The Empty Frame

My friend and I went to visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum last month.

On one of the walls of its myriad rooms hung an empty frame.

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The painting it once held was a beauty.

The only seascape ever painted by Rembrandt, this painting depicts Jesus about to still a violent storm on the sea of Galilee.


The story goes like this.

…when evening came, (Jesus) said to his disciples, “Let us cross over to the other side of the lake.”

Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 

Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Haven’t you learned to trust yet?”

They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:35-40)

If you look closely, you can see that Rembrandt has painted himself into the boat; he is the one in middle, holding onto the line looking out into the storm.


Sadly, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee was stolen from the museum in 1990.

It is out there, somewhere, even though we cannot see it now.


Today would have been my oldest son’s 24th birthday.

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24 on the 24th; there must be some significance to that.


He was a beauty, as well.


He made us laugh, drove us crazy, always showed up.


He’s the empty frame that hangs on the wall of my heart.


I’ve always wondered how Jesus could sleep while all hell was breaking loose around Him. He was the one, after all, that thought it was good idea to sail across a squall-prone lake in the dead of night.

Before I unjustly accuse the disciples of unreasonable panic, however, I must remember the many squalls I have had to sail.


The times I thought Jesus was asleep, indifferent and aloof.

The times I thought my own boat was going down.

The times I dared to ask, Teacher, don’t you care? 

What a ridiculous question!

While there may be times, in fact many times, when we might feel Jesus is sleeping on the job, the fact is, He scolded the Jewish leaders who were hassling Him for healing on the Sabbath by telling them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” (Mark 5:17)

Jesus knew the right questions to ask.

Why are you so afraid?

Haven’t you learned to trust yet?

This second year since my son’s accident has been harder than the first.

I’m not sure why.

His brother told me the other day that another year simply means we are getting closer to seeing him again.


I know that, but sometimes, like the frightened disciples, I forget.

I know that my son is out there, like Rembrandt’s painting, somewhere, safe, even though we cannot see him now.

Quiet! Be still!

The One whom the wind and waves obey knows what He is doing.


I miss you, Baby.





On Climbing Cardigan – April

I’m glad I own a Jeep.


Winter has hung around a tad bit longer than seems fair up here in the Promised Land, so in a if-you-can’t-beat-’em-join-’em epiphany – with more snow falling and all the students off on a surprise adventure – I grabbed a friend and the Jeep and headed over to Cardigan.

The way up was more rut than road; we slid and shimmied our way to the gate, but such is the state of driving on dirt in northern New Hampshire this time of year.

A chance encounter in the mail room with my friend M was serendipitous. I haven’t had a hiking partner since December, so it was lovely to share all that snow and ice with a kindred spirit.



The low cloud ceiling seemed to magnify rather than diminish range of view; M and I gazed across the endless expanse trying to identify distant peaks and ski slopes by their shapely silhouettes and cardinal points.


Ice caked the fire tower and guy-lines, a frozen remembrance of the holocaust of rain that blew through a few days before.



It would be so easy to grouse about this winter that won’t let go.


It’s snowing. Again. 


That wind.


The cold.


Instead, M and I discuss children, our own and own-by-proxy, marvel at ice tangles, take a summit selfie just to annoy The Princess, and generally solve all the world’s problems.


It was so much better than grousing.


When we let joy be our continual feast, make our life a prayer, give thanks in the midst of everything (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) – we are able to see treasure in the what-is rather than fuss over the what-isn’t.


I’m not saying I have this figured out yet.


But today was close.



For Humboldt

I can’t get Humboldt off my mind.


Dayna Brons, the team’s athletic trainer, became the 16th yesterday to lose her life in this horrific crash.

Her sweet face smiles out from the news screen, forever 25.

I read about Adam Herold, traded to the Broncos only weeks ago, one of the dead, a casualty of inconceivably bad timing. Today would have been his 17th birthday.

Here in New England, we station sticks on front porches, wear our jerseys, donate what we can.


Dig for meaning in all of the hurt.


There are no other people’s children writes Ann Voskamp in The Broken Way.

These young men, these boys, are our boys, their families our families, their loss our loss.


When I woke up yesterday, after yet another night of snow, it was to a campus shrouded in fog.

Rather than grumble about the-April-that-never-was, I went for a run and discovered something extraordinary.

Somehow, where foggy particulate and cold branch converged now grew delicate fibrous ice sculptures, surprising in their juxtaposition.



I rushed to capture them on my phone as the sun rose higher, gently erasing each shadowy image with its warm-ray kiss.


The significance of beauty growing out of such apparent barrenness reminded me of my own grief.

The days of shock following my son’s car crash seemed destined to bury me in their forever dead-ness; I never thought I would ever again be able to get out of bed, cook a meal, laugh.


I grieve with the mothers of Humboldt, my children with the siblings who lost their brothers at that fateful intersection.

For years, my sons and daughter sat on hundreds of busses, traveled to thousands of games, trusted their lives to men and women behind many a fickle wheel.

Two of them still do.


What does it mean to trust?

IMG_2217I started reading a book about heaven before the Humboldt crash, a voluminous tome of surprising reveals.

I realized that I knew very little about our ultimate home, and much of what I thought I knew did not fit with what Jesus, his disciples, or the prophets have said about it.


That heaven will be a place of unimaginable joy I was pretty sure I already knew, but not that it will also be a place of explosive creativity, learning, even meaningful, happy work that will bring us great fulfillment.

But the chapter I was really curious about was the one about sports.

Will there be sports in heaven?


If heaven is a joyful place (and it is), and if sports bring us joy here on earth (indeed, they do), and if God designed our bodies to reflect His glory (that He did), does it not stand to reason that in the place of eternal goodness and camaraderie and delight, there will be endless opportunities to express our athletic imaginations to bring God glory?

Happily, it seems so.

I picture my son, waiting in the runway for the boys of Humboldt, tapping shoulders and cheering and showing them around.

Welcome, boys.


Let’s go.


How’s about a little game of shinny?


And moms?


You birth-moms and billet-moms?

I know you’re looking out at this heavy new landscape and the fog is thick right now – so thick that it freezes the trust right out of your very soul.

But I promise you.

Someday, one day, you will get out of bed.

Cook a meal.

Even laugh.

You probably feel, as I did, that this is nothing you can ever imagine even wanting; our boys are precious, and we cannot fathom any normal without them.

But slowly, ever slowly, the sun will melt the shadows away and you will look and there will be beauty, tenuously balanced between this world and the next.


There are no other people’s children.

Your loss is our loss.


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