Seven Years Afloat: Makenzie Home-going Anniversary – Todd Stocker.com

mourningIntoDancing.001Seven years ago, I thought my anchor gave way.  My life’s-boat was set a drift in a storm called “the death of a child” when my oldest daughter, Makenzie, was killed in traffic accident.

Yet what I found was my anchor was more secure than ever.  The pain, the grief, the emptiness and the heartbreak were waves battering the hull of my life yet beneath it all, the anchor of hope held. 

“This hope we have is the anchor of the soul…” Hebrews 6:19

Hope is secure as it finds its hold in the Spirit.  Hope is hooked when it believes the promises of God.  Hope is anchored when it sinks deep into the unfathomable love of Jesus. 

So let the torrents rage.  Let the waves crash.  Let the sky darken and the rains pour because I know all these things must take place.  Yet, I sleep well in the belly of my life’s boat because my anchor will hold as it is set in God’s enduring love for me.   

Peace!

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[The book I’m writing this year is called “Anchored – Finding Stability In A World Adrift”.  If you’d like to receive free advanced chapters and be notified when its available, sign up below — I’ll send you a portion of the book’s proposal right away!]

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When Attempted Suicide Meets Hope – Todd Stocker.com

hopelessnessThe police vehicles blew past us and into the neighborhood that we were driving.  Pulled to the curb, we were behind another car and another was parked in the exit lane of a parking lot.  Our three cars formed an ‘L’ shape.  This was yesterday.

Immediately, I noticed a body lying at the crux of our ‘L’ — half on the curb and half on the street.  The other drivers were on their phones, calling 911 and we realized that the police had not seen it but were instead heading to the address from which the initial call originated.

Kellie and I swiftly but cautiously walked over.  He was spread eagle and shirtless and his chest rose up and down in small spurts as his body struggled to take in air.  The closer we came, the more visible was the blood that formed several streams down his chest and was also pooling on the concrete around the back of his head.  A deep, 5 inch large open gash on the side of his neck told us he was trying to end his life only 30 seconds before.

I noticed an 8 inch fishing knife still in his limp right hand and his blue t-shirt was balled up next to him.  Quietly and quickly — and maybe foolishly, I guess — I took a corner of that t-shirt, grabbed the knife out of his hand and hurried it several feet away from the near lifeless man.

Then I stood over him, talking.  I don’t remember what I said other than, “It’s going to be okay.  What’s your name, friend?  What’s your name?”  He didn’t move initially but then furrowed his brow and squinted up at me as if waking from a long sleep. 

“Jesse,” he said. 

“Don’t move, Jesse,” I said. “You’re going to be okay.”

The police circled back at that moment and descended on Jesse — first handcuffing him for safety reasons and then tending to his wounds.  Kellie and I stepped back, both of us storming the gates of heaven for Jesse.  He will live, physically anyway.

Deep breath.

What makes someone so empty that they would endure self-inflicted pain to avoid pain altogether?  What makes a person so desperate that they would — in broad daylight and on a bustling street — give up all to gain nothing?  Many professionals and observers have explanations but not answers, except maybe one: 

They have lost hope.

Hope sustains.  Hope thrives.  Hope develops and lifts up.  Hope deprived means death on all kinds of levels. Jesus even said, “In this world, you’re going to have trouble,” which to me is the most ‘Captain Obvious’ statement of the scriptures.  But then he said, “take heart because I have overcome the world.”

That’s Hope.  That’s life.  That’s strength.

As we left Jesse to the care of the wonderful officers attending him, Kellie leaned over and said, “Jesse.”  He opened his eyes, looked up at her and forced a little grin.  “Jesse,” Kellie continued, “God has a wonderful purpose for your life.”

“Thank you,” Jesse said and smiled.

Simple — and that’s how Hope works best.

Peace!

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Why I’m Choosing Ignorance – Especially Now – Todd Stocker.com

ignoranceBig decision last week.  Multiples of them to be precise.  Decisions that change things.  Decision that transform.  Some would say we are progressing.  Other would say we are imploding.

I wouldn’t know. 

I’ve take a break from the hype and the chatter.  It has become, for me, mind numbing, provocative and crippling.  I’ve chosen a different path – dare I say – a better one.  The path of ignorance.  

I’ve chosen not to scroll through the endless comments, debates and cattiness that flood the walls with too abundant a frequency.  I’m avoiding the name calling talking heads on both sides of the debates because I am already firm in my stance. I’m shutting down the recolored images and clips of pride that swirl on social media.

Don’t get me wrong.  The ignorance I choose isn’t regarding the issues — I know them well.  I’ve studied them, counseled people in them and watched lives destroyed by them and I will continue to help where I can.  My ignorance is an avoidance of the useless debates — the angered responses — the cowardly anonymous posts.  

Sometimes you have to shut off the  “more” for the preciseness of the “less”.  In other words, I am guarding my heart — as Proverbs says — from the negativity and therefore, I chose ignorance.  

“Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” Proverbs 4

 

Peace!

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How To Live Through Regret – Todd Stocker.com

live_through_regretThe thought creeps onto the screen that plays in your mind.  It takes over the movie of your life and consumes you in its twisted reflection of your past.  It is called “Regret.”

All of us own them.  Some more than others.  Regrets are those events, conversations, or lack of actions that seek to demolish our confidence with reminders of our perceived failure.  I’ve talked with many poor souls so shackled with regrets that they are unable to step into a future of life and love and joy.  

Believe me, I’ve been there.  Maybe you’re there now.

Yet at a certain point, you have to make a realization — a mental turning point — about regrets.  Here it is:  They only have power in as much as you give them meaning.  They can only affect your life so long as you let them.  Yes, the fault may be yours.  Yes, opportunities have slipped by but your future need not be broken down because of your past.  

That is what forgiveness is about — the idea that the wrong has been redeemed, that the guilt of the infraction is absolved.  God’s forgiven you, why not forgive yourself? . You may always remember what occurred (or more likely, didn’t occur) but stuff that back into your pocket as a reminder that life can always be better.  

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.” – IS43:18

Peace!

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Take A Break

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“What do you do when you feel ‘spent’?”


I’m taking a break, warm weather and all.  It’s much needed and way overdue.  Normally, I’m pretty good about balancing work expectations and refresh-time (read about that here), but the past few weeks, the balanced tipped — understandable as this is the season of reflection and worship as the world celebrated much-needed HOPE, found in the resurrection of Jesus.  In my line of work, that means created great environments for people to come and exercise that celebration. 

For me, I finally unwind on day 2.5.  It is then that I sense it’s okay to stop thinking about work.  It is then that I realize that I am a human BEING, not a human DOING (old cliché but tweet-able!).  It is then that I truly slow down and see the beauty of God’s creation around me. 

No matter what season you’re in, you need breaks, you need warm weather, you need a pulling away.  You need refreshed like David was when he God  brought him into open spaces

Pull away.  Take a break.  Life will be waiting when you get back.

Peace!

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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.

Peace!

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Makenzie: Five Years Old

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Today is my ‘oldest’ daughters birthday.  There won’t be presents.  There won’t be cake.  You won’t find our family all together dining at her favorite restaurant or sharing stories of past celebrations around the table.

Makenzie has graduated from all of that.  Her final birthday celebration was five years ago today, a month before she died.  I guess, putting it that way, my oldest is now my youngest.  She’s five years in heaven (if there were a measure of time in eternity).

As I watch the sun paint its beauty across this morning’s sky, I miss my five year old.  I miss her dance.  I miss her smile.  I miss the way she snorted when she laughed and I miss her random hugs.  I tear up thinking of the unmerited “I love you, Daddy” that she’d giggle to me at all times of the day.

IMG_0324_7006bYet in my morning solemness, I am grateful.  Because this Daddy’s heart first and foremost wants to know that my kids are safe.  Makenzie is.  God made sure of that.  He loves her more than I do, if that were even possible.  She is with Him, waiting for me.

And so I’ll ponder her life today.  I’ll roam the halls of my memories.  At times, I’ll smile and I’ll moisten.  I’ll be quiet and I’ll laugh.  All because of my little five year old who is finally home.

(Read Makenzie’s Story Here or type her name in the search bar at the right for more blog posts about her life)

Peace!

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How NOT to accomplish your goals

Enjoying pure freedom | Man on a jettyA friend of mine has jumped on the weight loss journey. I hadn’t seen this person for a few weeks but knew that she was significantly lighter than before. When I did see her, she looked great. I could tell, even as a guy, that she had lost a decade of pounds. My natural inclination was to say, “You look great! I heard how much you lost.” But instead I chose a different bent and said, “You look great! I heard how much you gained!” She obviously looked at me with one eyebrow jetting up and the other frowning down revealing both her confusion and irritation. Then I said, “Yes. You’ve gained beauty. You’ve gained confidence. You’ve gained comfort.”  She smiled.

You see, the problem with New Years resolutions is that they tend to focus on the negative and not the positive. We sprinkle our statements with words like “lose” “stop” and “quit.” I think that is a wrong mindset and why statistically most people fail at their resolutions by January 15th. The Bible says that we are to think and focus on whatever is good, healthy positive and helpful (click to read the verse).  That is where true change happens. That is where the vision of your goal is energized.

So as you think and plan for this next year, write down the “gains” and not the “losses.” Don’t lose the weight, gain the comfort. Don’t stop bad eating, gain healthy options. Don’t fear change, embrace progress. Remember that God gives us a new start every year but more importantly, every morning!

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break through weight loss(note from Todd:  “This past year I gained all of the above by dropping 40 pounds.  I wrote about it in a short ebook.  You can check it out by clicking the link below.  Several people have already achieved their goals using the 5 keys.  If you have read the ebook, I’d love to hear your feedback.  Make a comment on Amazon.  It’d really help others.  Thanks!)

CLICK HERE for “Break Through Weight Loss”

Peace!

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Ornaments

The Christmas tree. Tall and green and decorated as a fixture in our home during the Christmas season. Each year, I sit on our couch next to our tree and admire the decorations that are so carefully placed on its branches. I admire the creativity of the handmade ones.  You know the ones.  The ones made from clay or paper.  The ones that kids bring home from school made especially for you.

The ornaments on the tree each have their own stories. They tell of that first Christmas. They speak volumes about your own childhood or that one special year. And maybe, they remind us of someone we love who is not here.

Ultimately all of the ornaments tell our story. One families story. Of hope, of struggle, of peace and of love.

As you look at your tree this Christmas, my prayer is that the memories that flood your mind are ones of goodness and grace.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Peace!

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Feeling Small – Lessons from the Lake

I was at a cabin, working on my next book project when outside, I heard what sounded to me like thunder.  I thought that was strange since it wasn’t in the forecast.

I continued working but soon, I heard it again.  The sound thundered loudly to a point that it shook the windows of the cabin. So I went outside and looked around and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.  It was clear.

As I looked across the lake, I watched a flock of birds suddenly fly off of the ice followed by the thunder sound.  I couldn’t figure it out.  Then, it happened again.  It was then that I realized the thundering sound was the cracking of the ice that happens as the temperature changed.  It expands and contracts which causes the “thunder.”  Right at my feet, the ice-thundering erupted and spread across the entire lake.  The ground on which I stood shook and I felt very powerless and very small.

It reminded me of when God had a conversation with Job.  Job was questioning God about his life and why he was experiencing loss and struggle.   God responds to Job and says, “Job, were you there when I sent the foundations of the world in place?  Were you there when I started the cosmos or when I created the very environments in which you walk?”  At that moment, I felt like Job.

Sometimes I think too big of myself.  Sometimes I want to completely control my life and that I have the power to do so.  But then I realize that ultimately, power and strength comes only from God.

The Bible says that the earth is the Lords everything in it.  He created the sky.  He created the mountains.  He created the ice that operates on the surface of the lake and causes the ground to shake.

The next time I try to control everything in my life, I’ll remember the lesson of the lake.

Peace!

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Redeemed

Yesterday, our church hosted a group called Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge.  Their core purpose is to help people break the grips of addiction through the basic understanding that they are a child of God and that He has a purpose for their lives. 50 strong, they filled the front of our congregation, spoke testimonies of God grace and deliverance and literally brought our church to tears.

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Before their first song, one of the folks said in their testimony, “You don’t know where you are if you don’t know where you’ve been.”  We all nodded in agreement. Then they sang a song named “Redeemed.”  (Redeemed means to be retrieved or purchased back).

As their full voice choir sang the chorus, I couldn’t help but think, These people have been in places so dark that they truly know the power of redemption. They know the beauty of going from death to life and they understand the difference.

When you’ve been so lost and so broken for so long, redemption seems so out of reach.  Freedom seems unattainable and hopelessness rules the day.  But when God sends someone – a friend, a relative, a stranger – to speak words of truth or to get you help, the light of redemption is overwhelming, the love of God in Christ is breathtaking and the contentment of the Holy Spirit forces your face to cut a smile.

You have been redeemed.  You have been set free.  The chains of hopelessness, depression and death have been unlocked.  God is real and He holds out His hand of peace to you and to me.

As I drove home, I realized that while my life has never been hopeless, God is still in the business of redeeming the lost parts of my life and setting me free.

Peace!

You Need Encouragement

edison-ford-shaking-handsIn 1896, Henry Ford attended a company event where Thomas Edison (the great inventor) was the guest of honor. His friend introduced him to Edison as “the man trying to make a car that runs on gasoline.”

Edison asked young Henry Ford a host of questions and when the talk was over, Edison banged his fist down on the table and said, “Young man, that’s the thing! You have it! Your car is self contained and carries its own power plant.”

Years later, Ford, reflecting on their first meeting, said in a newspaper interview, “That bang on the table was worth worlds to me. No man up to then had given me any encouragement. I had hoped that I was headed right. Sometimes I knew that I was, sometimes I only wondered, but here, all at once and out of a clear sky, the greatest inventive genius in the world had given me complete approval. The man who knew most about electricity in the world had said that for the purpose, my gas motor was better than any electric motor could be.”

I would have loved to hear that conversation.  Two powerful men talking innovation and creation. Both on the road to changing the world.  One, established in the field of electricity, the other, seeking to invent what is today, the mainstay of personal and public transportation.

The old story is a new reminder of the power of encouragement.  When someone encourages you, you are brought to a new level of hope.  When someone lifts you up, you are given a gift that fuels you for the next phase of the journey.  When you encourage others, you imitate the power of God.

I’m praying that you are awakened to someone who needs encouragement today.  I’m praying that you too can have someone bang their fist and encourage you in what you are doing and who you are becoming.

“The lips of the righteous nourish many, but fools die for lack of sense.”

Proverbs 10:21

Peace!

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The Big Faith of the Boston Killers

boston_marathon_explosion_max_blast_2_300x225The boom cannoned over the finish line of this year’s Boston Marathon.  Many thought it was a celebration cannon.  Others thought it to be a car backfiring.  Then a second explosion.  Someone had set out to kill.  And they succeeded.

In the hours following, the suspects Dzhorkar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev were identified.  Chechnyan Brothers who had a big faith.

Heresy you cry!  Blasphemy you accuse!  But wait.  Supposedly, the pair held a deep conviction in what they believed.  As misplaced and evil as it was, they had a deep faith in what they believed they wanted to do.

Now, before you send the militia to pay me a visit, read slowly these next thoughts.  Faith defined – in the non-biblical sense – is a deep conviction in something or someone. Unfortunately, what they believed was that evil was a way toward personal gain.  They believed that “outsiders” needed to be eliminated in order to bring forward a better world.  They believed reward awaited for those on a killers mission.  Frankly, these may be speculations but if even a speck of it is true, that takes Big Faith.

THE POINT:  You see, you can have a strong faith, but the deeper question is, what is the object of your faith?

Too bad that kind of faith wasn’t directed toward good.  I mean, what if the amount of energy that these brothers expelled was directed at doing something of positive value?  What if their focus was to do something that would enhance the lives of the Boston marathon runners not take their lives instead.  What if the pair spent the days and months planning a cacophony of love and not a conspiracy of hate?  Horrific for them and the hundreds that suffered under their evil.  Their faith was placed in a false god who directed them toward demolition and destruction.

My faith is given and directed toward a living God who says to love others and serve where I can.  My faith is embolden on the risen-ness of His sacrifice so that I too can rise to the occasions of compassion and avoid the addiction of violence.  My faith is embedded in the Grace of Jesus that informs all of life and give me hope today and into eternity.

In whom do you place your faith?

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Peace!

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Makenzie’s Misunderstood Bible Verse – Jeremiah 29:11 – Part 2

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” – Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

Truthfully, this translation is not the best for this verse (see part 1).  Even though millions have it as a life verse, have used it for comfort and have placed it on everything from bumper stickers to coffee mugs, it still doesn’t capture what God is saying.

It’s Makenzie’s life verse as well but there is so much more meaning to it if you dig into the context and the original language.  In context, God has exiled the Israelites to Babylon (which is a whole ‘nother theological discussion).  He tells them to hang out, do what needs to be done, get married, build a life etc.  But at the end of 70 years, He is going to bring them back to their homeland.

The Israelites are ticked, tired and tried.  They need to know that God hasn’t abandoned them or forgotten about them.  They need some encouragement from this God who, in His love, allowed desperate hardship to uproot their entire people group.  And in comes verse 11 of Jeremiah 29:11.  Through a word of encouragement, God says to this beat up nation, “Hey!  Don’t worry.  Hang in there.   For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”

God doesn’t have an individual plan for you but more importantly, He has a larger purpose for you (again, see part 1).  And, as the original language points out, God thinks good thoughts about you.  For one, they are thoughts of peace.  It is possible to be in the worst life tragedy or the most frustrating situation and still have peace!  The peace that God gives!  He doesn’t think evil on you either.  Meaning, if you feel like God has allowed destruction in your life, behind the scenes, He is working it into something good (see Romans 8:28).  He also knows what the end of the story looks like in your life and, again, it is good.  It may not be what you expect, but it is good.

Our family is experiencing this good right now.  Coming next month, it will be 3 years since the Lord danced my oldest daughter, Makenzie, to heaven.  It has been extremely hard, much of the time.  It has been a journey that I wish upon no one.  But we are seeing how even in the midst of the struggle, we have had peace.  And it is good.

So go ahead and mark up the T-shirts with Jer. 29:11.  Claim it for your confirmation or life verse.  Tattoo it on your hand.  Whatever.  God has great thoughts and a purpose for your existence.  Live fully, Love God and Laugh from your gut.  Life is worthy of that!

Peace!

First-Withouts – Birthday Without Makenzie

Makenzie on her last birthday (18 years old)

A handful of days ago, Kellie and I were privileged to share Makenzie’s story at the Woodbury Area Prayer Breakfast.  Among the 700 people were Bill and Zoe Hyland whose high school aged son, Braedon, was killed in a car accident in October of last year.  It was a painful yet beautiful conversation as they, like us, grapple with the new normal.

Bill said that they are going through the “first-withouts” date list.  The “first” Christmas “without” Braedon.  The “first” Spring “without” him.  The list goes on and on for the likes of us.

Today is Makenzie’s birthday.  She would have been 21 years old.  A milestone in the lives of other young adult but not for her.  This is not a “first-without” for us but rather another reminder of her birth and death and birth again.  Another date on the calendar that we cannot escape.  So we choose to lay low today.  We’ll laugh about her laugh – smile about her smile.  We’ll most likely cry as we ponder and remember.  But we’ll also thank Jesus for giving her a list of “first-withouts.”  “First” days in heaven “without” pain, sorrow or suffering.  “First” days in heaven “without” struggle, confusion of boredom.  And, if she were speaking it, “First” days in heaven “without” math!

Love you button nose.  And Happy 21st Birthday.

Peace!

Links to check out: