I have a beautiful story to share from my life about loss, redemption, and the expansive love of God.
I have been in a season of great loss.
Today marks 1537 days since Brenda was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, and 949 since she passed through. Brenda prepared us well as a family for her death, yet we have learned much since then. Together we have learned:
- That grief does not necessarily get easier as time passes.
- Embracing the full reality of the death cannot, and should not, occur quickly.
- Some days the full depth of your loss will hit you.
- Your personal faith as a Christian can have a tremendous impact on your journey with grief.
- Even if you have faith in God, you still need to mourn.
- With hurt comes healing.
Mourning is the outward expression of your many thoughts and feelings regarding the person who has died. In my case, this was Brenda, my wife, soulmate, best friend, and companion of thirty-nine years. I have been mourning and am not finished yet, nor feel compelled to hurry it along.
As follower of Jesus for many years and a leader amongst pastors and ministry people, I knew that I had a substantial foundation on which to stand for this next season of my life. Yet despite all this, I so longed for companionship. Most days I had come to believe that I would spend the rest of my life alone despite Brenda making it clear before she died that she wished for me to remarry.
In October, I sat in a quaint restaurant in a heritage home in Blowing Rock, North Carolina with my friends J John and Killy from the UK. They knew and loved Brenda deeply, but at that lunch felt called to pray over me regarding my desire for companionship. I had a similar response from my friends Rich and Debbie in Charlotte on the same trip.
On my return from North Carolina, I was speaking for a Young Adult conference that was held at Barnabas on Keats Island. This is a very special place for our family and has been for years. Arrow Leadership uses it as one of its prime locations for classes, and I have been going there for years.
Brenda and I prayed for the vision of Barnabas before it existed at this location, and I have been friends with Rob and Kathy Bentall, the founders, for decades. It is a ‘thin place’ – a place that is sacred; where healing, teaching and inspiration take place year-round. After Brenda’s death we decided as a family to support Barnabas by sponsoring one of the bedrooms in The Station, a new marquee building being built for teaching, dining, administration and some new bedroom accommodation. Though Brenda had travelled the world, she was quick to tell anyone that Barnabas was her favourite place on the planet. It seemed so right to us all that this would be a place of memorial for her.
At the end of the Young Adult Retreat I was transported to the Government Wharf with all the guests to make our boat ride back to the mainland off this beautiful island. At the top of the ramp I paused to give a hug to Rob and Kathy, and then to Rob’s sister, Ruth, who had facilitated the retreat.
When I hugged Ruth, I felt an electrical shock surge through my shoulders and back that made me step back.
“What just happened?” I thought to myself while trying to remain calm in front of all the people.
I’ve known Ruth for decades. We have done ministry side by side at Barnabas conferences, and consider her a friend, although we do not see each other all that often. All of my sons have worked for Ruth in their younger years at Barnabas.
When my boat started to leave, I kept wondering “What just happened?”. This did not go away and finally I got up the courage to text message Ruth. I wanted to give myself lots of wiggle room so I asked her, “What just happened?”
Ruth replied, “I don’t know, but something happened! We should talk about it.”
Well, talk we did a week later, and we have been seeing each other and talking ever since. We spent time with our children seeking discernment. We sought wisdom of counsellors with expertise in second marriages. I went for a separate session to do a check on where I was at in my grief journey, to see if I was ready for a new relationship. I spoke to my closest friends about us when I realized that I was in love with Ruth, and she with me. As our counsellor said to us, there are no red flags, and we were both in a place of readiness for remarriage.
You have not heard much from me over the past months. It is because we intentionally have been quiet about our seeing one another. We needed the time and opportunity to know one another better without the pressures of our relationship circles – which are vast. Ruth and I have come to this new relationship out of deep loss. You are tender and cautious when you are in that space. Neither of us could have imagined this beautiful new relationship. God has been in the background orchestrating every detail. We are without words.
EXPANSIVE LOVE OF GOD
I spent time with my sons talking this all over. Ruth wisely reminded me that I was grieving the loss of Brenda, my wife, but my sons were grieving their mother and that was different. At one point one of my Sons asked a question about how all of this works. “How can you love Mom, and love Ruth?”
“Well,” I answered, “Remember when you first got married and how you thought love doesn’t get any better than this?”
“Yes” he acknowledged.
“Then Landon was born, your first son. Do you remember that moment when you first held him, and your love circle grew in capacity exponentially to include your baby?”
“Yeah I remember.”
“And then when you think that you simply could not love anymore, along comes your second son Liam and, oh my, the love expansion he brought to your life. You get the picture, it is one of an expansive love. I’m not sure exactly how this all works but I feel like God has given me that expansive kind of love for Ruth – while I still love your Mom. Your Mom will always be my first love.”
That was the best I could do at the time because I am still learning. When we love God, we’ll love others, because that’s the way real love works. We’ll tell others of His love for them, because His love wants to draw others into that love. We’ll delight in drawing others into our love, expanding our capacity, because that’s the way my God is, and His love working in us will affect us that way, too.
Well, in the spirit of this expansive love of God, and with the support of our families, and dear Brenda’s family, I knelt on one knee and asked Ruth if she would marry me. She said yes and we are planning to be married the end of June in a small intimate family wedding, on a small island in the Pacific. We look forward to leaning into how God is going to use our companionship and love, to further His ministry through us.