My Makenzie Monsoon

A few hours before dark, eight years ago today, my Makenzie left.  She wasn’t sure she wanted to go but the lure of a ballerina photo shoot was too strong to resist.  I was sitting at my computer in our little office by the back door as she leaned over and gave me a kiss goodbye.  That was it. 

Three plus hours later, she left again.  This time, her departure was more dramatic — more powerful.  Truthfully, she didn’t leave, God ushered her out.  A red light.  A hitting of the gas and not the brake and in a moment, it was done.  She was gone.

Eight years seem like a long time for some.  For me, it seems like eight seconds.  The pain of the loss of Makenzie has changed, but the ache never goes away.  The hole she left isn’t filled by time, it is simply there. 

Don’t misunderstand.  I’m not writing these words in sadness or sorrow.  I don’t tap the keys trying to fight back tears.  Those days are done.  I pen the remembrance because I have to.  Just seeing her name pop from the screen is part of the cathartic healing that is lifelong. 

So today, I fight against the monsoon of memories her 18 years has left and I am okay.


(Hippo Campus song about Makenzie.  The clock tower at the end shows the time when she died.  Video producer had no idea)


Seven Years Afloat: Makenzie Home-going Anniversary – Todd

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.   


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043: SPECIAL: Celebrating Makenzie’s Last Birthday [Podcast] – Todd

birthday makenzieMay 3rd is my Makenzie’s birthday.  She only saw 18 of them before she was killed in a car accident.  Here are my thoughts on this day.

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It was her last birthday but none of us knew it.  In life you never do.  Yet deep down, I think she did because her last birthday was unexpected and simple — just like Makenzie.

Turning 18, one would think that she’d want to do it up with friends and a party — silly balloons and maybe even a tiara. 

That was Makenzie.

Instead of going big, she went small.  All she wanted to do is to go to Grandpa and grandma’s house and spend the day on a small beach by their house.

“Are you sure?” I asked, being kindred with her playful spirit.

“Yes,” she said, “what a great way to spend my birthday with people I love.” 

We played.  We laughed. We talked and opened presents.  I don’t remember what she got but I know that after each unwrapped she’d exclaiming, “Oh I love it.  Thanks!” and then would give the giver a huge hug. 

Cake on the beach.  Writing in the sand.  Dancing and twirling to music that was all in her head, and then closing out the night back at Grandpa and Grandma’s.  That’s what she wanted.  That’s what we did. 

I think often on that day.  I still see her making faces at her brother and tickling her sister.  I still feel her smacky lips on my cheek at the end of the day saying, “Thanks dad.  It was a great birthday.” 

birthday cakeEach May 3rd, I wish I could celebrate with her again.  I wish I could wake her up with breakfast on our families celebration plate and laugh with her as she fumbles with her scrambled eggs.  Some day — again —  I will.  Some day, when this side of heaven takes its last bow and the curtain closes, I will be with her again to celebrate the birthday that Jesus has given her and me and all who believe. 

Until that day, I will spend the day pondering, chuckling and shedding a few tears wishing I could say to her once more, “Happy Birthday, button-nose.  Happy Birthday.”


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“Helping Those Who’ve Lost A Loved One”

Why Is There Pain? – Todd

grief given to help othersComing up on seven years ago, I lost my precious Makenzie.  Suddenly taken, I was suddenly shaken; set adrift in an ocean that I didn’t want to sail.  It took me several years to find emotional land again and when I did, I had to deal with the ‘Why’ question with which most of us struggle. 

“Why did this have to happen?”

Sometimes you wonder why hurt tragedy and loss arrive on your doorstep.  Like a packaged delivered by an unknown enemy, you are forced to take it in, open it, and deal with the contents of its abuses.  Even after the ache of the offenses, you are left wondering why it was necessary?

There is an answer.  I experienced that answer moments ago as I sat around a table with a family whose 22 year-old daughter was taken from them by a distracted driver only 6 weeks past.  They shared their hurt with me and I nodded.  They talked about their girl who was friendly and strong and someone with whom you’d want to love and I smiled.  They talked about the new normal in which they were being forced to live and I understood because I’d been there, in that boat, navigating the seas on which this beautiful family now sailed.   

And that’s the answer.

Tragedy, pain, loss, hurt.  All are experienced  and comforted by Jesus so that we could help others navigate a similar experience.

“He 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.” – 2 Corinthians 1:4

You are not alone in your grief.  That which you are fighting has been fought by others.  That which you suffer has been suffered by many.  There are those in your church, family and community that are given to you by the Master to help.

Ask around.  Trust in God.  I’ll bet you’re staring your comforter right in the face.


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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!)




Makenzie: Five Years Old


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)




Makenzie – 2.1 Miles Away

makenziestockerI don’t know how many of you have a physical location in which you can say your life changed forever.  As I write,  Google informs me I am 2.1 miles away from mine.

Four years ago this evening, Makenzie finished her last pirouette, landed her last leap, and smiled one last time for the camera that loved her.  Four years ago this evening, she headed home as a passenger in a car that drove the last 2.1 miles of her life to the intersection that I now mostly avoid.  Four years ago this evening, God lifted my beautiful daughter from a horrible wreckage and said, “Welcome Home.”

It is a funny thing how my human experience is now interwoven with concrete and traffic lights.  I ponder how my mind continues to bring up joyful memories and grieving feelings.  But I also praise God’s way of death for Makenzie. Instant. Unaware. Painless.  I am so very thankful that her location – where she rests – is free from all that is ugly.

So today, I choose to celebrate in the location.  Later, I will walk the lake shore that provided a beautiful backdrop for her last photo shoot.  I will sit on the dock in the place where she sat and I will venture to that intersection in which everything changed.  But I will not grieve.  I will only thank God because she is in my future and not in my past.  She is home; safe and sound in the protection and grace of her Savior, Jesus.  What more could a parent ask for.

Sleep tight, button nose.



Easter in Heaven for Makenzie

Makenzie on Easter Day!

Makenzie on Easter Day!

(Several years ago, my oldest daughter, Makenzie was killed in a traffic accident.  Below is a re-post from our first Easter without her):

We have been comforted by many people over these last months after Makenzie’s death.  This week has provided countless opportunities for people to send their well wishes as we walked through Holy Week without Makenzie.  (Another of the “firsts” that we, who have lost loved ones, must endure).

One sentiment has repeated itself from several people.  “Just think.  This is Makenzie’s first Easter in Heaven.”  Truthfully, that was my thought as well because my human experience is the template through which I process life in heaven.  I have no choice but to think that my daughter, Makenzie lives there but follows the time table of here.

I know better.  It is not her first Easter in Heaven.  She has not been counting the minutes to have an Easter Egg hunt or eat egg-bake before the sunrise service.  She has not been fiddling with her Easter dress in the pew, waiting for the Heavenly choir master to raise his arms and cue the first chord of the hymn “Jesus Christ is Risen Today!”

The truth is EVERY DAY IS EASTER IN HEAVEN!  All the joy and laughter is a 24-7 deal.  The pomp and circumstance is multiplied a million-fold as Makenzie, along with so many others, celebrate what Jesus has done for the entire world!  The partying does not end!  The dancing does not slow!  The music does not wane!  Makenzie is whooping it up, praising her Savior and never wanting to stop! (And we are there too but that’s another post for another day).

I can’t tell you how happy and hopeful that makes me this Easter.  Yes, it is another “first-without-her.”  Yes, I wish I could see her crack open a hard-boiled Easter egg and fish out the yoke.  Yes, I would love to give her an Easter hug and hear her whisper “Happy Easter, Daddy.”    But how can I not be deeply, profoundly grateful to my risen Savior for letting Makenzie in on the party?  How can I not worship Jesus for giving His life so that she can have hers?  If He hadn’t done what He did, I would never see Makenzie again.  But this Easter I celebrate because Makenzie is in my future and not in my past.  And I celebrate because EVERY DAY IS EASTER IN HEAVEN!



My Makenzie Drift

img_0699_7264bOne of the most difficult experiences for those of us whose kids have died is to relate to our other “earth-walking” kids.  That’s what I’m ‘drifting’ about most recently.  Not that I wish they were like Makenzie or that they acted as the same, but I reactively want to talk to Makenzie about how awesome Nathan and Maddie are.  I wish I could see the three of them together again – laughing, fighting, goofing around.  I wish I could email Makenzie or text her to tell her about the latest song Nathan wrote or the cute boy about whom Maddie’s twitter-pated.  I wish that somehow I could get her a second cup of coffee at the Starbucks at which I’m now sitting.

It isn’t to be.  She won’t get to hear Nathan’s music or do girl-stuff with Maddie.  But She is sleeping in the arms of Jesus which, I suppose, is much grander an experience that dawdling with us.  For now, I just have my wishes and dreams that tend to drift me into a vacant gaze out a nearby window.

The chatter of two teenaged girls snap me back from my drift.  I like those drift-moments.  Some would say they’re daydreams.  Whatever.  They sit well with me because they remind me that there is more to my life than the urgency of the now.   There is “then” as well.  And sometimes, God brings my thoughts there so that I can have peace here – all riding on the wings of my Drift.




Have you ever put off a project so long that it grew legs and took over?  That was my garage.  So finally, after a year, I decided to clean out the cobwebs and organize the bins that had all but grown roots in the concrete.  Bin after bin, I opened the lids and shuffled threw old tennis rackets and camping gear that had long since rusted out.  But then, I opened up a bin that flooded all my sense with memories.  It belonged to my daughter, Makenzie.

For those of you new to my blog, you may not know that my oldest daughter, Makenzie, was killed in a car accident a few years back.  (You can read her story here).  Anyway, seeing her ballet shoes, class notes and an a sundry of knickknacks that used to rest on her nightstand nearly broke me.  One of the items was a plaque she received after her first year at the Bay Area Houston Ballet Company.  It was the espirit de corps award.  Simply put, this award recognizes someone who exemplifies a positive common spirit of the company and who lives a life of excellence.

As I think back on Makenzie’s life, read her journals, and find her personal belongs in bins, I am reminded that a great person is not the sum of their possessions.  A great person is defined by the relational impact of their life.  Makenzie was such a person. She loved Jesus and that love reflected to all who met her.  She added value to those who felt worthless, joy to those living is sadness and laughter to those who wanted to cry.  Makenzie lived a life of espirit de corps.

Ultimately, Makenzie was a great person because she knew that her own value and worth came from Jesus.  She knew who she was and whose she was.  In her short 18 years of life, she impacted more people than most of us ever will in our lifetimes.  For those of us blessed to know her personally, we will never be the same.


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!


Makenzie’s Misunderstood Bible Verse – Jeremiah 29:11 – Part 1

“‘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)

I hate this verse.  No – that’s a bit strong.  I struggle with this verse.  And while many of you have this verse on t-shirts, bracelets and small magnets on the doors to your fridge, I get frustrated thinking about it!

Here’s my tension: If God has plans for me, plans that involve prosperity, hope, and protection, then what happened to God’s plans when my daughter, Makenzie died in a car accident a few years – moments – ago?  This was her life verse and motivationally so!  But what about the “not to harm you” part.  What about that, God?  And does that mean that I can goof up and step out of God’s plan and then work to get back on His plan for me?

As you can tell, I’ve battled with this verse’s language-ing until I dug deeper into its context and its original Hebrew.  I’ll spare you a theological treatise, but a better translation of Jeremiah 29:11 comes in the King James Version.  It reads,

 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.

Doesn’t that change the “plans” part?  Here’s what this verse is actually saying.  It does not say that God has an individual plan for your life – like a blueprint of every moment you spend on the timeline of this earth.  The Bible is clear that He does have a purpose for your life but not necessarily a specific plan.  The purpose about which God talks is for you to know Jesus and to grow to be more like Him in character and relationship.  God’s purpose for you is not based on what you do but moreso who you are.

That means that once you know that your purpose is to love God and love others, then the adventure is discovering how that purpose plays out in your life.  You are freed up to figure out how you are wired, develop those talents and gifts, and then deploy them into the lives of people around you. Part of that means that you can actually do things that you enjoy!  What a concept!

Listen, God doesn’t care what you do for a career – whether you should be an architect, doctor, teacher or pastor.  He doesn’t care what parking space you choose or which outfit you should wear today.  If it doesn’t lead you or others to sin, and if it is a wise decision, do whatever you want!   Generally, God does not have a detailed plan for your life.

So what does this verse mean then?  Stay Tuned …


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.


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Makenzie in My Dreams

It’s been nearly three years since my oldest daughter, Makenzie died in a car accident.  Since then, our family has been on a journey marked by recovery, struggle, joy, sadness, questions and pain.  Pain – there’s been plenty of that.  But what has been lacking in our movement forward are dreams.  In my vulnerability, I pray for dreams about her.  Last night, God gave me one. Here’s what I remember:

Our family was at a party – no, a carnival.  There were kiddie rides, food booths and street performers and the smell of cotton candy permeated the cool, late afternoon air.  In the dream, I knew that she died, that she was allowed a few hours with us and that at the close of the carnival, she would be heading back to heaven.  We walked together, once again, as a family.  We talked, played some games and ate hotdogs smothered in mustard.

Makenzie’s snorty laugh rang in my ears as she skipped and told jokes with my son Nathan and my younger daughter Maddie.  I took her hand and we strolled together past a juggler.  She was fascinated  by the performer’s finesse.  I remember sitting down with her on a bench and asking her questions.  “What is heaven like?”  “What do you remember at and immediately after the accident?”  “Does Jesus play guitar?”  (I don’t know why I asked that but I did).  She simply smiled and snuggled deep into my chest as she used to.

My last vivid memory of the dream was our family, once again, walking through the carnival toward the exit that led to an open field.  Makenzie grabbed Maddie’s hand and the two of them skipped ahead, made a circle and jumped around like two tea-party little girls playing “Ring around the Rosie.”

It was beautiful.  It was lovingly simple and complete.  Yet, the dream seared.  I didn’t want her to go back.  I woke up this morning with the feeling of desperation that I haven’t felt since June, July and August of 2009.

So there it is, oh ye interpreters of dreams.  A look into my sad madness and a walk through the carnival of my dream.


Just A Simple Kiss

Makenzie and Me

There is something special about a gentle kiss that Daddy receives from Daughter.  Those innocent lips smacking against a well-seasoned, gruffy cheek, communicates sweetness … connection … love.  Just A Simple Kiss.

I loved that kiss from her.  Usually it comes unexpectedly.  Hurrying off to school.  Driving into the drop off lane.  Suddenly, she grabs my shoulder sleeve, pulls me sideways and plants one.  I can’t help but smile and say, “I love you, sweets.”  “Love you too, Daddy.”  Then, she bee-bops out of the car, joining her friends and disappearing behind the glass doors that would keep her safe for the balance of her day.

Maddie and Me

And I just sit there; thinking, How can I be so blessed with a beautiful daughter who surprises me with her simple kiss.  Then, as if being jolted out of a dream, the driver behind, gently taps on her horn.  As I drive away, I am reminded about past moments like these with Makenzie.   But today’s hurrying, drop-off, grab and kiss came from my other daughter, Maddie, who told me she loved me, with just A Simple Kiss.



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