On Climbing Cardigan – January

My oldest earthly son turned 22 this weekend.

This was a tough milestone, as that was the age of his brother when he crashed his car and became a citizen of heaven.

When they were little, my children believed all sorts of silly, erroneous things, as children are wont to do. As a child, I myself once believed that when your parents wanted to move, they would have to find a family to switch houses with, and I wondered how anyone was ever able to move anywhere at all.

My kids used to think that they would be able to catch up in age with their older siblings, stealthily gaining ground year by year, until, at last, they became the oldest, usurping all the rights and supposed privileges of the eldest, favored one.

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Now, it almost seems as if this has come true.

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I’m listening to a book called All Things New by John Eldredge. In it, he describes what the Bible actually says about the afterlife, and it is astounding. Hearing his words, I felt like a child again, finding out that my neighbors were not going to have to swap houses with some random people from New Jersey.

He speaks of what Jesus refers to as the palingenesia, or “Genesis again.”

When we die, heaven is just the place we wait until Jesus returns to restore, renew, Genesis-again everything to a state even more glorious than what we might imagine even heaven to be like.

Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago… (Acts 3:21)

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:5)

I’d read those verses, but somehow I had missed it.

Everything.

Everything.

New.

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The thought of living in this new earth, free of stain and sorrow, makes the waiting bearable.

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Perhaps we will all be 22.

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I hadn’t planned to climb Cardigan today.

After uncovering a nefarious plot in my father’s assisted living community to leave the residents woefully un-caffeinated (a headache, ever after drinking two cups of their supposed “coffee”), and after a faculty pond hockey game was cancelled due to decidedly un-wintery weather, it seemed there was still day enough to head up the muddy access road to check January off my list.

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Conditions couldn’t have been better.

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Although icy in spots, it was warm and sunny, with just enough wind at the top to feel vindicated in carrying a hat.

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Bare rock even poked through in places.

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Eldredge posits that in this all-things-new earth, we will be able to return to all of our favorite places. They will be the same places, but better, newer somehow.

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It’s hard to imagine a place more beautiful than Cardigan was today.

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The son who was first to arrive, to wait for the palingenesia, used to be afraid of eternity. He couldn’t wrap his little-boy mind around its enormity, and he sometimes cried that he wished it wasn’t true.

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O my son.

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We cannot wait to catch up with you.

 

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On Forgetting the Former Things

Today at church I saw a friend who knew my son.

He told me of a dream he had recently, where the two of them were hanging out, just sitting together on a couch, enjoying each other’s company.

I was happy and jealous at the same time, because since that awful Mayday, my boy has only appeared in my dreams one time.

He was carrying a laundry basket, of course, and smiling the biggest smile. His beautiful face beaming at me just about broke my heart, and I woke up wanting moremoremore.

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The end of the year is typically a time when we are to look back, to survey the landscape of the past, to catalogue the points and angles and dips and spans, consider the joys shared and the lessons learned, to pause and ponder and plan.

There were many firsts for me in 2017, many of them hard. My son’s first never-again-birthday, a hockey game in his honor, the dedication of his school bench.

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Lest I linger too long there, however, there were many good-firsts, too: The Princess’s first 50-mile race, the first college hockey game for my once-injured son, a bowl game win for the youngest, my dad’s first weeks living back in New England.

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The first year in the job that I love.

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I think there is a place for looking back. The death of my son has taught me that sometimes memories might be all you have left, unless and until the glorious reunion we are promised as children of the King. Without that promise, I think I might have gone mad.

I like to listen to podcasts when I drive which is, well, much of the time, and something Tim Keller said in a sermon recently seems end-of-the-year appropriate.

He describes a recurring dream, a nightmare really, wherein his wife is dead. It is the worst possible thing he can imagine, so the dream disturbs him greatly, as you might obviously expect.

The thing is, though, that when he wakes up, when he wakes up, and he looks over and his wife is still there, breathing-stirring-alive, it is a small picture of the joy that awaits us someday in heaven.

In heaven, someday, the awful-everythings become untrue.

Keller goes on to quote J.R.R. Tolkien in The Return of the King:

But Sam lay back, and started with open mouth, and for a moment, between bewilderment and great joy, he could not answer.

At last he gasped: “Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?” 

“A great shadow has departed,” said Gandalf, and then he laughed and the sound was like music, or water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count. It fell upon his ears like the echo of all the joys he had ever known.

As I sit alone in my tiny house in the waning hours of 2017, it might be tempting to pre-determine 2018 as moreofthesame: more sorrow, more loneliness, more loss.

In a way, though, I have already survived my worst nightmares, but still the joy remains.

The transom measures hills as well as valleys; God’s plumb line reminds me that this is not my forever home.

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And even here, there are always new things ahead.

“Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland…” (Isaiah 43:18,19)

On Climbing Cardigan – December

The forecast looked grim late in December  – temps in single digits, negative wind chills  – when I finally had a minute to breathe and think about this month’s climb.

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The students were gone, the campus quiet.

It was the day after Christmas, and the fam was readying to scatter to their various environs after a sweet couple of days together doing what we like to do best – play some hockey, work out, eat, and make messes, I mean, memories.

So after a furious sprint of packing, cleaning, and minor Jeep maintenance, the son-in-law, his brother E, and I headed out to Cardigan to try not to die.

I knew the road to the trailhead lot would be closed for the winter, which meant an extra mile in and out each way, but we had a shovel with us and were able to carve out a parking space at the gate with a few hardy others taking advantage of the sunshine and free beauty.

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Although it had only stopped precipitating the day before, a kind soul had risen early and packed down a fabulous path all the way up to the icy slabs at the summit. With boots and Microspikes, it was just a matter of putting one cold foot in the front of the other, up and up and up into the frozen marvel of this agreeable mountain.

Hiking with long-legged twenty-somethings when one is, ahem, older than that took some perseverance; they let me lead, and I felt at times driven along by their strength and enthusiasm. The son-in-law was even carrying a sled, with which he hoped to descend at a quicker pace than I could manage, yet still the two of them had to stop and wait for me to pretend to take pictures so I could catch my icy breath.

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I thought about how the snow covered the ragged places on the trail, how it smoothed the rocks and roots and ruts under a desert of white that made it both easier and more difficult to traverse. Boots could skim over silent brooks or break though hidden crusts in equal proportion. Because you just didn’t know what was underneath, what was coming, how to exactly prepare.

I thought about how hope is like that, sometimes heavier to carry than even grief.

The weight of it.

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Wondering when it will break, open, release.

The apostle Paul knew about hope, the unfulfilled wantingwaiting ache of it.

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He told us we could glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)

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Hope does not disappoint.

Though I know this to be true, have proven its verity many times over, it still arrests me, gives me pause.

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We hope because we know there is something up ahead, something better, something worth waiting for, persevering for, suffering for.

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Something that will make the desert places, the sharp scales where our feet slip and buckle and crack, worth the neverknowingwhen but knowing just the same. 

We hope because we know this is not the end of the story.

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Heartache and injustices and hardship can quash our spirit or soften our hearts, but the choice is up to us.

God-love feeds us on a continual diet of hope.

I want to savor its sweetness, believe in its assurance, wait on its promise.

We are all hoping for something.

Elsewhere Paul writes hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:24a, 25)

When we reach the frozen granite at treeline, I beg the young ones to forge ahead, and they storm the summit first, wait there for me.

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It’s too windy and cold to linger.

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I’m tired and ready to be done, but the walking seems easier on the way down.

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A hot shower awaits at home, and there are new adventures to plan, new hope chasing on the heels of hard.

I’m glad I had the chance to climb Cardigan in December. 

I think of that passage in Isaiah, and laugh thinking of those crazy, sturdy boys. 

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:28-31)

Soar. Run. Hope.

 

 

 

On Climbing Cardigan: November

Driving through Vermont with family the other night, we played a game in the car called “Rate the Lights.”

It was simple game, invented by The Princess and her hubs, wherein you ascribe a 1-10 value to the Christmas displays that have nudged Thanksgiving aside these past few days.

My nephew loves flash, so houses bedecked with what other – lets-just-say more discerning – voters might consider gaudy he would rate a “10,” while my brother would give high marks for creativity  – an old plow wrapped in white strands, a peace sign made from colored bulbs hung on a barn (he lives, after all, in Vermont).

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For me, it was all about simplicity.

In each of the front yards of my family’s past three homes grew a single spruce, and the sum total of my outdoor decorating consisted of hanging this lone tree with a few strands of large bulbs that once belonged to my mother.

I used to love plugging them in late in the afternoon, the light waning, before heading out for errands. Nothing pleased me more than rounding the corner on the way home in in the now-dark and seeing that honest beacon welcoming me back.

Whether I was carrying car-seated infants, groceries, or hockey bags, I knew as I walked by those lovely lights I would be opening the front door to family.

I’m back at school after a long-ish Thanksgiving break; my family, too, have dispersed to their various commitments, so it was good day to climb Cardigan again.

Driving up the access road, I watched the temperature gauge on my dash drop until it settled to a brisk 27 degrees at the trailhead lot.

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The trail itself was coated in white, and many were abandoning the endeavor half-way up, as recent run-off had frozen solid, making the way more like a luge than a path.

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I was happy I brought along my grippy microspikes.

Slipping them on over my trail runners, I was able to navigate the tricky places until I found myself alone on top being blasted back and forth by powerful gusts that had scoured the summit clean.

The wonder.

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Off to the south, sunlight fell like rain through the clouds.

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Icy puddles spooned in granite depressions.

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Myriad blues shape-shifted behind the clouds, a palette crafted by a perfect Painter.

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Much ado is often made about joy during the Christmas season, and rightly so.

Immanuel means Godwithus. Love put on flesh, broke bread with us, washed our feet, and revealed the Father. Died so we might live.

For some, however, this long stretch between Thanksgiving and New Year’s can carry with it the baggage of loss. Even in the most functional of families, children grow up. Marry. Move away.

The family that now lives in my last house cut down my spruce tree; naught but a specter remains of what-was.

I think that sometimes in this season it might be easy to get carried away with the flash – to equate sparkle and glam with meaning and magnitude.

Events in past years have had the effect of recalibrating my capacity for joy. It is no longer dependent on circumstance or proportionate to expectation.

Clinging to the Cardigan fire tower today, gazing out at a beauty so profound and pure, I was thankful for the way that God has fathered me through.

His is a simple equation.

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:12)

Wonder = joy.

On Climbing Cardigan: October

They say if it’s not posted on social media, it didn’t happen, but it was pretty cold-ish the first day of October when The Princess, my brother, and I climbed Cardigan, and all of our collective phones froze on the way up. Froze-froze, as in got-so-Mars-cold they stopped working.

So pictures are few from the climb, much to my brother’s chagrin, as he wanted a summit photo to share with his fam. Perhaps it’s just as well – The Princess says I look at my phone(s) too much anyway, so we were all forced to enjoy each other’s company and be in the moment for most of the hike.

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The morning broke glorious.

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We did not let the mist hugging the campus deter, and were in the Jeep and at the trailhead by 8.

The day before, we had all attended the dedication of a granite bench at the school of my son-that’s-gone. His friends that commissioned it were there, along with many of his former teachers, coaches, and some families that knew him well.

It’s hard to imagine a less likely material than granite to represent the man that my son had started to become. Granite is rigid, unyielding, hard and cold.

My child was none of these things.

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And yet – it was perfect.

I recently listened to a broadcast about Michelangelo’s David. I never knew that two other sculptors had rejected the enormous block of white marble from which the statue was hewn, citing its “imperfections,” before it was offered to Michelangelo. In fact, the marble had languished in a courtyard nearly as long as the young artist had been alive.

Until.

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It is said that Michelangelo was so focused on his creative task that he slept in his boots and carved in the rain.

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The life that he coaxed out of that uncompromising stone is a marvel.

Imperfections indeed!

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I’d like to think that in some small way, my son’s bench, situated in a well-traveled corner of campus, a spot he used to love, will be a coaxer of lifeas well. Friends will gather, sit, linger, laugh.

Some may remember.

Life is short.

Though imperfections lie deep within our core, if we let the Master’s hand pluck and polish, we, too, can reflect His creative grace.

Climbing Cardigan that morning, the three of us were quiet, thinking of the day before.

While I am wont to blame the bench dedication for my brother’s get-up, the truth is he had not planned on staying with me overnight and was forced to improvise his hiking attire from what was in my apartment. The Princess found him some pants and off we went.

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I’m grateful we didn’t have any Lederhosen lying around.

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When I looked closer, trying not to laugh, I saw that the shorts bore the number of my son. His life sticks to everything, everywhere, until it is difficult to grieve him too hard, for where I am, there he always is.

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His imperfections may have killed him.

But in many ways, they may have saved me, saved his diminished family. We are starting to come out the other side of this weight of grief, a nano at a time, and the Master is there, ever there, holding us up and spurring us on.

He is dependable, His love so unyielding, that He will not allow the imperfections in us to ultimately destroy.

But we have to yield.

Every day we carve with Him this bulk of life, never knowing when we will reach the edge of the stone. Perhaps someday, a David may appear, surprising and rugged, a beautiful wonder.

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If pieces of flawed granite and marble can be transfigured into objects of beauty by chisel and blade in the hands of a mortal, imagine what life the Master can draw out of us.

He is the Michelangelo of the universe.

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“For we are God’s masterpiece, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).

 

 

 

 

On Climbing Cardigan: September

I’ve been thinking a lot about loneliness lately.

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Maybe loneliness isn’t the exact word; it’s more like alone-ness, solitary-ness, the life I now live largely by myself.

This is not to say there are not others, for there are many of those. There are the friend-others (new and old), the adult children-others, the church family-others, the others in my classes and neighborhood and online.

But the fact is, none of these people actually abide with me full time, and even though I live where I work and work where I live, the place where I shut the door and rest my head is population one.

Perhaps I have been wrestling with this for some time now because it never used to be this way. There was always the husband, the kids, the couple-friends and their kids, the sports families and extended family; there were cook-outs and gatherings and meals and hockey road trips, and when these dear ones began to fall away, some for good and some just losing their constancy, I found myself in my own head far more than was comfortable.

At first, I suppose, it was the death of expectation that caught me wildly off guard. No one plans to live this way; even God declares that it is not good for us to be alone.

Gradually, though, with the subtlety of a tide, I am becoming okay with just me, because I’ve found in the steady silence of my only-me space a quiet and insistent voice that promises that no matter what, no matter where, no matter how, He will, They will, always, always, always be with me.

I am never truly alone.

Father, Son, Spirit: the trinity is a model of the communion we are to enjoy with one another, whether we live in a noisy, crowded house or by ourself.

This was true as I climbed Mt. Cardigan this September.

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New students and faculty, student leaders and various other mountain devotees all awoke at 4 AM, boarded buses clutching cups of coffee and nervous calculations, and drove to the trailhead parking lot to watch the sun rise.

It’s a wonderful school tradition, and the adults and boys soon spread out along the 1.5 mile trail-to-the-top, forming small clusters around the wise ones who came prepared with flashlight or headlamp. Towards the summit, I somehow found myself in the lead, a pack of athletic boys baying at my heals, until we reached a place where it was safe to let them sprint the final stretch.

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The experience could not have have more different than my solo August assault. It takes a long time to get scores of boys in various shapes and shape up a mountain, and a small community began to form on the ridge as we waited for everyone to arrive. It was lively and communal as boys from different countries draped themselves in their native flags and waited for the show.

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Boys who may have felt untethered and unsure at the bottom found their places in shifting circles until at last we all sat down to watch as a new day and a new school year were birthed in the red-balled dawn.

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It’s nearly impossible to feel lonely when surrounded by such unabashed joy.

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I think what it comes down to is that we have a choice. I have a choice.

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I can shut my door and lock others out, or open my heart and invite them in.

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There are so many-many to love.

The promise is for us all.

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20).

On Climbing Cardigan: August

A dear friend gifted me a couple kayaks recently.

One was a large yellow ocean behemoth that requires two brawny handler-paddlers, so I left that one leaning against the shed and lifted up the sporty little red model.

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Placing it on its two-wheeled axel-pulley-thingy, I felt bold and adventurous as I tugged it down my street to the lake.

The launch was sandy but uneventful, and soon I found myself in the middle of the water looking around at a totally different landscape.

The lake that I had been driving around, walking around, running, biking, praying around for the past year did not appear, from my kayak perch, to be even the same lake.

Houses that, from the road, seemed small and perhaps a bit dingy, looked inviting and friendly with their shorelines crowded with raft floats and deck chairs and fire pits.

The road hugging the lake seemed straight where I remembered it twisty and twisty where I imagined it straight. This optical illusion, I discovered, was caused mainly by the many rivulets and inlets that studded the lake that one could not see from the road-looking-out.

The more I nosed the elegant little vessel around, the more surprising the view became until I finally coasted into a sea of lily pads to think.

It was all about perspective.

I realized that sometimes we can look and look and look upon a thing, sometimes for years, and never really see it for what it is, or even in its entirety.

Perhaps this is a gift of another sort, a kindness God bestows, because if we were ever to see our lives – the blessings and trials, summits and sufferings – unveiled all at once, I don’t imagine any of us would be able to bear up under the force of it all.

The small peeks and partial gazes we get of harvest and famine help us to maintain our focus on the One who can sustain us, through all that messy plenty and drought.

Speaking of summits, I’ve had an experiment in my head the past few months that I thought might be able to teach me more about this idea of perspective.

I’ve decided to climb a nearby mountain, Mt. Cardigan, once a month for the next twelve months and try to see how and where and why my perspective might change each time I go.

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At 3,155 feet, Mt. Cardigan is not particularly grand on the scale of, say, a Mt. Washington or even one of the lesser Presidentials, but it holds a place in my heart that is perhaps dearer than any other New Hampshire peak.

Cardigan is the namesake of the place I live and work, eat and dream, laugh with friends and daily attempt to instill stillness into always-active, mostly-mischievous middle school boys.

Cardigan is the namesake of the school that shaped my own three boys into someone’s quite nearly resembling men.

It is one of the few mountains my son, the one in heaven, agreed to climb on multiple occasions with his classmates and friends, a school tradition of new students watching the sun rise and soon-to-be-graduates, its set.

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This was the same boy who, at the age of eight, standing with his mother and sibs on the flank of Mt. Monadnock with only a rock-scramble standing between him and the pinnacle, declared, “I’ll just sit here with the lunches until you guys get back, Mom.”

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I laugh now, remembering.

I can see Cardigan’s granite crest from most places on campus, can watch the trees that skirt the ridge color and fall, glimpse the first white crown descend like a halo when the snow spills.

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It’s a peak that requires very little in the way of athleticism or ability to reach the fire tower on its bare summit slabs; I’ve seen toddlers in flip-flops, out-of-shape middle-agers in blue jeans, puppies, and scores of other unlikely hikers all happily pulling themselves up Cardigan’s pitch. Resolve is really all it takes to walk the 1.5 miles from trailhead to top.

Sometimes the climb up a mountain is an embrace, but time was short the summer-waning day I chose to look afresh at the mountain I loved, so August’s inaugural ascent was more of an assault.

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The parking lot was full and woods busily traffic’d as I trotted up the trail, making the summit in a respectable 38 minutes, stopping only to take photos of the one waterfall en route, barely flowing, and the many people crawling around above treeline.

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It was windy at the top.

Cool.

Clean.

I snapped a photo of the bracelet I wear as a reminder that my son was loved, that I can carry him with me until we see each other again.

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On the car ride up to the trailhead, I had been sad and burdened by many things, but as I looked below to where Cardigan School sat spooning in the valley, I could only see myself as highly blessed: I am employed, I live in a wildly beautiful place, and my feet still take me where I want to go.

The apostle Paul once wrote a letter to the church at Corinth cataloguing the many brutalities he had suffered for the simple crime of telling people about Jesus. His perspective is one which leaves little room for capitulation:

For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

I suppose if Paul can call being stoned, ship-wrecked, and beaten with rods small, then we can continue to find the strength to fight through our own present troubles.

I sometimes wish I had known in advance that my son was going to die, or my marriage. How this knowledge might have changed the way I lived, loved, only God knows.

Sometimes I’m mad that He didn’t intervene.

What I do know, however, is that one day, as we continue to gaze upon things eternal, our perspective of everything we can see now will be a glory so vast it will take our collective breaths away.

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I paused for a moment away from the crowds, then jogged back down the way I had come. The whole enterprise took an hour and eleven minutes.

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I wonder what I’ll see in September?