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.

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