Thursday, August 28, 2008

Guest Posts : 82808

Below are three very special tributes to Luke from three very special people... Jack Smith, Nicol's youngest brother; Angela Wardwell, my sister; and Annelise Wardwell, my 10 year old niece. Jack had sent us his thoughts in an email about six weeks after Luke died, and he shared it with everyone last week at Luke's service. My sister sent her thoughts, and some verses Annelise had picked out in memory of Luke, just the other day.

I thought you may enjoy reading these. They mean so much to us because they capture some beautiful thoughts and memories we have of our boy. We miss him so much.

Thanks Jack, Sis, and 'Lise. We love you guys.


Memories of Lukey
July 12, 2008

Hi Guys,

Nicol, you asked me to write some memories of Luke a while ago but I've been unable to write it in one sitting. Either the tears or grief would get in the way of my words and cause me to postpone continuing. It's been difficult considering the grief we have experienced the last few months. I have cried more in the last weeks than I care to remember. I cry because of the pain and loss you and Greg have suffered. But I also cry because of the joy Luke gave to me in our short time together and I will miss not having more moments with him. I will cherish the short time we had forever and keep them in my heart. Luke's life has already profoundly impacted me. I realize more the gift that my children are and when I am being consumed with the grind of life, I recall the memories I have of your sweet boy and it stills my heart. His memory slows me down and gives me much needed perspective. Luke's life has left an imprint on the walls of my heart and itwill continue to do so.

One of the first things that come to mind when I think of Luke are his eyes. Not only were they a deep, deep blue but they held you captive. When you're eyes met with his, you had no choice but to stare. He was truly spellbinding! If it's true that the eyes are the window to the soul, then Luke had a bright one. His eyes were pure and beautiful and I believe it reflected what was in his heart.

Another memory I have of him is his desire to nestle into whoever was holding him. He was tender and full of warmth. I remember holding him in the recliner and feeling like life was better with him in my arms. He had the ability to make you feel safe and whole. It's mysterious that a child could make a grown man feel that way but I did. I felt as though I was holding my own son because of how he comforted my heart.

He was also curious. At times he would look at me and it seemed like he was studying and trying to make a connection on how I fit into his life. I remember going to the mexican restaurant with you and having his carrier set right next to me. I would glance over at him and catch him sizing me up. He truly attempted to understand what was surrounding him.

The memory of his smile comes to mind as well. The way his cheeks would indent, revealing his beautiful dimples, would melt anyone's heart. I felt so good when he laughed. I got such joy out of his expressions. Not only would he be able to tell a joke but could take one as well. I would have loved to have seen his humor come out as he grew up. I envision him being one of the boys and being around his uncles and daddy and being able to hold his own.

Even though I barely held him and had little time with him, I feel attached to him in a special way. With all the changes that Molly and I are contemplating and praying about, I believe the most important are the ones that draw us closer together. Luke's life and death is one of those events. It bonded mine and my wife's heart. Our hearts are broken and the events continue to disturb our faith but all we are left with is the decision to trust. I don't understand God's timing or will, I will never attempt to explain Luke's short life. I do, however, value the life he lived and place a great deal of significance on the time I had with him.

I hope the knowledge of Luke's impact on our lives brings some comfort to your hearts. His memory will live on and will be cherished forever. We love you all so much and pray for you always. You are always in our hearts and on our minds.


Jack and Molly


Celebration of the Life of Luke Sponberg
August 21, 2008

I am thankful that God blessed this world with Luke’s presence even though it was for such a short time. It still amazes me how such a little person can instantly steal such a big part of another’s heart.

I am thankful for the family Luke was so blessed to be born into. His Mommy and Daddy loved him completely, unconditionally – nurturing him and meeting his every need. His big sister adored him (even though she did swipe his pacis and cover his face with a blanket a few times), always showering him with hugs and kisses, always checking to see where he was and greeting him with a sweet, “Hi, Lukey!” His grandparents were doting, his aunts and uncles proud, his cousins ever eager to hold him and love on him.

I am thankful for the circumstances God used to lead my father into retirement, before Luke was even conceived, making it possible for Mom and Dad to be present for Luke’s birth and to spend all but two weeks of his life getting to know him. Such precious memories they will forever treasure.

I am thankful for the time my family and I spent with Luke when he was just 4 weeks old. Time spent holding him, whispering in his ear, playing with him, watching him sleep, breathing in that sweet “new baby” smell. I’ll never forget the first time I saw him. We had just arrived at the Chattanooga airport. Mom and Dad, Greg, Nicol, Summer and Luke came to pick us up. Greg was holding Luke who was sound asleep. Nicol had dressed him in an outfit I had bought for him – stripes of chocolate brown and different shades of blue. I remember thinking how beautiful those colors were on him. After hugging little Miss Summer, I eagerly took that sleeping baby boy out of my brother’s arms and put him to my shoulder. He immediately curled up in a little ball and snuggled down with his little bottom sticking out. I could have held him forever.

I am thankful for his beautiful blue eyes. Eyes so deep. Looking into them was like peering over the side of a boat into deep ocean waters – compelling, luring, inviting you to fall in. Pensive, engaging windows into his soul, his thoughts, his feelings.

I am thankful that Luke got to play in his big Tonka truck and wear a coonskin cap.

I am thankful he played in the grass and swung on a swing and went for walks and watched his big sister open her birthday presents and heard his Mommy sing and his Daddy pray over him.

I am thankful for the many family resemblances he bore but that he was definitely his Daddy’s boy – a miniature Gregory in so many ways.

I am thankful for the pictures of Luke that are now some of my most treasured possessions. I am thankful for Luke’s life for it has forever changed us all.

I am thankful for my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who is the ONLY reason we can both grieve and celebrate Luke’s life today. We have hope.

I am thankful that when we feel like we are drowning and have sunk into the miry depths where there is no foothold (Ps 69) the Lord hears our cries, lifts us up out of the mud and mire, sets our feet on a rock and puts a new song in our mouths (Ps 40).

In his book Letters to My Son – A Journey Through Grief, Mitch Carmody writes, “I learned that there is life after death on both sides of the equation – when faith is the common denominator. We substantiate our lost loved one’s life by the way we live ours.” By God’s grace, may we strive to bring substance to Lukey’s life by living our lives in such a way that many will see and put their trust in the Lord (Ps 40).

Gregory Luke. Watchful, vigilant, bringer of light. He continues to live up to his name.


August 21, 2008

Psalm 23:3-4
He gives me new strength. He guides me in the right paths for the honor of his name. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid. You are with me. Your shepherd’s rod and staff comfort me.

Psalm 25:16-18a
Turn to me and show me your favor. I am lonely and hurting. The troubles of my heart have increased. Set me free from my great pain. Look at how I’m hurting! See how much I suffer!

Psalm 34:17-19
Godly people cry out, and the Lord hears them. He saves them from all of their troubles. The Lord is close to those whose hearts have been broken. He saves those whose spirits have been crushed. Anyone who does what is right may have many troubles. But the Lord saves him from all of them.

Psalm 37:17b-19a
But the Lord takes good care of those who do what is right. Every day the Lord watches over those who are without blame. What he has given them will last forever. When trouble comes to them, they will have what they need.

Psalm 37:39-40a
The Lord saves those who do what is right. He is their place of safety when trouble comes. The Lord helps them and saves them.



Tuesday, August 26, 2008


I can't recall many details from my 35th birthday. We might have been in Chicago, where Nicol and I were living at the time. If that's where we were, we probably walked to my favorite pizza place, Pizano's, which was "conveniently" [ :-) ] located just a couple of blocks east of our apartment on the corner of Chestnut and State (you MUST go there if you're ever in the Windy City and if you're there now, what are ya waiting for?), and enjoyed a deep dish pizza, half pepperoni/half sausage. Then we would have made our way to Starbucks, just about one block south, ordered lattes or maybe mocha chip frappacinos, and then sipped on them as we strolled up and down Michigan Avenue, enjoying the hustle and bustle of "The Magnificent Mile." If that's what we did that evening, believe me, it was a good time.

And if we weren't in Chicago, we were most likely in northern Maine visiting my family. In that case, we probably ate at Winnie's Restaurant, where I no doubt chomped down a large order of fried tenderloin clams dipped in buckets of tartar sauce, french fries and an icey Coke. After that, we definitely went to one of two places: Houlton Farms Dairy for ice cream or Tim Horton's for coffee... or maybe both. Another good evening... if that's what we did.

But the fact is, I really cannot remember where we were on August 6, 2004; nor can I recollect the particulars of how we celebrated my birthday. While my memory fails me on these two things, I can, with distinct mental clarity and ease, tell you the "thought for the day" that kept swirling through my mind: I'm halfway home. And though I've never had much of a grasp on that concept, it's a thought that has had staying power. Over the past four years, I've been reminded of it over and over again... even to this very day.

The basis for I'm halfway home came from Psalm 90:10 - The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty. Another version says it like this: We live for seventy years or so; with luck we make it to eighty. The point for me that day was that, at 35, my 70 years were half gone. And since I quite often think in athletic and sport terms, it struck me that the buzzer for life's first half had sounded and it was time to head for the locker room.

Now again, and you may have to bear with me here, I tend to think in terminology familiar to the athletic arena. And I guess I come by it naturally, having spent most of my childhood and growing up years participating in a variety of sports, and then coaching them for 11 years.

You may or may not know that not every sport has a halftime, but my favorite, basketball, does. For players, it's a time to get a breather, and usually includes rehydrating with water or Gatorade or Vitamin Water, and maybe eating something that will help with blood sugar and energy levels, things like oranges or sports bars. It's also a time to listen to the coach, who makes the necessary adjustments in strategy and communicates what went well in the first half, what didn't go so well, or maybe some combination of both. Whatever the case, it's a time to let the players know what to expect in the second half, how the team will go about their business in the third and fourth quarters. It's also a time to band together as a group and determine once again to work hard, to play together, and to persevere no matter what happens, until the final buzzer sounds. And with a little bit of luck thrown into the mix, maybe, just maybe, the team will come out on the right side of the scoreboard.

So there I was, having just turned 35 years old, realizing that, biblically (and statistically) speaking, I had entered a period of life that seemed to me appropriately dubbed halftime. As I began to reflect on the first half of my life, I realized that the majority of it hadn't gone so well, at least from the standpoint of walking with Christ. I had pretty much done my thing with little or no regard for His desires and plans for me. My journey had been spent largely on what author Richard Rohr calls the path of ascent. And its on the path of ascent that we young bucks fail to remember five very important realities: (1) life is hard; (2) I am not as important as I think I am; (3) my life is not about me; (4) I am not in control; and (5) I am going to die.

How's that for a halftime locker room spiel?

The obvious problem with the path of ascent is that it doesn't jive with the essentials of life, it doesn't deal effectively with any of the five realities that Rohr points out, and it certainly has no way of answering the second half of Psalm 90:10 - [speaking of our seventy or eighty years] ...their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone and we fly away. Again, as one other version puts it: And what do we have to show for it? Trouble. Toil and trouble and a marker in the graveyard.

Toil. Trouble. A marker in the graveyard. How's that for looking ahead to the second half?

I know that I am walking a tightrope here. And if you're thinking "this is too dark and depressing for me" please stay with me. I agree, all this talk of toil and trouble and death IS dark and depressing. But at the same time I don't agree because, again quoting Rohr, the path of ascent is the way of the first half of life and the path of descent is the way of the second half. And every one of us face the second half, whether it comes at age 12 or 19 or 24 or 31 or 38 or 47 or... it's coming. The only question is, What circumstances will confront us as we exit the locker room? What will life throw our way that changes everything?

Unfortunately, many of us find ourselves bounding out of that locker room and onto the court with no idea what has happened in the first half, or why. We aren't quite sure what went well and what was a train wreck. So, no adjustments are made and we jump back into the game, maintaining the status quo, clinging to what "worked" in the first half, believing that life really is a piece of cake, that it's all about me, that no one is going to tell me what to do, that I'm going to control my own destiny, and if I get in trouble or if trouble finds me God will bail me out. And we live as though we're never going to die. And then the game clock ticks down, it's crunch time, and a very harsh reality hits us between the eyes: I'm in some serious trouble here.

I once read an interview with Maine native and tremendously "successful" horror writer Stephen King. The interviewer was asking him about an accident that had nearly taken his life a few years earlier when King had been walking alongside a country road in western Maine. He was struck by a van and thrown into the ditch, left for dead. He said he laid there, his body broken, writhing in excruciating pain, and he thought, everything I have and everything I've accomplished means nothing right now. And the man had a lot. He had done a lot too. I've driven by his house in Bangor dozens of times and it's safe to say that he had it all. Mercedes 500SL. Corvette. SUV's. Vans. Huge house with an iron gate. And that's just what could be seen from the outside. Forget about the millions and millions of books he's sold, the hundreds of millions of dollars he's banked from those sales. And it was not unusual for him, in October, to pick up his son at Bangor High School on a Friday afternoon, drive to the airport and fly off to wherever the World Series was being played and they would watch the weekend games. He did the same thing during the Final Four. He was in a position to enjoy most any luxury this world could afford. And there he laid, in the ditch, fighting for his life, fully realizing that none of it matters.

It's life events such as Stephen King experienced several years ago that divert us from the path of ascent onto the path of descent. It's a wounding that never again allows us to see life the same... ever. We realize that everything this world has to offer cannot give us the answers we need for life's most difficult questions, nor can it satisfy the deepest needs of our soul. No wonder John warns do not love the world or anything in the world. (1 John 2:15) How does the song go? This world has nothing for me. This world will never satisfy us and it can't sustain us. It surely can't heal our wounds.. and we all have them.

The profound realization of the second half of life, following the great wounding of heart, soul, mind, and body, is that the path of descent is where the life of faith begins anew, and quite possibly begins for real. It's where gut-level change happens. It's where perspecitve is rebirthed. Rohr says it well: "Ive often said that if I had a way of naming Christianity, I would name it the way of the wound. I think what Jesus is telling the Christian tribe is that the wound is the way into the soul, into transformation. The act of suffering breaks down the imperial ego so we can ask deeper questions, broader questions, real questions. I would assume that no man can become a True King without having endured or triumphed over some major wounds. ... Everything pivots around the wounding. All the dramatic archetypes and heroic images are what the Hebrew prophets called ‘the stumbling stone.’ God will be something you have to trip over. He’s not just a ‘giving’ God. He’s a contradiction. I think that’s the transitional point where you have enough ego structure to let go of the very ego that you’ve built – and to move beyond it. The very self you’ve concocted in the first 35 years is basically what you have to slowly let go of in the second half of life. Jesus says to Peter that 'when you were young you dressed yourself, when you’re older someone else will dress you, and lead you where you would rather not go.' (John 21:18) It’s a both/and world. You don’t throw out the first half of life; you simply become less attached to it – to the formulations. You’re less dogmatic. It’s a compassion that you see in the old wise man. He deals with the imperfections, the flaws, and the brokenness."

This broken world is redeemed as Jesus takes broken people and transforms them as they journey down the same road He took, the path of descent. He changes us. He softens us. He mercifully coaxes us into letting go of our ego in favor of taking hold of His hand. He lets us trip and stumble and fall and then He gently helps us to our feet. He lets us ask the hard questions and grants us the confidence to both believe and trust Him with our unbelief. He destroys the strongholds of dogma that hinder our freedoms. He busts wide open the pathetic structures that we create in our attempts to define Him. He, the potter, tenderly shapes and molds and remakes us, the clay, according to his eternal plan and with masterful touch. As one of Nicol's former colleagues recently said, He helps us get over ourselves. And it's all done as we walk with a limp, wounded and bloodied, down the path of descent. Little wonder that Paul says it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him. (Philippians 1:29) Little wonder that Jesus said if anyone who would come after me, he must take up his cross daily and follow me (Luke 9:23) and anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:27) and whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. (Matthew 16:25)

Why the wounding? Why the suffering? Why the brokenness? Why the cross? Why must we surrender?

Because the wounding that leads to the descent is the path that leads to life.

And the wounding is usually horrific and it wears many faces.

It's the husband who walks out on his wife and never looks back. It's the young girl who is haunted by years of sexual abuse. It's the dad who abandons his children for a "child" half his age. It's the woman whose brother is killed in a car wreck, whose husband dies in a hunting accident, and whose daughter is brutally murdered. It's financial disaster for an unsuspecting couple. It's chronic pain for an otherwise healthy middle-aged man. It's a chronic, sometimes debilitating illness for an eager-to-be-active middle-aged woman. It's life in an abusive relationship. It's the son or daughter who forsakes his or her parents. It's the wife who is diagnosed with breast cancer. It's the husband who is diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. It's the man who is abruptly given one hour to clear off his desk by the company he had given 40 years of his life to. It's the couple whose son drives to a cemetery and ends his life. It's the 65 year old woman whose son died from AIDS, whose husband died from a rare disease. It's the pastor who left his wife for the secretary.

It's the loss of a beautiful baby girl to complications from kidneys that didn't develop or function properly.

It's the sudden loss of our precious infant son to SIDS.

It's a never ending list of woundings that change life forever.

It's anything that happens in this broken world that marks us as those stumbling down the path of descent.

The promise? God is with us through it all.

But so is the wound and so is the pain.

And I think halftime is nearly over.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Grieving With Hope

(I wrote this for Luke's committal service last Thursday and read it at his graveside just before we laid him to rest.)

We stand here today...
in a dreadful place
on a dreadful occasion
because of a dreadful loss
We stand here today...
ravaged by grief
our hearts have been trampled
we are wounded and broken
we bleed and we weep
there will be no forgetting, there is no escape
We stand here today...
without the luxury of choice
sinking toward depression
wrestling with despair
brawling with anger
fighting our fears
We stand here today...
more intensely familiar
with death’s lingering stench
more intimately acquainted
with the grave’s vicious sting [1]
more keenly aware
of life’s grass-withering fragility

its flower-fading brevity [2]
We stand here today...
struggling to reconcile
some of the things we believe
holding on tightly to those scarce certainties
we know to be true
asking questions never faced before
none more often than ‘Why?’
except for ‘How?’
in this world do we go on
We stand here today...
forever changed
never again the same
in some ways, bad
in all ways, eventually good
We stand here today...
beaten and battered
but not totally crushed
bewildered and confused
but not surrendering to our despair
and though there are questions aplenty
we have not been forsaken
and we are not destroyed [3]
We stand here today...
having limped to this place
our hearts overwhelmed with sadness
over the profound loss of our precious Lukey
our minds filled with wonder
at what might have been
our souls buoyed with a new-found longing
for that place we call home
We stand here today...
reminded anew
that our soul’s constant hunger
its unrelenting thirst
its persistent longings
its empty yearnings
will never be fully satisfied
‘til Christ’s promised return
We stand here today...
in a beautiful place
with all of Creation
as it raises both chorus and groan [4]
of praise and of ache
up to the heavens, to the Father above
for who He is, for what is to come
We stand here today...
in an expectant place
for from this very spot
our ‘Little Man’ will rise [5]
when Jesus comes calling
oh what a beautiful thought
Maranatha, come Lord Jesus, come even now [6]
We stand here today...
bolstered by grace
our hearts have been strengthened
in mysterious ways
We stand here today...
grieving with hope
for we are not among those

who have nothing to look forward to [7]


[1] 1 Corinthians 15:55
[2] Isaiah 40:7-8
[3] 2 Corinthians 4:8-9
[4] Psalm 148; Romans 8:22
[5] Prior to Luke's service, my friend and mentor, Clayton Blackstone, shared this thought with me. It's a thought that had not crossed my mind before. It's a thought that illustrates well the hope aspect of "Grieving With Hope." It's a thought shared about one year ago by Clayton's brother-in-law, Phil, at the funeral of his wife Tammy, who lost her life in a tragic and senseless traffic accident. I've inserted a portion of Phil's comments below from what he spoke at Tammy's funeral.
“So this is where it’s going to happen.”
This is where the casket and vault we seal today will burst forth with explosive, uncontrollable, unstoppable force.
This is where Tammy’s faith will become sight.
This is where she will rise to meet her Lord in the air.
This is where her doubts will be erased.
This is where her questions will be answered.
This is where every promise in Scripture will come true.
This is where every hope and dream will be fulfilled.
This is where sorrow and sadness will become a thing of the past.
This is where Christ’s victory will triumph over death and dying.
This is where Tammy will exchange her mortality for immortality and her corruptible nature for an incorruptible one.
This is where unending life will begin.
This is where my bride will rise with the gathered saints and the Church will be joined with her Bridegroom as He descends through the clouds.
This is where the woman, whom I’ve loved and strived to make happy, will experience “unspeakable and full of glory” joy.
This is where she will hear the heavenly invitation, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into My Kingdom.”
Yes! Yes! A symphony of yeses! This “sleeping place” will one day become the most beautiful place in the world.

[6] Revelation 22:20
[7] 1 Thessalonians 4:13, The Message

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Luke's Service

We so appreciate all of your prayers. I'm posting the order of service so that you will know what is happening, starting at 10:00am on Thursday. I know many will be praying. Please also pray that we will be able to rest tonight. We love you all and are grateful to God for you. I know that some of you know firsthand what tomorrow will bring to us. Your words have been a tremendous source of encouragement and comfort to us. May the Lord bless and keep you.

Gregory Luke Sponberg
March 17, 2008 – May 27, 2008

Grieving with Hope

Welcome, message, prayer
(Al Andrews)
Scripture reading - 1 Corinthians 15:17-22, 50-58
(Rob & Shawn)

Under His Wings
(Dad Smith, Todd & Jack)


(Jason Ingram)

Scripture readings - Isaiah 40:8-11, 25-31; 1 Thess. 4:13-18
(Mom & Dad Sponberg & Sis)

The Solid Rock
(Jason Ingram)

Scripture reading - Revelation 19:4-9
(Todd & Angie)

71 Balloons

Scripture reading - Revelation 21:1-7
(Mom Smith)

Give Me Jesus
(Jack & Molly)

(Al Andrews)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“…you must not carry on over them like people who have nothing to look forward to, as if the grave were the last word. Since Jesus died and broke loose from the grave, God will most certainly bring back to life those who died in Jesus…”

Friday, August 15, 2008

Update : 81508(2)

We made it to Nashville. It was an uneventful trip, which is good. Summer snoozed for about an hour-and-a-half and after waking up she watched Barney the rest of the way. Barney is her favorite, although she really likes this new dvd called Miss Patty Cake... I'm serious.

It seems obvious to me that we are entering a new phase in our grief. I think for both Nicol and I the shock has worn off (at least more than it had previously) and reality is setting in... and setting in hard.

We met a friend for lunch earlier in the week and she told us that we need to sink into the grief. Not all the time, there's no reason to dwell there 24/7. But when it hits, go there. If that sounds weird to you, it's not... believe me. It's not because there's no choice in the matter. As I said in a previous post, there's no escape. No easy way out. No switching on and off the light and, presto, everything is better. No resetting the X-Box or PS2 and starting a new game. No rebooting the desktop. No mulligans. Either we deal with it now or we will deal with it later... and "later" probably means a more intense struggle.

So when the bottom of the pit drops again, when another layer of emotional skin is sloughed off, when the darkness invades our heart's midday sun, when the oasis turns to mirage, when (to borrow a phrase) our grief is the ocean and our joy nothing but a fantasy island, when there's no energy to laugh or even smile... we need to sink and face what's going on inside our soul. We need to embrace it, stand nose-to-nose with it because it's real.

We are sinking. And it's a good thing. Sink we must. Don't be alarmed. We're right where we ought to be. I loved what Mary Beth Chapman told Larry King last week, commenting on the tragic loss of their daughter: When we hit bottom we didn't land on our feet, we landed flat on our faces, but the bottom was rock solid.

I don't know if we've hit bottom yet or not... somehow I don't think so. But I know that when we do, whether we land on our feet or on our head, the bottom will be firm.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground is sinking sand

Update : 81508

This is going to be sort of a hodgepodge of things... and quickly thrown together at that.

First, I thought you'd enjoy these pics... sorry, the one of Summer is a little blurry, but you get the idea. I'll try to get a better one up soon. Anyway, if you read the previous post, you'll understand what's going on in the first shot. The second is Summer and I enjoying our first "tea time." Nicol joined us too. It was fun and we've had another one since. In case you're wondering, the flavor of the day was chocolate soymilk. So, no, we didn't actually have tea... besides, how can you go wrong with chocolate?

Second, this is a very difficult day. We've been getting ready to leave for Nashville. But I should probably back up and fill you in on a few things. We have lived in north Georgia for the past two years, but since last December have been considering a move to Nashville. To make a long story short, when Luke died we weren't able to make a decision on a burial site, so we put that off until we could think thru things a bit. For a number of reasons, including the likelihood of a move in the near future, we decided to have him buried in the same plot as his cousin, Audrey, in Nashville. (In the very unlikely event that you don't know Audrey's story, please visit

All that to say that we are struggling with the finality of his commital service. Some say that it will help to give us closure. I am hopeful that they are right, but I know the most likely reality is this: it may allow us to turn the page on this chapter, but we will never have closure and we will never get over this loss. When Luke died a piece of our hearts did as well.

We would appreciate your prayers very much... and we need them desperately. The service will take place next Thursday morning at 10:00am. Our families and close friends will be there. You could also pray for us as we continue to think thru the details of the service. As difficult as the experience will be, we want to honor him and remember the 71 days we had with him and celebrate the hope that is ours in Christ in knowing we will see him again one day.

Thank you all for your kindness and encouragement. Our hearts have been touched over and over again as we read your comments. You have blessed us far more than you can imagine.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Tea Time?

If you are wondering what "Tea Time" is all about, you can be sure that no one is more surprised by the content of this post than I am. For me, "tea time" would normally appear as "tee time"... as in, I have a "tee time" at such and such a time on such and such a day at such and such a golf course... as in, last Wednesday (my 39th birthday, incidentally!) I had a 9:20am "tee time"... as in, Lord willing, I'll have an appointment this Thursday morning to "tee it up."

And by the way, before moving on, I should mention here that I realize how very fortunate I am to have a wife who enjoys letting me enjoy this wonderfully frustrating game that I like to play so much.

Now to the real point...

Nicol, Summer and I were having lunch today and I noticed a gentleman one booth away from ours sort of going out of his way to get Summer's attention. I have to admit that at first I was a little skeptical of his antics... sorry, but you just never know these days... and by the way, in the unlikely event that one of you reading this post happens to be that guy, please forgive me for my first impression because I'm quite grateful for the very important reminder you gave me today... thanks!

Anyway, here's what he was saying to Summer: "You need to have your daddy go buy you a tea set." She didn't have a clue what he was talking about. And I, well, my mouth said, "Yeah, yeah, great idea!" while my head was shouting, "Not!" (ever have those moments?) I didn't have any intention of getting her a tea set and the odds were very good at that point that I would have made a tee time for Thursday morning long before I would have gone looking for a tea set. Not that I didn't think it would be a good thing. I just wasn't really tracking along with the guy. Nicol, on the other hand, was into the idea. She wanted to go right then to this cool little gift store called Raspberry Row, which was nextdoor to the restaurant we were at - how convenient! - and look for a tea set. I thought better of it and said we could do it later. I guess it was at that point that my mindset began to change and I thought maybe it would be a pretty good thing to take the guy's advice.

A few minutes later I ran into our ambitious dining neighbor near the cash register as we were paying for our meals (you do see what's coming, don't you?). He began to tell me about his three daughters and that he had raised them all by himself and that I better be aware that "they grow up so fast" and "they'll be out of the house before you know it" and "watch out when they turn 15 or 16 and the boys come calling." And I was thinking, dude, you're really depressing me. And then I thought, forget the tea set, what I really need to go buy is a baseball bat for when the boys do come calling... just kidding, sort of... the thought has crossed my mind a time or two... watch out boys, I'll probably go with aluminum rather than wood... it's more durable. :-)

I thanked the guy for the reminder, paid our bill, and went back to sit with Nicol and our friend, Linda, who had just joined us. Then I said to myself, "I'm going to take Summer next door and see if they have any tea sets." So off we went. I was pretty sure at this point that they wouldn't have any, but it's the thought that counts, right? Besides, like the guy had suggested, we could always pick one up at WalMart. So we go in the store and Summer, as she always seems to do, spotted a purse that she just had to have, then candy, then earrings and necklaces, then a couple of bright, polka-dotted wallets, then a pair of Crocs, then some candles, and finally a pack of rather large gumballs. (Sorry to the store clerk... I'm sure you have spent the rest of your afternoon picking up after us.) After running from one end of the store to the other, I was finally able to ask the clerk if she had any tea sets, to which she replied "Yes" and showed me to the display shelf at the front of the store. I opened up the box, gave it a quick look, asked Summer if she liked it, waited for her response (Yeah, I like it!), and decided to get it. And so I did.

Now there are two things that really stick out to me about this "tea time" vs. "tee time" thing.

One, I am amazed at the activity of God in our lives and, more specifically, I am struck at how He is able to use the most "oh-hum" moments of the day to kindly teach us some of life's most important lessons. Seriously, is it not incredible that He can take something as simple as "Hey little girl, you need to have your daddy buy you a tea set" and turn it into "Hey Summer, you like this? Cool, let's buy it and have tea with mommy!"? I am reminded that it's far too easy (common?) to pass off the mundane as totally random or unexpected, even strange and meaningless. But I become increasingly convinced that while waiting for those "flashes of light" moments, I may be missing out on some of the grandest displays of God's activity in my life... displays that I often overlook and dismiss as pointless.

Two, priorities matter. One of the things I struggled with most when Luke died, on the guilt side of things anyway, was the fact that I hadn't spent as much time with him as I wished I had. He had been colicey and I couldn't comfort him like Nicol was able to. So for the time we had him, to a certain extent it was sort of Nicol and Luke, and Summer and I. As any newborn does, he took a ton of Nicol's time and energy, and Summer needed me, so I wasn't able to be with him like I was with Summer when she was an infant. I felt terrible guilt over this... and still do at times. Then I began to think, "You shouldn't have been working out in the yard, or playing golf, or having breakfast with the guys, or watching that game, or..." On and on it went. Guilt over priorities.

I tell you this only to say that some of the guilt was real, some was false. In some cases, I should have made different decisions, in others it was just the way things worked out. But the point can't be missed: priorities matter. I can only tell you that when Luke died, never did I say, "I wish I had been away more doing this or that, or played just one more round of golf, or spent just one more hour cutting the grass or planting trees or pulling weeds, or stayed up watching just one more ballgame, or hung out with the guys just one more time, or..." Never. Not one single time. My first and only thought was, "No, this hasn't been enough time with our son. Not now. He's only 10 weeks old." The truth is, I'd give anything to have just one more minute with him.

God is at work... even in the smallest of things.

Priorities matter.

So I guess I'll sit down with Nicol and Summer and we'll all have tea together sometime real soon... maybe tomorrow.

And by God's grace I'll pay more attention to the next bit of pointlessness that comes my way.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Not Our Plan

This is not at all
How we thought it was supposed to be
We had so many plans for you
We had so many dreams
And now you've gone away
And left us with the memories of your smile
And nothing we can say
And nothing we can do
Can take away the pain
The pain of losing you

(If you are listening to the music player right now, you know that the verse above is from the Steven Curtis Chapman song, "With Hope." And by the way, I hope you were able to see the Chapmans on Larry King Live last night - 08/07/08. We did and were greatly encouraged. What a family. What a story. What a God.)

This is not at all how we thought it was supposed to be. If I'm being honest with you, I have to admit that it took not more than a split second when Nicol found Luke that horrible night for this thought to enter my mind and then spill out of my mouth. Right there, in our bedroom. Right then, as I did CPR.

This is not at all how we thought it was supposed to be. This. Losing our son. At ten weeks. Not our plan. Not our idea of a good thing. Not... at all the way things are supposed to be. No! No! No!

This is not at all how we thought it was supposed to be. I remember thinking... Have we done something? Are we being punished? Is this the chastening hand of God? What is happening? Has God turned away from us, removed His protection? I mean, come on, the very hour Luke was taking his last breaths I was praying with Nicol and Summer, as we were putting her to bed, that God would protect our children all the days of their lives. Literally. That very hour. And now this? Where were You? Why didn't You do something. Why didn't You fix it? You could have. You could have made him breathe again, God. We believed that you were going to. Where were You? Oh, God, why?

This is not at all how we thought it was supposed to be. This happens to other people. This is someone else's nightmare. This is someone else's story. Not ours'. Not our baby. Not our Luke. No! No! No! Oh, Luke, buddy!

This is not at all how we thought it was supposed to be. I'm told this thought is quite normal. I'm told it's okay to ask all these questions. God is big enough to handle it. And besides, He knows what's going on inside of my head and my heart, so don't stuff it. Let it out. Let it all out.

I've found that this is true. It's all very normal and there's nothing wrong with it. Go and talk - no, listen - to people who've been shattered, whose lives have been turned upside-down and inside-out by some senseless, impossible-to-understand, radically-life-changing event. We all have the same thoughts. Read some of the books that are out there. You'll find these and similar thoughts in all of them. And it is okay to ask the Why? questions. Just read the psalms. David did it all the time. God is big enough to handle them and, more importantly, He's right there with us. He's near to the broken hearted. He saves those who are crushed in spirit. He cleans out our wounds and binds them up... and repeats the process as often as we need Him to... as often as we allow Him to.

I've found something else to be true as well: This is not at all how God intended it to be. His plan never called for anything like this to happen. Ever. The Bible says that God looked over everything He had made; it was so good, so very good! (Gen. 1:31, The Message) Perfection. That was His plan. Death was never, in the words of Nicholas Wolterstorff, "...a normal instrument of God's dealing with us." It's not as though God says, "You there have lived out the years I've planned for you, so I'll just shake the mountain a bit. All of you there, I'll send some starlings into the engine of your plane. And as for you there, a stroke while running will do nicely." No way. His plan was good, so very good. Says Wolterstorff, "God is appalled by death" and "my pain over my son's death is shared by his pain over my son's death." Appalled. Shared pain. That's my God.

This is not at all how we thought that it was supposed to be.

We miss our boy. We don't understand this and we never will, not in this life at least. We had our plans. We had our dreams. We're sad that he and Summer won't be able to grow up together. I'm sad that Nicol is going to miss out on the special relationship that only moms and sons can have. I'm sad that I won't be able to play golf with him, or watch The Final Four with him, or see him play basketball, or sweat it out the first time he's on a bicycle without training wheels, or see what God would do in his life, or see him at the same fun stage of life as Summer is in right now. I'm sad that we won't have family vacations together, that his great-grandparents, and all of his aunts and uncles and cousins didn't get to meet him. I'm just sad. But I take comfort in knowing that...

This is not at all how God intended it to be.

Despite the sin and brokenness of this world, God has made hope possible. He's overcome. He's made a way. Jesus is making everything new again. The Chapman song doesn't just draw out the theme I've talked about so far. It tells me that

We can cry with hope
We can say goodbye with hope
'Cause we know our goodbye is not the end
We can breathe with hope
'Cause we believe with hope
There's a place where we'll your face again
We'll see your face again

There is hope. God's ways are good and even though our world has been rocked by the awful effects sin and death and brokenness, We who have run for our very lives to God have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and never let go. It's an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching past all appearances right to the very presence of God where Jesus, running on ahead of us, has taken up his permanent post as high priest for us. (Hebrews 6:18-20, The Message)

Hold on with both hands and never let go. It's the only chance we've got of surviving this thing.

(If you're interested, I would highly recommend Lament for a Son by Nicholas Wolterstorff, whom I quoted in this post. The book reveals his journey thru the grief of losing his son, Eric, in a mountain climbing accident. Our counselor gave us a copy about a month after Luke died, and it was a great help to us. It's an excellent resource for everyone to have.)

Monday, August 4, 2008

A Much-Needed Weekend Getaway

We spent this past weekend in Pigeon Forge, TN on a youth retreat with our great friends, Tyson and Renee Griffin. Tyson is the youth pastor at Tunnel Hill First Baptist Church (in Tunnel Hill, GA). Our group consisted of close to 40 people, including about 25 amazing young men and women, a dozen or so wonderful chaperones, and guest speaker Randy Hollingsworth and his family. (Although you likely don't know any of these folks, I wanted to mention them because their great PEOPLE, which is sort of a theme in this post.)

We had a great time there... eating out, hearing Randy and his family lead us in worship, being challenged from the Word, staying up late each night, riding go-carts, slipping away to Starbucks, swimming, and more. But, if you're anything like me, these things always come back to one thing: PEOPLE. It's the PEOPLE we remember most. The things we do come and go, but the bonds that are formed live on and oftentimes grow deeper and stronger.

During the past two months, Nicol and I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love from literally hundreds, maybe thousands, of PEOPLE who have taken the time to write or call us. I have certainly been reminded of this recently, during the past several days, as many very encouraging comments have been posted here on our blog. And I must pause here to give a huge thank you to Angie for making this site available to you at Bring the Rain. What God has been doing in and thru her as she has shared their story is absolutely remarkable. But far more remarkable than that, to us personally at least, has been the way she and Todd and their girls have reached out to us with love, comfort, support, and encouragement. What makes their efforts so special is the fact that in the midst of their own grief they have chosen to carry some of ours. That is divine... a God-thing for sure. Nicol and I have commented on several occasions that we simply can't fathom how they've done it. Their sacrifice has been like a soothing balm for our wounded hearts, a cup of cold water that has helped to quench our thirsty souls. Thanks Todd, Ang, Abby, Ellie, and Kate. You have no idea.

But I can't stop there. Many, many people have helped us during this time. Our parents - who have suffered on two levels in all of this, both as mothers and fathers, and grandmothers and grandfathers - have, not surprisingly, been wonderfully present for us. Our siblings have been incredible, even though they too are sharing in our pain and grief over their own loss in Luke's death. Our friends and neighbors have been there for us in ways that we can't begin to describe. Acquaintances and total strangers have expressed their pain and desire to carry this burden for us. Many have written to let us know that they understand, they "get it"... because they too have lost children. Still others have let us know that even though they can't empathize, they are praying for us and will continue to do so. The list goes on and on and, in reality, these few sentences fail dramatically in my heart's desire to express how much PEOPLE have meant to us as we grieve the loss of our son.

I have been reminded again and again of a couple of verses in Galatians that have taken on entirely new meaning for us - bear one another's burdens ... each one will have to bear his own load (6:2, 5). I know that context is important (in this case, gentle restoration of those stuck in sin, guarding against temptation, pride and self-deception, etc.) but there are a couple of really important thoughts here: when life changes in an instant, we need each other, and yet there is also a sense that only the individual can carry his or her portion.

These things that we face are too much for anyone to bear. We can't do it alone. The only way to survive is with one another... and I mean that literally. There are days when the one thing Nicol and I want to do is get thru it. And the reason we are able to do that is because of God's miraculous and gracious provision of allowing others to bear our burden. We have had our strength renewed time after time as He divides the load and gives out bits and pieces here and there, among his PEOPLE, so that we are able to keep going, to make it thru this storm. We have been so touched by this reality because many of you have written and told us that you have prayed that God would allow you to share in our loss. Please know that He has answered those prayers!

The other side of this coin, though, is that we do have to carry what the Lord gives us. There's no getting away from it... especially something as painful as losing a child. As much as we have been encouraged by others in their concern for us, the load is still there. There's no escape, no easy ways out. I remember in those early days, climbing into bed or getting into the shower was the last thing I wanted to do. I didn't want to be alone. I wanted to be surrounded by others. I needed to be surrounded by others. I wanted to be distracted with noise and conversation and laughter and splashing kids in swimming pools and lawnmowers and music and... all the things PEOPLE do. I needed the hugs and gentle touches of friends and loved ones, the comfort of a home cooked meal, thoughtfully prepared and brought to us, the you-don't-have-to-say-a-word looks that communicated deep concern, the... all the things PEOPLE do in situations like this.

And yet the quiet and alone moments still came. They had to. It's just the way life is. And while those moments have been a natural and necessary part of the healing, it was in them that the full brunt of our load would hit us like a train. It was then that we were faced with the severity of the struggle we were facing. It was then that we would weep and cry and wail and hold each other and ask why this had to happen and wonder how can we possibly keep going. It was then that God would whisper peace to us. It was then that we sensed the power and hope of the risen Christ. It was then that our daughter would do something wonderful and cute and make us laugh. It was there that life began anew. It was there that healing had begun. It was there that we looked forward to all the PEOPLE who would come to visit us, pick up the load again, and help us get thru another day.

I can tell you in all honestly that I don't know how - or if - we would be standing without the love so many people have shown us. It began immediately, in the very moments after Luke died, and has continued to this very day. Only in eternity will we know the extent to which we have been sustained by it. Many thanks and blessings to all who have helped us carry this load. You are loved and we are deeply grateful.

By the way, the picture up above is of Summer with her good buddy Ty (Tyson and Renee's oldest boy) at Cracker Barrel in Pigeon Forge last Saturday night. She was trying to teach him how to master the little game he's looking at. :-)