On Climbing Cardigan – June

I love yardwork.

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Perhaps it is because I spend nine months at a boarding school where others plant, prune, rake, and thin that I can appreciate the short summer I spend cultivating my own small yard.

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There is something holy about bringing order to tangled spaces, to impose defined upon chaos.

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There is joy in growing grass, especially after such a stubborn winter, but there is also a joy in cutting it back, forcing it to align with our own vision, confining it the the places we ordain.

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In one of my favorite poems, “Pied Beauty,” Gerard Manley Hopkins writes:

Glory be to God for dappled things – 
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow; 
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim; 
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings; 
   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough; 
      And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim… 
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There is something to be said of a topography that is plotted and trim; life is infinitely more messy than that.

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On the way up the Cardigan access road this month, I saw a momma moose galumping into the woods, two frisky toddlers in tow. The little mooselings did as they pleased, butting and rearing behind her, and the look she gave them over heavy shoulder was one I remembered well.

My mother used to have a magnet on her fridge, before she became too frail to access even the lightest foodstuff from its cold interior and had to be fed by others. It decreed, Raising children is like being pecked to death by a chicken.

I’m sure momma moose would agree.

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I know I sometimes do.

I have one boy, a walking crime scene, who leaves a trail of puddle and mess throughout the house, another who needs his meat cut because his one arm is in a sling, and a grown-up girl who has at last discovered that hiking in a desert is hot and could-you-please-send-me-an-umbrella-mom.

We cannot (alas) control our children any more than we can control the constant upping of the grass or the clouding of the sky.

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So how do we do life when it feels like all of our hard efforts are being constantly pecked apart, dismantled, overrun, like a constant sequence of concession-then-compromise: feed the cat, let her out, lose weight, put it back on, open this, delete that.

Health, disease, love, betrayal, vigor, death.

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Perhaps we would like our circumstances to be something more akin to gardening, where we allow that vine to reach only so far but no farther before halting its progress with a precise snip.

Perhaps, instead, we need to look for the pattern in the plot.

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It’s there, just as Hopkins suggests.

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“Pied Beauty” concludes:

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                Praise him.

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Lest I forget, there is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens times to plant and times to uproot, times to be born and times to die, times to weep and times to laugh (Ecclesiastes 3)

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I am entering one of those times, a new season, right now, where all that mourning, tearing, warring, scattering, searching – all of that hard – has only prepared me for the joyful challenge that awaits.

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King Solomon, the wisest man of his time, knew all about this. That no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end; that finding satisfaction in all of our toil is the gift of God; that everything God does will endure forever. 

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God makes everything beautiful in its time.

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He controls the times and the seasons, not me.

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Praise Him!

 

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On Climbing Cardigan – May

Memorial Day, and for the second time in a week, I head up to the mountain I love.

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Two years already you’ve been gone.

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What have you missed?

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Your sister ran a 50K, a 50 Miler, and Boston this year. She and hubby are off to hike the PCT in a couple of days.

Jealous.

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Your one brother started college, played some hockey, made future plans.

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The other one committed but needs to fix his two wrecked shoulders, poor guy, so there’s that.

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Your father has another job, another wife.

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Your college class graduated, many of them off to work, missions, or higher degrees.

I hear from them from time to time. They miss you, too.

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And your momma?

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I’m still here, another year older, drinking too much coffee and not running as much as I’d like.

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Two classes of middle school boys have come and gone, and you know what that’s like this time of year: climbing the mountain, singing the hymn, silently weeping a procession of good-bye.

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They’re wonderful and wild and make me laugh.

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It was a hard fight for contentment, but sometimes, I think, the battle actually looks more like surrender. When we stop wrestling and just hold on, perhaps we give Him room to work. That tricky not my will thing.

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I never got a chance to tell you how I used to pray for you while you were down the road at school.

On certain days, I’d feel a pull, that Spirit-nudge, and run the Durham streets, looping tighter to where you slept, blissfully unaware, in your dorm. Around I’d run, prayers pouring from my heart like tears, like blood, as I asked God to pull you, to nudge you, to call you into His destiny and purpose.

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He answered in a way I could never have predicted, but I have come to trust His ways. I believe He is using you even in death – because of it, not in spite of it.

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So I’ll keep climbing, keep looping, keep surrendering.

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Keep looking for you in rock and cloud and sigh.

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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He was a beauty, as well.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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I miss you, Baby.

 

 

 

 

On Climbing Cardigan – April

I’m glad I own a Jeep.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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It’s snowing. Again. 

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That wind.

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The cold.

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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.

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It was so much better than grousing.

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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.

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

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But today was close.

 

 

For Humboldt

I can’t get Humboldt off my mind.

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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.

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Dig for meaning in all of the hurt.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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Let’s go.

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How’s about a little game of shinny?

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And moms?

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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.

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There are no other people’s children.

Your loss is our loss.

 

On Climbing Cardigan – March

Part 1 – Bad Vision

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One of the wonderful perks of teaching at a boarding school, besides the lads themselves, is that said lads must go home from time to time, occasionally for gloriously extended periods, usually a few days after we’ve both hit each others’ last nerve.

Finding myself with a boatload of quiet and too much of March to manage, the weather broke clear on Saturday: a decidedly good day to see what Cardigan looked like after the latest nor’easter.

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I seemed to be the only one not wearing snowshoes, and the reason soon became clear. The trail, though lightly tread, had not caught up with the dumps and flurries of the previous few days and was not packed down.

Walking in microspikes was work.

I had forgotten my contacts at my non-Cardigan residence, so I had decided to wear my old pair of glasses, the wobbly ones held together by packing tape.

Hiking in glasses can sometimes be a challenge, and this day was no different.  The combination of the crisp air and my sweaty forehead fogged the lenses until, weary of taking them off every few minutes to clear away the condensation, I finally gave up and stowed them in my pocket.

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It was as if the world contracted to the small square of real estate around my feet. I could sweat with abandon, stare at the snow under my boots, see only the things I might reach out and touch with a trekking pole.

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I think sometimes it is hard not to see the world this way.

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I know I would like to think that I try to picture what it might be like for another person, their situation, their perspective, but the truth is, my hallowed little halo is home and it’s hard to envision otherwise.

Jesus warned of this danger.

The Pharisees, those ancient goody two-shoes, thought that because they studied and kept the law, their spiritual vision was 20-20. But Jesus saw their pride and selfishness when they could not see it themselves; in fact, He often saved his most scathing words for those who should have known better, but had such trouble seeing.

Hypocrites! Brood of vipers! Whitewashed tombs! Mt. 23:13-37 Mt. 12:33-37

What must they have thought to be called out so publicly?

Jesus exhorts us to love our neighbor as ourselves, Mk. 12:30-31 to bear one another’s burdens. Gal. 6:1-2

This was the story of the Good Samaritan.

Jesus asked the people who had just heard Him tell a story of a man beaten by robbers, ignored by the first two passers-by, then saved by a dreaded Samaritan: “Who was the injured man’s neighbor?”  Of course, all who hear this story now are unable to respond with anything but “The one who had mercy on him.” Lk. 10:25-37

So what was it about the two men who crossed the road to avoid helping the injured man? One was a priest, the other a Levite, religious agents who ought to have known better.

Was it that they could not SEE him as their neighbor?

Was it simply a case of bad vision?

Part 2 – Bad Dog

There were many people on the mountain that day, although honestly I couldn’t see any of them very well.

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After reaching the summit and helping two fellows who had gotten turned around and were heading down the wrong trail, I took photos until my phone froze and started back down myself.

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As I was humming along – downhill is so much easier –  a dog came bounding up the trail.

The man running behind him called out “He’s friendly” just as the canine leapt on me with muddy paws and nipped my arm.

“He just likes to jump,” the man yelled as he ran toward us.

“But I don’t like to be jumped on,” I grumbled, moving aside to let him pass.

Could it be that our singular definitions of “friendly” did not align? It appeared to be so as he glowered at me and huffed up the hill.

But there it was again: another case of bad vision.

Part 3 – Bad Neighbor

Because the snow was so thick on the mountain that morning, one thing I noticed was the contrast in color between the orange blazes and the muted whites and greys of the surrounding world.

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Hard to get lost on a trail marked so clearly.

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And yet, this week I wandered off course and discovered a blind spot in my recent behavior that caused injury to another.

Social media can be a dangerous platform, and I had used it in a way that neither lifted this person’s burden nor demonstrated loving another as myself.

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Repentance sometimes gets a bad rap in today’s feel-good society.

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And yet, I was wrecked by the depth of my own inner bad-neighborly-ness, the utter cold black of my pulpy heart, because here is my confession: I knew what I was doing, but I did it anyway.

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I lied to myself about motive, but really I had acted like a modern day Pharisee, an unmerciful Levite, the owner of a bad dog.

But grace!

Listen to this stunning promise: If we boast that we have no sin, we’re only fooling ourselves and are strangers to the truth. But if we freely admit our sins when his light uncovers them, he will be faithful to forgive us every time. God is just to forgive us our sins because of Christ, and he will continue to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9)

I’m here to tell you it’s messy work.

It’s hard to find your way back when you’ve stumbled off the right trail, especially if you try to do it in your own strength.

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Jesus knew this.

When His disciples asked Him to teach them how to pray, He challenged them to ask the Father: Forgive our sins as we ourselves release forgiveness to those who have wronged us. And rescue us every time we face tribulations. (Luke 11:4)

Repentance is just a fancy word that means “to turn around” or “to face a new direction.”

Just like those two men heading down the wrong trail, we can turn around, I can, and get back on track, but we must be willing to offer the same unconditional forgiveness that we ask for ourselves.

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So. Hard.

But I’m thankful for the bright orange signposts of His word, thankful for how it helps us to see, thankful that it’s never too late.

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Another storm is on its way.

There have been so many.

Remove my broken glasses, Father, and help me to see.

 

On Climbing Cardigan – February

 

Last Wednesday, the mercury was forecast to hit highs peculiar to February, so I woke up early and climbed Cardigan while it was still dark.

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I needed the quiet to prepare for a talk I was giving the following day at Cardigan Mountain School’s weekly chapel service. I was excited but nervous for this opportunity, and time alone on a mountain has always been my happy place – even more so, that day, with the conditions so rare.

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Something Jesus once said had been percolating in my spirit for a while, and I am still trying to understand its full meaning.

After His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus spoke of His own impending death when He told the people, “Truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains by itself. But if it dies, it produces much fruit.” (John 12:24)

I think perhaps He may also be speaking of us.

Finding meaning in Gordie’s death has been a hard pursuit at times, but there is a promise hidden in this verse: a seed is only a seed if it dies and is planted, followed by fruit.

I have been praying since his memorial service that my son’s death would draw others to this truth, the stunningly outrageous good news of the gospel. The hope that is available to us all.

I also feel compelled to share how one bad decision can wreck so many lives, even if that outcome was never the intention.

There are so many deaths we can die, every day.

Death to self, however, can be that harvest-producing seed; just look at Jesus.

Most days, I feel so overwhelmingly un-up to the task, but I try to remember He would never ask of us what He Himself was not willing to give.

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Here’s the text of that chapel talk. Some of it is recycled from a past blog, some of it new.

I can’t bring myself to watch, so crazy-awkward, but if you felt like seeing the recording, here’s the link: Cardigan chapel.

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Opening 

Let the inner movement of your heart always be to love one another.

Live happily together in a spirit of harmony, and be as mindful of another’s worth as you are your own.  

Do your best to live as everybody’s friend.

Never let evil defeat you, but defeat evil with good. (Romans 12: 9, 16, 18, 21)

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.                      (2 Corinthians 4: 16-18)

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So I’d like to begin by saying that I wish I wasn’t up here today, telling you this story that I am about to tell.  I wish I could be talking about something else, anything else.

But our theme this year – “WHO ARE WE” – compels me to consider what exactly has caused me to be the person I am today; we all have our stories, and this one is mine.

It’s a tough story to tell, but I think there is hope tucked inside, as well.

A few weeks ago, Mr. Nowak invited us to think about defining moments: times when we were forced to confront some event of consequence, to consider how it might have affected us, to perhaps even concede how it might have changed the very course of our lives.

That day for me began ordinarily enough.

It was May 28, 2016, and I had been shopping for a pull-out couch for the new tiny home I was about to move into. Returning successful from the store, I puttered around the kitchen of my soon-to-be-former home, mixing ingredients for granola and singing along to Pandora.

Owen, my youngest child and a Cardigan brother of yours from the class of 2015, was out mowing the lawn in the oppressive spring heat, a dutiful son just doing what needed to be done, however reluctantly.

Such pedestrian things preceded the event that was forever to separate what followed into my personal BEFORE and AFTER.

I cannot say what compelled me to look out the front window. We lived on a cul-de-sac, and the only people who ever drove by were delivery trucks or neighbors. The last time I had looked out, Owen was zig-zagging across the grass, earbuds in, shirtless and smiling; it would be the last time that face would smile for long time.

I watched as two police cruisers pulled up and parked on the street by our walkway; the officers were slowly exiting the vehicles, making their way to our front door. With everything in my heart, I willed them to go-away, go-away, go-away, praying that there had been some mistake, but, on some inscrutable level, knowing that I just knew.

I invited them in. What else could I do? Lawnmower abandoned, Owen trailed in behind.

At least they were kind when, terrified, I felt their officiousness was taking too maddingly long and I pleaded with them to just gettothepoint.

They admitted there had been an accident.

A fatality.

And does your oldest son Gordie (another Cardigan brother, 2010) have any distinguishing birthmarks? What is the color of his hair? What was he wearing when you saw him last?

The horror of these questions only later sank in, hours and a lifetime later: that his face was unrecognizable after colliding with a tree going close to 80 miles per hour.

In just a few moments, I had become the mother of a dead son and Owen had left childhood forever behind.

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Gordie had spent his final day on earth at Holderness, playing alumni lacrosse and surrounded by people he loved. Later, the only part of him the funeral director would let me see or touch was his cold right arm.

He had been grumpy that last morning I saw him, the previous day.

It was uncharacteristic of him; but being asked to move a broken refrigerator out of our all-too-narrow front door when you’re late for work would bring out the crabby in anyone, so I teased and thanked and forgave and said good-bye for what turned out to be the last time.

It’s impossible to remember my last words to him, looking back; it had been what I had thought would be an unremarkable morning at the beginning of an unremarkable day at the end of an otherwise unremarkable week.

Until.

And now.

Oh, what I miss.

The way his green-eyed charm pressed my heart-walls until my chest ached. That laugh. Those dancy feet. The way he once carried a fallen maple leaf in pudgy toddler hand, blond hair dazzled by the wind of a coming winter.

How he had learned to skate. To write. To love. To drive.

I tried my best to be his mother, to guard his ways and warn and trust.

Put on your boots. Finish your carrots. Turn off your light. Text me when you get there.

I prayed: Father, guide him. Father, save him. Father, protect him. Please?

What was it about Gordie that drew people in? He was funny without trying, kind without guile, quick to lend or offer or grant or give.

He used blow through the front door trailed by a wake of friends, not ashamed to call me Momma or say I-love-you or drop a naughty word just to get a rise. I miss that.

The memory of driving home with him from Cardigan that first time, he abuzz with Athens and aqueducts and his roommate Allen. I couldn’t keep up; he had taken ownership of his education and I could not have been more pleased.      

Thank you, teachers, who remember him now.

Smells. His favorite muffins. Old Spice, like my own dad when I was small. Hockey gear fresh with sweat.

I miss the obvious things, of course. Sound of voice and touch of hand. But the layers of miss…the not-yet and never-will-be. His never-bride and never-babies, the never-career and never-failures that I might have celebrated or counseled with him.

I have discovered it is possible to miss something that never was.

He never saw my new tiny house, my new black car, or me in my perfect new office at my perfect new job.

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Good is relative now.

I miss that feeling I used to have, waking up, knowing he is, no matter where, no matter how many miles apart we might have been. The simple possibility of him.

I ponder heaven now, the where of it, what matter of distance separates him from me. I consider that perhaps it is measured in sighs and tears rather than feet or miles, at least from my end. That heaven is a place, that it is real, is what anchors my soul, remembering all that Jesus promised and clasping tight what-will-one-day-be when I’m not sure I can endure.

I miss and miss and miss and miss until my eyes ache now and my arms and my gut and my soul.

But I am reminded that the Bible says I am surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses. 

My green-eyed boy is one of these now, exhorting me to run with perseverance the race marked out (Hebrews 12:1) for me.

There is something about these backward roles, he-cheering-me now instead of me-cheering-him, that stops my heart.

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Run, Momma, I can hear him whisper.

Don’t miss me too much.

Because these things that you miss are just benchmarks on your way back to me.

Before. And after.

This is my story. This is who I am now.

I am the one who every day must walk past a small bronze urn on a dresser that holds what once was my 200-pound, living-breathing man of a son.

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I am the one who might hold a hug a little longer, especially if it’s a friend of his I haven’t seen in a while; sometimes I pull out my phone to tell him….only to remember, like a punch.

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I am the teacher who some days wants to say won’t you just cut it out; don’t you know how lucky you are to be… sitting in class/dressing for dinner/going to practice… with your friends and the rest of your life ahead of you? Don’t you realize how blessed you are?

I am the driver who slows at accidents. No, I’m not one of those gawking people; I only want to see if I can in some way help or comfort…like the man I met at Gordie’s wake, who told me he had been the first to arrive at the scene and had held my son’s hand and spoke quietly to him as he died.

I am the mother whose children know that they can never, ever, under any circumstances, ever forget to text me when they get to wherever they are going.

I told you when I began that this was a tough story to tell, but here is where I find my hope.

Because the thing about going through the very worst that could happen to you is that it frees you in ways you could have never imagined or expected. My son’s death has made me bolder, softer (sometimes), less easy to offend.

I am no longer the one who is afraid of dying, because, as a believer in the resurrected Christ, His heaven, and the renewal of all things, there is no such thing as death – only life, life, and more life, expanding exponentially, multiplying itself out forever like an unbreakable rubber band.

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This is who I am now, after my son’s accident.

And because this is chapel and because I care about all of you perhaps more than you might ever realize, this who-I-am-now would like to leave you with two ideas that I’d like to think might challenge you in some way.

The first one you may want to remember, perhaps soon, perhaps years from now, when you find yourself in a position where a critical decision, a before/after decision, must be made.

Please listen: what I am about to say may shock you – at least, in some ways, I hope it does – so please listen.

Because I’m telling you right now that you do not want to get behind the wheel of a 2-ton vehicle and drive it drunk into a tree, shattering the windshield, your face, and the lives of the ones you love. You do not want to do this to your momma, your brothers, your sisters, your dad or auntie or uncle or friends.

You do not want your parents to have to remember forever the sight of the impossible angles of the fender and broken wheel of your shattered car slumped in a dirty puddle of the towing service parking lot.

You do not want to make your mother dig through bloody glass to find your phone that will never ring for you again, to uncover any clue, something, anything, that would explain what you were doing and where you were going when you knew your sober friend had volunteered to be the designated driver.

You do not want to be the one whose birthday can only be celebrated now by posting pictures that only age year after endeless year, when you will grow no older than 22.

Gordie did not wake up that beautiful May morning and think, this is the day I am going to die.

He did not realize that the drinks he had had the night before his accident, playing cards with old friends, would still be coursing through his veins as he ran around in 95 degree heat on an astroturf field. He didn’t realize that the beer he shared at lunch with those same friends would push him over the legal limit.

He had just wanted to come home.

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So please – make the decision now of who you will be then. Make it now, so that when the temptation comes – and it will come for all of you, one day – you will be able to hold up under it. Because some things, regrettably, cannot be undone.

Before I share the second thought I would like to challenge you with, I would like for you to look around.

[Thanks for your patience – I promise I am almost done.]

Please look to the right of you.  Look to the left.

Maybe the person sitting next to you is your classmate, teammate, teacher, or friend. What I would like for you to think about is that you probably don’t know what that person next to you is facing on any given day.

You don’t know if they heard in a phone call last night that their parents are about to divorce; you don’t know if their mother is sick or that they didn’t play much in the game yesterday; you don’t know that they just got a D in French and their secondary school list just got a little shorter or that it took every nano of willpower for them just to get out of bed this morning.

What I would like you to know, however, is that you have the power to add weight to already heavily burdened shoulders, or to take it off.

Jesus once told the dusty crowds of Galilee, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

We have the unique opportunity, I might even argue obligation, to take up the yoke of our nearest brother or sister, to help them bear their weight, redistribute it, make the pulling easier – not pile on more and walk away.

To those of you who have been quietly doing this all along, steadily balancing your brothers’ burdens, I say thank you. You are noticed. Well done.

To others, who perhaps have not yet settled this is your heart, why not let this be your before and after moment?

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Think of the potential in your one uplifting word, compassionate act, or insult withheld.

Perhaps it is time to posture your heart toward healing, not hurting.

I want to close by saying that I don’t want you to feel sorry for me. I have become okay with this who-I-am now. My son’s death was a fragile gift that God has trusted me with – I carry it carefully, hoping that, by keeping it safe, I might be able to honor the years he lost with the ones I have left.

Gordie once sat where you are now. He spent his days tackling schoolwork, waitering, and Eaglebrook running backs with variable zeal. He certainly wasn’t perfect; he had his struggles, just as you have, just as we all have. Perhaps he might even want to be sitting here again, although, I believe, probably not. And this is why.

You may have noticed that when you entered the chapel today, it was not to the familiar light-sweet notes of Mrs. Perricone’s harp. Instead, the song you heard, called  Where I Belong, (you’ll hear it again in a minute) is an anthem of sorts, a declaration I play to myself when I’m having a bad day here on this dirt sphere.

I like to remind myself that I am only here for a blink. That God has promised to prepare a place for His children; a place where, as Tolkien writes in Lord of the Rings, “everything sad will come untrue.” Sam to Gandolf

This world is not my home, nor was it Gordie’s.

Someday, I believe, I will see my son again; and we will have all of eternity to catch up.

Thank you for listening.

Closing:

We cannot know the grief

That men may borrow;

We cannot see the souls

Storm-swept by sorrow;

But love can shine upon the way

Today, tomorrow.

Upon the wheel of pain so many weary lives are broken,

So may our love with tender words be spoken.

Let us be kind.