Defining moments

“Life is not the amount of breaths you take, it’s the moments that take your breath away.”

This quote, from the movie Hitch, is what just about everyone remembers most from the film. Understandably so. It’s a great line. However, two other things are forever lodged in my memory. The first is the scene where Will’s character has an allergic reaction to something he had for dinner while on a date with Sarah, played by Eva Mendez. The image of his first post-reaction look at himself in a convenience store mirror sent me into spasms of laughter. This one scene justified the ticket price for the movie. Directly on the heels of the food-allergy scene is the second. A benadryl-induced conversation ensues between the two. It plays out something like this:

– So, how do you feel? – Good. Relaxed. So what about you? Any siblings? Sister. Maria. Lives in D.C. Younger, right? I could hear it in your voice. Sort of an innate protective thing. Yeah, I guess. What? She almost died once. I was…we were skating on the pond behind our house…and she fell through the ice. My dad pulled her out. Gave her mouth-to-mouth. Longest three minutes of my life. Yeah, I’m sure. I don’t think I’ve ever really gotten over it. Kind of defines you, doesn’t it? You know like, one moment you’re gliding along… the next moment you’re standing in the rain watching your life fall apart. Except it was snow. Yeah. That’s what I said, “snow.” You said “rain.” Some kind of precipitation. Is that what happened to you? Nothing as dramatic as falling through the ice. You know… it definitely… Left a scar? Yeah. I guess it’s best just not to love at all, right? Or skate. Are you here?

This idea of a significant event that has a lasting effect on the direction of your life…a defining moment, was a new concept for me. A concept that seized my imagination. Synapses erupt into a fireworks display and my mind is bombarded with flashes of memories. One of these stand out even more than the rest.

It was my senior year in high school. Graduation was approaching and as absorbed as I was with everything that entails, in my peripheral vision were my friends and classmates. I overheard snatches of conversations, “My parents are buying me a new set of luggage for graduation…for college.” ” Oh yeah? Did you get accepted at USC?” “I did, but haven’t decided whether I want to attend Lander instead.” “Jasper, are you still planning on moving out of state?” “Yep. I heard Tim made into med school.” “Doctor, huh?”

Their excitement fueled by pursuing their dreams was an indictment on my lack of dreams. The more they talked, the worse I felt. My sophomore year, I had made a decision to attend vocational school rather than pursue academics. Two of my favorite teachers, the Stroms (They were husband and wife) tried to dissuade me. “You are gifted in the sciences, David. Are you sure you want to do this?” My argument was weak but made sense to me at the time. Most of the men I knew, including my family physician, were involved in woodworking as a hobby. I thought, “Why not pursue it as a career?” So, in addition to working in a cabinet shop after school I spent half of my school day in a carpentry course at Donaldson Vocational School. I loved my teacher, Mr. Christie, but we both realized, after I’d spent a year in the program, that there wasn’t much more it could offer me. So I opted not to return for the second year of the carpentry program.
Flash forward to the weeks before graduation. Conflicting thoughts about what to do with my life began to accumulate in my gut like garbage in a paper bag. “I’ve wasted a year. It’s too late to change my plans now. I’ll never be able to cram enough sciences in to get the attention of a college.” “Besides, I’m not crazy about science. Sure it comes easy to me but I really enjoy art more.” “Woodworking allows me some creativity.”
I’d actually investigated some universities that offered art programs but my parents had recently suffered some pretty heavy financial set-backs. They couldn’t afford the tuition. Other than the Strom’s no one else had offered any guidance or counsel as to what I’d do after graduation so student loans or grants weren’t even on the radar. What was I going to do? Suck sawdust for a living? Not exactly sure what triggered it but, sitting with my girlfriend Dana on her basement steps, all of this came to an ugly head. The paper bag…I fell apart. With red-rimmed eyes I rambled on about how disappointed my mom and dad must be in me. My friends were on their way to becoming doctors, lawyers and journalists. I had basically muddled my way through high school without a plan and look at the result. A wise man once said, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” I was perishing…or at least I felt like it. Dana listened, was quiet in all the right places and spoke encouraging words to me. We held each other for a while and, strengthened by her faith in me, I pulled myself up straight and found the resolve to keep going. A defining moment.
Not only did I marry that girl (one of the best decisions I’ve ever made) but I’ve been haunted by that moment on her basement steps all of my days. A 10 year stint in youth ministry was largely influenced and shaped by that defining moment. This almost un-explainable desire within me to help others discover who they’re created to be…obviously has been birthed within me by this same moment. I’m not even sure what to do with this longing but I can’t run from it so I’m trying to give it expression through Alive. It’s something, right?
I guess all of this is finding it’s way into print because my son Josiah is now in his senior year in high school. I’m sure, like his friends and classmates, he’s wondering about, maybe struggling with, these same things. I want to help him. I want him to know I once grappled with the same questions….still do. I want to help. I also want him to know it’s okay. I want him…Josiah, I want you to know….as important as a vocation is…it’s not so much about what you do but who you are and Who you know. It’s a journey…a beautiful journey. Dan Haseltine says it better than I:

Lesson one – do not hide
Lesson two – there are right ways to fight
And if you have questions
We can talk through the night

So you know who you are
And you know what you want
I’ve been where you’re going
And it’s not that far
It’s too far to walk
But you don’t have to run
You’ll get there in time

Lesson three – you’re not alone
Not since I saw you start breathing on your own
You can leave, you can run, this will still be your home

So you know who you are
And you know what you want
I’ve been where you’re going
And it’s not that far
It’s too far to walk
But you don’t have to run
You’ll get there in time
Get there in time

In time, to wonder where the days have gone
In time, to be old enough to wish that you were young
When good things are unraveling, bad things come undone
You weather love and lose your innocence

There will be liars and thieves who take from you
Not to undermine the consequence
But you are not what you do
And when you need it most
I have a hundred reasons why I love you

If you weather love and lose your innocence
Just remember – lesson one
-Jars of Clay

It is true. “Life is not the amount of breaths you take, it’s the moments that take your breath away.” Something, something significant is hidden in these moments. Something that echoes of Eden. Maybe, just maybe, if we listen we’ll hear our Creators whisper, ” I love you, I made you. I made you for this.”

So, what are your defining moments? What, or more importantly, Who are they pointing you toward? Relax, listen and enjoy the journey…what you hear may just take your breath away.

B Collision

You know…the road is a dangerous place to be, especially 107 in Mountain Rest. Dana and I were headed to Burrell’s Ford for a weekend of trout-fishing and hammocking. We were working our way up the winding mountain road, racing against nightfall and almost to our turn-off when a big black image rocketed into my peripheral. I hit the brakes, thinking I could avoid a collision but alas, I was too late. Our ears resonated with the sound of bumper and fender giving way to what apparently was not an unstoppable force. With my heart punding in my ears, I brought the truck to a stop and watched the reckless teenager spin around in the road and tear back off in the direction from whence he came. We were startled to say the least. “Did you…?” “Was that…?” And yes, it was….a bear.
I’m not sure what exactly started this adolescent bear on his trajectory but he was running out of the woods at a speed I thought un-natural for a critter. He definitely did not look both ways before crossing the street or he’d have seen two glaring headlights “bearing” down on him. Wearing an expression of true bewilderment, he went down with one paw outstretched and spun around. I’m sure our faces carried a similar expression. Astonishingly, he seemed no worse for the wear. When I inspected the truck for damage I was just as surprised to discover little evidence of the impact…other than a smear of mud.
Needless to say, Dana had to summon a little more courage than is usually necessary to walk the 15 minutes in the dark and sling her hammock between two trees. I have to admit I heard echoes in my brain of comments made by friends, “That hammock is just a pinata.” “It’s just a meat bag for a bear.” Our courage and resolve were strengthened, however, by the presence of our trusty trail guide Scooby (who seemed be recovering nicely from the stun of being thrown against the back window of the truck) and Dana’s new charge Frodo, a shih-tzu (pronounce it how you like) puppy.

Once the bear bag had been hung and the coals from the campfire had burned down to embers, we zipped ourselves into our pinatas for a cozy nights rest…that never came. This night we discovered the value of a good sleeping bag. We do not own good sleeping bags. We own inexpensive sleeping bags made by Ledge, that provide almost zero warmth. Now, it does need to be said that weather.com registered a 26 degree low in Mountain Rest that night but ours were supposed to be 20 degree bags. They’re not. Dana said the only way she could “bear” (okay, I’m done) it was the minimal warmth provided by Frodo. I must admit, I had considered putting Scoob in the hammock with me but thought better of it due to weight, fur and funk concerns. So, around 3:30 a.m. I rose to boil water which I poured into my Nalgene and used as a bed-warmer to cut the harshness of the chill. It wasn’t much but I was able to cop a coupla z’s before the sun came up.
Sunrise found Dana on the river, landing her limit of beautiful trout while encircled by 8 cute little kids, seven girls and a boy. (Along with their 5 dads they were our neighbors for the weekend.) Not a bad haul considering. Since I slept in every piece of clothing I owned it didn’t take a lot of self-talk to convince myself to leave the “comfort” of the hammock, revive the fire, boil water and enjoy a breakfast of instant grits, a toasted peanut butter sandwich and some strong, black sumatra. In the midst of my groggy, morning ritual I was approached from behind by a little girl…one of the 8:

“Hi, my name is Helena. What’s your name?”

“Hi Helena, I’m David.”

“David? I know who David is. I learned about him in Sunday School. He’s a Great shepherd and a Great king. My Daddy’s name is Mike. He’s a Great Fixer.”

“Is that right? What does your daddy fix?” “Oh, he fixes houses and cabinets and dressers. My moma is a Great RSDO. What sort of RSDO are you?”

“Uh, I don’t …I don’t know what you…what do you mean?”

About this time Helena’s dad walks up with the most genuine grin I’ve ever seen. It’s obvious he loves this little girl. Helena does the introductions and leaves her dad and I to talk. As our coffee lost its heat to the morning chill we discovered we had in common our professions as well as our faith. He invited me to visit the co-op he runs just a few miles from where I work and he used a phrase to describe his wife’s employment that clarified Helena’s question: She owns an Art Studio…rather than an RSDO. Oh.

Funny thing is I still don’t really have an answer. I’m a Great…a great…I’m a Great…big mess, maybe. But something I’ve learned and maybe you learned in Sunday School…He is Great. And hidden in that is the answer to the other. As Dana and I drove back down the mountain (ever alert for bear), I was grateful for Helena’s question posed in perfect Junie B. Jones fashion and the journey I’m on to find the answer.

Thanks Helena.


The following is an excerpt from the book Desire by John Eldredge

The Clue 09/16/2009

And I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. U2 There is a secret set within each of our hearts. It often goes unnoticed, we rarely can put words to it, and yet it guides us throughout the days of our lives. This secret remains hidden for the most part in our deepest selves. It is simply the desire for life as it was meant to be. Isn’t there a life you have been searching for all your days? You may not always be aware of your search, and there are times when you seem to have abandoned looking altogether. But again and again it returns to us, this yearning that cries out for the life we prize. It is elusive, to be sure. It seems to come and go at will. Seasons may pass until it surfaces again. And though it seems to taunt us, and may at times cause us great pain, we know when it returns that it is priceless. For if we could recover this desire, unearth it from beneath all other distractions and embrace it as our deepest treasure, we would discover the secret of our existence. We all share the same dilemma – we long for life and we’re not sure where to find it. We wonder if we ever do find it, can we make it last? The longing for life within us seems incongruent with the life we find around us. What is available seems at times close to what we want, but never quite a fit. We must journey to find the life we prize. And the guide we have been given is the desire set deep within, the desire we often overlook, or mistake for something else or even choose to ignore. The greatest human tragedy is simply to give up the search. There is nothing of greater importance than the life of our deep heart. To lose heart is to lose everything. And if we are to bring our hearts along in our life’s journey, we simply must not, we cannot abandon this desire. And so Gerald May writes, There is a desire within each of us, in the deep center of ourselves that we call our heart. We were born with it, it is never completely satisfied, and it never dies. We are often unaware of it, but it is always awake…Our true identity, our reason for being, is to be found in this desire. The clue as to who we really are and why we are here comes to us through our heart’s desire.

(Desire , 1,2)
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