I was awake at 12:30 in the morning a few days ago, my mind bursting with memories from my past, many of which feel like seeing the biography of another man’s life merely because it’s been years since I’ve thought of them.
The novel thing that sprung to mind suddenly was that I was the little boy in so many of them. I wonder what my dad felt when he watched me make stories with Playmobil, or memorize verses in AWANA, or lead my buddies around in thrift store BDU’s exercising like we were an army platoon.
I wonder because somehow I’m standing here in Dad’s place. I have a nine-year-old kid that looks up to me now like I must have looked up to him back when I was a scared little nine-year-old, barely able to comprehend the real wonders of the world around me, but bursting with enough imagination to invent more wonders than any of the grown-ups.
The other day I was at a conference, dressed in armor, selling books I wrote to kids and to the parents who’ll use them to teach those kids. There was a time in my life when I was one of those kids walking up to my booth in awe of the grown-up who owned that armor, or who’d written that story, or who did that talk about that thing – and thinking “maybe I’ll be like him someday.” Maybe also thinking “I hope I’ll have more hair and am less ugly than him.”
But the point is, I’m standing here on this Hill of Years, where I used to look up and see the grown-ups in my life standing. That revelation brings several thoughts to mind.
A lot of Heart Memories. My most potent memories over the years are not mind memories but are heart memories. I remember most powerfully the things I felt when I was growing up. Put another way, the man I am now was built out of those big moments when I was ripped suddenly out of myself – when I felt most acutely an overwhelming sense of awe and of otherness, of something massively more important than me that I could be a part of.
This ultimately, I suspect, is the case for all of us who’ve lived long enough to experience more than a few of these defining moments. And I also suspect that most of those defining moments, when they’re dissected down to the root emotions we felt in them, have a common core of otherness in them.
In this way, they may well be a symptom of our yearning for the biggest Other that there is: for the most Important Being of all, Who loves us with infinite love and calls us with infinite purpose and challenges us with an infinitely important mission. I mean, of course, God, though I suspect you grown-ups figured that out.
In the end, my most defining moments have been my encounters with the divine in one way or another. Falling to my knees in the realization that He is there and that He can cleanse a sinner like me… Stopping on a lonely jog to peer at sunset over a mountain road through sudden tears at the beauty of the world He’s made… Looking in astonishment at the gorgeous lady He gave me to spend the rest of my years adventuring with… Holding with trembling hands the daughter He made out of myself… Laying awake at midnight remembering that He’s been with me, and built me over the years in ways I’m only starting to see… Shaking with determined resolve (which I see now that He injected) to take the high road, after teetering on a moral knife-edge in the face of tragedy… Wiping away tears and realizing that He’s my friend forever, even when all friends forsake me and everything feels blackest…
The list goes on as long as my memory.
A word of thanks. I want to tell my own Dad thanks. Thanks for all the sacrifices you made to make my childhood what it was. Thanks for getting up at the crack of dawn, every single stinkin’ day, even the ones when you felt like you could barely wake up (and wondered how long you could keep going). Thanks for being purposeful in taking time out of your life to show me Jesus. Thanks for being patient with my stupidity and downright badness, in times I would have blown up at my kids, had they been in my place. Thanks for drudging up the energy, and for not doing the things you could have done that you might have enjoyed more, to take me on adventures. Thanks for doing what you could to make those defining moments or eye-opening growth happen inside me.
A need of God’s help. I’m begging God where I’m at in life, to help me be a good father to my kids. Help me be patient with them, and hold my tongue when they drive me insane. Help me give up my things, and drop my projects, and stop my entertainment, whenever there’s a chance to show them Your glory or bring them some sense of that wonder You’ve brought so many times to my life. Help me spend more moments with them while they’re still little kids. Gracious God, help me become part of their fond memories when they stand upon this Hill of Years later and realize that they’re here where I was.
A life of learning. It’s a good thing I’m not omniscient. It was good to learn all those years, to experience those great moments of otherness, to grow in wonder at the world, the God who made it, and the people who share it. It’s good I can’t see the future, and the tragedies I’m sure it will hold, and the things I’ve still got to learn. And it’s a good thing I don’t need to feel overwhelmed by the massive weight of responsibility I realize has been on my shoulders since the day I started a family of my own. God will be there with my kids, even despite me.
A goal in raising kids. I realize how very important it is to be strategic in encouraging our kids toward defining moments. Let’s keep bringing them to Christ in whatever way we can. Let’s keep showing them that they’re not alone in the world, that their story is only one of the billions of incredible stories happening every day all around them. Let’s keep pointing out the beauty in life, and encouraging them to not lose the sense of wonder as their universe expands.
How do we do this? I’m not entirely sure. Maybe it’s by bringing them stories of people who’ve encountered God in big ways. Maybe it’s by telling them our defining moments, by not being ashamed to be that old guy in the rocker saying “When I was your age…” Maybe it’s by recreating for them some of the things that made us realize there were bigger things out there than us, and bigger things for us to accomplish. Maybe it’s by bringing them to church where smarter, Godlier people can help teach them something good. Maybe it’s by bringing them to the root of faith itself, saturating their lives with Scripture in every creative way. Maybe it’s by being better at reading their thoughts, at recognizing the spark of the divine in their eyes, so we can say something to them or just put them in the right place to fan that spark. Maybe it’ll happen just by being part of their life.
I’m standing on this Hill of Years. There have been good and bad times in my life, and more to come. I hope to be able to help my children to their Hill of Years, and more importantly, to bring them to the One who can help them make it through all the good and bad as they go through the journey.
What do you see from your Hill of Years?