One Purpose Of Your Pain – Todd

sadness_purposeI don’t think I knew him.  Maybe I did.  Maybe he was just starting at Concordia University, St. Paul when I was finishing my stint as Campus Pastor.  Many in my circles tell me that he was a great person of life, fun, purpose and humor.  That’s what makes his drowning in a pond this weekend even more tragic.  Too young.  Too much potential.  Gone on.

Details are still emerging.  What happened is still a question.  The tragedy is close enough to me that I hurt for my friends who are left empty by his home-going.  This is where I want to help.  This is where my past informs the present.  That’s one of the purposes of tragedy in your life — to help others bump along the dark tunnel of pain just like you did, to show others that the hopelessness of the now fades into the hopefulness of the not yet.  Your loss shines perspective’s light on others going through the same thing.  

2 Corinthians 1:4 says, “God comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.”

So I want God to use that dark chapter in my story to help give light to those just writing theirs.  When needed, I will use what God taught me in any way I can.  

Life always squashes death.  Love always soothes sadness.  In it all, God is still a loving dad, calling home those whom he pleases and walking with those whom he loves.

[Download the resource: “How To Help Those Who’ve Lost A Loved One.”]


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A Makenzie Restoration

61767397100The dreams about her have subsided. I don’t think about her everyday as I have in years past and I’m needing to play old audio to remember her voice. Six years ago today, my oldest daughter, Makenzie — who is now my youngest — was invited into heaven.  “Six years” is a long time as I think about all that has happened since.  Great things.  Hard things.  Things to celebrate and things to mourn.  

As I spend today in the back corner of a small-town coffee shop, I think about the word “restoration.”  More-so, I think about what it takes to be restored.  Brokenness first.  Surrender second.  Expertise third.  Time last.  Then, restoration births new life.  That’s God’s way.  He takes my broken and hurting heart for the loss of my child and calls it to surrender.  He reaches out and holds my surrendered hands first to comfort, then to lead.  With expertise, he chisels his way through the rocky attitudes and sorrows that surround death and over time, calls me to something greater.  Pain is necessary for growth.  Demolition is necessary for restoration. 

So many emotions today.  I’m expecting them.  So many thoughts and mental wanderings will flood the hours. I’ll entertain them.  It’s part of God’s restoration for me, and it is good.  




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How to Help Those Who Experience Loss

loss_grief_help.001“What do I say?”

You may have been there.  Someone close to you loses a loved one and you find yourself in that situation of wanting to help but not knowing how.

Recently, someone in the community asked me what to do when his cousin died at a young age and was wanting to console her parents.   Given that I’ve been on the other side of it [read here], I offered this simple advice.


I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your cousin.  There are lots of emotions and questions when someone like my daughter/your cousin dies at a young age.

First, the biggest help is to be present, whatever that looks like in your context.  Physical presence is best but just letting the family know you are there speaks volumes.  There is an old Jewish tradition called “Sitting Shiva.”  Basically, you simply be there and sometimes use words.

Second — if you are going to say anything — speak real encouragements.  Avoid the cliche’s like “she’s in a better place” or “God must’ve wanted another angel.”  Gag!  Not helpful at all.  Simply, “I love you guys,”  or “How can I help?” are perfect.  During grief, it’s best to just listen and acknowledge their pain [tweet this].

Third, I don’t know how close you were to your cousin but asking the family questions about her life is super helpful.  We love to talk about our loved ones even if it means landing in puddles of tears.  The recalling of her life is part of the celebration of it and it is actually healing for the family.

Fourth, resources.   Many people have mentioned how my books have helped.  “Dancing with God” and “Refined: Turning Pain into Purpose” are the two that came from Makenzie’s home-going.  Henry Nouwen’s “Turn My Mourning into Dancing” is wonderful as it points to the rock solid presence of God in tough times.

Hope this helps.



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Makenzie_hatThey didn’t know each other and we didn’t know her.  Yet last Friday, we all connected.

I opened up my email and saw one sent from, “Quinn.”  I don’t know any one bearing that name.  Spam had spammed me I thought.  As is my habit on these junky occasions, I hovered my cursor and right clicked – ready to send it to that folder for the abyss.  Yet, in my spirit, I was prompted not to hit ‘delete’ but ‘open’.

These were the words staring back from the screen:

“We have never met before or spoken, but I just thought I would let you know how your blog, or I guess how Makenzie changed my life. You see, this weekend I am getting baptized and the reason is because of your daughter. I came across your blog and found myself very intrigued by your family’s story. After reading about Makenzie and her love for Jesus, I found myself wanting to give my life to Jesus. I just want to thank you for putting her story out there. I know it changed my life for the better and I am sure it has done that for many others.”

Once again, God used my daughter’s short-well-lived life to change someone else’s for eternity.  Once again, I as the dictator of the story feel immensely humbled by it all.  Once again, I thank my Lord for Hope-lived-out and His eternity breaking into Quinn’s history.

Thank you, Quinn, for letting me use your email and for following the calling of Jesus!

(Update:  Quinn was baptized this past Saturday!)





Matt Stefan and Family

Matt Stefan and Family

I’m angry this morning.

I don’t normally wake up angry yet today I am.

A friend of mine who has influence and has influenced hundreds of adults and high school students died suddenly on July 4th of a brain aneurism.  Young, brilliant, creative and physical death captured him as he prepared for his day.

Funny thing is, Jesus is angry as well.  In fact, the morning that my friend died, my devotional reading was the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.  When Jesus saw what death had done to Lazaraus’ family, the original language says that he was angry at it.  Many translations use the words “deeply moved” but the Greek says that it was an indignant anger.  Like when a horse snorts, that is what Jesus did (so the original language says).

Get that.  Jesus wasn’t angry at Lazarus’ family.  He wasn’t angry at the real or hired mourners or even that he chose to wait to visit.  Jesus is angry at death itself.  Angry that death causes pain.  Angry that death stirs up emptiness.  Angry that death shreds the emotional heart of people.  Jesus is angry at my friends death as well.

Yet death is necessary for life.  Death is glorious for those who know Jesus.  In fact, God says, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants.”

I need to sit on that for a bit.  As much as I am angry, more so God is rejoicing and meet us in our sorrow.  Join me as pray for my friend’s family as I let the comfort of God’s Spirit quell my anger.




Makenzie: Five Times Now, Today.

32638547100I’m up earlier than normal again.  The last few weeks have stolen hours of sleep from me, most likely because of today.

Five times now, I’ve endured the turning of this calendar page without my oldest daughter Makenzie.  Five times now, this day has kept me from work, from happiness and from others.  Five times is five times too many.

39437192100I spend this day, like the four before, pondering.  Like Mary in the Bible, like many others of whom I now know, I think deeply on the meaning of tragedy that befalls us.  Like my fraternity of other parents who’ve lost their children, I pace through the same pictures and videos that fib and tell me she’s still here.  I want more.  I wonder what life would be like if Makenzie had not died in the car accident.  Would it be a good life with her?  Would she be safe?  What would she be doing?  How many lives would she touch?  Would she be in love, married? Would I be called “Pops” by her beautiful child?  I wander the halls of these questions today and I miss her.  Random pecks on my cheek.  Goofiness. Snorty laugh.  Graceful dance.  I miss all of it.

Five times now.  And I have to.

Yet even in the cloudiness of this day, God meets me.  He flips through the pictures with me.  He laughs when a shot reveals Makenzie’s goofiness and He tears when He feels the hurt I feel.  Even five times now, He does the same.  And my sorrow is His sorrow.  My hurt is His hurt.  He endures with me and promises good from bad.  Five times now, He has been faithful.

Makenzie on Easter Day!

Makenzie on Easter Day!

So today, I will spend most of it simply with God, talking about my ballerina and foolishly asking Him what she’s doing in heaven.  I will find a corner in a coffee shop nestled in an old river town and buy Makenzie an iced Frappuccino – she loved those.  It will be the 5th one I’ll end up throwing away, un-drunk.  And in my ache, God will meet me as the clock digits 8:08 tonight, the time of the accident.  And I will be grateful that Makenzie is alive and safe, waiting with God who loves her more than I possibly could.




Your Choices Have Outcomes

choose-your-pathI was standing in the store, eavesdropping on a mom and her son’s conversation.  He was trying to decide on which toy to buy his littler sister. He held in one hand some sort of over-accesorized doll and in the other, a storybook.  After several moments, of lifting up one over the other, he placed the doll back on the shelf and clutched the book to his chest stating, “I’m choosing this one because we can read it together.”

Wise choice.

You hold in your hand the incredible power of choice.  Every moment of your life, you are making decisions that affect not only your immediate moments, but your longer term future.  Your choices affect the quality and quantity of your life and of those around you.  When you make a choice, they have consequences (or outcomes) and they can have a dramatic positive or negative affect.

If we choose only that which is beneficial to us, that leads to a kind of death.  Death in relationships.  Death in our peace.  Death in our confidence. Death in our lives.   But if we choose to follow the right and wise way – that leads to life.  Life in our relationships.  Life in our world.  Life inside of you.

So ask yourself.  When I make my daily decisions, who is the beneficiary?  Are my decisions helping others?  Are they inline with my God-given life purpose? Do they add value to people in my world?

Choose well – Live well.

Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living. (Romans 6:16 NLT)



When Love Surrendered to Hate

His hands were up as He starred down the barrel of the sins of the world.  He couldn’t move – rather He didn‘t move – held there by fear, pain, and humiliation.  Ultimately what kept Him surrendered to hate was love.  Love best defined is caring without the hope or possibility of that care coming back.  Love when others hate.
And that is what Jesus did on this night 2000+ years ago.  Hands up – nailed to a cross.  Feet kept in place by the six inch spike driven through the fleshy part of his ankles.  At any point He could’ve disappeared like He did when the crowd threatened to throw Him over the cliff a few months before.  But He didn’t.  Because He knew it had to be done this way – for you – for me.  Even when we hated Him, He loved us enough to suffer and die.

On this night, Jesus Surrendered to Hate.




When Death Goes to School

We don’t expect such horrific violence on the innocent.  Across denominational, political and racial lines, our kids’ safety is our priority.  So when Death walks the halls of a school in Connecticut, we watch with horror, wondering if our kids’ school is the next target.CT school shooting

As the hours and days reveal details, we’ll learn more of the personified evil who pulled the trigger.  We’ll see the funerals and memorials on our screens and hear stories of a brave teacher and a tragic sacrifice.  We’ll ask questions of ourselves and even wonder how and why God could let this happen.

All in all, we won’t have all the answers.  Tragedy is good at keeping secrets.  The best that we can do is lean into our God who  also walked those school halls, our God who kept some students safe, our God who stopped the shooter from taking all the lives in the classes and now, our God who wraps His arms around them which moves us to rehearse,

“Yeah though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” Psalm 23




The Beautiful Death

My walk to the office.

I park a few blocks away from my office.  In part because there are rarely any spaces next to my building but mostly because I enjoy the walk.  19th century homes give way to our beautiful campus at Concordia University St. Paul.

This time of year, the pathway I take is blanketed with death.  Thousands upon thousands of leaf-corpses lie dead as I step on them, sometimes causing me to slip.  But this death is not ugly or morbid as most think.  This death does not produce a negative visceral reaction that others do.  This death is radiant.  This death is fragrant. The transition through which the tree-leafs journey leaves a visual and surreal masterpiece of brilliant colors.  And in this, they also give and experience new life.  I love this beautiful death.

Our lives are leafs.  Birth – Growth – Life – Transition – Death – Life.  We have a few years here and then fall into the beautiful slumber of death.  Then we are awakened, once again, to the brilliance of life.  Christ has done it for us.  Christ has paved our pathway in His beautiful death-life.  And as the Bible says,

“Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:
‘Death is swallowed up in victory.
  O death, where is your victory?  
O death, where is your sting?’” 1 Cor. 15:54-55.

Next week, we will have snow and my pathway to work will be blanketed by a different death.  No matter.  I will crunch through remembering that death has no sting for me.  I will celebrate the joy in death that gives life.  I will thank the Lord that I will be counted among those who are loved, saved and redeemed by Jesus.  What a beautiful death.