On Day One

2019: The Year, if it is anything like 2019: Day One, has the potential to blow expectations out of the water.

The night before, celebrating New Year’s Eve with colleagues I am also blessed to call friends, the hosts dropped a cascade of balloons onto a bevy of squealing, twirling children at midnight-is-really-8 o’clock, so I was home in bed by 9:30. Perfect for an introvert like me, easily fatigued by conversation and social situations.

Waking up to snow always makes me happy, like memories of school closings scrolling across the bottom of a TV screen, hours of expectant potential right outside the front door. I was already imagining the sugar-dusted boughs overhead on the hike that was only a short drive away.

IMG_2198

A rainbow!

IMG_2207

No way this day could be sealed with anything more prophetic. Capturing it while driving on the backroads of New Hampshire was a bonus.

It seemed fit to tackle timid 4,003′ Tecumseh as my first hike of the year, my first winter 4,000 footer, and the maiden voyage of the snowshoes I gave myself for Christmas.

Tecumseh, although least-by-height in the clan of the 48 New Hampshire 4,000 footers, is steep enough to call a work-out and a worthy proving ground for figuring out how to walk with clown shoes attached to my legs.

IMG_2209

The Princess and her hubby were gracious as I tripped and apologized up the trickier parts and even agreed to a summit selfie.

IMG_2208

The predicted 50-70 mph winds picked up as we headed down, but most of Tecumseh is protected by a wooded barrier of hearty pines, so aside from a brief moment at the top, none of us minded the cold.

IMG_2210

IMG_2211

I didn’t even mind, back at the car, discovering the shredded hems of my rain pants, evidence of an embryonic spacial awareness between where shins ended and sharp claws of snowshoes began. Oh well – I needed a new pair anyway.

An exit on the ride home took me by the boy’s bench, so I stopped by to say hello.

IMG_2214

Anna had left a wreath, and once again my heart swelled with thanks for the friends my son made while he was still here with us.

10888706_827465007295002_577021145205425449_n

Do you know how much they loved you, silly boy? 

Not much snow on the driveway and stairs when we arrived home, tired. Nothing that a quick shovel and a nap couldn’t fix.

Later, under winking lights, I eat dinner cooked not-by-me and watch some football with the fam.

IMG_2215

2019, I have high hopes for you.

Given the carnage of past years, the lightness I feel on Day One seems miraculous.

Perhaps this will be the year that God does exceedingly abundantly more than I can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).

Actually, it seems as if He already has.

 

 

 

Advertisements

On Light

Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. ~Genesis 1:3-4

The darkness of the whole world cannot swallow the glowing of a candle. ~Robert Altinger

IMG_2147

It was Hanukkah this past week – the Festival of Lights –  and I’ve been thinking a lot lately about light.

IMG_2126

The other morning, I went out for a run. It was still pretty early, cold and dark, so I threw on some layers and grabbed some gloves.

A friend of mine gave me this pair of gloves a few years back, and I have to say, they are one of my favorite pieces of athletic gear. They have these powerful LED lights that ride comfortably across your knuckles and, when your hands are swinging out in front of you, perfectly illuminate the road ahead.

Anything that has a duel purpose – in the case of these gloves, warmth and safety – is, in my opinion, a win-win.

This particular morning, I was about a mile out from the Cardigan campus on Back Bay Road, which is completely devoid of streetlights, when there was a noticeable dimming of the pool of light in front of my feet. Too late, I remembered that I hadn’t charged the knuckle lights in a while, and they were rapidly running out.

IMG_2160

I thought about turning around, but, probably like some of you, I’m pretty stubborn once I get going. So, I alternated between the glove lights, keeping only one hand on at a time until they both….. went…. out….

I still had a ways to go to reach campus.

One thing I will say about the forest around Canaan – it’s dark.

Really dark.

My eyes gradually adjusted so that I could just about make out the pavement, but I had to slow way down.

Occasionally, a car would drive by, exploding the whole road around me in a sea of brilliant light. The thing is, though, after the car had passed and I was alone again, it was even harder to see through the blackness.  

My whole being craved that sweet light. At last, the halo-glow of the lamppost at the end of Alumni Drive came into view, and I was home….safe.

I told this story in chapel this past Thursday, as we were celebrating Hanukkah.

IMG_2139

Light often serves as a metaphor for good. In fact, in the Genesis account, light was the very first thing that God made, so I’m thinking it’s pretty important.

We must be careful to steward that light well, however. Too long in the dark – looking at things we ought not to look at, hiding things we ought not to have, treating with incivility, unforgiveness, and blame those we ought to cherish and respect – and our eyes might adjust to this absence of light.

Of course, the opposite is also true. Spend enough time in the light – craving it, hunting it, chasing it with all your might – and the darkness no longer appeals.

IMG_2145

I was speaking to a colleague about the properties of light this past week. Did you know that light is actually a wave? And that light’s wavelengths include a spectrum of 7 different bands, only one of which is the light we can actually see?

Did you know that the speed of light is 300,000 kilometers per second and is the “absolute upper speed of anything in the universe?” But even though it’s so incredibly fast, some galaxies are so far away that their light may take BILLIONS of years to reach us.

How remarkable to think that when we look into a night sky, we are “looking into the past across vast gulfs of time” (Tulane University).        

IMG_2154

Marvelous.      

Mysterious.

I can’t help but think that if one single candle can overpower the darkness, imagine what a whole roomful of them could do.

IMG_2144

It could be as miraculous as the story of Hanukkah itself, when one small vial of oil kept a menorah lit for eight straight days.

Of course, Jesus called Himself the Light of the World.

I wonder if, when he left heaven to enter the portal of the world through the womb of a faithful teenage girl, he did so at the speed of light. It would be just like Him.

IMG_2161

Our marvelous, mysterious Jesus.

May we crave Him, hunt Him, chase Him with all our might this Advent season.

The darkness can’t help but hide when we choose to put on the light-armour of our great, great King.

On Grace

My son sent me a photo this morning.

56310894930__1C636A9D-C222-4E24-9CC4-DB491E2B7B1F

We are both early risers, so it was no surprise when a text came in around 6 AM – we’d both been up for a while, he opening up the gym at his school, me spending some time praying in the sweet little chapel at mine.

The thing is, I had been looking out the huge window behind the altar at the gray darking the morning sky when, slowly, streaks of brilliant pink sliced through the gaps in the clouds, winking dawn into being.

It made me all warm and fuzzy inside, knowing my youngest was admiring the same sky, the same sunrise, the same Creator of the same expanse.

IMG_1959

IMG_1937IMG_1872

Recently, I’ve been reading about Jacob and Esau.

These two brothers came out of the womb fighting and things went rapidly south when Jacob stole his older brother’s birthright then tricked him out of their father’s blessing.

Eventually, Jacob flees from Esau’s wrath, and the two spend years estranged from one another. But when Jacob finally prepares to meet Esau again, their reunion is nothing at all what he expected.

Jacob looked up and there was Esau, coming with his 400 men…

Jacob must have been terrified, watching his brother advance, hoards of burly herders blocking his way.

So Jacob went on ahead and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother.

But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him.

And they wept (Genesis 33:1-3, 4).

I almost wept, reading.

Grace.

It reminded me of the story of the Prodigal Son, whose father must have also been looking out upon a vast expanse of world that had swallowed his boy and bound him, captive to his own wretched desires.

Why would anyone want to leave the Father?

But just like Jacob, the son finally realizes that estrangement is tearing him apart. He longs for reconciliation, longs for the warm fuzzy of his father.

So the young son set off for home.

From a long distance away, his father saw him coming, dressed as a beggar, and great compassion swelled up in his heart for his son who was returning home. So the father raced out to meet him. He swept him up in his arms, hugged him dearly, and kissed him over and over with tender love.

Then the son said, “Father, I was wrong. I have sinned against you. I could never deserve to be called your son. Just let me be—”

The father interrupted and said, “Son, you’re home now!” (Luke 15:20-21)

You’re. Home. Now.

Isn’t that what we all want? The embrace of grace that tells us I love you even though, even if, even now. 

IMG_1917

I’m so grateful for grace.

Because we are all Jacobs, all prodigals, all wayward children longing for the pink dawn-touch of the Father, a home in the vast expanse of His love.

 

.

 

On Glory

I’m always caught by surprise by the sudden arrival of fall.

IMG_1935

The falling temps and rising colors signal the end to the brutal heat and humidity I could easily live without.  But still.

IMG_1937

 

Still, I find myself most days, in this beautiful state, spinning and gazing in wonder at the Creator’s endless resourcefulness in awe-ing his children into open-mouthed astonishment.

IMG_1908.JPG

 

Change: I think that might be it.

IMG_1930

We are restless creatures, and crave change even when things seem to have smoothed and the wounds of the past recede like fading summer.

IMG_1918

So, outside!

IMG_1934

I can’t get enough.

IMG_1914

Drunk and reeling on the firmament, I try to gather it all in before it’s too late, before the next change, before it’s gone for good.

IMG_1922

Why is it so hard to just be in the season we’re in?

IMG_1924

There is glory enough, I think, if we are willing to accept its temporal nature.

IMG_1907

Because we are temporal creatures, here on earth.

IMG_1890

One day we will drink of His glory, and it will never end.

IMG_1879

I almost can’t wait.

 

 

 

 

 

On Letting Go

Next week, nearly two years and three months from the day he drove his car into a tree, I will shut off my son’s phone.

IMG_2095

The phone has rested on my bureau, bookshelf, table, or nightstand, in my private home or workplace apartment, all throughout this long season of grief and recovery.

IMG_2099

Though lifeless and inanimate, it has helped me come to terms with the man my son was becoming and has allowed me to connect with him despite his conspicuous absence.

IMG_2102

IMG_2103

IMG_1256

Finding the phone itself was not an easy thing, those shortlong years ago.

I wanted to know, we, his family, needed to know – what happened? 

Where were you going, my sweet son, and what were you doing? Were you texting or shuffling your music, navigating or calling your friends?

Why?

We received neither phone nor answers when his broken body arrived at the funeral home, not even the clothes he was wearing nor the cross from his neck.

A search was mounted: first, to the fateful tree, and next, to the garage where the wreck had been towed.

IMG_1651

His father and I clung to each other in the hot sun of the parking lot, weeping, as we beheld the crumpled heap, our own brokenness forgotten for a time in our shared sorrow.

No, it wasn’t easy to dig inside the car’s sad interior, littered with glass and dirt and rain, through the bark and bottles and blood, to find the device dangling under the dash at the end of its charging cord.

IMG_1258

Of course, there was a password that had to be cracked. Part of a zip code, our zip code, where we once lived as a family of six.

So. Much. Loss.

We discover that he had not been texting, nor shuffling, nor looking at Waze. A small comfort, I suppose, because it was not the phone that killed him, but ignorance and alcohol and speed and pride.

One of the troopers in charge of my son’s case leads me to the accident report, which to this day I have still not been able to read in full. But there were witnesses who saw: a casual arm out the window, a brush with a traffic cone, a swerving, no seat belt.

IMG_1031

Why?

Too much to drink the night before, distraction, hurrying – home? We will never know in full.

My last texts to him, a day or two before his accident, are chilling. We talk of retrieving his car, newly repaired and inspected, and his hair, freshly cut. Why did I choose that emoji, a head swathed in cloth, when I would not see his face, too damaged by the crash, ever again?

Why did he choose those words?

IMG_1739

I don’t know what to make of this.

What I do know is that God speaks to me through His word, and in the weeks leading up to the crash, everywhere I turned, everywhere, were the promises of Psalm 23.

The Lord is my best friend and my shepherd.

His tracks take me to an oasis of peace.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.

IMG_1332

He was preparing me, I know that now, just as He prepares me now for this next step of letting go.

Another Psalm comforts me today. It speaks of the path before me and the path that was my son’s.

You know every step I will take before my journey even begins. You’ve gone into my future to prepare the way, and in kindness you follow behind me to spare me from the harm of the past. 

You saw who you created me to be before I became me! Before I’d ever seen the light of day, the number of days you planned for me were already recorded in your book. (Psalm 139: 4-5, 16)

Even as I consider that this fall my son would have launched himself officially into adulthood – his college class having graduated this past May – and perhaps we even might have worked here together, at our beloved shared school, side by side, even as I consider this, I know I must continue to let go.

God knew how long Gordie would live, even before he was born, and He knows the length of my days.

What is your only comfort in life and death? the Heidelberg Catechism asks.

From the heights of heaven comes the response, as well now knows my boy.

Screen Shot 2018-08-24 at 11.20.00 AM

I am not my own, but belong, with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

So I will scroll and listen for the last time, text myself from his device to hear his unique tone on mine one last time, and turn the corner, and wait, and watch: try to fit a life’s worth into the days left on the path ahead.

IMG_1315

Until, of course, we meet again.

On Climbing Cardigan – July, Chapter the Last

This past Tuesday, I found myself sleeping on a picnic table in the parking area of Cardigan Mountain State Park. How this happened is a bit of a tale.

IMG_2389

It started a year ago, when I thought it might be a curious experiment to climb a favorite little peak nestled neatly in New Hampshire’s Upper Valley every month for an entire year (On Climbing Cardigan: August). What might be gleaned from 12 visits to the same peak?

IMG_1681

What might one learn?

IMG_1676

I wanted to make the last in this series unique, epic even – or as epic as 3,155 feet can be. I wanted to take the long way up, sleep on top, travel miles around and over, walk a series of backroads to return to my car.

IMG_1683

A full day’s “work” splashing around our school’s own sweet lake with boys and canoes in our wilderness program precluded an early departure, so I arrived at what was described to me as the way to the trailhead sometime after 7 PM.

IMG_1684

This back side of Cardigan can be reached by an asphalt-flaking, gloomy thoroughfare called New Colony Road, which turns into a deep mudfest about a mile and half in. I thought it wise to park while the parking was good.

There had been talk about a gate and an overgrown thicket disguised as the trailhead, so I ran up the dirt road, sinking in the mire, but nothing up there looked like a way to climb my mountain. Puzzled, I returned to my car to find, in absurdly perfect timing, another summer school teacher also looking for the same elusive trailhead.

We decided on a united search.

Almost two miles passed before a cairn was discovered in the weeds with what might generously be deemed an opening to a path beyond. A few yards in, an understated sign nailed to a tree announced that we were in business.

IMG_1686

Most of said “trail” – called Mowgli’s Trail – was swamped due to recent rains, so I surrendered my dry feet to the journey and just squashed on through.

IMG_1666

It was delightful.

IMG_1662

Why had I never taken this way before?!

IMG_1659

IMG_1667

IMG_1664

My new friend and I chatted about NESCAC schools, long distance trails, and a supposed Civil War deserter’s cave hidden somewhere nearby as the scenery became more and more glorious.

IMG_1665

It was getting dark when we reached a small, dirty shelter slouching in the woods (not staying here, I thought); he needed to get back to his car, so we parted ways and I continued on up Firescrew Mountain, Cardigan’s baby brother.

IMG_1661

Mists whipped across a sky above granite bare and steep.

IMG_1670

I followed the blazes up and over Firescrew to the familiar flank of Cardigan.

IMG_1674

Somehow, God never exhausts the ways He is able to display his grandeur. It was as if He had saved the proverbial best for last; moonrise, ripple, vapor, expanse.

IMG_1680

Psalm 8 welled up from the depth of my very bones:

Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory
    in the heavens.
When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them? 

IMG_1675

I felt so small.

IMG_1672

Was that it?

IMG_1669

All those trips, step upon step upon step upon step?

Glory.

Wonder.

The absolute vastness of an uncontainable God.

And yet, in all that bigness, that unfathomable huge, He still cares for us.

For me.

Intimately.

Carefully.

Perfectly.

Creatively.

Jesus told it this way: …the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10).

And aren’t we all lost?

Broken, hurting, misdirected, wandering, searching, desperate lost?

IMG_1682

And that’s where He meets us.

In all of our mess, in all of our failings and stumblings and stubbornness and pain.

He fills us up with what He is full of: compassion and goodness, mercy and power.

O, Lord, what am I that You are mindful of me?

IMG_1679

Thank You.

IMG_1668

So the story ends, for now.

It was too wet and windy to sleep comfortably on top of Cardigan, under the firetower, as I had hoped.

Another detour.

Instead, by headlamp, I wove my way down to the parking area, slipped on a rock and impaled myself on a trekking pole, possibly breaking a rib.

IMG_2391

Oh well.

The picnic table was as good a surface as any, so, sore but dry, I passed the night contemplating the next.

IMG_1698-1

In an irony totally reserved for God, I found myself the next day hiking the same exact route with our wilderness kids.

IMG_1691

Dangerous weather on the high ridgeline we had planned to hike caused us to change plans at last minute, but isn’t that also how He sometimes likes to surprise us?

IMG_1695

It was okay, though.

IMG_1697

He had already shown me the way.

IMG_1703

On Leaving No Trace

I just got back from a four day foray in the woods.

I was with a group of brilliant educators all participating in an inaugural program aimed at expanding place-based education, sustainability, and experiential learning in our classrooms and schools.

IMG_1539

It was almost a crime to call this professional development.

IMG_1537

There was something magical about this slurry of teachers, solitude, and vision; blend in some sweat, peak-y views, and a few bald eagles, and you have the perfect recipe to energize a tired soul to keep fighting the good fight.

IMG_1544

The tide that often seems so strong against us as teachers – societal ills, indifference, lack of resource – might just be able to be turned were more of us able to just get together and dream.

IMG_1538

One of the principles we discussed at length was the idea of leaving no trace.

Leave No Trace is the wilderness ethic of minimizing the impact of one’s passage through an environment; this includes guidelines such as planning and preparing, properly disposing of waste, and leaving what one might find in the wild – leaf, antler, stone – in the wild.

IMG_1542

As a leader in my schools’s own wilderness program, this is often a challenge with young people.

IMG_1582

Kids are naturally curious and want to touch, pick, throw, and eat whatever surrounds them, so it is a constant battle trying to help them to understand how what they do today will cause a profound echo into what future generations will experience in the tomorrow.

IMG_1516

Is tossing this apple core into the forest okay? What about building a small cairn? Tasting wild blueberry?

IMG_1586

Their sound footprint alone could drive a ranger bonkers.

IMG_1562

I have been thinking of the story of Mary of Bethany a lot lately; she has popped up numerous times over the past few weeks, and I am curious as to why.

God does that sometimes, I think. Percolates an idea, an image, a word over and over until the grounds settle, leaving behind a rich, aromatic brew. Like coffee, this distillate can provide focus if we attend to its message.

Mary’s story goes like this: Six days before the Passover began, Jesus went back to Bethany, the town where he raised Lazarus from the dead. They had prepared a supper for Jesus. Martha served, and Lazarus and Mary were among those at the table. Mary picked up an alabaster jar filled with nearly a liter of extremely rare and costly perfume—the purest extract of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet. Then she wiped them dry with her long hair. And the fragrance of the costly oil filled the house (John 12:1-3).

This act of Mary’s would have been seen as scandalous in Jesus’s day – uncovered hair! a room full of men! perfume costing a year’s wages! – but Jesus wouldn’t allow anyone to criticize her, even saying her act would be remembered throughout time.

As I thought more about leaving no trace and about Mary, however, I began to wonder how they connect to the kind of mark we leave behind.

IMG_1543

Did the Roman soldiers (as the footnote in my Bible suggests), determinedly driving iron barbs into Jesus’s feet, perhaps detect a faint whiff of that aromatic extravagance and ponder what it possibly could mean?

Surely some of the spikenard Mary poured on Jesus spilled out onto the floor of the house where they were gathered. Would others walk by, daysmonthsyears later, and sense the sweet impression of Mary’s outrageous love?

Did the scent linger long in her hair?

IMG_1404

Because the thing is, Jesus was right. Here we are, some 2,000 years later, still remembering Mary’s sacrificial act of devotion.

IMG_1594

She left an indelible trace.

IMG_1550

Like Mary, we have the profound charge of either being to those around us the fragrance of life or the stench of death (2 Corinthians 2:16).

IMG_1559

Although in the wilderness we should tread as if we had never been, in life, we can – we must! – choose the kind of scent-trail we leave behind.

IMG_1567

Mercy, not judgement.

Hope, not despair.

Faith, not fear.

IMG_1464

May the costly oil of our lives be poured out and fill to the full the lives of those around us – a true trace that reverberates across time.

IMG_1382