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!  



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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Why I'm writing a book.

The first time I can remember enjoying the process of writing was in the 6th grade.  Ms. Chancey, one my favorite teachers, asked us to write a poem. 

At the time, my MeMe (my Mom's aunt), had recently had a stroke and I'd never experienced a family member being that sick.  This was the first time I discovered the ability to express myself through writing. 

I don't remember the poem exactly but I do remember it being very dark and grey - just the way I was feeling about all that was going on.  But, afterwards there was something that clicked inside me.

When I write it helps me organize my thoughts and process through what I'm feeling or learning.  It also gives me a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction to have created something from nothing. And, I like that others can connect with what I'm saying and possibly get something out of it.

I'm am excited to be able say that I'm writing a book. Although a contract isn't finalized yet, the plan is that I'll be working with the publisher Fortress Press. I'm going to write a book about dealing with the passing of my son, wrestling with God and my faith afterwards, and where I've come to at this point with my theology. 

Here are some of the motivations I have in writing this book:

I want to be more at peace with God - I know that by writing, it's going to force me to study, think, and then form an opinion or position on some very important theological questions that I still have. 

I want to bring Jacob forward in life - Writing this book gives me another opportunity to bring Jacob forward in this life with me and with our family.  As difficult as it is sometimes, the more I'm able to weave him into my everyday life, the more "right" it seems.  He's my son and always will be my son. Even though he's not here physically with us, he's continuing to make a difference and change the world for the better. I feel like we are working on this project together.

I'm able to help others - By sharing my story I hope that it connects with others who have doubts or questions about God in the face of so much suffering in the world.  Also, I want to be able to provide hope to someone else who may be stuck in depression, fear, anger, or hopelessness after experiencing their own trauma or tragedy. 

I'm able to redeem some of the suffering and pain - One of my main motivations, everyday, is to take the pain and suffering that came out of this tragedy and use it to do something good.  There is something very healing about taking these negative feelings and using that energy to do something positive. 

I can raise awareness and money for orphans - Through writing and speaking, I hope to continue to bring awareness and help to orphans in Uganda through our partnership with Children's Hopechest. All proceeds from the book and any speaking event I do, will go directly to the benefit of these kids.  

Honestly, the biggest fear I have in writing this book and sharing my experiences is the perception of, or the unintentional act of; exploiting Jacob, my family, or our circumstance.  It feels kind of weird to know that I'm going to have to promote a book and talk publicly about something that is so sacred to me.  Brea and I have talked a lot about whether or not I should do this.  In the end, we decided together that there are many more positive reasons to move forward with a book rather than succumb to the fear of potential negatives. 

So, going forward, I'll share some of my thoughts on this blog, sample chapters, and give updates on progress.  Please sign up for my updates on the contact page. I'd love for you to share this with other people.  Again, the proceeds from this book are going to help orphans.  So, share away and let's raise as much money as we can for them! 




Where is God?

How will I ever find God when it feels like he's walked away when I needed comforting the most? I felt betrayed by God after Jacob's accident.  I was so hurt and angry.  At times, I still am.

There is so much terror going on this world all the time it's a wonder we all don't just curl up in a ball and suck our thumbs in the corner.

The stories you see of heart break and loss are too much for me to take sometimes.  I don't ever watch the news because I know all too well the pain a loved one is feeling from the loss that some newsman is flippantly talking about as though he's reporting a non-event.  When in reality, the pain surrounding death and innocent suffering is an all-consuming cloud of despair for so many.

It's almost like we overcompensate for the amount of pain around us by numbing ourselves to it by broadcasting it 24/7 and sensationalizing it beyond anything that resembles compassion for others.

So where is God's plan in this suffering? Where is his sovereignty? Where is his divine intervention? I question it all because I don't see much of it. And, for the amount of prayers going up for help - it seems like much of the time we're left down here to fend for ourselves. 

Early on in my search for answers, I ran across a talk by German theologian, Jurgen Moltmann, that gave me a little hope.  In his talk he referenced a excerpt from Elie Wiesel's book Night.  For me, it captures the agony of senseless suffering and the only real answer that provides some hope. 

"One day, as we returned from work, we saw three gallows, three black ravens, erected on the Appelplatz. Roll call.  The SS surrounding us, machine guns aimed at us: the usual ritual.  Three prisoners in chains – and, among them, the little pipel, the sad-eyed angel.

            The SS seemed more preoccupied, more worried, than usual.  To hang a child in front of thousands of onlookers was not a small matter.  The head of the camp read the verdict.  All eyes were on the child.  He was pale, almost calm, but he was biting his lips as he stood in the shadow of the gallows.

            This time, the Lagerkapo refused to act as executioner.  Three SS took his place.

            The three condemned prisoners together stepped onto the chairs.  In unison, the nooses were placed around their necks.

            “Long live liberty!” shouted the two men.

            But the boy was silent.

            “Where is merciful God, where is He?” someone behind me was asking.

            At the signal, the three chairs were tipped over.

            Total silence in the camp.  On the horizon, the sun was setting.

            “Caps off!” screamed the Lageralteste.  His voice quivered.  As for the rest of us, we were weeping.

            “Cover your heads!”

            Then came the march past the victims.  The two men were no longer alive.  Their tongues were hanging out, swollen and bluish.  But the third rope was still moving: the child, too light, was still breathing…

            And so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death, writhing before our eyes.  And we were forced to look at him at close range.  He was still alive when I passed him.  His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet extinguished.

            Behind me, I heard the same man asking:

            “For God’s sake, where is God?”

            And from within me, I heard a voice answer:

            “Where is He?  This is where – hanging here from this gallows…”

A powerful story.  God, hanging there with the little boy.  Not a God who is watching from afar.  Not a God who said, ok, this is how this little boy is going to die today and then walks away.  But, He's right there feeling the pain and the suffering of those watching and feeling the pain and terror with the little boy.  

A God suffering with us?  I had never heard this before.  But, it touched something inside me that pointed me in a direction that made some sense.  If I was going to believe in God, then it couldn't be this monster I thought He might be who just set tortuous events into motion or at the very least allowed them to happen.  I just can't accept that notion anymore.  I don't believe God wants children or anyone to suffer.  And, I can't believe that he just sits back and watches it happen either with ambivalence. 

To what extent is God in control or not?  I don't know. But, what I can start with is that He is a loving God who is suffering with us and has compassion for us.  That adds up to me.  It makes logical sense.  To believe in a blood-thirsty Monster God who inflicts or allows pain and suffering for his will, glory, and praise is not an option for me anymore.