Stuck at Home, In a Story

Note: Since many of us are now homeschooling our children or are educators offering distance learning opportunities, I have helpfully included three questions within this post that could be adapted for middle school use in Language Arts and Math. They align to Common Core State Standards in the state of Washington. You’ll have to look up which ones yourself.


Early on during the COVID-19-induced pleas to stay home, stay safe, I caught myself listening to an audiobook, and silently judging characters who were gathering together in groups, not maintaining a safe social distance of six feet or more, and going out for non-essential activities. The story coming through my earbuds took place in the outer reaches of northeastern Russia, but this is a global pandemic – we must all be in this together, people!

A couple weeks later, still at home, staying safe, I imagined all the books that would one day be written by children and adults who are now living in these extraordinary times. Memoirs, biographical accounts, and scientific and historical explanations, but also the novels. Novels set up like this:

Main characters: Regular humans
Supporting characters: Politicians, medical/emergency personnel, essential service providers, instant YouTube stars, your child’s teachers, pets
Setting: Any place on earth, during the COVID-19 pandemic
Plot: Surviving the pandemic
The central conflict: Man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. self, man vs. society, or man vs. fate (it’s all here in COVID19-land, folks)


Language Arts Question: Give one example of each type of central conflict that could take place during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Each of us are in the middle of stories right now that could fit in this framework. Maybe (hopefully) we have boring stories that have little chance of being published: woman stays home, goes to grocery store every two weeks, reads books, walks the dog, works and socializes on Zoom, and serves dinner to family every night (during which the central conflict of woman vs. teenager ensues).

Or maybe it will more of a page-turner.

The main character in my story is presently swimming along quite nicely in the early stages of the plot.

Let me explain. When I was a kid, I often overheard my mom tell relatives, other mothers, coaches, or church family, “Jenae is a homebody.” This was typically an attempt to explain or excuse my frequent absence (or confusing presence, in a corner, with a book) from playdates, sport activities, church events, and general revelry. Later, we all learned the word, “introvert” and breathed a sigh of relief that maybe I was normal (just not compared to my social, friendly, busily-involved family).

So when the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order reverberated here in the northwest and around the country, I couldn’t help but think: I was made for such a time as this! 

It’s Day 20 here at home for our family, with at least a month (many are saying much longer) to go, and even the unending days of rain lining up on my weather app can’t get me down. John has started calling me the “Quaran-queen”.

I do realize that the people who were actually made for such a time as this, are not sitting at home playing Boggle, baking bread and biscotti, and reading Louise Penny’s “Kingdom of the Blind”. Thank you, medical, emergency, infrastructure, grocery, and other essential service workers! You are the true quaran-queens and quaran-kings keeping the masses from utter destruction.

Meanwhile, the rest of us have to (get to) follow orders by staying home. Here is a glimpse of what staying home looks like in my story:

Zoom. Like the rest of the world, we uploaded Zoom on every one of our devices and are connecting with friends, family, students and co-workers. Jack is our heaviest user. He chats away for hours with his best buds and cousins, participates in group LEGO challenges, and has no problem wearing pajamas to my sister’s Zoom Birthday Party.  Through Zoom, we attend work meetings, happy hour, Zoom-Boggle games, Youth Group, and Bible Study.

Jack Zoom

The kids and I virtually meet with two other moms and their kids three times a week, praying and checking in with each other using Zoom and the Book of Common Prayer app. The app and its daily readings give us a structure, and our commitment to each other and to prayer provides meaning and connection during these strange days. Please let us know if we can pray for you. This is intentional and scheduled – if you tell us, it will be prayed for.

We are happily consuming hilarious COVID-19 creations put out on YouTube and social media, shared by our friends. Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show: At Home Edition, song spoofs, and Trump impersonations top our list of favorites. The creativity and art accessible through our screens is a genuine essential service.

Dinner together, every night.

screenshot

 


Math Question: Using the screenshot above, what time of day does the Dryden family eat dinner during the quarantine? Please respond with the mean and range, rounded to the nearest minute.

Extra credit: What day of the week does Ellie help prepare dinner? How do you know?


Books, of course. The day before the libraries closed, we hit up two of them, filling our backseat with stacks of books. “We should go early in the day,” John said, “There might be a run on the library with it closing tomorrow.” (Our alarm, dear readers, may have been misplaced.) Our Libby apps are also full of e-books and audiobooks. We might run out of toilet paper, but not books!


Math Problem: Suppose the Dryden family reads at a consistent pace, and has read 34 books on Day 20 of the quarantine.
a. Create a graph showing number of days on the x-axis, and number of books read on the y-axis
b. Create an equation to solve number of books read on a given day of the quarantine.
c. How many books will they have read on Day 45 of the quarantine?


Other delightful daily duties include caring for our goats, dog, and garden. One day, our littlest and most anxious goat accidentally squirmed under the fence in a muddy spot. Because we were all at home, we spotted her from our living room windows, outside the fence with her three goat siblings looking on worriedly from the other side. Ellie and John cajoled her back inside to the safety and companionship of her goat family. Crisis solved!

And the action continues to rise…

jasper

Our dog is in raptures at all the attention and walks he receives from his adored family. His fluffy coat is equal parts therapeutically pet-able and nasty sponge for all manner of spring mud and yard debris. He is the first member of our family who will access professional grooming when this is over.

I planted peas and other early vegetables in my goat manure-covered garden, and other seedlings are starting on a table inside. Neither rain, nor hail, nor moles, nor viruses will prevent my family from eating green vegetables this summer! I shall prevail!

seedling

My little story so far is simple and sweet. It may start and end that way, or the plot may thicken. Others have stories that are neither simple nor sweet. And it is these stories that we must keep in mind, keep in our prayers, and do what we can in such a time as this.

Anxiety, loneliness, fear, suffering, and exhaustion are daily realities to many in this dystopian novel-come-true kind of story we are in right now. I  hope that every character on our planet is able to work together to bring this to a conclusion with as little human and economic destruction as possible. May each one of us be brave, kind, wise, and funny too, just like my favorite literary heroes and heroines.

Pay attention to your story. Be the kind of person you like to read about. Do the thing you wish the main character or her sidekick would do. And share the story with your friends. Call your grandma, wash your hands, and don’t touch your face.

A closing prayer, which we recite in unison, three days a week with our dear ones:

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you, wherever he may send you;
May he guide you through the wilderness, protect you through the storm;
May he bring you home rejoicing at the wonders he has shown you;
May he bring you home rejoicing once again into our doors.

basket

Middle

As soon as the leaves finish shedding, I get a little grumpy. I watch the curtain of night close earlier and earlier at the end of each day and take a little longer to swing open each morning. My fingers are perpetually cold from November through March. It’s just a season to get through, I tell myself.

Our littles moved to another home, a state away, to relatives who love them and have folded them into their pack like they were exactly what was needed. We are back to the four of us (plus Jasper, the 9-month old Goldendoodle, and four goats). It’s an in-between time, I say. We’ll be filling that foster care room again someday.

Ellie and Jack are both in middle school this year, a strange three years of rapid physical and intellectual growth and emotional and relational cacophony. Parenting has been rocky. Could we just skip middle school, I wonder?

xc

Another thing I wish we could skip; actually, erase: Dying. We are nearing the end of the long middle years between diagnosis and heaven for John’s dad. There is a relentlessness to the physical caregiving and emotional pain that extinguishes perspective and hope. This kind of middle doesn’t end with a spring-like regeneration for those of us left, but a gaping hole where a mountain of a man once stood.

jack

I feel so inadequate to try to stitch together words on the subject of dying. The possible phrases are numerous and shift from true to not-true depending on the day and the person. Our family is still very much in the middle of this. For the survivors, especially those in the innermost circle of grief (in this case, wife and two sons), strength, kindness, and wise decision making are required in inverse proportion to the reserves of fortitude still left after years of caregiving and grieving from a degenerative neurological disease.

Which is why I made a last-minute vacation booking the week before Christmas. I could see that the well was almost dry.

So on winter solstice, I was in a cabin in the middle of Oregon, waiting for light to dawn with a pile of books on one side, a cup of coffee on the other. My family slept, the puppy curled at my feet.

Books, steaming mug, me in the middle: Winter’s tableaux. This dark December, in addition to a few good novels, I have been reading a chapter or two each day from a couple of seasonal recommendations from a wise, smiling woman I met years ago, but who recently popped back into my life hoisting a rescue ladder of sorts in a tough season of foster care.

Madeleine L’Engle and Walter Wangerin, Jr.’s books were both written before smart phones and social media. Maybe they used pencils or typewriters to draft these sparkling small volumes! Bright Evening Star and The Manger is Empty have been a warm blanket, a cistern for tears, and a laughing sleigh ride for my soul this December.

I’m glad I have been steeping in strong words this month, because at church on the fourth Sunday of advent, I sat between those two pillars of grief – wife and son, quaking with recognition that this is likely their last Christmas with their husband and dad. Christmas carols, Christmas lights, and friends’ friendly Christmas greetings enveloped them, but “Rejoice, Rejoice!” was a difficult anthem to utter.

On the first day of December, our habitual dinnertime Q&A a Day asked, “What would you like your epitaph to read?” Two of us silently sank beneath the weight of such a question, and one of us quipped, “No meat at my wake, please!” But Jack, our poet-philosopher, quickly intoned, “He lived, learned, and lived again.”

Lived again. This whole earthly life, living, learning, grieving and rejoicing, stumbling and flying, and living some more. The middle is the thing – all of it. And for us who believe, dying is just more middle before living again. 

No, all is not well here in the middle. And yes, all shall be well. All manner of things, even. I will take my cues from the angels and the shepherds:

Don’t be afraid!
Listen!

Go and see!
Go and tell!

I will stop for that hug, wait for the words of a silent teenager, dance and laugh with my friends, read books, cry over loss, and exclaim over the purple December sunrise on the morning drive to middle school. 

Who can know what life will bring in any season? Darkness? Light? Live, learn, and live again. And in the beginning, and end, and in the middle, Love.

ellie

Did you know that there is light even in the deepest night of grief? Light breaks in through the cracks, so they say. Tears spill from cracks made wide by a melody, a lyric of Christmas, a touch, a kind voice. That is where the light breaks it. And its name is Love.

But Mary fell silent and said no more. She was keeping all these things – all that had happened between darkness and the light – and pondering them in her heart (Walter Wangerin, Jr.).


Family portraits by Maria Supin Photography

With-ness

At the end of the summer, we added four kids to our family. Two of them live outside. They have big brown eyes and brush-clearing prowess, and we call them our “goat babies”.

The other two are also a sister and brother. They have rosy cheeks that press upwards into hazel eyes, into grins that contagiously spread to anyone else in the room. We call them our “littles”.

Two seasons have come and gone since I typed words in this space. I recently learned that Ellie has been reading all the posts I’ve ever written. She says she likes my old ones better because they are not as sad. Then she asked me to write more.

What could I say to her about this year?

Ellie, I didn’t understand the math. That healing the pain of a child could mean assigning a measure of pain to another.

Capitol

I make agonizing navigational decisions every day; decisions like, for this hour, who do I heal and who do I hurt? Because what I’m learning is that there is not enough of me to go around, and sometimes the absence is felt as actual pain.

river

I thought I was the one on the other side of the equation. I was prepared to absorb a lot of discomfort. I expected the tantrums, night wakings, diapers, therapies, off-the-charts neediness. Our kids also said, “Yes,” but there is a reason children cannot legally give their own consent for important decisions.

Foster care stories are messy and unpredictable; the road visible only a few steps ahead. Sure, I can hope, and hope is a lembas wafer, sustaining me one day at a time. But I want to know how we’ll all make it out on the other side. Whose hearts will be broken, whose will be strengthened, which relationships will flourish or wither, and if they will look back on this season with bitter regret or amazement.

ellie snow

 

Jack (my philosopher) pondered aloud recently, “I wonder what I’d be like if we hadn’t done foster care…More carefree, more relaxed, less wise…”. The mores and lesses of the life we chose for him are piling up in ways I don’t even know yet.

Curious, I asked Ellie the next day how she thought she would be different if we were not a foster family (I caught her in a non-sarcastic, adequately nourished, hormonally balanced moment which are as common as Sasquatch sightings for a 7th grader). She said that there are a lot of “hard kids” in her classes this year. Because of foster care, she thinks she has a better understanding of why these kids act the way they do and where they are coming from. “If we had not done foster care, I would just be annoyed at them.” I let out the breath I didn’t know I had been holding.

Lincoln

God created us to need each other, and this truth is never more evident than when the system breaks down. Foster and adoptive families, relatives, therapists, and educators who care for abused and neglected children understand (with ear-piercing clarity sometimes), the visceral effects of an absent caregiver in a child’s life.

When a child’s most important relationship is dysfunctional, inconsistently functional, or abruptly removed, the outcome is less like the heart equivalent of a broken leg, and more like a spreading childhood cancer. The impact is deep and multifaceted, and the treatment must be too.

Is it hyperbolic to suggest that bringing a child with the emotional/behavioral equivalent of cancer into a family with 12 years of relative stability and health is a tsunami? The initial impact sudden and overwhelming; the rescue, recovery, and rebuilding long term with layers of support and inevitable mishaps and wrong turns.

pumpkin patch

Bringing brokenness into our peaceful home may be a tsunami. God flipped that model on its head and sent Peace and Love in the form of a baby into the whole ugly brokenness of the world.

Emmanuel is one of the names given to the Jesus babe: God with us. It’s like he spelled out to us in actual letters what our broken hearts need: presence, with-ness. Not just a string of words or a name to proclaim, but a relationship. “Stay here and keep watch with me,” Jesus begged his friends, hours before his death. When the resurrected Jesus returned to heaven, he sent his Spirit, a helper for our confused and weary souls.

With-ness is our job description right now as a foster family to our two littles (affectionately called “Bam-Bam” and “Llama Drama” by my friend who now knows them well).

Here I am, right here, always coming back to you for as long as I am yours. My ears listen to your questions (so many), cries (so loud and long), and strong new words (so powerful). My arms pick you up, tuck you in, hold you close. I have two legs, which makes two laps, one for each of you. John pours love into you with every story, snuggle, and banana. Ellie holds your hand in the car, softly crooning, “You’re ok, you’re alright, good job getting calm, I’m so proud of you…” Jack puts your broken train tracks back together, chases you across the house, wields the remote control with true parental authority and wisdom, and wrestles with you on the carpet.

train table

The ministry of with-ness is not only going on in our living room and rocking chairs. Our people have swooped in.

Heidi and Karen avert a child’s beeline trajectory to my tired arms and scoop her up in theirs. Annie cajoles an overstimulated toddler to her lap with smiling eyes and the tantalizing line, “Do you want to hear a story?” Jake and Sarah drive Jack to and from taekwondo practice each week, and the gift of that mile-long commute smack in the middle of bath and bedtime drama taken off our plate is continental. The Kellars and Cowarts take turns entertaining and tiring out our two littles with help from their passels of boys when we need a break. Danielle delivered a to-die-for lasagna, and I can see in her eyes that she just knows, without judgment and with compassion, exactly what is going on in my head. Every single Tuesday, Tanya and I swivel our office chairs toward each other as I unload my week; her questions, concern, and enthusiastic affirmation are like bananas and storybooks to my needy heart. Allison, Jenny, Dayna, Lisa, Gail, Sarah, Katie, Mom, Dad, and others ping my phone with reminders that I’m being thought of and prayed for.

Soupheidi and goats

A new friend, one I would not have met if we had not said this most recent “yes”, reminded me of the faithfulness of God when the future looks bleak and the present is hard. How much he loves his children, from the tiniest to the biggest. He hears our prayers, and weaves his plan according to his purposes and with our participation, however headache-inducing and jam-smeared it may look on a particular day.

skyzone

I don’t know for sure what my kids will one day say about their childhood; how their parents pulled the rug out from under their easy life during their pre-adolescent years. I do trust in a faithful God who is with us while we are with these little ones. My ears and my arms fail – they fail my husband, my son and daughter, and two more every single day. But his never fail. And I join the weary world, rejoicing once again at his coming, his life well spent, and that he lives today.

Every week a Holy Week. A thrill of hope shimmers through this wounded heart.

MLKbends toward justice

Dads, Poets, and Thanks

It’s not really fair that I ended up with two dads who love me unabashedly, but both my dad and my father-in-law have poured so much goodness into my life, I will spend the rest of my years trying to sort through all their love and kindness. John, as you know, is a Man among men, and most days I just give up trying to out-love, out-work, out-smart that husband of mine. As if that were not enough (and it’s not), my identity as a beloved child of Father God was formed and strengthened from my earliest days. I will probably end up in counseling for a really confusing reason (“I’m just not sure how to respond and live with all that love, you know?”).

fam selfie

Yellowstone National Park

Most of my life’s balance has tipped heavily toward goodness, success, health and security.  Loss, grief, injustice, failure, and uncertainty were not part of my story.

But in recent years, the balance began to shift. John’s dad was diagnosed with a degenerative neurological disease; a dear uncle with a different progressive brain disease; and last fall, my dad was diagnosed with brain cancer.  For 14 months, we helped shape the connections of a newborn baby’s brain and heart into strong, healthy functioning, then watched a system snip the cord that bound him to us and attach him elsewhere. We enter into messy stories of traumatized children.

Lately we find ourselves walking a long and dark road of grief, loss, pain and anger.

 

bear

Grand Teton National Park

Disease, maybe especially brain disease, confronts our assumptions of body and soul and mortal life like nothing else.

The human body is a miraculous machine. My father-in-law knows this better than most as he worked as a medical doctor specializing in physical medicine and rehabilitation.

The human soul is more mysterious and miraculous still. My dad sought understanding of the ephemeral soul through music, song writing, scripture, and literature. John’s uncle devoted his entire life to introducing others to eternal life found in relationship with God through Jesus Christ. To know each of these men was to know kindness, joy, intelligence, strength and love.

G&D

So, how does one reconcile the harsh reality of brain disease upon such men? Upon their wives, children, siblings and parents?

john and jack

Losing a family member to a degenerative disease is comprised of hundreds of deaths over the progression of the illness. I have watched my mother-in-law and aunt lose their best friends and husbands, neuron by neuron. I drove my mom to the emergency room after she was shaken awake by my dad’s grand mal seizures in the middle of the night, and stood next to her as she received the news of a large mass in Dad’s brain.

surgery

Bad things happening to innocent children confronts our assumptions of the goodness of God like nothing else.

I see children repeatedly lose parents and important caregivers and experience the aftermath. In the community of foster care we hear of terrible atrocities acted on innocent children. I have walked by slums in Nairobi and seen children begging in India and Central America. We support an organization that fights cyber sex trafficking, child prostitution, and forced labor slavery.

Combing out lice and tucking in sad and scared little girls at night who miss their moms but have to sleep in a stranger’s bed are duties I wish never had to be done.

And here is where I land. I do not believe that everything happens for a reason. I do not believe that all of this pain is part of God’s plan.

I used to think I had to have a neat and tidy defense to speak such “Christianese” blasphemy, and I don’t have one.

But hear me, my vision of God and his love for his children has grown exponentially these recent, painful years. He is bigger, more good, stronger, and safer than I realized. This world is both a piece of dog excrement and a breathtakingly beautiful work of art and engineering, but it is so very small and weak compared to the goodness and love of God.

glacier

Glacier National Park

For reasons I do not understand, here I am, with these people, on this piece of geography, at this point of time. My life is a breath, and it is beautiful, and it is painful. And underneath, all around, up above, and within is God and his unending, unbreakable, steadfast love.

Although an embarrassingly large portion of my life could be described as such, I’m not one to throw around the word, “blessed”. I prefer “grateful”. It’s probably just semantics, but I can’t utter the word “blessed” to describe my financial security, my kind husband, amazing children, and the beautiful river in my backyard. How could I be blessed with these things while others are denied food on the table, the ability to conceive a child, or a safe home to live in?

avalanche

Glacier National Park

Instead, I open my hands and give thanks. I cry out with gratitude for those gifts that bring me joy and I cry out with anguish over a broken world. I give thanks for the way God draws near in our suffering. I give thanks for the outpouring of kindness from our people. I give thanks for every neuron and the functioning it allowed for the time it was assigned. I give thanks for the example of Jesus, walking a road of suffering and death during his time on this flimsy earth, taking heart that he overcame the world. I give thanks that this blue, green, and gold rock we circle upon is filled with wonders and opportunities but is not the end.

highline

Glacier National Park

God’s plan was never for children to be separated from their mothers or for cancer or lice or brain disease. Things in this world are not as they should be. Yet we discover glimpses of love, beauty, courage, laughter, creativity, and joy in regular and unexpected places.

canyon hike

Grand Teton National Park

river

Washougal River

Lately I’ve heard this question posed around the internets: “What is saving your life right now?”

My answer: The poets. The women and men who string together words and notes into verse, story, and song, revealing a truth invisible in the physical world. They throw me a rope to cling to when I’m drowning in grief. They tear down the dam that encloses my tears and anguish. I climb upon their wings to soar above the weak limits of my own ability to feel and describe joy and love. When my week is full to the brim with busy-ness and Hard Things, they sing through my speakers and pour grace from pages.

What is a neurosurgeon other than a poet who takes raw material of flesh and cuts, rearranges, and stitches it into healing and hope? What are hospice nurses, occupational therapists, mental health counselors, foster parents, and helpful insurance agents other than poets whose words can make the ugliest experiences of our lives into moments of laughter, new possibility, relief, and comfort? Who are my friends whose texts, emojis, and GIPHYs can make me snort with laughter and ugly cry in a single digital conversation? Poets, every one of them.

God’s ways can be inscrutable, but they are not bad. I love how he uses regular dads, moms, poets and other humans to be part of his creative work of healing and beauty-making and prayer-answering.

kids

teachers

Back To School

My dad is now tumor-less and in some ways healthier now than before the diagnosis. John’s dad and uncle continue to steadily decline, in different, but heartbreakingly relentless ways. We currently shelter two small children in our home with a ferocious love.

In provision and in loss, I will yet say, thank you.

 

The Forty Year-Old Man

If you had added our ages together when we first met, it wouldn’t have reached 30.

We caught each other’s notice as teenagers for similar reasons. We were both tall, quiet, thinking people. We wore the same size of jeans. You played basketball, rode your bike, and loved your dog, but mostly you were not like other teenagers I knew. I didn’t know other boys who had real jobs building robots alongside 40-year-old engineers at age 16. Not many kids read physics textbooks for pleasure or skipped high school pretty much altogether. You were quiet, as in, I had to ask you to speak up to hear your voice on the phone, but the words you spoke mattered and rang of truth and kindness.

montana

Your story began in quietness. Your parents held the tiny secret of you, their firstborn, tucked safe in your mother’s womb for many months, praying for and cherishing their treasure alone, together.

You were born into a rich heritage. Generations stretched out on every side, filled with men and women who loved God and their neighbor, walked in faithfulness, spoke truth, and crossed the country and continents to bring good news to the brokenhearted.

Your great-grandmother traveled to India as a single young woman to rescue baby girls from a life of temple prostitution. Your grandparents founded institutions like Multnomah University and Eagle Fern Camp. Your dad has been a camp counselor for at-risk youth, a rural high school metal shop teacher, and a medical doctor specializing in spinal cord injuries and amputations. Military veterans, teachers, pastors, artists, musicians, and missionaries are scattered throughout your family tree. But more important than their actual job titles, your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins work hard at whatever task God assigned them. They are men and women of courage and integrity and do everything in love.

men

I spent many hours with your family, figuring out the Dryden ways. I learned that Drydens work first, then work some more, then have something to eat, then work some more, before they play and eat ice cream. To hang out with you meant participating in activities such as pulling rocks from a quarry to build a retaining wall, digging ditches, laying roof shingles, laying and stamping concrete, shivering in a cold garage while rebuilding an engine, tearing stuff down, and building stuff up, over and over again. Your mom was a force to be reckoned with, the first to pick up a tool belt, and the last to lay her shovel down.

I met dozens of relatives and friends who regularly circled your family’s table for nourishment of body and soul. Your mom’s hospitality and your dad’s way of drawing people close with his kindness and a well spoken question set people at ease in their home. Laughter rang out but so did serious discussions. All four of you are preposterously intelligent. Your brother Andy both amazed me and drove me crazy with his audacious achievements and confidence.

john and andyI’m not sure how I got to be the lucky one that you loved. I know I didn’t deserve it – the deep, steadfast, single-minded loyalty you fixed on me before I even got my driver’s license. It almost frightened me, the depth of your affection. I couldn’t help but be wooed by it, even as I told myself I sure enjoyed just being your friend. When I finally made that leap from friend to girlfriend, I knew it was for life.

And life with you has been beautiful. Both of us have changed from those teenagers who accidentally fell fast in love. We laugh now at how little we knew, how shallow and self-centered we were, and how God saved us and continues to save us from ourselves to create a good marriage and a good life.

selfie-zion

Life with you has been less like tumbling through white water rapids, and more like a meandering journey by canoe. We are ok with slow and steady. We have slipped past quiet, fern-laden valleys and breathtaking peaks. We have paddled through scarred, clear-cut lands and endured long stretches of cold and rain. We added a couple explorers into our canoe and figured out how they fit and delighted in the ways they changed our adventure. We took a sharp turn, added another member, then said goodbye.

You have always been our guide. We take turns calling out ideas and inspiration, but you are the one who prepares, counts the cost, identifies the risks, checks every box, measures twice. You keep us safe. You make things work.

John and kids

When our friends encounter a problem, they ask themselves: “What would John do?” (Or, “Whoops. What would John have done?”) When in doubt, they invite you over or send you a text to discuss the problem, and examine the project or broken item. You are called on for such tasks as helping a teenager with his math homework, building a deck with a relative, diagnosing the noise in someone’s car, and discovering that the source of flies in a friend’s home is a decomposing, maggot-filled possum in their crawlspace (I’m looking at you, Brosnans).

But who you are is more than a 40-year-old kindly, smart, Mr. Fix-it. Every one of us is stamped with the image of God, and what he dropped into your soul is a piece of his unbreaking, compassionate, steadfast, sacrificial, chesed love. Your heart breaks with what breaks the Father’s.

No one has to explain or convince you of your role as a privileged white man, because the rhythm of your heart beats to the drum of justice for the oppressed. You have to be careful what you fix that heart of yours onto, because you intuitively know that nothing here on earth will last, nothing is certain, and to love here on earth often means joy, but it always comes with pain.

I flit here and there, calling out the opportunities, the beauty and possibilities, ignoring the dangers. You like to remind me,

“Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

princess bride

You sometimes say that if you hadn’t met me, you would have built a treehouse in the wilderness and lived as a self-sufficient hermit amongst the trees and rocks, probably with a dog and books lining every wall.  I can picture that, and I think heaven might look a bit like that for you.

Instead you chose a life of love. You let that big heart of yours break many times over for me and the kids, for your family and friends, and for deep hurts in the world that you have never seen but have not shut your eyes to.

When we became foster parents, my biggest fear was what it would do to your heart. Your love for Baby Boy was evident to everyone. Watching you cradle and care for someone else’s son without holding back or protecting your own heart was a picture of the immeasurable, sacrificial love of God. When you had to let him go, you felt the Father’s pain of releasing his Son, and his love for sons and daughters who are lost to him.

john

You have more gray hair (and less hair altogether) than when I first met you. We no longer wear the same size of jeans. But you are stronger, more handsome, and more worthy of praise than you have ever been. Your wrinkles remind me of where we have been and what we have accomplished and endured together.

Your 40th birthday comes in a year etched with sorrow, and no number of  candles can make your wishes come true. But there is Happy to be found on this Birthday. Happy wife, married to the man she always wanted. Happy daughter and son, whose dad takes them on grand adventures, instructs them not only in algebra, physics, and geology, but in kindness and generosity. Happy mother and father whose son fills them with gratitude. Happy baby who knew the love of a father from his earliest days. Happy brother, friend, cousin, grandparent, and uncle who have in their cell phones the number of a man who can be counted on, can answer any question, and will speak the truth in love.

Happy Birthday, to you.

john and jack