To Be Known

Jan 10

To Be Known

It was Christmas Day (as in the 5:57 a.m. variety).  In a line of many ‘firsts,’ this was our first Christmas without Mama.  Presents had arrived seemingly from thin air.  The stockings were stuffed – Jen’s filled with happy thought bubbles.  The cinnamon rolls were baked and, well, immediately consumed.  Our favorite Christmas play list was on its third repeat and the girls and I were just finishing the last of the gifts.  A fun, upbeat morning despite the obvious void.  That’s when Maren said, “Dad, it looks like there’s another one here for you.”

I was surprised, but curious.  A standard 8.5 x 11 box.  Didn’t shake or make sound.  No oozing jello from ‘Aunt Bethany.’  And a card under bow on the front.  It was a simple card … holiday greetings and then something in parentheses: “(you should probably open this alone).”

Too curious to take heed, I ignored the advice and opened anyway.  Just inside the box was a hand written letter from my very dear friend/’sister’.  Unknown to me, Jen had asked for her personal journals to be gathered when I was away – to be organized and labeled and then returned to me and the girls.  I had never seen them before.  As it was Christmas and our anniversary was fast approaching on New Year’s, our friend had chosen to wrap up the first journal.  It was labeled with a simple post-it note: “Brad + Jen dating / engaged 2003.”

Too late to open alone?  Just as I feel now writing this, I sat numb.  My heart was beating fast.  Tears were running down my face.  I was both curious and petrified to see what lie beneath the cover.  It is quite a thing of privilege (and loneliness) to read the previously secret, personal thoughts of someone – the someone with whom I am best known.  Smack!  It was hitting me.  The person with whom I am best known is no longer here.

What an indescribable blessing it is to deeply know someone and to be deeply known in return.  Is there any greater desire?

We had dated for 6 months, got engaged, and then were married at about the 1 year mark of our first date.  Perhaps that foreshadowed the balance of our race.  It was accelerated, very intentional, filled with fun and yet fragile.  Is it possible to fall further in love with someone after they are gone?  That’s what it has felt like for me.

Being able to step back and read where we were spiritually when our foundation was being set has taken me on a bit of an emotional journey these last few weeks.  We fell for each other fast.  Our depth of conversation was uncommon and yet the way we challenged each other was energizing.  We were clear very early with each other that our intention for dating was to evaluate the potential for marriage.  We both (privately) had made lists of life priorities; characteristics & traits of a desired partner; expectations for shared life; and, our fears and insecurities that might get in the way.  As we gradually shared those dreams with each other, we began to see each other as a partner.  Still, we were young, scared and had to work through insecurities.  We certainly didn’t solve the insecurities; rather, we learned how to listen, empathize and anticipate each other’s needs.  This built confidence and trust – more than enough to enter an open-handed covenant with God and each other.  Our foundation was strong.

Reading now the emotion that came through her words from 2003, though, has challenged me.  How delicate is the heart in your hands of someone that gives all of themselves to you?  It is very scary to expose the good, bad and ugly truth of oneself to another.  Why would one even risk it?  I think it is because the degree to which one is willing to be fully known is the degree to which one knows themselves.  God calls us to live as our true, free selves – just as he fully knows us.  It is with Him that we can experience the fullness of life.  I know that I need the perspective of family & friends to help me see my true self – separate from the deafening echo of my own thoughts and self-generated facades.  To me, vulnerability is worth it for the chance to fully know someone else and to be fully known in return.  I am a much better (freer) man for having been known by Jen.

I’ve been questioning, however, just how fully I gave of myself to Jen over the years and whether that weakened trust or gave her pause to be fully vulnerable with me.  The words in her journal that she attributed to me from 2003 are different than I’ve heard from myself in following years.  I was seemingly more passionate then about exploring truth in scripture, serving those in need, and calling out truth from within others.  Was she disappointed to find herself with a husband of distracted convictions as family, career and personal ambitions took hold?  Could I have been a more endearing partner in the loneliness of her cancer journey?  The honest answer is yes.

About a week ago, however, I was scrolling through pictures on my phone and I found the picture, below.  It melted me.  This was taken within Jen’s last 2 months by dear friends while on a boat ride.  We were at peace with each other and loving every minute of it.  The truth that this photo reminded me of is that she chose to give me unconditional grace.  The only thing that we truly possess is our choices.  I am deeply humbled that she continually chose me.  Because she fully knew me, her trust in me and love for me was not diminished by my shortcomings.  She experienced God’s truth, freedom and love and that was enough.  I was so fortunate.  And now I feel as though I love her that much more.  My, how God continues to speak to me through Jen.



  1. Sharon House /

    You were both truly blessed to have found each other as separate souls who became one; you will always,be one. I continue to be humbled by the Anderson family.

    • Cindy Jones /

      Thank you for this Brad. It’s beautiful in all its vulnerability. I love the part about Grace. Steep in it, it’s all from God and it’s freedom to love and be loved. Give out grace as Jen did to you-love as her also. When we are all together again one day won’t it make for joy.

  2. Julie Talford /

    Love knows no boundaries or depth even now in her absence. How beautiful your relationship was then and now. That photo speaks volumes of how at ease you were with each other. Thank you for sharing.

    • Denise /

      Brad… this photo says it all😘💕💕❤️❤️❤️

    • Bonnie B Jackson /

      Brad, the Lord Knew that you and Jen we’re perfect for one another!! You were destined to walk the journey you did Together, a Timeless and Perfect gift! She will always be an intimate part of your life and a precious part of ours💕❤️

  3. Kathi Roth /

    Beautiful. Brad thank you for sharing with us. You and the girls were in my thoughts and prayers throughout the holiday. Your words motivate me to be a better wife. I’m so humbled by reading your words. You all are loved so much.

  4. Shannon Kahrs /

    I love that picture! She is so missed!

  5. Thank you for sharing. I miss Jen’s posts and my heart always leaps to see ‘Do Today Well’ in my inbox. What a gifts she was/is to so many, even those of us who never met her. Continuing to Do Today Well in her honor, from Seattle.

  6. Sharon Parson /

    Jen was certainly blessed.
    Your feeling reflect her love.
    God Bless you all as you continue to heal.

  7. Marlayne Skeens /

    Dear Brad ~
    Over the years I have heard Roz speak of the Love you had for Jen & your children ~ You were dearly loved by Jen’s whole family ~ My husband was a very quiet man of few words & I wondered if he knew how much I loved him after he passed away this past May 12th, 2019 * I can see his looks he gave me when he didn’t think I noticed, he loved me in spite of my shortcomings & he knew how much I loved him even though he couldn’t always put into words himself * We shouldn’t 2nd guess what we had & what we hold dear ~ It was there like no other relationship ~ The closeness was strong & will linger in our hearts forever ~ I don’t know you; however, through Jen’s words & her Family, You have been a devoted Husband & Father ~ A True Blessing ~ I wish/Pray for you & yours as your Journey moves forward ~
    Hugs 🙂

  8. Kim Rourke /

    And again, in your beautiful, and self-effacing words, we see why Jen chose YOU! ❤️

  9. Jodi Edwards /

    What a beautiful and powerful post. May we all aspire to your connection.

  10. Karen Pedigo /

    I remember meeting you both when you were gifted a stay at my B&B. I distinctly remember before meeting Jen, all the things you requested on her behalf. It wasn’t a lot but you did ask for certain things to be just right for her & her special dietary needs. I have done this for nearly 20 years now and to me the measure of a spouse is how careful they are to plan things to be special & thoughtful for their spouse, not themselves. I remember thinking when you asked me to prepare certain things certain ways for her breakfast, what a very thoughtful & unusual husband you were to request things to make her happy! I had just been diagnosed with cancer myself & you both were so caring & supportive of me. I had also just lost my boyfriend to a 95% curable cancer before I was diagnosed. She helped me to be brave with her bravery & sharing her story! I wanted to share my impressions of meeting you both so you know you were the most thoughtful, caring husband and I think the journals were a wonderful gift to show you that you both had the most amazing love story!!! I will never forget meeting you both!

  11. Carol A Trier /

    Thank you for continuing to share a bit about your continued learnng from Jen and your family. I, like I am certain many others, continue to think about your family and wish you the best. This is a beautiful story.

  12. You have always been her prince, her knight in shining armor. She could not not have found a better man than you.

  13. Sue Nitz /

    Brad, your thoughts and the pouring out of your heart shows you to be a faithful, humble, loving devoted man and husband. As blessed as you were to have Jen for the time you did, she was blessed to have you. No one truly knows what it is like to be you and to feel all the things you are feeling, but God, Just like Jen helped so many people with her strength and resolve to Do Today Well, you are doing the same by showing us that through pain and suffering there is so much good to be found. God Is manifesting through you and your life with Jen a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    Know that you and Maren and Greta are covered in prayer always.

  14. Patty Wheeler /

    It is such a gift to read this…Love to you and the girls!

  15. Aunt Annie /

    Brad, from reading Jen’s comments about you in her blogs and watching you two interact over the years, I have always had the impression of a truly loving and devoted couple to each other and God. For 16 years of marriage, God graced you with a breadth and depth of love that many couples don’t experience together in 50 years! Nobody is perfect, we all need grace, but you and Jen set the standard high. What an awesome gift she gave you and the girls of her personal journals! 🥰

  16. Conni Carlson /

    Continued prayers for peace in 2020.

  17. 💕

  18. Katie Droessler /

    I am so selfishly thankful that you continue this blog. It helps the rest of us process and grieve. I pray it is doing the same for you. You are all prayed for by our family continually. Thank you for sharing your life with those huddled around you.

  19. Another Jen /

    Sending love.

  20. Heather Rose /

    Thank you Brad. Your and Jen’s story is one of the great love stories.

  21. My goodness this is precious. God is so near to you, keep receiving His grace. And what a beautiful picture!
    ~ Jill

  22. Cindy Mitchell /

    This is so touching.. May God continue to bless you and the girls..Thank you for sharing your’s , the girls and Jen’s life..