I'm sitting by a fire in a lodge in Whitefish, Montana. It's been an absolute honor to spend the weekend with Pastor Levi Lusko and his family. They'll never fully know the impact their story has had on me, my family, and our church. Two weeks before Amanda was killed, she and I were on a train to Chicago for a romantic getaway listening to Pastor Levi share his story with Elevation Church. We sat on the train with tears streaming down our faces as he explained how the Lord had been carrying them through their season of suffering after losing their 5-year-old daughter. At that moment I had a strange sense that Jesus was preparing our hearts for our own season of suffering. Now six months later I'm spending the weekend with the Lusko's. What connected us? This season of suffering. Although it's been a life-giving weekend and has ushered in tremendous healing in my heart, there is still a rock in my stomach and a lump in my throat. As I sit here all I can think about is what I WOULD have been doing right now.

Evie would have been born 4 days ago. It's 7:42am and I'm sure I would be finishing up my morning coffee, readying myself to wake Weston up while Amanda tends to Evie. I'd bring Weston his milk and take him into the bedroom to see his mommy and his new baby sister. Weston's been saying "baby" a lot recently. It comes out more like "bebe." I'm sure he would look into little Evie's face with wonder and bewilderment, half excited for this new little one to join our family, half confused as to who's trying to steal mommy and daddy's affections. We would be a full family. In our groggy, newborn-no-sleep, "what have we done" stupor Amanda and I would look at each other and feel an even deeper sense of friendship, intimacy, and anticipation for this new adventure. We would sit on that bed and cuddle for the morning, watching Curious George with Weston and knowing our team had everything taken care of at church that day. Our church would be half the size it is now, and I'm sure most of me would be completely ok with that. No doubt I would be pressing in and trying to get us to reach further as an organization, but Amanda and I had arrived at this place of contentment with where everything was. I think in that moment, surrounded by my little family there would not have been anywhere else I'd rather be.

It's hard not to think about the "should have" and "shouldn't have's" of life, especially when tragedy befalls. Who's to say "that should have happened" or "this shouldn't have happened?" Because what happened, happened. And what is, is. In fact, Ephesians 1:11 tells me that "all things work according to the counsel of [God's] will." Now it's only Weston and me. A family of 2. And for some reason The Lord has chosen to lead us into this particular season.

While it helps to write these thoughts down and grieve over them, what doesn't help is to dwell on what I think "should have" happened. I've found that I have always had a tendency to idolize ideals. In other words, my entire life has been built around a false pretense of cause and effect. "If I do w, x, and y, then z HAS to happen." In a perfect world maybe that would be true. But we live in a fallen world where bad things really do happen to good people and bad people seem to come out unscathed. Where affliction and adversity are inevitable. And where there isn't really an explanation for why. While Jesus doesn't promise us an explanation, He offers something better. He offers a final answer to suffering - His death and resurrection. The resurrection means he has ripped away death's sting because those of us who are followers of Him will likewise be raised with him. Every wrong will one day be righted, and every evil deed will be undone.

I've found holding God to promises He never made me only leads to bitterness and resentment. He never promised me 50 years with Amanda. I had just hoped he had. He never promised me I wouldn't be lonely. He promised I'd never be alone (Heb. 13:5). He never promised I wouldn't have trial and hardship. He promised when I do, I wouldn't be overcome by it because He'd walk right beside me through it (Isa. 43:2, Psa. 23:4). When I recognize these fundamental truths I begin to live life from a different perspective. I live open-handed, realizing that closed-fisted living only contributes to some warped, twisted idea that I actually have some control. The more life ebs and flows for me the more I realize I have zero control, but I trust The One who has complete control. I trust The One who has my best interest in mind. I trust The One who wants more for me and Weston (and Amanda and Evie) than we could ever ask for or imagine.

The only "should have" or "would have" I choose to dwell on these days is this: Everything God gives us in this life (both good and bad) is everything we WOULD HAVE asked for if we knew everything God knows.

So instead of being a family of 4, I sit by this fire in Whitefish, MT a family of 2. Instead of celebrating new life brought into my family, I decidedly rejoice over all the new lives that have been brought into the family of God as a result of Amanda's death. And in this new season my prayer is this: Lord, grant to me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Nothing is Wasted.

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