Five Years in the Valley of Shadow

Getting very personal today…

The Schmidt Family Home (3rd Edition!)

Five years ago today, my heart was broken and bruised.

Five years ago, my son died.

Five years ago, he was six years old.

Five years ago, I was lost.

Today, I am still lost.

I continue to stumble my way through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, trying all the while to pretend like I am a normal human being, capable of life.

I know the Lord is with me, and I am not alone.

Still, I feel alone.

Because life goes on. Time moves on. You adjust. You change. You become. Just like you did when he was born. Just like you did when every new challenge presented itself. You just do. You have responsibilities. You’re still a husband. Still a father. Still a pastor. Still alive. No matter how much you want to run and hide, life just doesn’t allow it, because life goes on…

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How to Stay Married

As my incredible wife Heidi and I celebrate 21 years of marriage (!), I thought I would pass on some advice – the thoughts that I share in my wedding sermons, actually. If you have been or will one day be called into marriage, I hope you find some truth in it. And if it is too late for your marriage to be saved, I am truly, truly sorry. Thank God for His forgiveness and healing, and I pray both upon you.

A lot of people have false expectations about marriage.  Some people expect way too little from it.  They see marriage as simply a piece of paper – a legal contract – and a contract that’s only binding as long as the two people in it happen to feel like it.

But marriage is a lifelong commitment.  And that commitment is critical, because there are times in a marriage when either or both parties will not feel very loving or charitable. But love is a verb, not a feeling – it’s a choice you make as husband and wife to keep working at your marriage, no matter what.

And while some wrongly believe that marriage is just a contract and nothing more, others believe that marriage changes and fixes everything, beginning a storybook romance for the ages.

But marriage is work – hard work – never ending work. A husband and wife come into a marriage as two individuals who arrived at an intersection on their journeys through life, and decide to continue on that journey together. But two people becoming one and learning to put the other before themselves takes hard work, sacrifice and forgiveness. Lots of hard work, sacrifice and forgiveness. Never stop communicating – if it’s a challenge for you to talk, make yourself talk, and if it’s easy for you to talk, shut up and listen. Let your strengths complement each other’s weaknesses. You will both grow and change as people, and it takes hard work, communication, sacrifice, trust and grace to grow and change together. But through it all, don’t forget to laugh together and be friends.

Marriage isn’t easy because life is never easy.  You will fail each other.  You will let each other down.  You will make mistakes and you will hurt each other.  There will be times when a husband will give in to the temptation to wound his wife by failing to show her the love she needs; and there will be times when a wife will wound her husband by stripping away the respect she knows he needs.

But when these times come, don’t run away from each other, run to each other. Admit your faults, and forgive easily. Never let the lines of communication break down. Build him up, love her and forgive each other.

1 Corinthians 13 tells us that love never gives up.  It is not selfish, jealous or arrogant.  Love is not quick to anger and does not keep track of hurts.  It protects, trusts hopes and maintains.  These are not just nice-sounding words; they are a high, high calling.  In declaring your love for each other today before God and the rest of us, you are making a commitment to love like that.  Those verses don’t give you a way to measure or judge another’s love for you, they tell you how to love.

Forgive early, forgive often (sounding a bit repetitive? It’s that important). And never, ever believe the lie that you are better on your own than together with your spouse. It only seems that way because it seems easier to be on your own than to have to consider someone else all the time. But you haven’t just found each other; God has brought you together, and for that reason you are stronger together than you are apart. God said, “It is not good for man to be alone.”  This is why the man and the woman leave their families and in marriage form a new family.

Marriage is a high calling and a lot of work – but it is totally worth it. I cannot imagine who I would be were it not for the incredible woman by my side. We both realize that we each come with our own set of challenges, but we both know that we are blessed by each other in so many ways. Remember that God is there with you in your marriage. If you keep Christ between you as the heart of your marriage, your marriage will be strong and lasting.

If you are called into marriage, may Christ be always at the heart of your marriage, and may your journey be filled with joy and forgiveness.  May your marriage shine as a beacon of love to those you meet, and may the love of Christ be evident in your love for each other, Amen.





There is something else you should know about me: I struggle with depression that stems from the grief of losing my son. Daniel was six years old when he died on September 11, 2013. He was a special needs child: stemming from an overarching diagnosis of cerebral palsy, he struggled with many things, including quadriplegia (he could move, but not control, his arms, and he was learning to walk with a walker, but was largely wheelchair-bound). He was vocal but non-verbal, he was pure emotion with an incredible depth of love, the hardest worker I have ever met, and he was my mini-me. I wrote this on the three-year anniversary of his death, and it was published by both The Federalist and Michigan In Touch:

Grief makes no sense.

I mean, of course grief makes sense, in that something so precious, so beautiful—something we just took for granted would always be there—was ripped away from us. We are not meant to be torn apart by sin, death and the devil, but we are. We are not whole, and so we grieve when we suffer genuine loss, because we become still less, with even less to hold onto in this fallen world. Another light goes out, and we are left in still more darkness; the world becomes a little less bright. So we cry, we rage, we hide, we shake, we avoid, we indulge, we run, we fight; we do whatever it takes to cope with this pain that is so impossible to cope with.

And therein lies the nonsense. Because we can’t cope with it. We can’t carry it. We can’t live with it. And yet, we can’t escape from it. It rends us, pierces us, impales us, and decapitates us. It rips our heart from our chest, tears out a chunk and then shoves that mortally wounded muscle back into our shattered rib cage.

And then we have to go on living, knowing we will never again be the same. We read books, we talk about it, we hear advice (we are given still more that we don’t hear because we can’t or won’t). We face it head-on, we avoid it at all costs, but none of it helps. Not really, because the one thing we want—the one thing we need—the one thing we can’t live without—can never be again, at least not in this life.

So we go on. Our grief fades with time, but this is not the same as getting “easier” or “better.” In fact, there is cruel irony in this, because the pain that makes it so hard to draw breath is the only real tie we have to what is lost. And as that pain fades, so, it feels, does that tie—which is a betrayal beyond reason.

Why should life get easier? Why should life go on?

Why should I have to learn to live without what I have lost?

And this makes no sense, is incomprehensible, inexplicable. Because grief is not objective or comparable, in any way. You cannot say one’s loss is easier or harder, better or worse than someone else’s, because you have no idea what they’re going through. The flip side of this is that there is no one who can possibly understand what you’re going through.

No one, save God. And because He does know, and because He defeated those great enemies of sin, death and the devil, our grief will one day be over.

Thus, we do not grieve as others who have no hope (ref. 1 Thessalonians 4:13). I believe this, and yet…

And yet, I still grieve. We still grieve. With heads bowed, we grieve. With cheeks dampened by tears, we grieve. With throats tight and chests crushed, we grieve. With silent pain and anguished groans, we grieve. With desperate screams and heavy brows, we grieve—yes, we grieve.

For my son, Daniel, I grieve. My joy, my heart, my passion still evade my grasp since he was taken from me, three years ago. Three years. The cruelty of the passage of time never ceases or eases. Three years makes me feel as though I have no right to hold onto my grief. Three years makes me feel as though I need to move on. But three years without my son is impossibly cruel.

He has been gone half as long as he was alive. While his brother and sister grow; while other families with three children continue to live on together; while other dads get to laugh and play and hug and teach their children … I grieve. Alone. And not alone. But also alone.

You, who grieve: you are not alone. You are, of course, alone. But also not alone.

As I said, grief makes no sense. Thank God, then, that it will one day be wiped away.