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)