after talking with Tony about the edits and comments they gave me, I'm incredibly grateful I have people editing the book who have some distance from me. They are great at what they do and it takes guts and commitment to tell someone who is writing a book about the death of their child that it's not where it needs to be.

All that said, I'm so thankful to have got this far in the process. I'm taking the month of July off from writing and will get back to edits and rewrites in August. The book release is tentatively scheduled for Spring/Summer of 2017. For now, I'm going home after work and spending evenings and weekends with the girls, and it feels amazing! 

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Celebrating Jacob's Life

Celebrating Jacob's Life

Please consider giving to The Uganda Leadership and Skills Development Fund we have set up through Children's Hopechest by donating here. HopeChest Uganda staff is working with each CarePoint to identify youth that either have an interest or aptitude toward specific skills and those that are not able to continue with formal education. Older youth are selected from different CarePoints to go through skills development programs (tailoring, mechanic courses, etc.). to help them earn an income for themselves and their families. Additionally, each Carepoint will be intentionally investing in the older youth to become leaders within their community.

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Are Americans raising weak children?

On our trips to Uganda, one of the things that I noticed most about the children we met was how resilient they were. I couldn't understand with my white American male brain why these children seemed to be so joyful in the midst of what looked like overwhelming poverty, suffering, and a lack of basic resources. The homes we visited had dirt floors, bare walls, no running water, and no electricity or plumbing. In addition to that, everyone had experienced profound loss. I listened to one story after another of orphans who had experienced the death of one or both parents, and mothers who had lost one or multiple children for a multitude of reasons. Yet, every kid I encountered exuded joy and stoic contentment.  

When I would come back to the U.S. and hear other children, and my own, complain about things like not getting to have their favorite piece of candy while standing in line at the grocery store, or not getting to have the newest pair of $100 designer jeans; it would make me cringe. Most American children have more than enough and well beyond what any Ugandan child I met has, however; many kids in the U.S. are massively more discontent in life and whine at the drop of a hat if they don't have or get what they want when they want it.  Why is that these Ugandan kids seemed to be so much more resilient and joyful with considerably less resources and a more difficult life than American kids? I know there is probably more to it, but this is what I boil it down to: America has, effectively, run out of problems. 

I know that sounds controversial and too simplistic to some, but let me explain. Americans live in the most comfortable society in history. The problems I'm talking about in developing nations, like Uganda, are problems of survival. I know there are exceptions, but most Americans don't have to struggle to find enough water, food, and shelter to survive. And, if you're reading this, you don't have the problems the kids in Uganda have to deal with. With our abundance of resources we have less challenges and struggles in our daily lives. Over time, our lack of experiencing regular discomfort has led to a society which, I argue, is becoming less resilient. So, when bad things happen or when life doesn't go the way we want it - we are less prepared to take that challenge head on and overcome it in a healthy manner.  

In an effort to make it even more comfortable and less "offensive" for American children, parents seem to have significantly eased up on disciplining their children, leading to a prevalence of coddling never seen before. This coddling has also lead to a lack of respect for others, a focus on satisfying the self, and a lack of discipline. In contrast, nearly every Ugandan child I met, walked up to me, put out their hand and shook mine, and bowed their head out of respect to me as an adult. Honestly, their manners were so good that it caught me off guard. In America, some parents can't get their kids to be still for three seconds. Or, you get a "yeah" or "uh huh" instead of a yes sir or no sir, when you ask them a question. Call me old school, but one of the things that really irritates me, and is getting pervasive in our society, is hearing a child call an adult by their first name. Why does it seem like our kids are getting less respectful and more undisciplined? I think it ties back into mommy and daddy not wanting their child to be challenged, uncomfortable, or to feel bad about themselves.   

PHOTO CREDIT: LUIS LLERANA

Don't get me wrong, I'm not interested in my daughters constantly struggling, having to live a hard life, or having low self esteem. But, kids who are protected their whole lives from learning how to deal with difficulty are being set up to be emotionally weak and have the potential to be found in the corner in the fetal position sucking their thumb when life goes wrong. Additionally, our preoccupation with our own "self care" is creating a culture of victimhood and a generation of easily offended whiners. Our colleges are becoming full of kids who are more preoccupied with taking selfies and protesting "micro aggressions" than becoming productive members of society. I want to tell these kids to go to Africa or Haiti, and see how offended they would be by only getting to eat one meal a day or to have to drink dirty water to survive. 

I wouldn't want to live anywhere else on the planet and I'm thankful to live in a country that has produced a society with so much opportunity, resources, and wealth. So, what can we do to help our children build more resilience so they can better handle difficulties in life?

Here are 4 things I think can help:

1. Put your kids in a position to have opportunities to fail or lose. I think every kid needs to be involved in a sport, or FFA, or any type competitive activity where they get exposed to disappointment and have the opportunity to lose after putting in hard work. They need to learn that even with hours of hard work, sweat, and tears, you can still lose. My work ethic and discipline as an adult is a direct byproduct of competing in sports from the age of 5. I learned how to win, to lose, be disappointed, and how to push myself beyond my own limits. Most importantly, I learned how to get back up off the ground and get back in the game after getting knocked down or losing. You realize there is always a next time, another game, or another tomorrow. 

2. Don't give your kids everything they want. When I see a kid throwing an uncontrollable fit or screaming at their mother, I see a kid who may be getting what they want a little too often. (Obviously, this excludes kids who may have an emotional disorder.) Some children don't know how to handle not getting what they want and they have learned that acting out will get them what they want. That child has a higher probability of turning into an unhealthy adult. Life doesn't give you what you want all the time, so it's better they get used to it at an early age. 

3. Teach your children to take responsibilty for themselves. If we are rescuing our kids out of every problem, they will have a harder time learning how to pick themselves up off the floor and becoming self reliant. I don't want my daughters to be dependent on anyone for their physical or emotional well being in order to be healthy adults. I want them to have a certain amount of grit, and to learn at an early age that they have what it takes inside themselves to be what they set their heart and mind to. 

4. Get your kids involved in helping others. Our children need to know, see, and help others who are less fortunate than them. They need to learn how to appreciate what they have and to get a sense for what others struggle with. For example, you and your family could sponsor a child from the community I've written about at http://murole.hopechest.org/sponsor/, or take your kids to serve at a homeless shelter. Whatever it is, we need to teach our children that in almost every situation, someone else is suffering worse than them. I don't say this because anyone needs our pity, but because we need be inspired by the resilience others are able to muster in their cicumstances. 

 

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The Power In Redeeming Your Pain: "Redeeming Sunday"

Sunday has always been a special day to me. For a lot of us, it brings up memories of growing up going to church, or having a regularly scheduled lunch with family or friends. Maybe it takes you back to that feeling of easing into a pillow, stretching out on a couch, and dozing off in the first quarter of the afternoon football game you really didn't care about anyway. For me, it brings up years of memories of being with family, sitting around a table with a full belly and empty plates; laughing so hard until my stomach hurt. 

June 12, 2011 was a Sunday - the day Jacob passed away. Our family had gone to church together that morning and then Jacob and I went to eat lunch. He and I headed home while the girls stayed at church to help with VBS. We went through our nap time ritual. Like many toddlers, he wasn't ready to go to sleep, but it was time. We talked a little while in bed and then I got up and went and layed down myself.

He got up from his nap and went outside without me knowing. At 5 P.M., Brea and I found him in our car unresponsive. 

From that day on, Sundays became a brutally tough day to get through. From the time we got up we would be stuck in a loop, replaying the events of the day. Hour by hour, I would visualize and remember where I was and what I was doing. The closer it got to 5 P.M., the higher the anxiety level would get.

When it turned 5 P.M., I was transported back to the scene. We find him and open the back door of the expedition. I pick him up. I remember what he looks like and then what it feels like to do CPR. It's so hot outside. I can remember all the sounds that contributed to what felt like pure chaos all around our house. It's 5 P.M. on Sunday and I'm back in it all over again.

I was scared I would never have a normal Sunday again. Am I going to go through this every Sunday for the rest of my life? How are we going to ever enjoy this day of the week again? It's supposed to be a day of rest, relaxation, and family. It had turned into the worst day of our lives.

Sunday is obviously connected to our faith and spirituality, as well. After June 12, 2011, my faith, theology, and understanding of God started breaking down with each day. Throughout my life, my faith was built around a theology that worked in the context of my life experience. For example, I believed God was totally sovereign, good, and loving even though the world is full of evil, pain, and innocent suffering. For ages, humanity has wrestled with this issue. How "in control" or "interventionist" is God when there is so much pain and suffering? In the context of my fairly comfortable life with little heartache or struggle, I hadn't been forced to face this paradox.

Here was the internal dialogue I was wrestling with after Jacob passed: "If God is totally in control of everything that happens, then isn't God ultimately responsible for the death of Jacob and the way he died? Even if I say God allowed this to happen but didn't cause it to happen, isn't He still to blame - because He could have done something to prevent it? Is God really all good and loving if he causes or allows such innocent suffering and pain? Or, is God all good and loving but not totally in control of everything like I had thought before?"

Askvoll Church

I had a lot of big questions with not a lot of great answers laying around to make me feel better. So, over time I did start pointing the finger at God and blaming Him. My anger towards God grew as the months went by. I prayed for God to give me peace and to help me with my faith. But, all I experienced was silence. That made me even more angry. So, I stopped praying altogether.

Going to church didn't help either. I found myself getting angry listening to sermons about how God loved us or how God had a plan for all of our lives. I didn't feel very loved. And, I certainly didn't think it was God's plan for Jacob to die at 3. One Sunday after another, I walked out of church not wanting to ever go back again. As the months went on, my faith continued to break down and a new set of questions came up. "Do I even believe in God anymore? If I do believe in God, how do I find a faith that makes sense of a loving God, who may or may not intervene in this world, after what happened to Jacob?"

The last 4 1/2 years I've been on a quest to try and rebuild my faith from scratch. Part of my hope was to find answers that would satisfy the questions I had about the nature of God. But, more so I was hoping with everything inside me to just find some peace with God again. I was hoping to be able to redeem this relationship with God that was broken. 

I've written previously about how we decided to fight against letting Sundays cripple us. We decided to make Sunday a day of the week to have friends and family over for dinner. This was how we were going to reclaim, or redeem, that day of the week. Instead of being alone we were with friends and family. Instead of letting the house be filled with grief and sadness; we welcomed laughter and community. Instead of being stuck inside our own heads; we forced ourselves to move, to cook, to talk, to laugh, and to cry. Consequently, the sting of the day faded over time and we weren't paralyzed at 5 P.M. on Sundays anymore. 

I also needed to redeem my personal faith. My understanding of God broke down over a period of a couple of years and I wanted to reconnect with God if it was possible. My faith needed to be something I could work with in light of my experience. The faith I had constructed before fell short when I needed it most and left me feeling incredibly disappointed. Over the last five years, I've slowly tried to rebuild what faith looks like to me. It is different and I don't have all the answers I wanted. But I can say that I have at least found a foundation from which to start. I do believe in God. And, I believe God is first and foremost operating from a place of love. I know this faith stuff is a life long journey, so I don't pretend to have it all figured out. So, with baby steps, I feel like I'm moving in a good direction. 

We've spent the last 4 1/2 years trying to rebuild the various areas of our life that fell apart. One day at a time we pick up the pieces, dust them off, and we're learning to live life in light of our circumstances; just like everyone else. It was important to us to not let this turn us into a victim of our pain. As we look back over the last few years, redemption has been a big piece our story. Redemption of what happened and redemption of the pain and suffering our entire family has experienced. The reason we started working with and supporting orphans, why we want to share our story with others, why we make a daily conscious effort to choose to find the good in life rather than dwell on the bad, the reason I'm writing this book - It's all about "Redeeming Sunday."

If you found this helpful, feel free to share it with others on social media. I'd love to read your comments on this page or Facebook.  

"The Fallout"

This post is a bit different than previous entries. Below is an unedited excerpt from the book I'm working on which provides details surrounding the legal issues we dealt with immediately following Jacob's accident. If you have time to read it, I'd appreciate your feedback. 

The Fallout

Over the next several months, we dealt with simply trying to survive our grief and the unexpected fight we found ourselves in for our rights as parents and to prove my innocence. We were destroyed inside and at the same time we were having to to deal with the legal fallout from investigations from both Child Protective Services and the County Sheriffs office. 

We've all heard the heartbreaking stories of children being accidentally left in car seats by parents and those children dying from heat stroke. From the second the authorities showed up at our house on June 12th, this is the lens in which they were investigating the accident. It was another level of stress that was sitting on our shoulders while we tried to figure out how to live with our grief. It was a nightmare within a nightmare. 

Being accused of something you didn't do is hard enough on it's own. But, dealing with it after the death of your child was unbearable. 

A week after Jacob's accident, I was in an attorney's office going through the events of that day. My family had to hire a criminal defense attorney that charged hundreds of dollars an hour who defended the worst of the worst. I had never been arrested in my life and now I was sitting in an attorney's office talking about defending myself from being prosecuted for criminal negligence of my child. I felt sick to my stomach as the attorney talked about his experience and the type of people he defended. To him, it was just another case. Understandably, he didn’t know me or Jacob, so he didn’t have much compassion in his tone. He was rather matter of fact about the law surrounding the events of that day and whether any one could prove whether I was negligent or not. All I could think was "How is it possible that I'm sitting here trying to prove that I didn't leave my son in his car seat? Why don't they believe me?"

Thankfully, my Dad, brother in law, and father in law went to the meeting with me to support me and to help me get through it. Painfully, I recounted every detail I could remember about that day and the timeline of events. Once he finished interviewing me, he said he was going to get with the Sheriffs investigators to see what direction the investigation was going. 

A few days later my attorney called. He said that he had talked with the Sheriffs office and he said I should take a polygraph test. "I need to take a lie detector test?" He said it would go a long way in providing evidence I was telling the truth and it would be proactive to push things along. After talking it through with my family, I agreed to whatever he thought was best. Three days later, my Dad and sister drove me to take this polygraph test. 

I was incredibly nervous and my stomach was in knots. I wasn't afraid of failing the test. I was afraid of having to recount the details, once again, and reliving each painful moment. I was angry I was even having to take this test. The shock my body was in affected me so much physically, I could barely do more than walk and sit. 

The defense attorney met us at the office where I was to take the test. When we walked inside, the attorney went straight into a private meeting with the person who was going to administer the polygraph. They were in there for about half an hour. It seemed like an eternity. With every passing second my anxiety and stress level went up. "How long is this going to take? I just want to get this over with." I thought. My sister did her best to keep me calm. God bless her and my Dad for being there. I don’t know how I would have got through that day without them. 

Finally, my attorney came out and brought me into the room where they were meeting. He asked my Dad and sister to come into the room where all of us would meet. The administrator said he was sorry I was there and that he was sorry for what happened to Jacob. He then said "There is no way I'm giving you this polygraph test. Your son passed away just a week ago, and your body is not going to give an accurate reading. It's not worth putting you through this to get an inaccurate reading. So, I'm not doing it." 

I was relieved to not have to take the test, but I was pissed at my attorney for not having enough foresight to know it wouldn't be a proper time to put me through the test. We are paying this guy a small fortune and I felt like he should have had enough experience to know this test wasn't going to work at this time. It had created an enormous amount of stress for me and my family and had been a complete waste of time. 

Weeks would go by with questions back and forth from the attorney to the Sheriffs investigators. One day I got a call from the attorney saying the Sheriffs investigators wanted to come by the house for a face to face interview. He said they wanted to do one final interview before they made their recommendation to the DA on whether to prosecute me or not. We were ready to do whatever it took to put this behind us, so we told the attorney to set it up as soon as possible. 

Around 5 p.m. one evening two Sheriffs investigators, my attorney, my sister, Brea, and I sat around a table in our living room. Once again, I'm full of nerves, scared of the unknown, and just under the surface I'm seething with anger at these investigators who keep dragging us unnecessarily through hell. My heart is broken and I'm missing Jacob, but I’m still having to put my grief on hold so I can get through this investigation. 

The investigator starts the meeting with this statement "I know you gave a statement on the day of the accident, but I think it's time you tell us all what really happened that day. I'm not sure that we're getting the truth." 

Those words pierced right through whatever thin sheet of composure I had holding back the tension built up over the last couple of months. I envesioned jumping across the table and grabbing him by the throat and beating the crap out of him. All of the rage I had towards this investigator boiled right up to the surface in that moment. 

“I have told you the truth from the very beginning and I don’t know what else to do.” I told him; my voice getting louder with each word and trembling with emotion. I was so angry I started crying and I slowly started standing up out of my chair leaning slightly toward him. Brea put her hand on my leg, slightly pushing me back down into my chair. She didn’t say anything but I got the message. ”I got you honey, but you need to take it down just a notch." I knew I was losing control but I was done. I had enough of this. I don't know what else I said but I sat all the way back in my chair and looked at both the investigators, intentionally not breaking my stare. 

After a few silent moments the lead investigator said, "OK, that's all I needed. I believe you." “What? That’s it?” I thought. The message was pretty clear. They were there to push my buttons and to see what came out. The lead investigator told me he would recommend the District Attorney not prosecute me and that he believed me. Before my attorney left that evening he said he felt good about the direction the case would take and that it should be over soon. 

Unfortunately, a week or two later, I got a call from my attorney saying the DA was taking my case before the grand jury. We were all shocked. I couldn't believe it. Of course when you hear those words, you think the worst. But, our attorney then explained that it was the only way the case could ever be completely closed. If the DA didn't let it go to grand jury, then it could be opened up years later for any reason. I didn't like it but there wasn’t anything we could do about it. It was going to be a couple of more months of waiting with this hanging over our head. 

At the same time, we were dealing with Child Protective Services. The night of the accident, a CPS case worker came to our house. She took down the names of family members who would be staying with us and we had to sign paperwork that said I could not be at home with my daughters by myself. It made me feel ashamed and like I was unfit to be a father. Of course, it made me angry. It was enraging and terrifying to see how easily someone who doesn't know you and your family can come into your house and take away your parental rights with the stroke of a pen. 

CPS drug their feet on their investigation and they were terrible in communicating with us. We just wanted to get on with our lives but they wouldn't meet with us or release us from investigation. We didn't understand what the hold up was. It took one phone call after another but finally we were able to get some movement in the CPS investigation. Weeks had gone by and I was still restricted from being alone with the girls. Finally, CPS said they wanted to interview the girls before they would close the investigation and make a determination. The interview had to be with the girls, one on one, with an investigator. We were not allowed to be in the room with them. As parents, we didn't like the idea at all but we didn't have an option at this point. We agreed to the interview as long as we were able to review the questions they were going to ask the girls beforehand. We could have objected through the attorney we hired for the girls if we thought one of the questions was inappropriate for their age. After reviewing the questions, we approved them and set up the meeting.

At the CPS office, they took the girls back to be interviewed with the girls attorney present. They interviewed them together and then seperately. When they came out, they seemed fine and unaffected by the experience. The attorney said they did great and that the interview went well. Unfortunately, the girls were asked questions that were not on the list. We kept feeling like the system was abusing us, and this was another example of what seemed like an abuse of power and deceit. They asked them questions around topics of physical abuse and about mine and Brea's relationship and if we fought a lot. No questions like this were presented to us prior to the meeting. It wasn't that we were afraid of the questions, but it was frustrating they decided to ask them unapproved questions. We were angry and disappointed, but we were glad it was over. Our main concern was that the girls weren't traumatized by the interview.

After waiting several months, the case with the County finally went to the grand jury. I can't imagine what Brea was feeling at the time. Grieving her son and worrying about whether her husband was going to be prosecuted or not. Was our family going to be able to move forward or were we going to be stuck fighting a legal battle for the next year? She was amazing through it all and always supportive. Whatever we were going to go through, we at least knew we were walking through it together. Finally, the grand jury returned the decision and "no-billed" the case. Essentially, that means the case was not going forward with prosecution. It was a huge weight lifted all of our shoulders.

After months of questioning and defending ourselves, and what felt like unwarranted and unnecessary stress added to a very difficult situation; all the legal and CPS investigations were closed. It felt good to put these issues behind us and I was relieved for a moment. But, I quickly realized the real struggle with our new reality was just beginning. 

Gifts from my son on his birthday.

On January 4th, 2008 at 8:46 a.m. Brea and I fell in love with a fat, little red headed, blue eyed baby boy. We were thrilled to have our first and only son. Today, is Jacob's 8th birthday. And, today we are filled with mixed emotions. We delight in the memories we had with our happy rambunctious son. At the same time, we walk with a sinking feeling in our stomach because today is one of those concrete reminders of our loss. 

But, before I totally bum everyone out - I want you to know I feel so blessed and grateful to be Jacob's daddy. I'm incredibly proud of what his life has inspired and to see how people have given of themselves and their resources to honor him. As his daddy, Jacob's life impacted me in ways I could have never imagined and I've been given the gift of perspective that most of us don't get until we experience suffering. So, today, on his birthday; I wanted to share some of the important lessons my son's life has taught me over the last few years.

Our legacy will be measured by the love we share and by the investment we put in others. No one is going to remember how many toys I accumulated, the hours I put in at work, or the title that came after my name. So much of our time and effort is focused on attaining some level of success that is measured in stuff, money, and power. If you asked me out of college what I wanted to do, I would have told you - "I want to make as much money as possible as fast as I can." That was my goal and money was my measure of success. It's an incredibly shallow and selfish viewpoint. Now, I would consider a successful life one that is focused on doing meaningful things, living with purpose, and making a difference for others.  A couple of factors that have helped me move toward a more meaningful life are: 1. Making sure I foster and invest in the number of close relationships I have. It's scientifically proven you live a healthier life with a strong network of friends. Yes, friends are great to share the good times with, but they are even more important to have to help you get off the ground in the bad times. 2. Spending my time, energy, and resources on causes and charities that are important to me. Giving to, and being involved in, something outside of yourself can give you a tremendous sense of purpose. Trying to find fulfillment by accumulating stuff or power only leads to a life of temporary highs, stress, and a lot of disappointment. When I look at Jacob's life - I see the scores of people inside a standing room only funeral service; I think back to the time I was standing next to orphans admiring a picture of him on the dormitory they live in, named after him, in a remote village in Uganda; I think of the group of widowed Ugandan women who started businesses with money from the micro finance fund we started who told me they love Jacob and pray for our family. Even though Jacob was only 3 1/2, his life inspired love, hope, opportunity, and empowerment. That is a life well lived.

Don't be a victim of your suffering. All of us have (or will) experienced suffering, but the good news is we have the choice and ability to overcome whatever we've experienced. We must choose to NOT live as victims of our circumstances or pain. Honestly, I didn't know if I would be able to survive the loss of a child. It's excruciating emotionally, mentally, and physically. There were many times when I wanted to give up. There were times when I thought it could end our marriage. Yes - there were times when I felt sorry for myself. We all have some suffering that can get to a point where we feel like the world, or God, is against us and life isn't fair. I have felt this way. The question that helped me choose to find healing was this: "How do I best honor Jacob with my life?" Is it by living a life steeped in bitterness, resentment, and self pity? Or, is it by figuring out how to find joy again and by living a good life. The answer is pretty easy, but doing the work to find healing is not. Jacob was one of the reasons that I decided to make the choice to NOT let my pain and grief define who I am. We are made up of more than just one disappointment, bad choice, mistake, or tragedy. We all have the choice to get off the ground. We just have to choose to do it and start taking the incremental steps by putting one foot in front of the other towards hope.

You are good enough. For most of my life, I've worried what other people thought about me. We all struggle with insecurities to some degree. But, it has really been an issue for me in the way I act and the way I treat people. When you boil it down, there is one question I whisper to myself that generates this fear in me - "Am I good enough?" If someone says something to me or does something that makes me feel insecure about myself, then I get scared. I go into defense and protection mode. This fear then turns into anger towards the other. Honestly, I still struggle with this a lot but I'm learning that the antidote for this is love. Love for myself and love for others. And, even love for people I don't get along with or like. When I think of Jacob - I remember how much he loved people and how much they loved him. The innocence of a 3 year old has taught me a lot about how I should be as an adult. Unlike adults, toddlers aren't sizing each other up and comparing their lives to other 3 year olds. They aren't trying to measure up to some imaginary level they've imposed on themselves. They aren't hiding and pretending to be someone they're not so they fit in. The key for me is to first know that "I am enough" - just the way I am. That allows me to love myself and accept who I am, faults and all. That confidence that I am "enough" then allows me to be more vulnerable and loving towards others. I would rather live a life being open and loving, risking getting hurt and disappointed; than to live a life full of fear, anger, and stress.

Even though Jacob was only 3, I'm thankful for the time we did have with him. I'm thankful to be his daddy and I'm grateful for how much love he showed me. On his birthday - may the gifts that my son has given me be a gift to you as well. 

 

One of the reasons I started this blog and I'm writing a book is to raise further support and awareness for the orphans we work with in Uganda. Two things you can do today to help me with that are:

1. Sponsor a child in Uganda. We have 15 more children in our program that need to be sponsored today in Rubanda, Uganda. You can click here to sponsor one of them. If you'd like to donate monetarily to a project we're funding click here and click on the "Fund a Project" button.

2. Share this blog via Facebook or other social media channels you use.

Thanks for your help! 

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Where I find hope and redemption.

When our children are born, our hopes and dreams for them are born in us as parents. We imagine getting to experience life's milestones with them and wonder what it will be like in those moments. What will it be like dropping them off for their first day of school? What will it feel like to walk my daughter down the aisle? 

When Jacob died, so did my dreams for him. Not only do I grieve him. But, I grieve the moments we'll never have. I get a knot in my stomach when I see kids his age walking into school holding their daddy's hand. There's a pee wee football field near our house that I drive by often. I imagine him in one of the uniforms running around and wonder what it would have been like to help him put his helmet and pads on for the first time. We won't get to hear his name called and watch him walk across a stage at a graduation. I won't get to watch him dance with his Mom at his wedding. I won't get to hug him and put my arm around him when he needs someone to talk to. 

If I focus on the things I won't get to do with him, I can get very depressed and sad. So, I intentionally have to make sure I practice gratitude and to be thankful for the impact Jacob's life continues to have, even though he's not physically with me. 

I experienced one of those moments last week. We received a letter announcing the opening of the Murole Computer Center at the Murole Prep School in Rubanda, Uganda where we help sponsor orphans. With funds raised at the Superhero Ball, in honor of Jacob; Children's Hopechest bought 23 computers for the center to be used by the village and the children who attend Murole Prep School. This is just one of many projects that have been funded over the last 4 years. But, this computer center to me is one of those projects that will be an education game changer for the children in Rubanda. Now, with the help of the internet and these computers, the children have an entirely new education experience and unlimited access to information.

I'm so proud that my son's life has helped hundreds of orphans and an entire village on the other side of the world. He has affected so many people even though his life here was so short. 

The Murole Computer Center

A few weeks ago while working with a friend on the outline of the book I'm writing, it became very clear that this book is about two words. Hope and Redemption. Whatever difficult situation we find ourselves in, I believe there is always hope. I find ultimate hope in a God who suffers with us; who one day will make all things new. And, I believe a vital step in healing our most difficult and traumatic experiences is to find some redemptive perspective toward the suffering and pain in our life. 

I find hope in the eyes of these children in Uganda who feel loved and valued by sponsors in America who they have never met. They know someone cares enough for them to give monthly to provide access to quality education, healthcare, and their basic living needs. And, I find some redemption of our pain and grief knowing orphans in Uganda will be forever changed because of the life of one little boy.  

These are not the dreams and moments I had hoped for when Jacob was born. But, this is the life we have and I choose to see the good in the midst of the pain. I hold both the joy and the pain simultaneously. Many of us can look back and say - "Life did not turn out the way I expected." If you're stuck, the challenge I make to you today is - choose to find hope amidst the ashes of your pain. It's there, I promise. 

Finally, redeeming your difficult experiences and trauma is about finding some positive aspect to the pain and suffering it has caused you. It may be one of the hardest things you will ever do. But, it is worth the cost. When you redeem those moments, you take the power of them into your own hands. You can choose to allow love to overcome bitterness, good to overcome evil, and joy to overcome despair. 

 

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While working on the book, I've been listening to Sleeping At Last. This song, from the Many Beautiful Things soundtrack is one of my favorites. It's beautiful. 


What I learned about having close relationships.

Jacob passed away on a Sunday. And it was 5:00 P.M. on that Sunday that we found him and started doing CPR. From that day on, our Sunday evenings had become a painful loop that played back in our minds over and over again. We dreaded waking up each Sunday; knowing we were going to relive in our minds the events of that day one hour at a time. As the clock got closer to 5:00 P.M., the more adrenaline started pumping through our bodies and our imaginations took us back to June 12. It became overwhelming because we thought our Sundays were always going to be a cursed day full of flashbacks and sadness. 

When we told our therapist about this, she asked us if there was something we could start doing to distract ourselves on Sunday evenings. She said it would help if we had people that would come spend time with us so we weren't stuck inside our own heads. So, Brea and I talked about it and decided to start having a standing dinner with friends and family every Sunday evening.

We put the word out - "if you are available, please come have dinner with us." We couldn't have been more blessed by the willingness of people to come be with us. Some Sundays we had a house full and some we had one person. The fact was - we had a community of people who stood by us when we needed them most.

With each week, the people that spent time with us brought a little more light into our life when it was filled with darkness. Also, the more people we had around us, the more moments of laughter and joy brought back hope that we would find a way to the other side of this. 

On one of those Sunday's, some of our closest friends drove up with a little tree in the back their truck. They told us it was a tree for Jacob and that we could all plant it together. The family and friends over that day pitched in and helped us plant "Jacob's Tree." After it was planted we stood around while one of our friends read something she wrote to dedicate the tree for Jacob. This gesture and act of kindness touched Brea and I deeply. And, it's something that we will never forget. Every time I look at that tree, I do think of Jacob. But, I also remember that we're not alone and that we have people who care for us and love us.

Photo Credit: Kevin Curtis

In his book Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life's Greatest Challenges, Dr. Steven Southwick, writes about ten common traits found among resilient people. I once heard a talk he gave where he said one of the top contributors to recovering from trauma was the community you had supporting you. From our own experience and from witnessing other families who have lost a child - the progress made was significantly affected by the strength of the network of family and friends that surrounded them.

In the busyness of our lives we often neglect building friendships. The older we get, the more work and demands of raising children take up the bulk of our time and focus. And, when life happens, we wonder why no one is around to help. At our core, all of us are afraid of being alone. And, some of our loneliest times can be during our darkest moments.

As humans, we all yearn to feel loved and cared for.

The people who surrounded us day after day, for months, are one of the biggest reasons we are able to live a good life again when we didn't think it would be possible. Without them, there is no way we would be where we are today. We are truly blessed to have such loving and faithful people around us.

It's so important that we make a conscious effort to build relationships. If you don't feel like you've got a strong community around you, then start building one today. Practice hospitality and have people over for dinner. Start going to church. Join a small group within your church. Do something to connect with other people and do it often. 

Not only is it wonderful to enjoy friendships and family during good times, but those relationships become even more important to help hold us up in the bad times. This is a two way street. Your family and friends are going to need you too. And, the absolute best thing you can give them is your simple presence. Sit with them and hold them when they need it. They won't remember what you said. But, they'll never forget that you showed up.

 

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What's the best question to ask yourself in the toughest times?

We often hear "everything happens for a reason." It's easy to believe this statement when things are going well. But, when the rug gets pulled out from underneath us, it's not so easy and causes a lot of confusion. 

To me, there could not be any good reason God let my son die in an accident. At this point, I just don't believe there is a good reason for Jacob not being here experiencing life with us. I know, it's my one sided human point of view. But, that's all I've got, and that's where I'm at. Call it a weak faith or whatever you like - Jacob's my son and I'm his Dad. Life was not supposed to turn out this way. And, I don't think God wanted it this way either. 

Soon after the accident, Brea and I would start our mornings by sitting on our front porch with friends and family drinking coffee. Then we would go sit and write in our journals. Most of my journaling was me writing out prayers. I would ask God question after question, with most of them starting with - why? My heart was broken and I felt like a loving God would want to give me answers that would provide some comfort and peace. Day after day, I would beg and plead but for whatever reason, I just didn't get what I was looking for. 

Frantically, I would read through the bible scouring scripture for something that would help make sense of our circumstance. Normally, in life I was able to find a verse that I could connect with or that would speak some peace into the situation. But, this darkness I was in was too big and deep to find any quick resolution. This was a pain that was unbearable and too profound. I couldn't find anything to ease it's intensity and my desperation. 

Photo Credit: R. Nial Bradshaw

One day I had outlined a number of my questions in my journal and I wanted to talk through them with one of our pastors at church, Bill Hill.  He had been coming over to visit us daily and I wanted to talk through how God's sovereignty and the presence of so much innocent suffering made no sense to me. Why would God let Jacob die at 3 years old in this horrific accident if he could have done something about it? And, why are people OK with responding to my questions with  - "You just have to trust God." Really? You think I'm going to trust a God who lets little children (let alone my son) die a senseless painful death? I would want to say, "switch places with me for a second, and see if you still feel the same way about that God."  

Along with a couple of friends, Bill and I sat on our back porch together on a 100 degree Texas evening. We sat outside pretending like it wasn't uncomfortable with plastic cups full of luke warm wine. That would be my first cup of many for the evening. For better or worse, this had become a way to self medicate myself to help numb reality just a bit. 

I got my journal out and started running through my questions with Bill. My thought was that if anyone was going to give me the answers I had about God, it was going to come from an experienced Pastor. BIll had also worked as a hospice chaplain for much of his life, so he's not new to grief or listening to a grieving person talk about their disappointments with God.

As I started going through my list with Bill, he sat back and listened. He didn't try to rebut my questions. He nodded in agreement and solidarity with my anger and disillusionment over what happened. After some time, I finally stopped talking and I waited in fervent anticipation to receive the answers I'd been hoping to find.

He sat up a little in his chair and said to me "Jason, these are all legitimate questions. These are hard questions and you have every right to ask them. But, "Why?" is not the right question. The only good question you can ask your self is this"

"Now that this has happened, what are you going to do about it?" 

I sat back in my chair and took it in. Honestly, I didn't like what he said at all. "That doesn't give me any answers?" I thought. "What about God? If there's a reason for this pain and for Jacob's death, and God is in control, then I want to know why." I felt like out of a sense of responsibility for Jacob and because I was his Dad that I needed to know why this happened? If I don't find out why, then I felt like I was letting Jacob down and that I was somehow letting God off the hook.  

For many more months, I continued to seek answers from a number of theologians, scholars, and others who had experienced the death of a child. I continued to come up empty handed with a good answer to the Why? question. Ultimately, I realized that Bill had already given me the best question I could ask. 

The question "What am I going to do now" requires action. This is very important because sometimes our circumstances can paralyze us. And, our inaction can cause us to sit and wallow in our sadness or despair which can lead to depression. By getting our minds and bodies in motion we at least begin to look outside of ourselves and take the focus off of our current state of pain and suffering. 

Also, by choosing to use your suffering and energy to do something good, you can redeem some of the circumstance you are in. Even at your lowest points, you can bring some meaning to your life and it will give you continued reason to get out of bed on those days it feels like you just want to give up. 

Bill had one last thing to say to me about my "Why?" questions that day. He said "Jason, is there any answer to your why question that would take away any of your pain or sadness?" Without hesitation, I said "Absolutely, not." There couldn't be an answer that would make me feel better at the time and there still wouldn't be one today. Even if I knew why - it wouldn't be a good enough answer to keep me from missing my son with every fiber of my being. 

There are no good answers to the Why question. Even though the truth of that question gave me reason to stop asking; a new level of grief set in because I now had to accept that I would begin a new struggle in having to live with unanswered questions the rest of my life. 

For most of our why questions we won't get answers. At least not answers that will satisfy. And, to be perfectly candid - I don't think there are always reasons to why things happen. Life is full of chaos and accidents, and sometimes the consequences of living in this world lead to really bad things happening to us. When those things happen, asking "Why?" will not help get you through it. The start of finding peace and healing again starts when you ask: What am I going to do about it? 

 

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Writing and Book Update

First, I wanted to thank everyone for their encouragement and support for me starting this blog. The positive feedback has been overwhelming.  

Two weeks ago, I signed my book contract with Fortress Press. So, now it's for real! I get to write a book and I have a deadline. My goal is to be done with a workable draft by April 1, 2016. The final 45,000 word draft to the publisher is due June 1, 2016. The book will probably come out September 2016. 

As a numbers guy, I can't help myself from breaking this down into something I can analyze and measure. For those of you who know me, you won't be surprised. I've broken down my deadlines into words per day, week, and month. As long as I'm disciplined, this should be doable.

Knowing that I have a decent amount of writing to do, a fantastic full time job, and a family - I'll be reducing the number of blog posts from weekly to something else that works. I enjoy sharing through the blog but it's very different than writing in book format. And, writing this book well is going to be my main focus from a writing standpoint. 

All proceeds from the sale of this book are going to support orphans in Uganda through Children's Hopechest. That being said, this book isn't going to sell itself. And, I have to start building an audience. Let's be honest - the fact is, I'm going to have to hustle to get this book into as many hands as possible. I'm not an accomplished writer and there is more content than ever competing for our constantly decreasing attention span. 

So, I'd like to ask for your help in doing something today.

In an effort to spread the word, if you found any of the blogs I've written helpful or of value thus far, would you go share that blog post on social media? Facebook, twitter, instagram, etc. - whatever medium you like the most - go to one of the blogs you like, copy it, and share it. It would be a huge help! 

Have a great day and share away!  

Love,

Jason

The key to finding happiness.

In his 1946 bestselling book, Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl states that "Humans primary motivation in life is to find a meaning in life. Ultimately, life is not about pursuing happiness or power. But, rather happiness is a byproduct human beings find by living a meaningful life."

We're obsessed with finding happiness in our culture. But, Frankl's work tells us we're focused on looking for the wrong thing. His psychotherapeutic method called Logotherapy is founded on the belief that man's most motivating force is to find a meaning to life.

Furthermore, Frankl goes on to say "It is the very pursuit of happiness, that thwarts happiness." 

Meaning is what we should be seeking, not happiness. 

So how can we find meaning in life? Frankl gives us three ways it can found:

1. By having a work to do.

2. By loving someone or something. 

3. By redeeming the pain and suffering in your life.

Further reinforcement for focusing on meaning rather than being happy can be found in a study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, which found that leading a happy life is associated with being a "taker." And, those that led a meaningful life are considered "givers." 

At times, we can feel stuck in life, depressed, or empty inside. There was a time when I didn't think I would feel "happiness" again. I didn't think it would be possible to have a good life. But, out of our pain came this desire to help others who were hurting. Our eyes were opened to the pain and suffering in the world and we wanted to do something.

For several years we had been sponsoring children through Children's Hopechest. After Jacob passed away, Brea and I both felt we needed to do more; so we started putting our energy and focus on raising awareness and support for a group of orphans who attend the Murole Preparatory School in Rubanda, Uganda. Over the last 4 years, the work we have done alongside our community, friends, and family has given us a deep sense of purpose as we have moved through our grief. It has given us a work to do. It has taken the focus off of ourselves and onto the service of others. It has helped us to redeem some of our suffering.

"Being fully human always points and is directed to something or someone, other than oneself - be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself - by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to live - the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself." - Viktor Frankl

On my last trip to Uganda, I was able to meet with one of the boys we sponsor. His name is Innocent.

These kids are fascinated with pictures and especially pictures you take of them on your iphone. You can entertain them for hours by taking pictures and then showing it to them. To us, it's another phone. To them it's a magic box that captures their smiling faces.

After one of our impromptu photo sessions, Innocent stood with me and watched me scroll through the pictures on my phone. I showed him pictures of our house - which was actually a little embarrassing. At best, most families live in dirt floor structures, with no electricity or running water in the village we were visiting. So, here I am showing him a picture of my rock house with a swimming pool in the backyard. He seemed quite perplexed as to why I had a giant pool of water in my backyard.

I show him pictures of Brea, Kendall, and Kelsey, school events, holidays... As I'm sweeping through my pictures, he says "Wait. Who is that?" With hesitation and a knot in my throat, I say - "That's Jacob." He looks at me with one of the most serious faces I've ever seen and says - "That's Jacob?" "Yes" I replied.

I could sense the reverence emanating from his deep brown eyes. It was like time slowed down and we didn't say anything to each other. We were in the middle of a field with hundreds of other kids running around, and I can't remember hearing anything else. We locked eyes. His eyes started welling up with tears and in that moment we connected on another level.

In this moment all language, nationality, and age barriers were broken. It was a moment I'll never forget.

In his eyes and demeanor, I could sense compassion and empathy. He knows what loss is like. I could tell that he hurt for me. There was an indescribable and unspoken connection of love - that somehow came from a 15 year old boy who never met Jacob and had only known me for hours. 

With stoic grace he whispers to me with a slight accent - "Oh Jacob, I love him. He is a good boy." I nearly lost it. Somehow, I kept it together. Then he took his finger and touched the screen to rub Jacob's hair. "Look at his hair. It's orange." "Yep, you're right" I said. "It's orange." as I laughed.

You see, Innocent had heard the story of Jacob and knew the new dormitory he was now sleeping in was named after him. "Jacob's House" was built as a safe comfortable place for orphans to stay while they attended Prep School away from home. Jacob's life is giving this 15 year old boy shelter on the other side of the world.

Innocent and I doing our best selfie...

Innocent and I doing our best selfie...

Encounters like this one continue to give me purpose and meaning. If you want more meaning in your life - here's your chance today. Go to this link, and sponsor one of Innocent's schoolmates. I can promise you, it will make a significant impact on a child in Uganda and it will help you live a more meaningful life. 

Go find meaning - Be a Giver.

 

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Washed By The Water - NEEDTOBREATHE




How a marriage can survive the worst of times.

As we're driving back home from an out of town visit with my family on a Sunday evening, I try to hold it together to keep the tears welling up in my eyes from blurring my vision as the sun sets. It had only been a few months since our son had passed away and I was desperately missing him and depressed. Those first few car rides without him were unbearable because the car was noticeably quieter and there was an empty seat where someone had always been.

As we drove up our driveway, I was on the verge of completely losing it with tears now streaming down my face. I got out of the car as fast as I could in order to keep my daughters from seeing me for fear of having to explain why daddy was crying again.

I quickly unpacked the car while avoiding everyone as best I could. In no mood for talking and with a mission in mind, I snuck into our bathroom to get my hair clippers. Then I went and got my bible and an extension cord. Yes, this is where the story starts to get weird. 

By now, I was able to avoid Brea and managed to get outside without her seeing me with my assortment of random items. It was dark by now and the only way I could see was by the light of my phone. I set my bible down on the driveway and plugged in my hair clippers. Now, I do the logical thing anyone feeling hopelessly sad and losing their mind would do - I start shaving my head.

If I was going crazy, this was a pretty good start. If the neighbors had seen me, I'm sure they would have called 911 because it had to be quite a sight. A grown man, lying down on the driveway in the dark, crying out loud, and shaving his head.

Even though it may have looked like someone out of their mind, I did have a reason why I wanted to shave my head. Just month's before Jacob's accident I had started cutting his hair with these clippers. Brea didn't like it much because it made him look older and I cut his little wavy red hair too short.

For whatever reason, this was a way I felt closer to him. I wanted to cut my hair like his. Sounds strange, I know. But, this type of behavior is actually par for the course with a bereaved parent.

Now that I'm done shaving my head, my next impulse is to start yelling at God and reading bible verses out loud. I go on my usual rant asking for God to speak to me. "God, can you see how much I need you now? Where are you? How am I going to make it?"

 After having looked for me all over the house, Brea opens the door, walks outside and quietly says my name. "Jason?" "Yea - I'm over here." I said in a garbled tone. She asked "What are you doing?" I answer back to her "I don't know." At least I gave her an honest answer.

She walked over to me and must have been a little freaked out by the state she found me in. I wouldn't have blamed her if she had been scared or angry with me. But, what she did do was a defining moment in our marriage for me.

She walked over and sat down next to me. She pulled me over close to her and laid my head in her lap. And, she started rubbing her fingers through my newly chopped hair and let me cry like a baby.

She didn't tell me I was crazy or yell at me for cutting all of my hair. She didn't try to fix me. She was quiet and just sat with me. I do remember her giggling a little at how ridiculous I looked.

Eventually, every marriage is tested to some degree. Maybe through financial troubles, infidelity, loss of a job, a spouse who is checked out, emotional issues due to childhood trauma, or health problems; the friction and stress brought on can lead us to question how we're going to hold our marriage together.

Had we not already been in therapy together by this point, I'm not sure how Brea would have reacted to the state she found me in. In our sessions we were able to talk through our difficulties, our pain, and our disagreements. Thankfully, we were given tools and insights we could use to help us navigate the strains being put on our relationship.

By no means do we have it all figured out and we struggle just like everyone else. But, I thought it would be helpful to share some of the insights and takeaways we learned and are able to put to use: 

1. Pursue your spouse during difficult times. Don't run away. Sit with them in their pain. Sometimes it's hard to watch and it's tempting to want to stick your head in the sand and pretend things will get better on their own. But, if you decide that your marriage is worth fighting for, then be committed to running towards each other in hard times and figuring out a way forward together.    

2. Let each other have good days and bad days. This was one of the most important pieces of advice we received. Out of codependence, Brea and I used to feel like we had to pull each other out of their funk. If Brea was feeling bad, then I felt like I had to either join her in her sadness or figure out how to get her to feel better. Also, if one of you is having a good day and the other isn't - you don't have to feel guilty that you're having a good day. It's not the responsibility of your spouse to make you feel a certain way and vice versa. 

3. Go see a therapist together and/or separately, if necessary. Some people are embarrassed to admit they need the help of a therapist. Men, especially, feel like it means they are weak. Seeing a therapist together and one on one, has been a significant part of our healing process and has strengthened our relationship.

4. Find purpose outside of yourselves in meaningful projects you can work on together. In 2012, we started raising money to support and sponsor orphans in Uganda through Children's Hopechest.  You can read more information about some of the work we've done through our partnership with Hopechest at www.mysuperhero.org . To date, we've raised over $150,000 to honor Jacob and raise funds for capital projects at a fundraiser we called The Superhero Ball .  If you're interested in learning more about sponsoring a child through Hopechest, click here. It was helpful for us to take the focus off ourselves and our present suffering and find meaning and purpose in helping others together. 

5. Forgive one another over and over again. This is pretty self explanatory and obvious. Ultimately, forgiveness is a choice. Plain and simple. You have the power to choose to forgive. It takes work on some issues, but if you're committed to staying with your spouse and you love them - you make the choice and move on. 

6. Accept the change that happens in each other as a result of life's challenges. There is no doubt that Brea and I are different people in some ways now. It can be a struggle, but we have to accept that some life changing moments are going to change the way we interact, feel, and think going forward. 

Brea could have reacted differently that night. She could have turned around and walked off. She could have yelled at me and started crying. But, she didn't. She chose to love and hold onto the broken man who was different in many ways than the one she married. We've said many times that we have walked through hell together. Our marriage could have easily been torn apart by the death of our son. But, instead I know that our marriage is much stronger than it was before and we have been given some amazing tools to guide us. One thing is for sure, whatever inevitable difficulty we face in the future - we'll be doing it together.

 

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Alright boys and girls - go grab that special someone and have a listen to this song together. Forever Like That - Ben Rector

What can we do with our questions and doubts about God?

Whether it's a failing marriage, unexpected disease, a financial loss, or the loss of a loved one - we all face difficulties that test our understanding of God and our fundamental beliefs.

Like many Southern Baptists, I grew up attending church most Sunday mornings, evenings, and Wednesday evenings. Many good things came out of my religious upbringing. I also learned some things that set up a theology that failed to make sense after Jacob's accident. Or, at least my understanding of that theology failed.

If you had asked me who God was I would have said this: "He is an all good, all loving, all powerful, and sovereign God. And, He's in control of all aspects of my life."

That understanding works just fine while things are going good. But, when things go bad - it can get awfully confusing and frustrating. After Jacob's accident I kept asking questions like - "If God loves us and is in control - why did He allow this to happen to Jacob? What did we do wrong to deserve this? How could God possibly love me if He took my son?"   

In the past, much of my relationship with God was transaction based. I thought that if I did the right things and followed what the bible said, then God would take care of me. Sure, I'll have difficulties along the way, but for the most part I would make it through life without experiencing something as painful as the death of one of my children. 

"All things work together for good for those that love him." I thought this meant God and I had a deal. I love Him, place my faith in Jesus, be a good Christian man, then He makes things work out for me. Now, I realize how niave that was.

Adding to my transactional relationship were phrases you hear often in the Christian community: "Ask and you shall receive." "You have not because you ask not." So, if we ask for something then God says we'll get it. In reality, this seems to rarely happen. But, many of us operate this way with God.

My prayers were mostly centered around asking God to do something for me. Give me this. Help me with that. For most of my life things were going my way with this theological model.  I had a great marriage, three beautiful children, a great job, and we were rocking along. I couldn't have asked for more. My prayers for having a "blessed" life were working.

Then June 12, 2011 happened.  

Why didn't God answer my prayers to protect my son? I prayed over him every night. We were good people and Jacob is an innocent little boy. How did this happen?

In the midst of deep despair and grief for Jacob, we were so confused, angry, and felt betrayed by God. My sovereign God let my son die in a hot car by himself? How in the hell does that make any sense with my theology? The amount of rage and anger I had at God was indescribable. And, at times, I still struggle with that anger. 

"God, how are you loving and good in this? If you could have done something about it - why didn't you?" When I didn't find any good answers, I started doubting everything I had ever learned or believed.

Here's an entry I made in my journal on December 2, 2011, 6 months after the accident:

"God please help me surrender my anger and disappointment with you.  I can't see or hear anything from you.  You have deeply hurt me and let my entire family down. What are we supposed to do with your silence? Jacob is my son and he is beautiful. Now I don't have him to hold. How can you not have enough compassion to grant me the one request I have at this point: To have an irrefutable encounter with Jesus. In Mark, Jesus said if we had faith that we could move mountains. We prayed over the kids everyday, and I prayed over Jacob while we were giving him CPR.  And, you let him die. How can I ever trust you again? What more could we have done for you? You've allowed our life and family to be wrecked. If you didn't allow this and you love me, then show me who you are. I beg you."

I wish I could say things between me and God got better after this. But, this was the last journal entry I made where I prayed to God. I stopped praying altogether for a couple of years because I wasn't sure anyone was listening. 

"Seek and you will find."  I didn't. At least not in the way I wanted. You could argue God showed up in other ways.  But, for whatever reason, it wasn't in the way I wanted. Or, maybe I didn't see it.  It wasn't for lack of looking, though. The silence I experienced from God has been one of the most difficult things surrounding my faith.

Every Sunday in churches across America, you will hear clergy give messages and sermons with the phrases "God is in control", or "God has a plan." I have a viceral negative reaction when I hear statements like this. I know I'm not the only one who feels this way. To those of us who have experienced tragedies, these words are very difficult to hear and understand. 

Maybe God is in control. But, in light of my experience, these statements don't make sense. If God can actively intervene in this world, then why is there so much innocent pain and suffering? 

These are hard questions and I don't think we talk about them enough in evangelical communities. I've found that asking these questions and wrestling with my doubts has led me to discover a more authentic faith than what I had before. 

I think it's important that we help people feel safe and comfortable sharing and discussing their struggles with God inside our churches, with each other, and with their church leaders. Here are a few of my thoughts on how we can do that:   

Clergy should talk openly about your questions and voice your doubts from the pulpit. The more honest and vulnerable they are with congregants - the more we will connect with them and their message.  I think a number of Pastors feel like they don't, or can't, have close relationships with people who attend their church. I think partially, it's due to the fact that we don't feel like we can be ourselves around church leaders. And, visa versa.  Pastors feel like they have to pretend to be perfect and that they've got it figured out.  When in reality, they are as human as the rest of us.  They have questions and doubts too. 

Also, Pastors should have messages and sermons that don't have a nice, neat, and tidy bow tied around the ending. At times, life is a mess and there ARE NOT answers to every question. The messages they give should reflect that reality.

Church leadership, elder boards, and deacons should allow the pastors in their churches the ability and freedom to give these types of messages without fear of consequence.  Pastors should be able to give these sermons without feeling like someone is going to call them a heretic or that they somehow aren't toeing the company line. They need to be encouraged and supported in their attempts to be vulnerable with congregants.  

To the rest of us - we need to start sharing our questions with each other.  We should be able to talk about these issues openly in our Sunday School groups, in our Small Groups, inside the walls of our churches.  We should talk freely; without judgment from each other. Many of us feel like we have to hide behind a veil of perfection in order to be included and to be a part of the team. Therefore, we don't voice our doubts for fear of being kicked off the bus.

The more we are able to bring our questions, fears, and doubts out of the darkness and into the light - the stronger and healthier our faith communities will be. So, let's start now. I've shared some of the stuff I struggle with here. What questions and doubts do you have? Please share them in the comments section or in the Facebook comments section.

 

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The Cure for Pain by Jon Foreman

 "I wrote this one in Texas on a day off. I was reflecting on the passing of time. I have been playing music in Switchfoot for about ten years. During that period, I have been fighting pain or running away from it in a myriad of ways. And yet the pain is a constant. I have had some amazing moments singing gravity away but the water keeps on falling. I began to think of the suffering I see around me, I think of the pain of a grandmother dying of cancer. Of a friend killed by a train. I think of the pain of death, of failure, of rejection, the pain of a father losing his only son. And I came to the conclusion that I cannot run from pain any longer." - Jon Foreman


Working through guilt and shame.

This past summer we took a family trip to Los Angeles for a long weekend vacation.  Not only was California beautiful, but the weather was a relief from the 100 degree Texas heat.

My favorite part of the trip was attending a NEEDTOBREATHE and Switchfoot concert at The Greek Theatre. These are two of our families favorite bands. 

Opening for them was the band - Colony House. They are fairly new, but very good.  I'd heard of them because two of the members, Will and Caleb Chapman, are sons of Steven Curtis Chapman and Mary Beth Chapman.  You may have heard of Steven Curtis Chapman. He's a popular Christian artist.  We know of them even more so because they have experienced the death of a child and Mary Beth wrote a book about it called Choosing To SEE. 

In 2008, one of their daughters accidentally ran out in front of Will Chapman's car when he was driving up the driveway at their home. A total accident and terrible tragedy.  From interviews I've seen, Will struggled with a deep sense of guilt after the accident. 

Cut back to the night of the concert.  We had never heard Colony House play before so we didn't know what to expect.  They happen to be fantastic and we loved every bit of their performance and music.

Colony House    Photo Credit: http://chrishershman.com

When we got back home, I downloaded their album.  I listened through and got to a song titled Won't Give Up.  I played it over and over.  Then I played it for Brea.  It was like someone climbed into my head and pulled out how I felt and then wrote a song about it.  It's an incredible song with powerful lyrics. 

Here's how it starts:

 "I wear the guilt upon my chest
Cause I feel like I've earned it
And keep the bloodstains on my hands
To show that I've done this

Oh how I wish I could escape that day
Take back time and make everything okay
But I can't

There must be something in my lungs
That keeps me from breathing
As deep and full as I once could
Now my mind starts repeating

Oh, the pictures in my head
They roll like the movies
I shut my eyes to cut the thread
But my memory shows no mercy

Still I won't give up now
No I won't give up now"

As soon as I heard the song I knew the lyrics had to have come from Will.  I connect deeply with the words because of the familiar feelings.

I've struggled with debilitating guilt over Jacob's accident. There are so many things I could have done differently that day. 

Guilt can be powerful.  For the first few years after the accident, it felt like an all consuming force that I couldn't let go of but one that I wanted desperately to run away from.  I hated myself so much for having fell asleep that day. For having not locked the doors to our house. For not hearing the door to the house open and close.  I felt so ashamed, angry, stupid, and unworthy.  I felt like a failure as a dad and a husband.

The weight of carrying the guilt was something that my therapist, Paula, and I worked on for quite some time.  Session after session we would talk through it.  There were a lot of tears and painful discussions.  Eventually, Paula was able to help me realize some truths that started to slowly sink in over time. None of it was overnight.  And, none of it was like a light bulb moment to point to that instantly made me feel better. 

Therapy is like a farmer tending to his garden.  You keep watering and picking weeds, and one day you show up and something starts sprouting out of the dirt.  You just have to keep showing up to do the work. 

With Paula's help; here are a few things I learned while working on my guilt:

1. We aren't defined by our mistakes. - Early on, I beat the heck out of myself over what happened.  I felt like I had failed my family.  Most of all, I felt like I had failed Jacob.  The shame was permeating my entire identity.  This caused unhealthy behavior, added stress, and was a strain on my marriage and my ability to be a father to my daughters. Through therapy, though, I was able to realize that one accident or mistake doesn't define who I am.  I'm still a good person, husband, and father.

2. Healing can start around your guilt when you stop fighting it and accept responsibility. This step was incredibly difficult and took a very long time for me to work through. I was scared to death to say that I had any responsibility in Jacob's accident.  I fought as hard as I could and as long as I could to not accept it.  I was terrified to think what it meant about me that my decisions may have led my son's death.  "What does it say about me as a father?  Does it mean I am a bad person?  Am I a terrible father?  Did I fail my family?  Am I worthy of being loved?" 

So the guilt starts feeding shame, and shame feeds more guilt, and on and on... This put me on a hamster wheel of personal torture that I couldn't figure out how to get off of.  Thankfully, with hours upon hours of working with Paula, I was able to get to a place where I could bear the guilt without it continuing to rule my life.  Bearing the guilt meant I had taken and accepted responsibility for what I could have done to prevent this accident.  There were things I could have done differently.  I accept that.  I bear that guilt, but it doesn't control me anymore.

3. Giving up is not an option, no matter how bad it gets. - There were times when I wanted to die because I felt like such a failure in my guilt and shame. I truly hoped I would die. I thought about how I could commit suicide. I thought about how I wouldn't have to feel this way anymore and I would be with Jacob.  But, then I would quickly realize the amount of pain I would leave the rest of my family in. What a wreck I would leave behind.  Paula would tell me - "All you have to do is think about getting through each minute, each hour, then each day.  Get out of bed and put your feet on the ground.  Take a step, then another step.  One foot in front of the other and keep breathing." It felt like torture at times, to keep going, but I knew inside that I could not give up. I couldn't give up on Brea and my daughters. And, I couldn't give up on myself.  No matter how hard it gets - you can't give up.

The song Won't Give Up ends like this:

"Too many dreams I didn't want to dream
Too many nights alone where I can't sleep
I've got the devil on my back
Trying to take home from me
But I see Jesus out in front
He's reaching back for the lonely
Reaching back cause he loves me
I take his hand because she loved me

No I won't give up now"

You know, sometimes our guilt feels like it's taking a hold of us and dragging us into hell.  It's like our past mistakes are yelling at us through a megaphone constantly reminding us of what we've done.  But, I can tell you it is possible to find freedom from what can seem overwhelming and paralyzing. 

Healing can begin when we accept that we are human and we all make mistakes.  And, the transformative healing takes place when we accept that our mistakes DO NOT define who we are as a person. 

Listen to Won't Give Up in the video below. 

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