when it hits hard, right about this time of year… this always grabs me:
The plan was supposed to be that we would take him west.
That he’d turn 18 and go west.
That we’d pack up his room, his dog-earred G.A. Henty books, that thinning and scratchy red wool blanket of my grandmother that’s laid at the foot of his bed, the oiled painting that he was given from those mothers up in the mountains of Haiti, and his fading jeans and plaid shirt.
And his dad and I would drive him 4,000 arrow-straight miles west to the ocean and drop him off at a university none of us had ever laid eyes on in our life.
He’d be our first arrow shot. My heart would be pierced.
He made his down payment.
And I laid down my quaking heart and this ridiculous hope that he’d stay close. The kid was crazy pumped. Yeah, so my mama-heart was drained. You still gotta smile brave.
Nobody knows it but – Parents wear Purple Hearts: the brave who are wounded and die a bit more everyday – and only get braver. But then it was his younger brother who went east.
Right to the opposite side of the country, right out to the other coast. He goes with my brother, drives through Quebec through the night, past the farms lined up along the St. Lawrence River, following the aging river where Cartier and Champlain sailed, follow it right out to the ageless ocean and it’s endless lapping waves. They serve for a week at a Bible camp for native kids.
Joshua mops floors and gets dishpan hands and does kitchen duty and crawls into his bunk after midnight. My brother emails me in the middle of the night to tell me how happy he is to be there with our boy. At the end of the week, we pack up the sagging van with the 7 of us and head east to go bring him home.
Our only road trip ever.
And the last road trip before the first boy leaves.
Our youngest boy breathes too breathy and close for our daughter’s liking when packed like sardines into one van heading east.
This may or may not have led to blood curdling screaming fits replete with tears and blankets thrown over heads.
There were flat out World Wars over euchre, pillows and, seriously — the last of the grapes. I may or may not have threatened missile strikes and food sanctions and late night diplomatic negotiations for global peace – or at least van peace.
The Farmer smiles thinly and just kept his eyes on the road and us heading east.
Somewhere in the woods of New Brunswick, when they all blessedly fall asleep but the last stubborn kid, she calls out to her Dad: “You just keep driving and I’ll read to you, ‘kay?”
He wearily nods, leans forward over the wheel, battling sleep-deprivation and father-with-little-peace-deprivation.
And there in her small voice it comes — Psalm 102. She’s reading the Bible to him.
Apparently, right in our messes are where the miracles happen.
“A Prayer for the Afflicted….” She begins slow.
The Farmer grins: “Appropriate.”
And we’re all a bit crazy and we’re all a bit afflicted and we have a God who sees every bit of it and takes all of us.We have a God who sees hearts like we see faces, a God who hears ache like we hear voices, and we have a God who touches wounds like we touch skin.
God sees it all — and He will see to all of it. No one’s crazy can change God’s crazy love.
And after we get Josh, and there’s a tight 8 of us shoehorned into the van, we drive by this mountain stretched up like this sheer dare over the ocean and we make a U-turn and because we have these unrelenting boys who are determined to climb –and one girl who needs to use every single roadside washroom facility spotted– and really, you can make a u-turn anywhere.
The girls go looking for the vented outhouse.
I sit in the grass and watch the two oldest boys begin their ascent. The Farmer distracts the two youngest boys from their own climbs with one fierce and sweaty game of tag.
I keep watch at the base — as if that’s really going to help if something goes wrong. Stones roll. There’s hardly a breeze.
The boys keep hauling higher.
“Hey Josh?” Caleb calls over his shoulder. “What’s that rattling sound?”
Both boys stop, cling to some stone.
“Crickets? I don’t know — Tree frogs?”
“Sure, I’m sure: crickets or tree frogs or something else.” Joshua shakes something out of his shoe. “Definitely not a rattler. Come on already, Cale…” Joshua’s already pulling higher.
I’m listening to the rattle in the sun. Cale’s back to reaching and stretching and climbing. How many times have I mistaken more than a few metaphorical crickets in my life for bona fide rattlers?
How many times did I think these boys would stay little and close and safe?
How many times have I thought safe mattered when Jesus died to save us not to make us safe. No one ever got saved unless someone else was unsafe.
“You going higher?” Josh is calling to Caleb and their mother’s watching from the bottom – Purple Heart, Parents live purple-hearted.
“Yeah — higher!” Cale’s man voice echoes down the mountain.
“Hey, Josh?” One brother’s calling over to the other.
“Can Mom see us doing this?”
And I hear that. The old mother at the bottom of the mountain, she hears her boys men hollering that and I nod and smile slow.
Yes, boys – right to my end, I will be your witness.
God as my witness, I will be your witness, and you can climb and you can take risks and you can go east and you can go west and distance never stopped love from being a witness.
Go ahead, sign me up to witness the launchings and the beginnings, witness the dares you take, the challenges you rise to, the heartbreak you don’t want anyone else to see and the crazy you wish you could hide. The Lord looked down, from heaven He viewed the earth in all it’s crazy and God sees it all – and He sees to it all – and He doesn’t turn away. God is your witness: You are seen and known.
Who will be God’s witness? So He is seen and known?
Be brave. In all your crazy, be brave, boys. And I’ll be there, in heart or in body, to witness the first dates and the failed dreams and it’s okay to cry, boys, your tears are safe with me.
Because the truth is: Life’s a trial and everyone needs a witness — someone on your front row, someone on your sidelines, someone to clap you across the finish line when everyone else has gone home.
Everyone needs a witness – someone to testify you were really here and you really tried, someone to witness your wounds and believe in your worth, someone to say even your crazy can’t stop you from being crazy loved.
Everyone needs a witness who will stand and not hold you back because if we all only lived safe, no one would ever get saved.
Everyone needs a witness — and I’ll be yours.You don’t become a parent by bearing a child. You become a parent by bearing witness to his life.
The boys wave.
And I swallow hard and memorize them.
And I wave back —
the witness willing to always bear the weight of all their glory.