My youngest son, Jabel, just turned ten. In the absence of a miraculous intervention, I will never again have the joy and privilege of parenting a less-than-double-digit aged child. Life moves on. Time does its thing. “The past has gone where the past inevitably goes, the future has not arrived,” David Berlinski resignedly observed.
It used to seem that time was moving for others, but not really for me. Perhaps you’ve experienced this. When I was in my twenties, it felt as though I’d somehow always be in my twenties. The thirties were strange because, well, they weren’t the twenties. Like sleeping in a bed other than your own, the thirties took some getting used to. It never felt quite like home.
Then I blinked and I was 40.
What, uh, just happened right there? Did you see that? A decade of my life just disappeared, gone. A few moments ago I was 26, how am I now 40? If my thirties were like a hotel bed, this first year of the forties feels like sleeping on a cold tile floor with a rolled up jacket for a pillow and a dog-scented, borrowed blanket.
This is my life. This is my family. This is God’s gift to me.
So here I am, half dead by numbers, but, inexplicably, feeling more alive and invigorated than ever before. Life is amazing, rolling, and grand. My boys, Landon and Jabel, are sources of constant joy, happiness, meaning, and challenge. My partner, lover, and friend, Violeta, is more beautiful than ever, inside and outside. I love her more than I ever have. Mercifully, she says the same of me. (Note: she’s not 40. I married a much younger woman.)
I have my Proverbs 31 woman, and she has her Ephesians 5 man. We love each other, we love our kids, our kids love us, and we all love God. Would I trade this to be transported magically back to my footloose twenties? No way, not even close.
A great many people make shipwreck of their lives in their twenties. I nearly did, God knows. But, praise Him, here I am, safely to 40, and surrounded by people I love and who love me. Does 40 sting a bit? Yes, it does, but once the sting fades, my family remains. They’re still there, beautiful as ever—Violeta smiling, the boys clamoring for yet another wrestle.
I look around me and take it all in, the light is golden and perfect–a photographer’s dream–spider webs and dust particles dance in the summer breeze, backlit against a blue-turning-violet-turning-pink sky. The boys are on the trampoline. Violeta’s arm is around my waist. A “V” of sandhill cranes makes its southerly flight over our little house, their haunting calls touching me in places and ways that cannot be described. This is my life. This is my family. This is God’s gift to me.
ARISE is also ten. This seems impossible, of course, but I have the pictures to prove it, much to my own astonishment.
I’ve counted it several times, and it always comes out the same: 2003 to 2012 is, provided numbers and mathematics generally can be trusted, ten years.
Ten programs. Ten classes. Ten families.
The memories made, the things taught and learned, the things done all wrong, the things done all right (or was it alright?), the places–Michigan, California, Oregon–enjoyed, all of them, and much more besides, wind themselves together into a tapestry of God’s own making. These have been holy moments on holy ground. It didn’t always feel like it at the time, but it sure does now, looking back. At the time there were deadlines, schedules, and all manner of the practical considerations associated with managing a family of 40-50 people living in close quarters. But from here–right here–in this unique and wonderful place that only the perspective of time can provide, looking back over ten years, it is clear that this has been holy time, and these have been holy places, and these have been holy people.
Holy. Set apart. Different. Special.
Sure, not always perfectly saintly, but saints nonetheless. Not in the Catholic or Orthodox and incorrect sense, but in the biblical and beautiful sense. People set apart for ministry, for learning, for growing, and for loving. These people are God’s family, and they are my family, and the family of every staff member and professor, past or present. Families can be a little messy, in more ways than one, but family is still family.
Some of them have been lazy and unfaithful with what has been given them, but God has not forsaken them.
Some of these sons and daughters and brothers and sisters have gone on to do great things, certainly not because of us, and perhaps in spite of us. Some of them have gone on to do smaller things with great love and passion, and these are great things too, perhaps the greatest of things. Some of them have been lazy and unfaithful with what has been given them, but God has not forsaken them. He knows well what has been vouchsafed them, and is calling and hoping for a return on His investment of love. I believe, and pray, that these will yet hear and heed His patient, plaintive voice. The hour is late, and they are needed, so desperately needed, by both the world and the church. Remember your roots, dear ones, and arise.
Some of them have imagined that greener pastures and better places lay just… over… there… beyond that next ridge, and they’ve taken leave of that dream which was once theirs, and which is still God’s. They looked around and saw, not holy ground, but rather ordinary, and even contemptible, soil. So they put their shoes back on, and took leave of this holy ground. The bush stopped burning and the Voice stopped speaking. At least they thought so. But no, they had closed their eyes, and stopped their ears. I don’t know why or how, but it happened. My broken heart is nothing compared to God’s, and I believe, I have to believe, that even these God will call back to Himself. He will restore the years those deceitful, painful, and swarming locusts have robbed from them. They will, again, arise.
This is my hope and prayer. And it is God’s too.
Once again, I look around. I am surrounded by people I love, and who love me. There are hundreds of them, and beyond them thousands and beyond them still thousands more. The light, again, is golden and perfect, but it radiates from a Source brighter and better than the sun. Faces are illumined with holiness and ageless beauty, everyone smiles a knowing smile. There are crowns and robes.
I see my family.
Both of them.